By Matt Wolfe
August 8 1980; Lee Iacocca drives the first Chrysler “K-Car” off the assembly line
At the start of the 1980’s, many auto industry experts felt that the writing was on the wall for Chrysler as the company struggled to meet consumer demand for smaller, more efficient and lower-cost automobiles. Chrysler’s attempt to meet these demands had produced cars like the Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volaré twins, which gained such a reputation for poor quality that they became known as “…the vehicles that almost killed Chrysler”. Slumping sales and a poor reputation for product quality forced the company to accept a government bailout in 1979 in order to stay alive.
Chrysler needed a bounce back, but more than that, it needed a stable platform on which it could rebuild itself and its reputation. That platform would be Chrysler’s ubiquitous “K-Car”. At its core, the K-Car was a unibody platform with a front-wheel drive layout combined with a McPherson strut front/solid axle rear suspension and modern rack and pinion steering. While not a groundbreaking design, the K platform was just what Chrysler needed to start down the path to rebuilding its reputation.
The genius of the K Car lay not in its design, but rather its uniformity and adaptability. The K platform could be stretched, shrunk, cropped, chopped and configured into just about any shape the company desired. Following the launch of the fist K Cars, the Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant, Chrysler introduced a slew of variants based on the K architecture such as the Dodge 400, the stretched wheelbase Dodge 600, the Chrysler Le Baron (the first Convertible K variant), the Dodge Daytona sports-coupe and even the Chrysler Minivan’s. By 1983, Chrysler had introduced seven K Car variants, and the platform represented 55 percent of the company’s sales volume. Humble as it was, the K platform became Chrysler’s savior and laid the groundwork for the company’s continued resurgence in the 1990’s.