Ah yes, it sounds very familiar.
Chrysler offered their compact Valiant in 1960 along with Fords Falcon and GM's unconventional Corvair. The Valiant was sold on its low price, economical operation, room for six, and a generous trunk. It was crude but it did the job it was designed to do. Over the years, the same underpinnings sold in the millions in various forms and with engines from 2.8 liters (the original 170cid slant six) to the 5.6 liter 340cid V8 in the early '70s. They were miniature tanks that did pretty well in preserving low cost of ownership, and their only Achilles heel was usually rust.
After the first fuel crunch, they offered the Plymouth Feather Duster - a Duster stripped of sound insulation, power assists, and even ornamentation (only peel-n-stick decals on the outside). A few of the body parts were made of aluminum. The slant six and four speed MT was EPA rated at 24/36 - and this was a car that held six (slender) passengers and was the size of today's midsize sedans. ( http://www.valiant.org/duster.html
has some info near the bottom.)
The K-cars rolled out in late 1980 in a virtual sequel to the Valiant of 20 years earlier. Considered crude by the press, it was a small and economical solution for moving six people. Yes, they had early teething pains. I think there still may be a $10,000 reward out there for the first mechanic who can get an '81 Aries to idle smoothly and not stall when you touch the accelerator. But within three years, the early bugs were gone and the platform spawned the first minivan. Available in base trim with vinyl seats, it was the best solution for an affordable and economical living room. The platform was so appropriate for the times that it continued on for 15 years, when the last remnants were replaced by the LH cars, the Neons, the cloud cars (Cirrus/Stratus), and the rebadged Mitsubishis.
Just as the article states, even their mid and full size cars sold in largest numbers in their most basic forms. Each time Chrysler wavered from their basic transportation strategy, sales faltered. The same fate struck AMC by the early '70s, when the Rambler Classic and American gave way to bulky Matadors, Javelins and Ambassadors, some of which had designer trim packages and padded vinyl tops, while the Rambler-based Hornet staggered on for 14 years (last seen as the '84 Eagle) without more than a few bucks in development money.
In this decade, without any 2009 Valiant/Dart/Aspen/Horizon on any showroom floor, that target market is shopping next door at the other dealers. Hyundai/Kia, Scion, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, etc.
Hey NewCo... Bring back the Valiant:
- With or without a tire-shaped circle pressed into the trunklid, and odd taillights that reminded us of the eyes on the Burl Ives snowman on that Rudolph claymation cartoon.
- With an engine that can run for generations without much more than annual oil changes and monthly ballast resistor changes.
- With 30+ combined MPG.
- With a dealer network that doesn't play fast-n-loose with sales or service obligations.
...And we may just come back.