Plymouth Reliant

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"Reliant K" redirects here. For the Christian rock band, see Relient K.
Plymouth Reliant
Dodge Aries
1985-89 Plymouth Reliant K LE.png
Manufacturer Chrysler Corporation
Production 1981–1989
Assembly Newark, Delaware (Newark Assembly), United States
Detroit, Michigan (Jefferson Avenue Assembly),[1] United States
Toluca, Mexico (Toluca Car Assembly)
Body and chassis
Class Compact
Body style 4-door sedan
2-door coupe
4-door station wagon
Layout Transverse front-engine, front-wheel drive
Platform K-body
Related Chrysler LeBaron
Chrysler Town & Country
Dodge 400
Transmission 4-speed A460 manual
5-speed A465 manual
5-speed A520 manual
5-speed A525 manual
3-speed A413 automatic
3-speed A470 automatic
Wheelbase 100.3 in (2,548 mm)
Wagon: 100.4 in (2,550 mm)
Length 178.6 in (4,536 mm)
Wagon: 178.5 in (4,534 mm)
Width 68.0 in (1,727 mm)
Height Sedan: 52.9 in (1,344 mm)
Coupe: 52.5 in (1,334 mm)
Wagon: 53.2 in (1,351 mm)
Curb weight 2,300 lb (1,043 kg)
Predecessor Dodge Aspen / Plymouth Volaré

The Plymouth Reliant and Dodge Aries were introduced for model year 1981 as the first "K-cars" manufactured and marketed by the Chrysler Corporation. As rebadged variants, the Reliant and Aries were manufactured in Newark, Delaware, Detroit, Michigan, and Toluca, Mexico — in a single generation.

The Reliant replaced the Plymouth Volaré/Road Runner. The Aries replaced the Dodge Aspen. Though similar in overall size to a compact car, the Reliant's interior volume and six-passenger seating gave it a mid-size designation from the EPA. The Aries was sold as the Dart in Mexico.

The Reliant and Aries were selected together as Motor Trend magazine's Car of the Year for 1981 — and sold almost a million (Aries) and 1.1 million units (Reliant).


The Aries and Reliant debuted in 1981, with Chrysler adding a small "K" emblem to the rear of each shortly after their introduction. The Reliant was available as a 2-door coupe, 4-door sedan, or as a 4-door station wagon, in three different trim lines: base, Custom and SE ("Special Edition"). Station wagons came only in Custom or SE trim. Unlike many small cars, the K cars retained the traditional 6 passenger 2 bench seat with column shifter seating arrangement favored by many Americans. The Reliant was powered by a then-new 2.2 L I4 SOHC engine, with a Mitsubishi "Silent Shaft" 2.6 L as an option (curiously this engine also featured hemispherical combustion chambers, and all 1981 models equipped with it featured "HEMI" badges on the front fenders). Initial sales were brisk, with the both Reliant and Aries each selling over 150,000 units in 1981.

1982–1984 Dodge Aries coupé
1985–1989 Dodge Aries coupé
1986–1988 Dodge Aries wagon

Changes for 1982 included a new hood ornament (changed from either a Plymouth "frog legs" hood ornament or a Dodge badge mounted flat on the hood to an upright Chrysler Pentastar), roll-down rear door windows vs. the former stationary glass with rear quarter pop-outs, a counterbalanced hood, and black painted valve cover on the 2.2L engine (vs. the former blue). In 1984, the hood ornament was removed and the Chrysler Pentastar moved to the grille. Also, the tail lights received chrome trim, and the interior received a padded dash and new black instrument cluster with round gauges. The first major changes occurred in 1985, when the Ks received a new front fascia, featuring either a new egg-crate or crosshair grille (for the Plymouth and Dodge, respectively) and a new rear fascia featuring five-section taillights. A new trim line, the top-tier LE ("Luxury Edition"), was added (it also replaced the Custom trim level on the wagon).

Powertrain changes for 1986 included replacement of the 2.2 L engine's carburetor by a new throttle-body electronic fuel injection system, while a new 2.5 L four-cylinder engine, also fuel-injected, was added to the option list, replacing the Mitsubishi 2.6 L. The four-speed manual transmission – previously offered as standard equipment – was dropped.

The Reliant underwent only minor changes throughout the rest of its production run. The SE trim line was dropped after 1986, while the LE and base trim remained the only trims until the end of production. The base trim line was renamed America in 1988, offered as relatively inexpensive, basic transportation. 1988 was the last year for station wagons. The Aries and Reliant were replaced by the Dodge Spirit/Plymouth Acclaim, with the sedan and two-door only being sold for 1989.


As the 1970s ended, Chrysler was facing a grave financial crisis due to poor business decisions, lack of investment in new products during previous years, and external factors outside of their control. Lynn Townshend, chairman from 1962–75, had pursued a hands-off policy of running the company, refusing to spend more than the minimum on new drivetrains or platforms as long as the existing ones continued to sell. Sales of the company's larger cars started dropping after the 1973 OPEC Embargo and an increased amount of company volume consisted of lower profit compact models. Chrysler also had a policy of producing cars regardless of whether a customer ordered them (in contrast to AMC, Ford, and GM who only produced vehicles they received orders for) and soon was left with a backlog of unsold inventory which cost money to store. They had to resort to the money-losing tactic of rebates to get rid of these excess cars. Compounding these difficulties were new Federal emissions and safety regulations during the 1970s which added more to the production costs of each car.

Townshend retired in 1975 and left the reins to John Ricardo, who presided over a slowly-sinking company. The following year, the compact Dodge Aspen/Plymouth Volare debuted as replacements for the dated Dodge Dart/Plymouth Valiant, but were rushed into production and ended up with a major string of quality control problems that led to them being one of the most recalled cars in US history. In 1977, Ricardo petitioned newly elected US president Jimmy Carter for a Federal bailout, but Carter would not consider the idea as long as Chrysler's present management were in charge. That fall, Chrysler released the Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon, a US adaption of the European Simca Horizon and the first domestic FWD subcompacts. But they came out in a year when larger cars were in demand and dealers struggled to move them from lots, costing the hard-pressed company yet more money.

Meanwhile, Ford president Lee Iaccoca was fired in April 1978 and three months later, Chrysler offered him the position of company president. By this point, the smallest of the Big Three American automakers was close to collapse, struggling from the unexpected poor sales of the Omni, the fallout from the Aspen recalls, and the decision to discontinue full-sized Dodges and Plymouths in 1978, leaving them without a full-sized car in a year of strong sales for them. Even worse, quality control on Chrysler vehicles had become alarmingly bad since 1976.

Although the K-platform had been designed during 1978, the failing company could not afford by this point to put them into production. Iaccoca and Ricardo thus decided to repeat the original 1977 request for government assistance, but since the Carter Administration would not offer any help until the existing management was removed, Ricardo summarily stepped down as chairman and handed Iaccoca the job.

During a series of Congressional hearings, Lee Iaccoca made his case for a Federal bailout of Chrysler, citing past bailouts of the railroad industry and aerospace company Lockheed-Martin as precedent. He argued that thousands of American jobs would be saved and furthermore that the company had been consciously attempting to build modern, economical cars such as the Omni, but fate had dealt them a bad hand. Iaccoca also stated that excessive government regulations were costing needless money.

Congress approved the bailout after Chrysler detailed the plans for their new FWD compact platform and the first handful of K-cars trickled off the assembly line at Detroit's Jefferson Avenue plant in late 1980.

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 front-wheel drive design powered by a four-cylinder engine. They were offered as 2 and 4 door notchback sedans and wagons and 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. They achieved nearly a million in sales between the two original 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.

After their introduction, the Reliant and Aries were marketed as the "Reliant K" and "Aries K".[2] A small "K" badge was also added after the word "Reliant" to the rear of the car. The Reliant and Aries were Motor Trend magazine's Car of the Year for 1981.

Initial advertisements for the Aries were done in red, white, and blue and emphasized American industry's desire to answer the challenge of Japanese products. Because of how financially strapped that Chrysler was, early promotional shots featured the same car, but with Dodge and Plymouth badges and trim swapped.

After launch 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.

1981 Dodge Aries coupé

6-passenger seating[edit]

The Aries and Reliant were classified by the EPA as mid-size and were the smallest cars to have 6-passenger seating — with a 3-seat per row setup, similar to larger rear-wheel drive cars such as the Dodge Dart and other front-wheel drive cars such as the Chevrolet Celebrity. Chrysler marketed the car as being able to seat "six Americans."

Changes through the years[edit]

1983 Plymouth Reliant coupe
1988 Plymouth Reliant wagon

Changes for 1982 included a revised hood ornament (changed from a Plymouth logo to a Chrysler Pentastar), roll-down rear door windows vs. the former stationary glass with rear quarter pop-outs, a counterbalanced hood, a Pentastar trunk medallion, and black painted valve cover on the 2.2L engine (vs. the former blue). Changes for 1983 were limited to a blacked out grille. In 1984, the hood ornament was removed and the Chrysler Pentastar moved to the grille; the Mercedes Benz-styled grille used on the Reliant was modified. Also, the tail lights received chrome trim, and the interior received a padded dash and new black instrument cluster with round gauges. For 1985, the Reliant received a substantial 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) inline-four engine with an electronic two-barrel carburetor (later replaced by a fuel injection system in 1986), rated at 82 hp (61 kW). 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 (automatic transmission was required with that engine), 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 December 9, 1988.[citation needed] The 1989 Reliant was a carryover from the 1988 model year. Only the America trim was available on these models. No station wagon models were sold in 1989. The Reliant was replaced by the Acclaim for 1989, with the coupe replaced by the Plymouth Laser liftback.

Production numbers[edit]

Production Figures
Year Units
1981 155,799
1982 104,699
1983 112,599
1984 120,099
1985 117,999
1986 97,368
1987 99,299
1988 111,399
1989 59,199
Total 978,460
Production Figures
Year Units
1981 151,637
1982 139,223
1983 146,562
1984 152,183
1985 136,738
1986 123,007
1987 103,949
1988 125,307
1989 36,012
Total 1,114,618

Trim levels[edit]

  • Base: 1981–1987 (87 Rare)
  • Custom: 1981–1984
  • SE: 198112–1986
  • LE: 1985–1989
  • America LE: 1988–1989

In popular culture[edit]

  • The Canadian band Barenaked Ladies' song "If I Had $1000000" includes the lyrics "If I had a million dollars (If I had a million dollars)/I'd buy you a K-car (A nice Reliant automobile)".
  • The American rock group Relient K based their name on the Plymouth Reliant, as their guitarist Matt Hoopes drove one in high school.[3]
  • The video for Nickelback's second #1 hit single "Too Bad" from their 2001 album Silver Side Up featured both a Plymouth Reliant K and Dodge Aries K (depending on shot). Although appearing to be the same car throughout the video, the model differences are evident at certain points.
  • Red Green often chose the K-car platform vehicles as the basis for his duct-tape-infused custom car projects in the "Handyman Corner" segments on the Canadian/PBS television show The Red Green Show.
  • A Dodge Aries was prominently driven by the character Julie in the 1997 slasher horror film I Know What You Did Last Summer, in which there was a scene where a rattle noise occurred, and she opened the trunk and saw a dead body with crabs inside, and screamed.
  • In the movie Adventureland, the family of the protagonist owns a 1985 or later model Dodge Aries, which the protagonist damages in an accident.
  • In Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Mrs. Bueller drives a Plymouth Reliant K wagon and Ed Rooney drives a Plymouth Reliant K sedan.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vehicles built at Jefferson Avenue Assembly
  2. ^ allpar K-Chronology
  3. ^ "Relient K". Retrieved 2013-04-13. 

External links[edit]