Ah, Chrysler: the littlest of The Big Three. While Ford and GM seem to be locked in a permanent race for superiority (GM vastly outsells Ford; Ford has the insanely popular and profitable F-150), Chrysler has spent much of its history offering an alternative to the other two, and often with much success. Sure, it’s had its share of near-death experiences (the early ’50s, late ’70s, and late 2000s), but each time, it seems to bounce back with spectacular results.
Chrysler, and all of its past and present brands — Dodge, Plymouth, Ram, Jeep, Eagle, De Soto, Imperial, and Fargo — have all contributed to automotive history in a way that can’t be understated. It’s the company that’s given us the aerodynamically-designed sedan, the transistor car radio, the alternator, the Hemi V8, the minivan, and other countless innovations, on top of some incredible cars.
Even the most casual gearheads know the Dodge Charger, the Plymouth ‘Cuda, and the Dodge Challenger. But for all the hits, there have been more than a few models that have fallen through the cracks. Some deserved to disappear, others deserved better. Regardless of the reason, Chrysler’s cars usually have a knack for being a little more interesting than the competition. Here are 10 especially unique Chrysler models that have largely been forgotten.
1. 1963 Chrysler 300J
Chrysler’s letter series 300 cars rank as one of its most iconic nameplates of all time, but the most powerful original-run model is also the rarest. The 300J was the letter car for ’63, and on top of offering world-class handling (for the era, at least) and a loaded leather interior, it was powered by a fire-breathing 413 cubic inch V8 that put out 390 horsepower. Just 400 were built before it was replaced by the cheaper, less-powerful, and incredibly successful 300K. Despite languishing in obscurity, the J remained the most powerful 300 car until the 300 SRT8 debuted 41 years later.
2. 1967-1971 Plymouth GTX
The GTX was conceived as Plymouth’s version of 300 letter-series car, updated for the red-hot muscle car era. Chrysler took two of its most powerful engines — the 375 horsepower 440, or the 425 horse 426 Hemi V8 — and offered them in a loaded (and pricey) Plymouth Belvedere. The GTX was marketed as “The Gentlemen’s Muscle Car,” but in a lineup that offered the Barracuda, Road Runner, Superbird, and Duster, the expensive coupe got lost in the shuffle. In five years, Plymouth managed to sell just under 50,000 of them.
3. 1970-1973 Plymouth Cricket
By the early ’70s, cheap Japanese imports were starting to gain a foothold in the U.S. market, and The Big Three began to build import-fighters to try to stem the tide. Instead of building its own, like the Ford Pinto, Chevy Vega, or AMC Gremlin, Chrysler went the “captive import” route, and began importing its Hillman Avenger from England, selling it here as the Plymouth Cricket. But the car was relatively pricey and plagued by reliability issues, and was gone after just four model years. Rust has likely claimed most of them by now.
4. 1971-1972 Dodge Demon
In 1970, Plymouth launched its compact Duster model, and it proved to be a hit against cars like the Ford Maverick and Chevy Nova. Dodge’s version bowed for 1971 as the Demon, with its front end borrowed from the Dart and a pitchfork-wielding red devil as a mascot. Almost immediately, Chrysler was besieged by religious groups threatening boycotts over the car’s allegedly blasphemous name, and it pulled the car after just two years. It could’ve been worse; Dodge originally planned to call it the Beaver.
5. 1975-1978 Dodge Charger SE
No, we’re not talking about the ’60s-era, big-block and Hemi-powered Dodge Charger from the 1960s, or even the wild, fuselage-styled early ’70s cars. For 1975, Dodge transformed the once-mighty Charger from a muscle car to a bloated, Disco-era personal luxury coupe that was closely related to the Chrysler Cordoba. Sales proved to be a disappointment, and it was quickly replaced by our next model…
6. 1978-1979 Dodge Magnum
With its boxy angles and covered headlights, the Magnum looked tougher than the Charger, but it proved to be even more unpopular. The Magnum never quite figured out what it wanted to be; it could be had as a GT, with a 400 cubic inch V8, or with opera windows, vinyl roof, and a plush over-stuffed leather interior. It was replaced in 1980 by the Dodge Mirada, which proved to be equally unpopular, and disappeared after just four years. After that, Chrysler gave up the ghost on big, rear-wheel drive luxury coupes.
7. 1981-1983 Imperial
When Lee Iacocca took over Chrysler in the late ’70s, he was hell-bent on shifting most of its production to profitable, front-wheel drive compacts. Except he had pioneered the V8-powered, rear-wheel drive, personal luxury coupe at Ford, and demanded that Chrysler compete with Lincoln and Cadillac in the segment. The result was a gawky, expensive, and unreliable coupe that never took off. Just over 12,000 Imperials were built during a three-year run.
8. 1982-1984 Dodge Rampage
In the early ’80s, virtually every Chrysler car was based on some variation of the front-wheel drive Omni/Horizon or K-Car platforms. The Dodge Rampage/Plymouth Scamp was based on the former, and designed to take on the Chevy El Camino. But the compact dimensions, 2.2 liter inline-four, and waning market interest made it a hard sell. The Rampage lasted just three model years. The Scamp lasted just one.
9. 1983-1988 Dodge 600
Designed to compete with midsize, front-wheel drive competitors like the Ford Tempo, Chevy Celebrity, Olds Cutlass, Pontiac 6000, and Buick Century, the 600 (and virtually identical Plymouth Caravelle) was Dodge’s attempt to bring some European-style luxury to the domestic market. But other than the numeric name, the 600 was never quite as popular as the competition, and was quickly overshadowed by the more modern Dodge Lancer and Dynasty sedans. Just 300,000 were built over five years; we’d be surprised if more than a few thousand were left today.
10. 1988-1992 Eagle Premier/Dodge Monaco
In the late ’80s, AMC was scrambling to survive, and developed a modern, upscale, sport sedan through its partnership with Renault. Unfortunately, it came too late, and the company was bought by Chrysler in 1988. The Premier (also sold as the Dodge Monaco) was handsome, modern, and unlike anything Chrysler offered at the time. But the company was already at work on its modern LH sedans (the Dodge Intrepid, Eagle Talon, Chrysler Concorde, New Yorker, and LHS), and decided to let the car wither on the vine instead of risking in-house competition. It’s interesting to wonder what could’ve happened if Chrysler pursued it as the Acura, Volvo, or Infiniti fighter it could’ve been.