Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dodge Dynasty

I posted this piece on flickr a while back, but I thought I'd put it on here as well.

This afternoon I test-drove a 1993 Dodge Dynasty. It turned out to be a real dog, which in retrospect I should have known by its 850-dollar asking price, so I left and didn’t look back. But it really got me thinking about this short-lived and often forgotten sedan.

I have always had an unexplainable thing for the Dynasty. I generally adore “traditional” cars, and this one is so over-the-top “traditional” and was such a huge anachronism for its time I find it absolutely fascinating. In an automotive era when sleek, smooth, modern, aerodynamic “jellybean” sedans were hitting the market left and right in wake of the groundbreaking 1986 Taurus, the all-new-for-1988 Dynasty (and its New Yorker sibling) displayed a silhouette not all that far off from a ‘67 Polara. It is widely rumored that the styling of the Dynasty/New Yorker, and the Spirit/Acclaim released a year later, was dictated by Lee Iacocca himself. A very conservative man in taste, Iacocca turned his nose up the slightest upsweep in a car’s beltline or any rear window that wasn’t at a complete right angle from the ground. At one of the first public unveilings of the Ford Taurus in 1985, Iacocca is quoted as telling a reporter that it “looked like a streamlined potato”. One can only imagine his reaction when Chrysler’s LH sedans were released a few years later… though he of course had been long gone from the company by that time.

The 70s-esque personality of the Dynasty goes beyond it looks alone. On paper, the Dynasty sounds like quite a contemporary car for its time: Front wheel drive, Fuel-injected V6 engine, 4-speed automatic transmission with overdrive, driver’s side air bag, anti-lock brakes. But when you slip into the overly soft bench seat, buckle up, yank the column mounted gear shifter into drive, and gaze down at the rectangular dashboard, with a rectangular instrument panel, complete with rectangular speedometer and rectangular fuel gauge, you’ll find a different story. As one reviewer put it in the early-90s, the Dynasty/New Yorker was, in regards to looks and driving feel, “about as modern in as a leisure suit”.

Like the traditional American autos of yore, there is little shortage of power in this comparatively lightweight 6-cylinder sedan. It’s not going to burn up the track, but passing on the freeway is not a problem. There is no denying that the Dynasty shines in straight-line highway cruising with its pillow-soft suspension and isolated fingertip steering. The Dynasty’s handling is adequate and even competent for what is it, but it is probably still best to save those twisty mountain roads for your 3-Series convertible (because if you own a Dynasty, obviously your other car is going to be a 3-Series convertible).

Despite its disco-era overall design, the Dynasty quickly became one of Chrysler Corp’s best selling car lines. I suppose it just goes to show that boring does sell, and while the LH Intrepid that replaced it was a refreshing break from the past and proved to be just as popular, there were still a fair amount of customers who wanted a comfortable no-nonsense American-style family sedan. Most of those customers turned out to be rental fleets and government motorpools… but hey, beggars can’t be choosers can they?


martin said...

That must be one of the most razorsharp profiles since 1980...

nlpnt said...

Strange but true; the Dynasty and its' New Yorker (I think) and Imperial (!) cousins had the same wheelbase as the original Neon, which replaced them on the Belvedere assembly line.