Good morning, Autopians! Today’s Showdown is a study in ranged weapons, from the good folks at the corporation formerly known as Chrysler. We’ve got an old-school rear-drive captive import, and the sexiest K-car ever made. It’s gonna–hey, where are you going? Come back! No, really. It’s gonna be great.
Naming a car is a tricky business, which may be why automakers have nearly abandoned the practice in favor of cryptic alphanumeric nomenclature that no one except the marketing department really understands, or cares about. Great car names are evocative: Mustang, Charger, Tempest, Javelin, Blazer, and so forth. And they needn’t be aggressive to be effective: Sprite and Miata are cute little names for cute little cars. Perfect cars for driving in the city? Try a Civic or a Metro. Compare those to FX45 or BZ4X or M340i or whatever – which would you rather tell people you drive?
That brings us to today’s choices. If you have a straightforward little car that always hits the target dead-center, call it an Arrow. If you want to tell people your new car is high-tech and futuristic, Laser is the perfect name… or at least it was in the mid-1980s. But before we get to those, I guess we should finish up with yesterday’s open-source engines:
Twice the cylinders, twice the votes, it seems. Having briefly owned examples of both, and worked on many more of each over the years, I have to side with the Chevy folks. Air-cooled VWs are cool, but my heart belongs to V8s, and the good old SBC (and its successor, the LS) is always welcome in my garage.
All right. Let’s look at some cars named after shooty things.
Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter overhead cam inline 4, three-speed automatic, RWD
Location: Sammamish, WA
Odometer reading: 122,000 miles
Runs/drives? Runs, but has been sitting for years
After a few failed experiments with various Rootes Group vehicles, Chrysler settled on its Japanese partner Mitsubishi for its captive imports. This sleek little coupe was known as the Mitsubishi Lancer Celeste in its homeland. It’s powered by Mitsubishi’s two-liter four, a chain-driven overhead cam engine with Mitsubishi’s “MCA-Jet” emissions control system, consisting of an extra tiny intake valve for each cylinder to lean out the mixture, one of many strategies tried by automakers in the ’70s to meet new requirements.
In the case of this little gold Arrow, that engine drives the rear wheels through a three-speed automatic. Yeah, I know. It has been sitting for a long time; the seller has brought it back to life, but there’s still a lot of work to be done before it’s roadworthy. It has a tick from the top end of the engine, which is likely a valve out of adjustment. You all remember how to adjust valves, right?
Cosmetically, it’s in remarkable shape. Japanese imports from the ’70s were reliable, but they tended to rust if you breathed on them too hard; in climates with any weather whatsoever, a lot of them simply dissolved. The fact that this one has survived with only a little bubbling on the hood means that it was probably parked inside, and didn’t see any winters.
The stock Arrow might not be a performance car, especially this one with an automatic, but its sleek (by 1970s standards) body shape became very popular with drag racers. Small, lightweight, and already rear-wheel-drive, the Arrow was a natural choice for quarter-mile shenanigans. With so few left, I can’t decide if it would be a shame if someone turned this one into a drag car, or the absolute perfect use for it.
Engine/drivetrain: Turbocharged 2.2 liter overhead cam inline 4, three-speed automatic, FWD
Location: Weed, CA
Odometer reading: 86,000 miles
A tip of the hat to Sam Blockhan on Opposite Lock for pointing this one out to me. This is a car I know well, because I used to own one, just about like this, in fact, except mine was brown. This rare sister model to the Dodge Daytona existed for only three model years, from 1984 to 1986, and was dropped when Chrysler’s own LeBaron was restyled in 1987. The Laser was a fancier, more luxurious version of the Daytona, with nicer interior appointments and a different rear spoiler. This XT model was the top of the line, and an exceptionally rare car – only 3,452 Laser XTs were built in 1985.
Chrysler threw every trick, gimmick, and option in the book at this car. It has a digital dashboard with full instrumentation, a trip computer, an electronic message center with a synthesized voice (the one in my ’84 Laser XE was affected with a sort of automotive Tourette’s syndrome – it would randomly speak various messages), power-adjustable Recaro seats with inflatable lumbar supports, and of course Chrysler’s 2.2 liter Turbo I engine, here paired with a three-speed Torqueflite automatic.
This one runs and drives just fine, with only 86,000 miles on the clock. It was apparently the seller’s mother’s pride and joy, and the family has been taking it for a spin around the block to keep the juices flowing. It needs new tires – they’re probably wildly out of date – but other than that, it sounds like it’s in fantastic shape.
It sure looks great. This has always been one of my favorite body styles of its era, and I think it still holds up today. Like Camaros, Firebirds, and Mustangs, Daytonas and Lasers too often got beaten to death by “enthusiastic” owners; I know mine was pretty rough around the edges by the time I got it. This one is a bit dull and faded, but I bet it would shine up all right. I’ll tell you one thing: if I had a place to put it, I might very well make a trip down to northern California to check it out.
These two sporty coupes are all but extinct, and we won’t see the likes of them again. But if these two are out there, just waiting to be put back on the road, there must still be others. If you want a sporty two-door, you may have to dig a little, but they’re out there. Yes, these are both automatics, but if you simply must shift your own gears, either one can be swapped to a manual. So what’ll it be: the rear-drive Arrow, or the turbocharged Laser?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)