1985 Plymouth Reliant
1985 Plymouth Reliant . Click image to enlarge

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Article and photo by Bill Vance

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Lido (Lee) Iacocca achieved what few men have done: he fought for and saved an automobile company from bankruptcy. In rescuing the Chrysler Corporation between 1979 and 1982, he displayed the same drive and spirit that Walter Chrysler had shown 60 years earlier when he saved Willys-Overland. But Chrysler didn’t stop there; he then set out to rejuvenate the Maxwell Motors Corporation, and ultimately turned it into the Chrysler Corporation in 1925.

But a man can’t do it all alone; he needs saleable products. And just as Walter Chrysler had the “Good Maxwell” as his base, Lee Iacocca had his corporation’s front-wheel drive K-car.

Badged as the Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant, no product in modern automotive history was so extensively previewed, nor had so much resting on its square-cut shoulders. The somewhat plain looking K-car’s mission was nothing less than saving the legendary Chrysler Corporation.

U.S. automakers had been caught in the gyrations of the turbulent 1970s. The decade saw oil crises in 1973 and ’79, tightening fuel economy and emission requirements, increasing foreign competition and a marketplace that fluctuated between demanding small and large cars. It dealt Chrysler a heavy blow.

Chrysler’s initial 1970s response to small-car demand was to import Japanese Mitsubishi products and market them with names like Dodge Colt and Plymouth Champ. This gave time to produce Chrysler’s own cross-engine, front-wheel drive Volkswagen Rabbit (Golf) type subcompacts, the Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon launched as 1978 models.

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