The LeBaron GTS was Chrysler’s appeal to BMW buyers, a K-car-based hatchback imbued with European flair.
Chrysler has a couple of throwaway cars in its recent history. The short-lived, full-sized R-bodies of 1979-81 (Dodge St. Regis, Chrysler Newport and New Yorker) were one; they were based on an old platform and didn’t have the goods to penetrate the intended market.
No biggie: the R-body’s basics dated back to 1962. Chrysler had hedged its bets by milking that cow for all its worth.
The BMW-pursuing LeBaron GTS – Chrysler’s H-body, which was also branded the Dodge Lancer – were the product of a similarly stretched recipe.
Chrysler’s ads had the LeBaron GTS pulling better numbers than the BMW 5 series.
This didn’t indicate the LeBaron GTS’s inherently superior driving dynamics; instead, it showed how American cars could score high on smooth roads while feeling discordant in real-world conditions.
That said, a recent gathering of auto journalists had me hearing about one journo’s 200K-mile love affair with his bought-new GTS, which he still regrets selling.
Either way, only so much was possible with this beam-axle rear end. Each of BMW’s rear wheels have their own say in matters, but the LeBaron’s were matched to their peers across the way.
Power came from Chrysler’s ubiquitous 2.2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which has made several worst-engines-of-all-time lists, for its propensity to throw a rod. At the time, Car and Driver called it “bulletproof.”
Inside, the H-body had a boxy dash that was remarkably bland. It was recycled with a nicer facade for the later C-body – the Dodge Dynasty/Chrysler New Yorker and Imperial.
This LeBaron GTS is loaded with electronic instruments…
…a trip computer…
…and power leather bucket seats, with deep contouring.
The LeBaron GTS had a good couple years – production in this first model year was about 45,000 units, and it bumped to about 74,000 in 1986. Then it dropped to 40,000 in ’87 and 15,000 in ’88. Its last year was 1989, and its production totals were folded in with those of the more popular LeBaron coupe and convertible.
There was nothing wrong with the LeBaron GTS that more development wouldn’t have fixed; car mags back then admired the clean styling but disliked the GTS’s occasionally clunky dynamics, which showed its K-car roots.
As it was with the R-body, the H-body’s mechanical commonality took the sting out of the GTS’s modest sales numbers, and Chrysler simply dropped the GTS nameplate and moved on.