Home » The Dodge Spirit R/T Was The Fastest Sedan Built In America And Nearly As Quick As A BMW M5: Holy Grails

The Dodge Spirit R/T Was The Fastest Sedan Built In America And Nearly As Quick As A BMW M5: Holy Grails


Welcome back to Holy Grails, the Autopian series where you show off some of the coolest, most underrated cars that you love. Grails continue to come in sizzling hot from you lovely readers, and most of these submissions legitimately rock in their own way. Today, one reader wants to remind you of a time when Dodge made what looked like a boring sedan. The reality? Under the hood was enough firepower to make it the fastest four-door built in America. Our readers are talking about the Dodge Spirit R/T, the front-wheel-drive wonder that was almost as fast as an E34 BMW M5 and a legit holy grail.

Last time, reader Jason L pointed out a fabulous 1990s Japanese performance car that collectors appear to be overlooking. Launched in 1991, the Nissan Sentra SE-R took what was otherwise a regular economy car and made it something awesome. For the Sentra SE-R, Nissan went into its parts bin, using the 2.0-liter SR20DE four meant for the Infiniti G20. Making 140 HP and 132 lb-ft torque, it was a decent improvement over the base 1.6-liter four that made 110 HP and 108 lb-ft torque. That was coupled to a manual transmission and it had an honest limited-slip differential. The result was something that reviewers said reminded them of the BMW 2002 of old, but for the modern day.

Today’s holy grail once again borrows from the same formula: Take a sedate economy car, then jack it up with some horsepower. That’s been a theme with our Holy Grails series lately, and you lovely readers keep sending in other examples of this happening throughout history. This suggestion was hard to ignore, as our reader sent us two emails to point out how cool these cars were. Picture an early 1990s performance car and your brain will probably conjure up images of the BMW E34, Acura Integra, Honda Prelude, Ford Taurus SHO, or perhaps a Ford Mustang. Those names may be better remembered and sometimes more valuable, but at least some of you feel that the Dodge Spirit R/T didn’t get its chance to shine.

1991 Dodge Spirit Rt Right Front Profile E1659101677947

As Hagerty writes, the story of this factory hot rod begins in late 1980 as the first of Chrysler’s then new K-cars rolled off of the assembly line. Chrysler was bleeding cash and was on the brink of financial collapse. With help from the government and the versatile K platform, Chrysler was able to pull itself out of its slump.

Part of the K platform’s magic was that it allowed a bunch of derivatives that shared tons of parts, which provided Chrysler with the opportunity to pump out different models for less money. In 1989, the “AA” body K derivative launched. This stretched version of the famous K platform was the backbone of the Plymouth Acclaim, Dodge Spirit, and Chrysler LeBaron sedan. Other countries got AA-body cars in the form of the Chrysler Saratoga and Chrysler New Yorker.

S L1600 (5)

At first, the Spirit was a practical small family car. Its base engine was a 2.5-liter four that made 100 HP, but if you were around then you could option an available 3.0-liter V6 from Mitsubishi that made 141 HP or the 2.5 with a turbo making 150 HP. However, in 1991, the Spirit got a shot of adrenaline, and this is the one that reader JamesRL says is a real holy grail. In fact, this reader believes so much in the Spirit R/T that they’ve sent us more than one email about it. That’s the enthusiasm that we adore here! From JamesRL:

The Dodge Spirit R/T.

Faster in the 1/4 miles than an E34 BMW M5 and the Ford Taurus SHO.

According to Chrysler it was the “fastest sedan produced in America. It was also allegedly the fastest “mass produced” car in the world, since the M5 was hand built. It was also the fastest car under $40,000.

Offered in 1991 and 1992, with only 1,399 sold in the US during that time period they are quite rare.

Besides a subtle body kit and color matched wheels it looked like a regular Dodge Spirit. It was initially only offered in Red or White, but Chrysler added Silver for 1992 (only 31 buyers went with Silver).

Under the hood is where it gets spicy; it had a 2.2 liter Turbo III engine with 224hp and 217 lb-ft of torque. Offered only with a 5spd manual, it also had heavy duty 4 wheel vented disk brakes and optional ABS. The interior trim was specific to the R/T too.

When people think of performance cars of the early 90s they think of 5.0 Mustangs, M5s, Camaros, and the Taurus SHO… but the Spirit R/T lives on in obscurity still being one of the fastest cars of the early 90s.

When I read this email I did a double-take. I found it hard to believe that this early ’90s Dodge was the fastest American-built sedan. But sure enough, it appears that Dodge did just that. The Spirit R/T was basically the Charger Hellcat of its day, offering a ton of performance for not a whole lot of coin.

Il Fullxfull.3501228258 Stkq

Most of it comes down to what’s housed in the engine bay. For the Spirit R/T, Dodge’s engineers looked into the Mopar parts-bin while joining forces with Lotus. Out of the other end came the 2.2-liter Turbo III inline-four. As the name would suggest, this was Mopar’s third iteration of its 2.2-liter turbo four that found a home in many Chrysler vehicles throughout the 1980s.

This version of the turbo four had a dual overhead cam 16-valve head developed by Lotus. It punched out 224 horsepower and 217 lb-ft torque. In the Spirit R/T, it was paired to a manual transmission (an automatic was not available) and converted the front tires into smoke. And if you can keep the hammer down long enough, it would race on to a top speed of 141 mph.

27186306 1991 Dodge Spirit R T
Gateway Classic Cars

This engine alone turned the Spirit R/T into a beast, from a 1991 review from Car and Driver:

What we have here is a Sugar Ray Leonard engine trapped in a Homer Simpson physique. The Sugar Ray part is amazing: Chrysler’s new sixteen-valve turbocharged-and-intercooled four (the maker’s first engine with four valves per cylinder) chums out a whopping 224 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 217 pound­-feet of torque at 2800. That’s from 2.2 liters, kids.

Like Sugar Ray, this engine is explosive: there’s a touch of turbo lag from rest, but before you can say “Where’s the boost?” the blower is screaming and you’re struggling to separate your cranium from the headrest. Indeed, with only 3162 pounds to propel (the R/T is by far the lightest of the clippers), the engine generates enough forward thrust to humiliate many of the world’s blue-chip sports cars. The R/T’s 0-to-60-mph performance even betters that of the last Nissan 300ZX Turbo we tested. Unless you’re piloting, say, a Corvette ZR1 or a cruise missile, you’ll do well to lay low if a Spirit R/T rolls alongside at a stoplight.

I still couldn’t believe it, so I flipped through the pages of MotorWeek’s history and found that the charming John Davis was also impressed with the Spirit R/T’s power.

Sure enough, Dodge really did make the fastest sedan built in America, or specifically, Mexico. As Davis noted in his review, the Spirit R/T is faster than a Taurus SHO, and the Turbo III was punching out just one fewer pony than the Ford Mustang’s 5.0 V8 of the day. Performance varies depending on who is behind the wheel, but Car and Driver got its Spirit R/T tester to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and dispatched the quarter mile in 14.5 seconds. MotorWeek was a little slower, hitting 60 mph in 6.4 seconds and the quarter in 15.1 seconds. The Spirit R/T is noted to have some wheelspin and loads of torque steer, and I bet those factors in getting an optimal acceleration time.

Now, our reader does go on to say that the Spirit R/T is faster in the quarter mile than an E34 BMW M5. The tests that I’ve read show the M5 to be slightly faster. For example, when Car and Driver tested a 1991 BMW M5, it did the quarter in 14.2 seconds, 0.3 seconds faster than the Spirit R/T. And it got to 60 mph 0.2 seconds faster than the Spirit R/T. But that’s still amazing as the little Spirit is nearly as fast as a 310 HP M5. And with a slow driver behind the wheel of the M5, I bet the Spirit could beat it, too.

27186361 1991 Dodge Spirit R T Std
Gateway Classic Cars

Perhaps the best part about the Spirit R/T is that it looks just like a regular Spirit. Sure, you get R/T badging, front and rear spoilers, cast aluminum wheels, and a bright color, but nothing that screams that this will blow the doors off of any other sedan in America. The Spirit’s conservative looks are cited as one reason why Car and Driver placed it third in a shootout against a Ford Taurus SHO and a Chevy Lumina Z34.

Another knock against the Spirit R/T noted by both MotorWeek and Car and Driver is its chassis. Dodge pumped up the R/T’s shocks and springs for performance duty, but reviewers found that the chassis wasn’t as steady as the car’s competitors. MotorWeek found the Taurus SHO to have a more balanced chassis feel, and that the Spirit R/T’s engine overpowers its stock tires. MotorWeek’s Davis went on to note that optioning the car with ABS was mandatory, as stopping the ride was an event on its own. Thus, both publications praise the Spirit R/T mostly for its incredible straight-line performance. Motor Trend was more impressed, and nominated the Spirit R/T as its “Domestic Sport Sedan of the Year” preferring it over the Taurus SHO.

27186459 1991 Dodge Spirit R T Std
Gateway Classic Cars

Still, it’s hard to ignore the allure of the Spirit R/T. When it was new in 1991, it set you back $17,820, or $39,454 in today’s money. Keeping with our reader’s comparison, you got a faster car than the $22,071 Ford Taurus SHO ($48,866 today) and nearly as fast as a $56,600 BMW M5 ($125,315 in today’s money). Of course, the BMW comparison is not apples-to-apples, but simply illustrates what you can get with big power in a small package. A 5.8-second sprint to 60 mph would be a respectable time even today, three decades later.

27186462 1991 Dodge Spirit R T Std
Gateway Classic Cars

The Spirit R/T was built for just two model years, 1991 and 1992. And over that time, just 1,399 of them were produced. That makes the Spirit R/T a pretty rare vehicle. Despite that, these remain pretty cheap. Zero Spirit R/Ts have sold on Bring a Trailer, and I found zero mint Spirit R/Ts currently for sale. Here’s one that needs some work for $3,000. But even all fixed up, they aren’t worth a ton. Here’s a clean one that was listed for just $6,980.

Will these ever be valuable? I cannot tell you. One thing’s for sure, if you’re looking for an affordable early 1990s car that looks slow but could still lay a smackdown at the lights, the Spirit R/T is worth a look. Nobody would expect this to be as fast as it is.

27186392 1991 Dodge Spirit R T Std
Gateway Classic Cars

Do you know of a holy grail of a car out there? If so, we want to read about it! Send us an email at tips@theautopian.com and give us a pitch for why you think your favorite car is a holy grail.

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79 Responses

  1. I remember a feature in Hemmings Muscle Machines about a Dodge Shadow R/T – I seem to remember that the owner built it as a “one of none,” parts-bin special, with the 2.2 turbo under the hood. Those features always had a “pros and cons” sidebar about the car, and one of the “cons” was “Trying to convince the rest of the staff that the best car you drove all month was a Dodge Shadow.”

      1. I’ve owned a ’92 Achieva SCX since it was bought new in 1992- still have it, and if I can find the appropriate parts, I’ll restore it and put her back on the road. Love that car and always will, but I remember driving a Spirit R/T shortly after bringing the SCX home. The SCX was quick for it’s time, but an Integra Type-R could beat it (ask me how I know) and the Spirit R/T would obliterate it in a straight line. Can’t speak to the 91 Calais Quad 442 W41 (Olds sure did love long stupid names at the time)- only made for one year and only 204 examples- same drivetrain as my SCX, but sans a few pounds.

      2. The Achieva is such a good call. I’d totally forgotten about those, but at the time, I really liked their looks (including a surprisingly cool interior, esp. the gauges) and they were quite the performer for a GM sport coupe.

        And yeah, I’ll say it…I even liked the badge-engineered Buick Skylark companion with that insane front end. But I’d have chosen the Achieva.

        And where is Gossin when we need him anyway?!

    1. Yep. Mine wasn’t a 442, but I had a Calais with the standard Quad 4 (160 hp vs 180) and a 5-speed, and even it was a screamer. Went around on-ramp cloverleafs better than it had any right to, too. I surprised a couple of Audi A4 drivers with that thing.

      Never got to drive a Spirit R/T, but I always wanted to. My dad had a ’92 Taurus SHO, and I had plenty of seat time in that, and I always wanted to make the comparison myself.

      1. I was lucky enough to drive them basically back to back. The SHO wasn’t as alarming as the R/T. It also wasn’t anywhere near as quick, but it was a lot more grown-up feeling.

        There wasn’t much in the way of an Internet in 1992, but if there had been the Spirit would have been a Goblin Mode meme. It was like the Tasmanian Devil. It was a lot of fun in an “I can’t believe they built this” kind of way, but it felt like a backyard hotrod project compared to the genteel SHO.

    1. “I’ve heard rumors of some enthusiasts poaching this engine out of the car and shoving it into Omni GLHs.”

      How did they expect to control it? From what I’ve heard and read is that the GLH was tuned to its limits, which is what made it so awesome!

      Would they flare the front wheel wells to put wider tires in there? Or just spin around in circles every time you hit the gas? Enquiring minds want to know!!!

  2. Well, Lee Iacocca *did* promise that Dodge and Chrysler would build sedans that would challenge BMW, Audi, even Mercedes for thousands less, and with the best safety recall record over two full model years of any domestic automaker.

    Man, could that guy sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves

    1. This is easily one of my favorite comments ever posted here. Dodge didn’t sell many of these, but it seems like Iacocca wasn’t writing checks that his brands couldn’t cash!

    2. I am not worthy of your last statement

      I got something in my eye, when he was brought back to Chrysler Corp and they gave him an award. (This might have been before they took his company car from him.) That man… was a FUCKING LEGEND. Dude had teeth…aggressive motherfucker. When they brought him back… I could see this… THIS.. is not the Mr Iococca.. that brought them out of insolvency.

      1. One of the big, unanswered “what ifs” of the auto industry is what if Kirk Kerkorian had succeeded in his bid to take Chrysler private in the mid ’90s and put Iacocca back in charge (as was the plan). Certainly, the sale to Daimler-Benz would not have happened, but, beyond that? At the very least, things would have almost certainly worked out better than they did, whether it would have still been enough to avoid bankruptcy and eventual disappearance through a two step transatlantic consolidation is the unknown.

        1. Interesting. I did not know that. It was amazing what they did in the early 90’s when they had to reinvent themselves again after the new was well worn off the K-car platform. They were on an absolute tear later in the decade, making more per car sold than anybody else, if I recall. The hits just kept on coming – the Ram redefined the pickup truck as we knew it. The Grand Cherokee caught the other makers’ SUVs on their heels. The Viper was killer. Their sedans were attractive and affordable, and they stayed well ahead of the game with their minivans with all the refinements and features they continued to pioneer. The Neon was a decent cheap little car, too. If they had gone private, and kept Lido at the helm for a bit longer and then Lutz, who knows how high they could have flown.

          1. I do know a few things:
            Ioccoca liked the K cars.. easy, cheap.
            When the LX or LH cars came around… he wasnt so thrilled. His autobio says he wasnt real thrilled about them.. and he acted like he was getting too big.

            But.. he has said on Late Night TV shows that USED to matter.. he would build those same entry level decent cars again.

            It does suck that the Viper… was killed so Chrysler could rake in the dough with numerous copies of the Challenger.

  3. I had it’s sister, a 1992 Dodge Daytona IROC R/T with the same motor, and it was an awesome car and motor combo with one major flaw, sadly it was the Lotus designed cylinder head, the one thing that was single sourced.

    I’m not kidding, I never had a head that lasted more than 6 months, even with me babying it, I’d smell coolant, and then bring it to the dealer, say ” I think I’ll need a loaner” and they’d say “oh it’s not the head, it’s just a gasket, shouldn’t be more than a few days” and then they would have the car apart for months while they waited for a head to show up.

    The service writer and I talked a lot, I got the impression that there was an insanely high failure rate on the heads out of the plant. I know over 3 years I had 4 heads replaced and was in a loaner neon for as often as I was in my car. My ex wound up totaling it or I’d still be replacing heads, it was THAT MUCH FUN…

    1. I once tried to make a list of the major engineering defects in the TIII head.

      I decided it would be more fun to call random junkyards to try and buy the Cosworth-Maserati head. Or pluck my nose hairs with vise grips. Or maybe just set myself on fire.

      If I had infinite budget and time? I’d find a good TIII head, have it completely blueprinted and x-rayed, have a new casting made, and then FILM DESTROYING ALL OF IT. And then have a couple dozen new Cosworth heads custom cast.

      Seriously. If I had an infinite supply of TIII heads and commonblocks available to me, I’d go build literally anything else. Maybe I can find some Iron Pukes.

      1. A better option is building a “hybrid” using a DOHC neon head. Or, at this point, simply swapping in a whole SRT-4/PTGT engine. It bolts to the Spirit transmission using slight modifications, or you can swap in the SRT-4 transmission and get a limited slip trans. My friend did this swap to a Spirit R/T and it’s really well done. I have this swap done to my woody LeBaron wagon and it makes it a ton of fun.

      1. Common malady from people not understanding that the TIII requires VERY special setup due to, well, basically all the bad design decisions on Lotus’ part which Chrysler never had time to even think about fixing.

        If the belt’s shredding more than once, you have to realign the entire timing system. Once is tensioner misadjustment. Twice is axis misalignment.
        If the belt’s jumping time repeatedly (these are non-interference,) you get the joy of trying to overcome the negative tension design defect in the cams. I basically thought about that for thirty seconds and said “fuck, it needs a hydraulic tensioner.”

    1. A school friend’s dad had one. He took us skiing with it. That was a surprisingly comfortable back seat both down and back. My friend’s dad opened it up once and it moved pretty well.

    2. I drove a Spirit R/T back in the day, and later owned an SVT Contour. The two cars were night and day different; the Contour was incredibly well balanced, and rode and drove like the European sedan it fundamentally was. The engine in the Contour was a gem, smooth but with a snarl as the revs built—it felt like a mini-SHO V6.

      The R/T was…none of those things. It was bonkers fast in a straight line, way faster that the Contour, but the engine blitzed the chassis completely. The body and suspension was Not Ready for that level of power. It torque steered like mad, *especially* if you had the temerity to hit a bump while accelerating. The interior was cheap and cheerful but without the “cheerful” part. The shift linkage was vaguer than a teenager asked about their evening plans.

      The R/T was a one note car. That one note was kind of hilarious, but it didn’t make for a car you wanted to spend a lot of time with.

      1. It really was the spiritual successor to the Dodge muscle cars of the early ’70s – it went fast in a straight line but didn’t like to turn or stop. Cool for sure, but every day?

        I had a coworker who owned a Contour (a more mainline trim than yours) and while it might not have been a scorcher, the handling was wonderful and it was a great all-around package that made most of your daily driving entertaining.

        1. The Contour SE was a fantastic car, too. Probably the best mainstream small sedan available at the time. It’s insane that the car it replaced was the Tempo.

          Alas, while people complained about the size, I think the biggest problem was the value. It was a lot of car for the money, but it wasn’t cheap, and Ford spent the entire production run decontenting it to try and stoke some profits.

          Of course, the 2nd gen Fusion was also pretty nice (and just as much a Mondeo as the Contour), but it was sad we never got a manual V6 again.

          1. When Ford announced that final Fusion Sport like 5 years ago, such high hopes – that gorgeous 3rd gen body + V6 + a special sport designation must surely equal…a manual!?

            Such a tease. I was crushed.

  4. I’ll give a shout out to the engines Chrysler was putting out at this time, even if some were a risk. But I recall an owner of one of these describing the 0-60 time as how long it took for a trim piece or body panel to dislodge. The build quality was pretty awful. A slower but better built Japanese car is more likely to be treasured now.

  5. I feel we also need a sidebar here on that-era Dodge Caravan Turbo minivan.

    Plenty of the cool of the Spirit R/T but in the world’s most uncool wrapping. Bonus amazing: could be had with a manual.

    1. I also had a turbo Caravan with a 5-speed for my company car. I even ordered the wood grain version just to screw with people.The small “turbo” script on the front fenders peeled right off.

      Ridiculous fun. It would scratch the tires on the 1-2 shift with two kids in car seats in the the second row. “Do it again, Dad.”

      1. The small “turbo” script on the front fenders peeled right off.

        My good friend’s mum had a Caravan with turbo engine, and that script also disappeared easily. She asked the guy who specialised in hand-painted pinstripes to write in “Turbo Queen” on both front fenders.

  6. I DO BELIEVE… the Dodge SPIRIT came after the DODGE LANCER! My parents had a LANCER ES. It was a Triple RED HATCH. Red paint, red interior, red soul, given to the devil.

    Seeing a Turbo model.. of anything at Chrysler.. was harder than crapping in a Tornado.

  7. I work at a Dodge dealership in Connecticut. We have an overflow lot a few miles away for any extra inventory is parked. A beautiful (albeit slightly rusted) Spirit in light blue has been sitting at the far end of the lot for nearly 3 years now. I’ve only worked there for this long and suspect it has been sitting there even longer. No license plates, no registration stickers, and never seen it moved. What’s crazy is the inside is immaculate, as if it has never been sat in.

    The crazy part is that the Carfax shows no history on this vehicle. Now, there used to be a different Dodge dealership in town that closed its doors many years ago. My working theory is that this vehicle was never picked back up from Dodge/Chrysler corporate when the old dealership shut down, and has remained parked ever since. One of these days I promised myself that I’d investigate this vehicle more and discover its full story. Until that day comes, it shall sit there, taunting me to open the doors.

    1. What a find! A friend of mine had a sorta similar find in 2020 at a VW dealership out of town. Way back in the lot was a brand-freaking-new VW Touareg V10 TDI that had sat on the dealer lot for , at that point, 12 years. It’s been a while since we discussed it, but I think he offered like $10k for it…the dealership accepted his offer but I don’t think he actually wound up buying it. He might have come to his senses lol.

  8. My sister had one of these in High School. It was a Copart auction score.

    My cousin grenaded the transmission trying to do a burnout (FWD!). Then the transmission shop totaled it on the test drive after the rebuild.

    It’s amazing what used to feel fast compared to what is common now.

  9. Title of the article makes it sound like it was built the fastest. Now that I think of it, maybe it was also built very quickly. Can’t they pump out like a car every few minutes on the assembly line?

  10. Sorry but there is no way this car was faster than an m5 of the same era. These cars were junk. Riddled with problems from day one. This car was not fast or quick. It’s a pile of junk. It’s not rare or a holy grail. The dodge spirit was one of the worst vehicles ever to be built. The author is completely full of shit.

    1. If you read the article (or just the headline) you’ll realize that I never called it faster than the M5. On paper, it was *almost* as fast and specifically in a straight line, since the tires and chassis weren’t up to the challenge.

      Which makes sense, it’s not like that 224 HP was moving a big car.

      Also, under 1,400 units is not rare? I’m actually curious about what people consider to be rare cars. I’ve been debating it with myself for years, and have landed in the ballpark of “under 10,000 in the world,” but I’m open to change!

      Also also, Holy Grails submissions are from you, the readers! If you have something better, I’d absolutely love to see it! 🙂

    2. I dont know what build quality has to do with speed, it’s 224hp in a car that’s less than 3200lbs, and contemporary reviews confirmed it was roughly dead even tied with the M5 of the time in the 0-60 sprint. You could make a Yugo do that with enough power under the hood

  11. Oh the R/T editions, they were so popular in Mexico, even police officers were driving these cars. So popular that Chrysler took the opportunity to bring that edition to the next generation of sedans, the Chrysler Cirrus (Sebring in the US) and Dodge Stratus R/T with a 2.4L engine turbocharged making around 225HP, exclusive for the mexican market. You could tell when they had the turbocharged engine by the noise they made. According to a friend, when his turbo died on his Cirrus, he used the one from the dodge spirit, the car lasted for another week and then completely died lol the dashboard was already cracking, door trims falling apart, the 90s Chrysler quality lol

  12. Comparing the Dodge Sprit RT to an E34 M5 is a bit…misleading. The M5 was ~ 800 pounds heavier and was geared for high-speed autobahn cruising, not quarter-mile sprints. Now put that 2.2-liter Turbo III motor in something with a decent chassis and (ideally) with rear-wheel drive, and now you’re cooking with gas.

    1. Oddly enough, Dodge itself compared the Spirit R/T to the E34 in advertising. That’s how confident Dodge was in this thing.

      But you’re right, which is why I also mentioned its actual competition. The way I see it, the comparisons to the M5 and other Autobahn cruisers were more just pointing out how silly fast this thing was, not at all apples-to-apples!

    2. No, you’re not cooking with gas. You’re throwing the TIII in the trash, using the Cosworth-Maserati 16 valve head, and taking home IMSA GTU championships in the #00/07 Daytona.

      Oh, sorry, the 07 was the FWD car. 99 was the RWD car. Same chassis and engine. And used a G24 unibody core.

  13. I got to order one of the 1,339 for my company car back in the day. Yep, it was silly fun for the 6 months I drove it until the 10,000 mile field car limit was up. They didn’t let me order another one, sadly..Maybe one too many factory guys turned them in with bald tires?

    The one odd thing I remember was it felt definitely a LOT faster with the A/C off. The white versions were a bit more subtle at casual glance which was to my advantage when I blew by some allegedly high performance cars of the day.

    That senior management at Chrysler even had the balls to green light the R/T was kinda awesome. It was a fun time to be working there.

    1. I think old AC compressors ate a lot more power. I remember it being noticeable in V8s of the time. One friend referred to the “AC off” button as turbo boost (I think he got it from Knight Rider). We used to rip them out to “make the car faster” (summers rarely got as hot and humid then, anyway). Nowadays, they’re hardly noticeable when running, but those old ones also seemed to work better, which might have been the refrigerant, IDK.

    2. I suspect no small number of the factory ones simply weren’t turned in, because they met their fate with a tree.

      And they absolutely were faster with the A/C off. I don’t recall who the ODM for the compressor was – probably Mitsu – but holy fuck. That thing is just pure parasitic drag. Literally the first damn thing on my engine build list was “kill a/c compressor with fire.”

    1. It’s been done atleast once that I can think of, although the 8v can make plenty of power. A much better (and more accessible) idea is either building a hybrid using a neon head…or a whole SRT-4 swap like my LeBaron has.

  14. I’ve wanted one if these on and off for about 25 years. It was my entry for best sleeper on the old site. I love how it represents the best and worst of Chrysler of this era. Thankfully your two examples aren’t close

  15. Umm, OK. You dismiss the M5 as “hand built” vs. “mass production”. But given that a 1991 BMW 750iL topped 150mph, and they made about twice as many per year as the R/T, I call bullshit on the world’s fastest sedan claim, let alone car. Maybe normalized for price …

    1. I find it funny that the top speed is rated at 141mph while the SHO was limited to 140mph. I don’t think this is a coincidence at all.

      This is also the 80’s when automakers would still provide special cars for some reviews. That and switching tires explains how one magazine would have 0-60 times of 5.8 seconds while others have 0-60 times of 6.4. That’s a huge difference when both tests were performed by professional drivers!

      From what I read at the time, the Spirit R/T could not be consistently driven well, and those top performance numbers didn’t represent what drivers would experience daily.

      That said, I’m glad they made it. Where are they all now?

      1. Most of them are still owned by Turbo Mopar enthusiasts. Check out Shelby Dodge Auto Club, or go to Chrysler’s at Carlisle and you’ll usually see a handful. A lot of them succumbed to rust in the North East because even though they were fast and performance cars, they were FWD cars that were based on K-cars, and K-cars are monsters in the snow.


    “Under the hood was enough firepower to make it the fastest four-door built in America. Our readers are talking about the Dodge Spirit R/T, the front-wheel-drive wonder that was almost as fast as an E34 BMW M5 and a legit holy grail.”

    NO. This is false.
    The Spirit R/T was the fastest production four-door car IN THE WORLD. No caveats. No qualifiers beyond ‘serially produced.’ That’s it. There was NOTHING that touched it until 1995.
    “But-b” NO. SHUSH. The Spirit R/T’s 0-60’s tires basically handicapped it at 5.7 seconds, which makes it quicker than the C36 AMG. With better rubber and quick shifting, it’s 5.5 or lower. Meaning the only thing out of the AMG stable that is quicker to both top speed and to 60 MPH is the C55 AMG. The C43 AMG is merely equal at best.
    And the M5 E34 is not faster. It simply isn’t. The penultimate 1995 M5 with S38B36 was over half a second slower to 60 despite the superior aero giving it a higher effective top speed. It took the E39 to finally best it convincingly.

    Quoth JamesRL: “it had a 2.2 liter Turbo III engine with 224hp and 217 lb-ft of torque.”

    The Turbo III’s ‘official’ numbers are 217HP and 224ft/lbs of torque; all Turbo III’s are mated to A568 transmissions made by Getrag. Even though the A555 and clutch package could handle 225ft/lbs.
    Because in reality, swapping in the road legal Mopar Performance SBEC on a Turbo III would put it outside the operating limits of the stock A555 and clutch. Lotus designed the head, and their objective was to show up Cosworth – who did the 16v “Maserati” head on the TC good for 200HP and 225ft/lbs.

    And Lotus? Lotus did not fucking take any prisoners or show any mercy. The 225 numbers aren’t sandbagging – they’re CAFE numbers. It was tuned to roughly that, but with only emissions legal upgrades (intercooler and improved catalytic converter downpipe) shoots past 250.
    How much past? The Turbo III is what got the Consulier GTP permanently banned from IMSA after it thrashed Hurley Haywood’s factory 911 Turbo, Boris Said’s Callaway twin turbo, and Jim Minnaker’s factory supported ZR1.

    “And if you can keep the hammer down long enough, it would race on to a top speed of 141 mph.”

    But you will not and cannot. Not if you want to live. This is the Spirit R/T’s Achilles heel, proven by the contemporary Daytona IROC R/T. It’s three boxes and that’s the positives of the aerodynamics on it. It’s a car that will make you go “holy fuck and I thought the Shelby Dakota was scary at 135.” (It’s terrifying.)
    And that 141MPH is the absolute aerodynamic limit. Officially the IROC R/T has a top speed of 147MPH, but that number is also not accurate. These are cars that packed better than 12.6lb/HP ratios. But they were equipped with V-rated tires – maximum of 149MPH.
    Legally speaking, Chrysler could not claim anything above the safety margins of the tires.

    Equipped with appropriate P225/50ZR16s, the top speed of a Daytona IROC R/T is closer to 174MPH than 147.
    You starting to understand why these things are true holy grails?

    “Performance varies depending on who is behind the wheel,” … “The Spirit R/T is noted to have some wheelspin and loads of torque steer, and I bet those factors in getting an optimal acceleration time.”

    This is putting it mildly. Reminder: I own turbo Dodges. I’ve driven more of them than probably anyone other than persons named Donovan. I’ve driven more high powered FWD and higher powered FWD cars than, well, if we say “the entire reader base,” it’s probably only wrong if we have some NHRA import pro drivers.
    I can borrow the keys to a five hundred horsepower Saab with a call. I have a 9-3 Viggen of my own now. I have an ’86 Daytona which was already built to 100HP per 1000lbs. I thought 220HP in 1800lbs of Ford with unequal half-shafts was a great idea. Which is a really long way of saying that I could write an entire goddamn encyclopedia on torque steer.

    And the Spirit R/T is easily the most difficult one of all to launch and control. By a very wide margin. Not because of the engine or gearbox; the Daytona has barely any at all. The AA-body was never designed as a sports car, and consequently has an absolute shitload of chassis flex and a dearth of reinforcement. That’s why stable numbers have always been and always will be impossible.

    “But even all fixed up, they aren’t worth a ton. Here’s a clean one that was listed for just $6,980. Will these ever be valuable? I cannot tell you.”

    They already are. But they’ve been so cheap, so long, there are very few survivors. Most have been hacked to pieces by idiots doing stupid shit like turning up the boost with a woodscrew in a vacuum line, ordering all their parts from the deepest discount bin on Rock Auto, rust problems were ignored till they had Flintstones brakes, after years of heaping no end of abuse and zero preventative maintenance on them.
    Any Spirit R/T being sold for less than $10k is a coin flip; any less than $5k is a basket case. Most owners these days are of the “I KNOW WUT I GOT NO LOWBALLS” or the “TRADE FOR SRT4” variety who are completely delusional about the condition of the car. Kid, David Tracy’s cars have less structural rot, and you’ve at least got half a chance of finding donor metal for those.
    If you can get an owner to consider selling a true ‘excellent’ example, expect to spend at or above the original sticker. And if you buy a project? Every single part on them is pure unobtanium, triply so for the Turbo III unique parts and the A568.

    But what makes it magical is that the Spirit R/T is not a ‘well designed sports car.’ It is not an ‘autobahn bomber.’ It is not a ‘let’s make a Hellcat before we make a Hellcat.’
    It was somebody in Chrysler saying “it’d be fucking hilarious to shove the 2.2 16 valve monster into the econobox, wouldn’t it? Absolutely terrible to drive, but hilarious.” And Lee Iacocca, who just happened to be in the room, turned to that person and said “you’re in charge, have the keys to one on my desk by late 1990.”

    There was clearly no planning; there was no grand strategy behind it; there was no ‘we’re gonna go kick BMW’s ass.’ (FFS, the Spirit R/T is a full cloth interior. Leather wasn’t even an option!) You could already get the 150HP 2.5 turbo with the 5 speed. No. Somebody just thought it would be neat to put the Q-car’s 200HP+ engine into the Aries/Reliant’s successor, some executive realized that Chrysler could afford to take a risk like that, and thus 2900lbs of red, white, and VROOM was born out of an act of PFM.

    And then there’s the hilarity of the TIII’s insanely rushed design, but that’s another thread entirely.

      1. With the gear ratio of the transmission, and the tire height, it would do 174 at just under 6000 RPMs, considering most people revved them to 7500, I’d say it’s pretty believable.

          1. I’m well aware of drag. I’ve had my LeBaron wagon up to 140MPH and it was still pulling with less WHP than a slightly more modified than stock t3 is capable of. It was horrifying and I wouldn’t do it again.

    1. Did the Daytonas have a much stiffer chassis? An old friend’s GF had one (turbo II maybe, but I can’t remember. It was blue and silver and turbo with pop up lights, that’s all I can recall), and it didn’t seem quite that bad for traction (lower power helped). She was small, but wrestled that thing around one-handed (manual) like it was only a slight chore. That said, I snort when modern journalists talk of torque steer in anything built this century. Hm, I wonder what happened to her…

    2. I replied to another comment of yours, but just realized that yes, I do recognize that username from Turbo-Mopar! I loved reading this, and it’s so super informative.

    3. It was a fun place to work before the Daimler clowns screwed everything up.

      One problem with all those crazy performance vehicles was often times production planning didn’t match dealer demand, so the field organization had to find dealers to take them, which was often a royal pain in the ass.

      The good part was we also got to take them as company cars.

      Being one of few actual car guys in our group, I had no problem volunteering to “take one for the team” and ended up driving some interesting stuff: Daytona Shelby Z, Shelby Dakota, Shelby Lancer, Dakota Convertible, Spirit R/T, Turbo Caravan 5-speed, IROC Daytona, Conquest TSI, Stealth Twin Turbo, SRT Magnum, SRT Charger, SRT 300, SRT-4 Neon, SRT-10 Ram (both versions), lots of Crossfires, turbo PT Cruiser convertible 5-speeds, and even the occasional Hellcat (when I could pry the keys from the boss.)

      The only problem now is I have the attention span of a gnat when it comes to owning cars.

      1. I can’t remember if it was a dream, or if it’s an actual video I saw linked on neons.org. But I remember there being “mule cars” for the Neon they built using Omni shells. I’d love to get my hands on one of those.

  17. Take a Dodge Spirit R/T, a Taurus SHO and a M3. Drive them the same way for the same miles. Which one will end up in the junkyard first? This is not a trick question.

    Chrysler built absolute shit. They still do. In fact, they taught Mercedes Benz how to build shit.

  18. So I’ve been a mopar fan since growing up on Dukes of Hazzard, my first car was a 68 Charger, I’ve had a modified neon, so I’m aware of the 2.2T chrysler engine, and how awesome it was…. but….. it’s better in the other cars it came in; the Omni GLHS, the Daytona Iroc, or the …. minivan.

    Like, in theory I love the idea of this engine in such a lame car, that is the very definition of a cool car to me, take something mundane, overpower the hell out of it, change a few subtle aesthetics, and BAM!

    Problem is, in this case, the proportions are not very good, and the interior is total grandma mobile. I have the same complaints about the Grand National. Holy crap what a grandparent interior, jfc.

    I appreciate these cars for being fast/rare, but I can’t say I’d ever really want to own one. Most people must feel that way, or the demand/prices would be higher. At the end of the day, value is determined by emotional heartstrings, creating demand, and this car just doesn’t have it.

    1. You’re talking turbo I’s or II’s if you mention the Omni and minivans. I’m sure the short blocks are pretty similar, but the turbo III’s are still quite different to the single-jingle original turbo engines.
      Granted, torque steer doesn’t go by any other name. Nor does an intercooler turbo I cars don’t have…..

    2. I’d agree, the spirit in bone stock trim is pretty lame, although I think the interior is pretty alright for the era. Give it some period correct updates, or some current era updates like BC racing coilovers or custom/cobbled coilovers (dodge neon front coilovers, custom rear setup) and a set of decent wheels and it starts to become a semi decent looker and corner carver.

      I have a few K-cars, a v6 early caravan and 2 omnis that don’t run that I have bad ideas for, but I’d love to have a Spirit to add to the stable. Nothing valueable like an R/T, but something I could build would be fun.

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