When it was launched, it was sold as the quickest sedan built in North America. The only two sedans in the world that were faster cost three times or six times more and were hand-built near-exotics. BMW’s M5 and the Alpina B10. It’s a turbocharged four-door with 224 hp and a cylinder head designed by Lotus. It came with just one transmission – a specially designed five-speed manual – and it was only built for two years. And now, 26 years after it was made, it’s our autoTRADER.ca Find of the Week: the 1991 Dodge Spirit RT.
Dodge launched the Spirit in 1989 as a replacement for the 600. It was built on the Chrysler AA platform, which was a stretched version of the long-lived K platform. It sat between the smaller Shadow and larger Dynasty models as Dodge’s mid-sizer, sharing a body with the Plymouth Acclaim.
When new, the Spirit came with a 2.5L four that produced a
thumping barely adequate 100 hp. For more power, a 3.0L Mitsubishi-made V6 was available giving 141 hp. Five-speed manuals were offered on four-cylinder cars, but not widely bought, and three and four-speed autos were the common transmissions.
While the car was Aries based, it was greatly improved over the infamous K-cars. Contemporary road tests praised it for being quieter, having much better suspension, and in general being a massive improvement. It’s interesting to read those reviews and to see what was cutting edge in car design in 1989 compared with today. The Chicago Tribune loved “little goodies” like child-proof rear door locks, a rear-seat cup holder, and lights “controlled by a pull-out/push-in knob, which is simple but practical for knowing when the system is on or off.” Heady stuff, but not the thing sports sedans are made of.
In the 1980s and early ’90s, Chrysler was doing some strange things in the powertrain department. Things with turbochargers. Starting with 1984’s Turbo I, Chrysler engineers were adding big boost to their four-cylinder engines and getting big increases in power. The Turbo II launched in 1986’s Shelby GLH-S and nearly doubled the power of the 2.2L naturally aspirated four. The new engine made 175 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque. They also started selling 2.5L engines with the turbo, making up to 210 lb-ft of torque.
In 1991, a new version of the 2.2L four was made. Called the Turbo III, it used a dual-overhead-cam 16-valve cylinder head designed by Lotus. It was Chrysler’s first ever head with four valves per cylinder. The new engine made 224 hp and 217 lb-ft of torque, only 21 hp less than a Chevrolet Corvette could make in 1991 from a 5.7L V8. All Spirits got handling changes for 1991 that reduced roll, improved steering feel, and reduced powertrain flexing. But only one model got that new four-cylinder engine: the new-for-1991 Spirit R/T.
The R/T got a special body kit and new 15-inch wheels. It was only available in two colours: white and red. Handling was improved by increasing spring rates, adding new dampers, and making the rear sway bar thicker. There was a unique five-speed manual as the only transmission choice. It needed to be made stronger to handle the engine’s torque. All R/T models came with four-wheel discs and air conditioning. They also got sports seats, in this case looking very early ’90s in grey with red pinstripes.
When new, the car would run 0–100 km/h in under six seconds and do the quarter-mile in 14.5. That made it faster than even Ford’s V8 powered Taurus SHO. It had a top speed of 228 km/h. If you wanted to go faster in a sedan, you needed to step up to a BMW M5. That super-sedan made 307 hp but cost three times what the Spirit R/T did.
Our find of the week is a very low mileage example, with just over 137,000 km on the odometer. It’s a US car, and it looks absolutely immaculate. It’s even won some trophies. It’s a very uncommon car, with only 1,208 R/T’s built that year. It might not be the most glamorous sports sedan out there, but it’s one that will surprise a lot of far more expensive ones. Think of it as the Hellcat of 1991. If you’re a fan of ’90s classics, old-school turbos, or just odd-ball Mopars, if you’re near Edmonton, AB, then this might be worth a look.
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