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1985-89 Plymouth Reliant sedan
1985-89 Plymouth Reliant coupe


The Plymouth Reliant (or Reliant K, as it was sometimes called) was one of the first two so-called "K-cars" (the other one being the Dodge Aries) manufactured by the Chrysler Corporation, introduced for the 1981 model year. The Reliant replaced the Plymouth Volaré/Road Runner, which was the short-lived successor automobile to the highly regarded Plymouth Valiant. Though technically a compact car, the Reliant's spacious interior and six-passenger seating gave it a mid-size status from the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

The two cars are largely credited for helping Chrysler recover from bankruptcy. They also raised the standard for quality for Americanmarker automakers in general.

Overview

The Reliant and Aries were downsized replacements for the six-passenger Volare and Aspen, which in turn were modernized version of the original Valiant and Dart compact cars of the 1960s. Based on experience gained with subcompact Omni/Horizon of 1978, the roomier K-cars set out to build a family sized car with a radically new front-wheel drive design powered by a four cylinder engine. Rather than offering the fastback styling popularized by the Maverick and Duster compacts, or hatchbacks, they were offered as 2 and 4 door notchback sedans and wagons that were called boxy or "generic car" styling. Like the Valiant and Dart, they also retained six-passenger seating on two bench seats. While the Chevrolet Citation introduced front-wheel drive in the 1980 model year to replace the Nova, its unusual styling and problems with recalls hampered its success. By contrast, the K-cars would be accepted as adequate and relatively reliable, if not exciting cars. They racked up nearly a million in sales between the two orignal nameplates before being rebadged and upgraded, not counting the numerous stretched, sporty or minivan derivatives. Ford would not replace its family-sized Fairmont with a front-wheel drive design until the 1986 Ford Taurus, while cars like the Chevrolet Cavalier and Ford Tempo would be marketed as upscale compacts rather than family sedans.

Sometimes in marketing, the Reliant was advertised as the "Reliant K", to emphasize the importance of the K-platform. The nameplate was similar to the "Valiant" name of the first Plymouth compact car that preceded the Volare, except for the first two letters. A small "K" badge was also added after the word "Reliant" to the rear of the car. The Reliant was Motor Trend magazine's Car of the Year for 1981. It was built in Newark, Delawaremarker, Detroit, Michiganmarker, and Toluca, Mexicomarker.

After being launched in 1981, sales of the Reliant and Aries got off to a bad start; this can be attributed to Chrysler's inadequate preparation. Early advertisements for the K-cars promoted the low $5,880 base price. Rather than honoring that by producing a sufficient amount of base models, Chrysler was producing a larger number of SE and Custom models. When consumers arrived at Plymouth (and Dodge) dealers, they were shocked to find that the Reliant they were planning on purchasing would end up costing hundreds or thousands of dollars more. As a result of this, Chrysler corrected their mistake and began building more base models. After this, sales of the Reliant skyrocketed.

The Reliant was available in standard "base", mid-level SE, and high-end Custom (later renamed LE) trim levels. Unlike the coupe and sedan, the station wagon was not available in base trim. "Custom/LE" Reliant wagons came standard with exterior woodtone siding, although it could be deleted if the buyer wanted it to be. All models except base could be ordered with front bucket seats rather than the standard bench.

Changes through the years

No major changes occurred on the Reliant in its first few years. For 1985, the Reliant received a major restyle, with new, rounder front and rear fascias. This included new head & tail lights and a new grille that was the same height as the headlights (rather than going all the way up to the hood as with previous model years). The base engine was a transverse mounted Chrysler designed 2.2 L (135 cid) in-line four-cylinder with an electronic 2 barrel carburetor (later replaced by a fuel injection system in 1986), rated at . Transaxles were a 4-speed floor shift manual or a 3-speed automatic with either a floor or column shift. A Mitsubishi motor was optional, and cars so equipped for 1981 were badged as 2.6 HEMI. Reliants equipped with this engine accelerated 0-60 mph in the 13 second range. The Mitsubishi 2.6 L G54B engine was a popular option, but driveability and reliability problems led to the Mitsubishi engine being replaced by a fuel-injected Chrysler 2.5 L I4 for 1986. For 1987, the coupe's fixed rear windows got a small pivoting vent at the trailing edge of the rear doors. Also for 1987, the base model was renamed America in the U.S (this was later done to the base models of the Horizon and Sundance). After 1987, only minimal changes were made through the end of the production run.

The last Reliant rolled off the assembly line on August 25th 1989. The 1989 Reliant was a carryover from 1988. Only the America trim was available on these models. No station wagon models were sold for 1989. The Reliant was replaced by the Acclaim for 1989, with the coupe replaced by the Plymouth Laser liftback.

Production Figures 1981-1989
Year Units
1981 approx. 150,000
1982 approx. 140,000
1983 approx. 150,000
1984 approx. 155,000
1985 136,738
1986 123,007
1987 103,949
1988 125,307
1989 36,012


Trim levels

  • base - 1981-1986
  • Custom - 1981-1984
  • SE - 1981-1988
  • LE - 1985-1988 (replaced Custom)
  • America - 1987-1989 (replaced base)


In pop culture

  • The pop punk band Relient K was named after this car, but deliberately misspelled the name to avoid copyright infringement.
  • In the Barenaked Ladies' song, If I Had $1,000,000, the narrator indicates that he would "...buy you a K-Car, a nice Reliant automobile."
  • Ed Rooney drives a Reliant in Ferris Bueller's Day Off
  • The Red Green Show over the course of its 15 seasons used the Reliant in many 'Handy Man' corner projects to serve different purposes and was the subject of many jokes in the show.
There is also a similar looking car called the "Manana" in the Grand Theft Auto series.

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