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1988 Plymouth Reliant Station Wagon

With five years having passed since I parted ways with this car, you might think it was too late to write a web page about it.

Fortunately (or not), I don't share that opinion. I'm not actually sure that I have any pictures of this car, so I'll warn you now that this page is likely to be a boring wall of text. If you don't like boring walls of text, you might want to choose another destination at this point.

As much as I liked driving my 1990 Chevrolet Lumina Eurosport for the short time that I was able to do so, its starter motor put an end to that by laying down and dying. Oh, sure, I could have replaced it, but that looked like a major pain on a wrong wheel drive car. It had other niggling problems as well. Almost from day one there was an annoying stalling problem that showed up when the car was idling and particularly upon deceleration. It never failed to restart, but this too was irritating.

The obvious cure, then, was to pursue another car. And such a car came along in the form of (you guessed it!) a 1988 Plymouth Reliant station wagon! Someone just down the street from me came across the car after it had been through a number of hands. It started out in the hands of a little old lady who ultimately became unable to drive it. From there it wound up in the hands of a teenage girl who kind of drove it into the ground. (Well, more than "kind of drove it into the ground", as will be revealed in a bit.) After that it sat in a local junkyard for a while. I don't know how it emerged from the junkyard and ended up in the hands of my neighbors down the street, only that it did. Their ultimate plan was to prepare it for a demolition derby, but that changed when they saw the Lumina sitting in my yard and asked about it. I told them I'd sell it for what I'd paid and and they were interested.

They promised to come up with the money several times and after several weeks of its not materializing, ultimately asked me if I'd be interested in a trade. I'm not at all opposed to bartering for things, so I asked what they would offer up for a trade and found out that it was the previously mentioned station wagon. What with my having been around the block previously with one Chrysler K-car and having liked it a lot, I figured another one would be a sound trade.

It's here that I'll note my father's extreme disagreement. He thought I was nuts to trade a Chevrolet for a Chrysler.

Paperwork was exchanged and a few days later the trade had been made.

This one brought a major improvement over the sedan I'd owned previously: a fuel injected Chrysler engine. Say what you will about the Japanese making a better automobile (or parts) than the Americans (although I don't believe that*), Mitsubishi's 2.6 liter engine was the usual mess of vacuum lines, powered by a carburetor that was about too clever by half, less than amazingly reliable and frankly quite underpowered. You could floorboard the throttle on a hill and while ol' Mr. Squishy would give off a good show by running like hell, you didn't actually end up going any faster.

Chrysler's fuel injected 2.5 liter four banger was what the doctor ordered, why the preacher danced and eminently capable of putting a goofy smile on my face whenever I tromped the throttle. That thing would freakin' scoot by comparison to the Mitsubishi engine. Which as previously noted, when floorboarded, basically took a message and promised to get back to you later.

Unfortunately, Chrysler's engine had its own Achilles' Heel in the form of a tendency to blow head gaskets. The newer car was afflicted by this problem and a few others. Someone had broken off the passenger's side mirror, dented up the front bumper, done a ham-handed job of "repairing" the air conditioner, and ripped down the entire headliner. They'd also managed to break one of the rear windows, covering it with another ham handed repair in the form of a piece of plywood screwed into the body metal. I guess they thought that was classier than a trash bag, and I'd grudgingly have to agree. None of the spark plugs were the proper type and two of them were cross-threaded.

To tell you the truth, I'm not sure the head gasket was the actually the problem. The car ran fine when it was cold, and gradually lost compression as it warmed up. It'd "boil" the coolant when shut down. One of my brothers brought home a compression tester that utilized compressed air and we tried it on each cylinder to see what the problem was. On at least one cylinder, we couldn't get air to stop coming out of the oil filler cap, perhaps suggesting a problem with the valves (or, I suppose, a cracked head).

We never got to investigate further.

Around the time all of this was happening, my hometown's administration took it upon themselves to scrutinize the condition of my property and harass me. Never mind that I was busily working toward improving the property by building a massive garage (amongst other things), the cars clearly had to go. Even though all of them could be driven at the drop of a hat, most were legally licensed and other people in town had truly nonfunctional vehicles on their propertly seemingly without consequence, I was being singled out. (This did eventually blow over, after I put up security cameras and told them I'd sue them if it kept up.)

Meanwhile, I said goodbye to my Plymouth Reliant sedan and slapped a battery into the wagon so I could drive it out to the country and hide it on one of the farms. This marked the first time I'd driven the car at highway speeds. I'd say it was characterful at speed, but that's not nearly strong enough of a categorization. Truthfully it scared the hell out of me. The back end felt like it was going crazy, and to this day I'm not sure why. Every part of the rear suspension seemed to be in place and accounted for. Maybe it was the tires? I never lost control, but all of the time I was wondering just when I'd spear off into any or all of a ditch, bushes or a corn field.

Hiding the car at the farm meant that I couldn't keep a close eye on it any more, and as anyone who owns rural property will probably know, vandalism is a problem. For reasons I couldn't fathom, someone liberated the plywood covering the broken rear window. That left the car open to the elements and those took their toll. Moss and mold began growing on the carpet, and mice soon made their home inside as well, despite my leaving poison in the places I suspected they would hide. I think there might have even been a rat in the car at one point. All I know about that is that something of a disconcertingly large size ran out from under the driver's seat and up under the dashboard one day while I was moving the car. It's a wonder I didn't crash it into something.

That's not to say I never made any improvements to the car. Before it wound up at the farm, I repaired the broken passenger's side mirror and engaged in massive cleanup efforts for the interior. I replaced the craptacular Wal-Mart stereo that someone had hacked into place with a Chrysler AM/FM/cassette stereo. That, paired with abandoning the grab bag of speakers that someone had "wired" up and restoring the connections to the factory speakers produced a massive improvment. A very good friend of mine gave me a Chrysler AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo and I could have used it, since the wiring was identical to that in the car! (Of course, I didn't realize this at the time, so I sold the stereo to someone else. Hindsight being 20/20, I now realize that said stereo would have had AM stereo functionality as well. Oh, if only I'd realized...) Through some miracle, I actually did get all of the original hubcaps with the car.

I really did plan to bring the car around, and had it not been for the meddlesome behavior of city administration, it might have actually happened that way. The body might not have been as great as I'd been told (one of the jacking points disappeared into the undercarriage when I needed to jack the car up) but it was certainly serviceable enough and the floor pans were solid. To what miracle this could be attributed I don't know. (In case you don't know, they salt the roads around here for extra flavor in the winter time and this eats cars right up. Especially older cars.) It had real potential, and I'd made some good headway on the chore of fixing it up.

Changing circumstances conspired against my keeping the car at the particular farm where I'd stashed it. Someone was to move into the house, and it just wouldn't do for anyone else to have anything on the property (especially an old car in somewhat sorry shape). Under increasing pressure from other family members to simply scrap the car, I tried instead to find someone who would be interested in buying it. Against all odds, I did find someone who wanted parts off the car (particularly the still-good transmission) and I sold it to them. They came with a flatbed tow truck and hauled it away.

By now I figure that the car has long since been sent off to a scrapyard and recycled into other things.

With the last of the K-cars having rolled off the assembly line almost thirty years ago (maybe that or more, by the time you're reading this), I expect that finding a nice, unmolested example of one is going to be a pretty tall order. That won't necessarily stop me from trying. I really liked the two that I owned. Chrysler knew how to build a car once upon a time, and both of the K-cars I owned were thoughtfully designed, good looking cars that were easy to work on. That's something every modern-day automaker could stand to consider.

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* Although it took thirty years for anyone to notice, GM in particular could (and did) build a far better car than anything the Japanese brought to this country in the 1980s. Even today in the road-salt wonderland in which I live, it's not uncommon to see a 3800 V6 powered 1980s Buick, Oldsmobile or even a Pontiac sedan. Many of them are still in good condition today, and they're still going long after pretty much all of the Japanese cars from that time have gone.