Home » It Would Go Like Hell: We Channeled The Spirit Of Carroll Shelby To Make An Electric Omni GLH Hot Hatch

It Would Go Like Hell: We Channeled The Spirit Of Carroll Shelby To Make An Electric Omni GLH Hot Hatch

Topshot Glh
ADVERTISEMENT

Critics tend to snicker at numerous cars attributed to Lee Iacocca; the Ford Mustang II, the Aries K-Car, and Lincoln Mark III are not seen as high automotive art by many. The objects of journalist’s praise were instead often creations of Lee’s industry executive arch rival, Bob Lutz. Cars such as the revived Pontiac GTO and G8, the Dodge Viper, the Saturn Sky, and V-Series Cadillacs that Lutz was reportedly responsible for were certainly more than worthy of this acclaim. “Often wrong, but never in doubt” was apparently Bob’s motto, and sadly with most of these enthusiast-oriented cars he spearheaded he was indeed wrong, at least from a marketing standpoint: sales smashes they were not.

Iacocca, on the other hand, was rarely wrong. He knew what the people would buy, and buy they did. It’s hard to think of anyone of a certain age that wasn’t connected in some way with one of Lido’s cars. I’m not even a fan of most of his products, yet I came home from the hospital delivery room in an 1965 Mustang, I took driver’s ed in Aries K-Cars, and Caravan cabs carried me home to the airport from college. Whenever Iacocca said something about where he thought the automotive market was headed, you were wise to listen.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Small Cars For The People?

In an earlier post, I mentioned a snippet from a Charlie Rose interview of Iacocca late in life where they asked if he could save the then-dying-for-the-third-time Chrysler Corporation. His response was that he could, by making the company build small cars people wanted to buy. I don’t think Lee is incorrect, but we must also consider that Stellantis currently has a reported 500+ day supply of compact Dodge Hornet hybids on lots today, and was in a similar situation with Jeep Renegades.

2024hornet 12 20
Stellantis

This either means Lee’s advice was wrong, or the vehicles Stellantis is providing for the segment now aren’t right. I’m going with the latter –  there are too many better competitors than the Hornet in the niche. Stellantis needs a unique small car, maybe a little EV that can offer an enticing degree of personality and performance that pods like the Nissan Leaf never did.

This does sound like a key to success for what was once the Chrysler Corporation; in fact, back in Chrysler’s darkest days of the late seventies, the brand’s one bright spot was a unique subcompact:  the first transverse-engined front-drive American made car. Developed jointly with Chrysler Europe (the remains of Simca), this Golf-style hatchback was sold as the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon. I love the old-school Mopar fender-mounted blinker repeaters, by the way.

ADVERTISEMENT
Original Omni 12 20
Chrysler

The first challenge to building the Omni was that Chrysler USA had absolutely no engines small enough to power the thing, and the 1.1 and 1.3 liter Simca engines used in the European version were deemed too small for the automatic-and-air-conditioning American buyers. The solution was to purchase engines from Volkswagen of America, a surprising move for a company that was now providing powertrains for what would amount to a direct competitor to the Rabbit/Golf. Admittedly, the VW version had fuel injection, and the company could move every Rabbit it could bring in, so this was just an extra business opportunity.

When VW introduced the Golf GTi, they likely never thought this also-ran from a dying Chrysler would ever try to compete with them. Boy, were they wrong.

No More Mister Nice Guy

By 1984, the Omni still looked virtually identical to when it was introduced six years earlier, but there was something stirring underneath this mild-mannered exterior.

Omini Ad 12
Chrysler

In 1981, Chrysler began offering the American-built 2.2 liter four out of the K-Car in the Omni/Horizon, and if you’ve been paying attention to this so far you’ll realize that’s a motor twice the size of what the overseas markets offered. This thing was getting quick, and the only option was to make it even quicker. Lee Iacocca had by now taken over at the ailing Chrysler, and who did Lee reach out to while at Ford when he wanted to make run-of-the-mill cars into performance machines? Y’all gotta call ‘Ol Shel: Carroll Shelby.

Shelby’s creation was the 1984 Dodge Omni GLH, a moniker that literally was an acronym for “Goes Like Hell.” The high-output 2.2 liter four pumped 110 horsepower into the front wheels, far more than rival hot hatches like the aforementioned Rabbit GTi. Wider rubber, ground effects, and red accents created an eye-catching but still rather stealth machine that could pull 0-60 in 8.7 seconds.

ADVERTISEMENT
Il 1588xn
Chrysler
Omni Glt Rear
Octane Film Cars

Here’s a rather fun, memorable commercial for the car back in ’84. Wish I had that scale model …

 

The GLH was relatively quick for the time, but you can always make a car faster. For the second year of the hotted-up Omni, the 146 horsepower Turbo I engine from larger Chrysler products was offered in the GLH Turbo, a power boost that knocked over a second off of the original car’s time to 60. This was starting to get serious, and very quickly.

Omni Glh Turbo Engine
Classic Cars. com

For the ultimate Omni hatch, Shelby put a “Turbo II” engine under the hood that was massaged up to 175 horsepower. As Carroll might say, the car did not “have any hitch in it’s git-a-long.” Dubbed the GLH-S (for Goes Like Hell S’More, said Shelby), this was a rather blunt instrument next to the more surgical Volkswagen rival, but the concurrent GTi was never going to see the acceleration times of this thing. Hoo-wee!

ADVERTISEMENT
Omni Glhs 12 24
Chrysler

The Omni lived on until 1990, but the last GLH was sold in 1986, a short run for a car very long on fun. Later, Chrysler offered sporting little cars like the SRT Neon, but the original GLH has a certain basic charm that many new-school Mopar fans miss.

Raising Cain

A revived Dodge Omni sounds like an exciting little hatch, and I can see an EV revival of this thing in cute colors being the kind of hit that Stellantis would want. Of course, as Autopians, we don’t really give a shit about cute: we want fast. We want a new GLH. Don’t worry, the Bishop has you covered.

One of the most talked-about EVs of recent years has been the Hyundai Ioniq 5. This angular five door has a rather pleasing overall shape that many believe is covered in a bit too many “stylish” will-quickly-be-dated details such as a sharp, angular cuts on its flanks, lots of “ribbed” detailing and odd, camera-iris scalloped trims on the wheel arches.

Ioniq5 Side View 12 20
Hyundai

If we clean all that techno-gingerbread off, we end up with a rather plain but balanced form quite similar to 1970s subcompact hatchbacks. In fact, it ends up looking a lot like an old Golf or Omni. Let’s lean into the look and add the graphic touches that would evoke the GLH:

Omniglh2024b

ADVERTISEMENT

Simple black trim, a fake grille, and a Hoffmeister kink on the rear door evoke the Omni’s design; the rocker panel moldings and pepperpot wheels are a nostalgic nod to the past. White or a lighter color would really help show off the detailing better, but come on, it’s a GLH, right? Can it really not be black?

In back, the taillights mimic the shape of the original car but with LED grids below. Most hatchbacks today wrap the rear glass around the upper sides of the car, but not on our Omni.

Omniglh2024

The interior of the original Omni was not particularly unique, but it did have a super deep-dished steering wheel and sharply angled back gauge binnacle, as will our revival.

Omni Glh Interior
Classic Cars. com

The center console has a vertical “wall” along the passenger’s side just like on a 1970 Challenger. Sure, a shifter is unnecessary, but regardless we’ll offer an “L” shaped gear selector to fill the void on the console and deliver a true retro touch. Note also the flip-up, face-level vents and Pentastar-logo shaped door speakers grilles.

ADVERTISEMENT

Omni Dashboard 12 20

Bolt Outta Hell

Let’s not waste any more time: how fast could it be? I see this high-voltage hatch as being somewhat smaller than the Ioniq5, and while there could certainly be a front-drive, single-motor Omni offered, I know the GLH will need motors front and back. How much power? I’m hoping that each motor could produce least 250 horsepower, so if we could get the total in the vicinity of 600 horses we’d be nearing the idiotic level I’m looking for. With a weight in the 4000 pound range, zero to sixty would be in the mid-to-low three seconds. “Oh,” says the boxy subcompact, “do I have your attention now?”

Screenshot (1518)
Chrysler

If Ol’ Shel were alive today, it’s hard to imagine him thinking about range or volts or battery packs, but I somehow believe that he’d be smiling down on this silly little car. You don’t need gasoline to raise Hell.

Relatedbar

A Trained Designer Imagines What A 1980s Version Of A 1955 Chrysler 300 Would Look Like – The Autopian

ADVERTISEMENT

The ‘California’ Shelby Rampage Is The Extremely Rare Dodge Street-Pickup You Never Knew Existed: Holy Grails – The Autopian

Nobody Asked For This But I’ve Designed A New Electric Dodge Sports Car Based On An Old K-Car, And You’ll Agree It’s Pure Genius – The Autopian

The Shelby Series I Was Carroll Shelby’s Most Glorious Failure – The Autopian

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
74 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
CUlater
CUlater
7 days ago

How did I miss this story until now?? As a former GLH Turbo and Shelby Lancer owner, this is the perfect modern rendition of everything that was great about them. Were they perfect? No, the GLH shift linkage popping apart periodically was irritating, but at least easily popped back together in moments, and the Shlancer’s suspension on rough pavement was like steel billets. But fun and more performance per dollar than anything else at the time? Yes. Would I do it again? Definitely yes. Wish I had found a way to keep them? Yes.

And the GLHs buckets were some of the most comfortable I’ve ever had. I know, weird but true.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
3 months ago

I immediately saw the resemblance to the Ioniq but that’s not a bad thing. Given that I still have a weird soft spot in my heart for malaise-era Mopar, your topshot car is quite attractive, and I absolutely love hot hatches my final verdict is: “Shut up and take my money!”

The wheels remain one of my favorites to this day. I’m all for a revival.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
3 months ago

I actually kinda like the GLH concept Hornet Dodge showed at the unveiling. But the Hornet is about twice as expensive as it needs to be to sell.

Turn the Page
Turn the Page
3 months ago

Very nice work, Bishop! For those of us who are fans of the original GLH, this is a great homage to the original for the EV future.

I ordered and took delivery of a new 1986 GLH Turbo in Santa Fe Blue, with blue interior, A/C, rear wiper and defroster. I had a long commute, and after 5 years and 140k trouble-free miles, I had only one repair issue for an A/C high-pressure hose replacement, I then sold it to a co-worker. He drove it another 25k miles until an unfortunate encounter with a big deer. My co-worker was OK, not so for the big corn-fed Michigan buck.

About a year after one of my sons came of driving age, he said he wanted to buy a GLH Turbo like the one he had grown up riding in. He is the most responsible one of my three boys, so I had no issue with this car for a young driver. We found one for sale that was owned by an enthusiast who kept it in a climate-controlled garage with three of his other cars. Never driven in winter and rarely in rain, it was as clean in 2002 as it was when built. And it was a 1986 GLH Turbo in Santa Fe Blue, with blue interior, and A/C! My son carefully drove and maintained the car for four years until moving overseas. He sold it to a classmate car enthusiast engineer who has the car to this day.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
3 months ago
Reply to  Turn the Page

Great story—and heart-warming to hear the little beast is still putting it down

10MM Socket
10MM Socket
3 months ago

Fanfu@*ingtastic design Bishop! But give it three pedals, a very modest 200hp ICE, and a cloth seat option and I’d buy two of them. It would be an excellent daily driver for any enthusiast.

Gary Lynch
Gary Lynch
3 months ago

Great idea.

will note that these critics probably were note even alive, or certainly driving, these vehicles back in the day. Especially Lido’s day. A much different time than whenLutz was around.

Fernando Astorga
Fernando Astorga
3 months ago

Splendid!

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
3 months ago

Very sharp-looking car, evokes the Golf and the Omnirizon so well.
It’s so good that I’m not gonna hold my breath.

BolognaBurrito
BolognaBurrito
3 months ago

I’m getting Mk1+Mk2 Scirocco with Corrado vibes.

Eric Smith
Eric Smith
3 months ago

I’ve never been so disappointed, no, actually mad! to read a Bishop post in the history of this site.

Before I even clicked on the link, the old Futurama Fry “Shut up and take my money” meme was front and center in my mind. “Where and when can I buy this please?” was my actual thought. “How is such an awesome looking car getting shown off on a Thursday in the height of holiday season when no one is going to be paying any attention at all?”

Then I saw the byline and my heart sank.

And then I did the reading bit and while I was a still disappointed that my perfect next car was but a dream, I instead got to dig in yet again on a well laid-out journey through where the Bishop was getting their inspiration and direction from.

While I’m torn up that I can’t put down my deposit on a RED! GLH today, this one got me thinking a lot about the site and how Bishop’s posts often represent the essential essence of this site and the community distilled down into a thousand or so words. You read one and you get a four course meal in car: tearing into some foundational design ideas, always enlightening auto history, engineering, and evolution of auto tech and then as if you needed a reward for reading and thinking about all of that, you come through with a dessert of a design that usually does a pretty great job of pulling all of it together. I’m no encyclopedia, yet I’m both old enough and obsessive enough to know a great deal about a lot of car shit, but I’ve never not learned something new from one of these. As well, these posts always come from this seemingly optimistic spot where with the right circumstances, a tweak to history here or there, almost anything could be possible. Bishop’s never condescending, constantly admiring the contributions of the folks who came before even when those contributions were less than perfect. How refreshing in the online world we generally deal with.

Part of why I love this site and the community around it is that (with some small exception) it’s the rare corner of our current online world that doesn’t rely on tearing shit down and manufacturing controversy and counters all this shit while also being ridiculously educational and just fun. Best of all, all of that sense of community has attracted a great (99.9%) group of readers and commenters.

I suppose I’ll have to accept all that as my consolation for not being able to pre-order the GLH before Xmas. Damn you Bishop!

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
3 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Oh, you have whole fan club here at the Autopian. I’m still hoping for the day I can get up to LA while you’re out on the West Coast to actually meet you.

Josh Ashby
Josh Ashby
3 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

McLaren.

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
3 months ago

Looks sweet, I would love one of those.

But don’t all EVs GLH really? At least from 0 to speed limits. Every one I have ever tried did. Even Renault Fluence and Zoe.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
3 months ago

Nothing, I repeat, nothing can make up for the hellacious nightmare that was the original Omni/Horizon. I don’t care if it’s an electric hot hatch with 1,000 mile range and 800 hp and 1000 lb-ft of torque with a Bishop/Clarke/Ghia/Bertone/Pininfarina/Giugiaro design selling for $10K with 10-year, 150,000-mile nose-to-tail warranty.

The Omni/Horizon was a pox on humanity. It needs to continue turning into iron oxide in whatever godforsaken blighted shithole junkyards and crusher piles have had the misfortune of accepting any of them.

Junkyard dogs pee on them. Junkyard rats avoid them. Junkyard squirrels poop in their vents. They have been known to jam crushers just because they can.

Their exhaust note is an ad for Gas-X. Their interior pales in comparison to a 1982 happy-ending massage parlor in Ho Chi Minh City. Their engine would be a good candidate for a coffee grinder, if all you drink is tea.

They make the Aspen look like a triumph of engineering, the Discovery a paragon of reliability, David Tracy’s Jeep agglomeration like Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno combined their collections.

I wish Men in Black were real so I could erase the Omni/Horizon from the collective consciousness so we never, ever have to be reminded that it once disgraced our collective roads.

Source: I had one. Or one had me, I’m not sure at this point. If you think a cheap old Mercedes is the road to ruin, you have another thing coming if you buy an Omni/Horizon. If you ever, ever need to get anywhere within any kind of time frame, say a doctor’s appointment or a class, the Omni/Horizon will ensure your pancreatic cancer remains undetected and you never graduate.

Last edited 3 months ago by The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
Cal67
Cal67
3 months ago

I would love a GLH-S version, but you are right about the base car. Some years back my daily driver got hit and was in the shop for repairs. My rental was a new Omni (automatic transmission). My younger brother was in treatment for a brain tumor and so my mother had to drive him there (a bit over an hour each way) three times a week. Since her daily at the time was a 77 Olds 98 Regency with a 403, we figured I would swap her with my rental on the days she had to drive him up to save on gas. After one week and calculating the fuel mileage, I got the Omni back and she drove the 98 – it got substantially better fuel mileage. Not only was it slow and uncomfortable, it got crap fuel mileage. (My brother has been cancer free since the treatments ended.)

Taargus Taargus
Taargus Taargus
3 months ago

A simple no would have been fine… lol.

I love reading everyone’s hate mail to various cars of the past here. I’m personally a fan of the Omni design (though I’m young enough to never have had to depend on one) but I appreciate both the rose-colored glasses takes on them, and your bitter “wake up you idiots that thing was a total P.O.S.” take as well.

We probably needed this post for the sake of balance.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
3 months ago

Bitter? Moi?

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
3 months ago

I do miss my Omni. It was an awesome little car, but the truth is, I couldn’t handle the rigors of pizza delivery nearly as well as the three Mitsubishi-built Dodge Colts I owned right after the Omni. The Omni was always dirt cheap and easy to fix, but unfortunately needed attention a little too often.

Both the GLH and GLH-S were easily the most fun you could get for your new car dollar when they were new. The problem was that both paled in comparison to many other options on the used market. You could easily find a used muscle car for about the same money, or a late model used Mustang or Camaro with aftermarket engine mods.

Great idea, pretty well executed. But not quite well enough, just like so many other American cars of that era.

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
3 months ago

But, how do you really feel?

74
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x