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Remember the Chrysler Laser? Because the Rest of the World Sure Doesn't

Today’s cutting-edge car designs focus on things like electric power, and semi-autonomous driving. But look back a few decades and you’ll find Detroit struggling to reach a different set of aspirations. This is the 1984-1986 Chrysler Laser, a car tasked with the lofty goal of being... a somewhat practical sporty coupe.

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I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the Chrysler Laser is a forgotten car. It doesn’t even have its own english Wikipedia page. It’s just a subcategory under its twin brother, the Dodge Daytona.

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Brochure: Chrysler
Brochure: Chrysler

And that makes sense. We understand that Dodge is the sporty one in the Mopar world, and these vehicles were marketed as sports cars. Two-door design. Racy vents and louvers and wings. An aero-friendly rear hatchback. That would be enough for Dodge now, which is the one that gets the Challenger and all of its Demonic incarnations.

Photo Credit: Chrysler
Photo Credit: Chrysler

But back in the ’80s Chrysler was somewhat desperate.

It had spent its time in the 1970s, responding to the oil crises of ’73 and ’79, uh, hanging out? Making fondue? Whatever. Once the ’80s rolled around, it did come out with a genuine import-fighter car. But like, one car. It only really had money to make one basic automotive skeleton, known as the K-Car, and spent the rest of the decade making various versions of it.

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The first cars of 1981 were dowdy sedans, but we got limos, convertibles, minivans, and in 1984, sports cars in the form of the Dodge Daytona and its twin the Chrysler Laser, basically different only in the badges put on at the factory.

This Laser is not to be confused with the similar-looking Chrysler Conquest that replaced it, by the way, which was a rebadged Mitsubishi Starion. Or the Plymouth Laser that came after that, which was a rebadged Mitsubishi Eclipse.

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Photo Credit: Chrysler
Photo Credit: Chrysler

Front-wheel drive, with a digital dash, manual transmission, and quintessentially ’80s styling, you could get these with Chrysler’s 2.2-liter turbo four, putting out initially around 140-odd horsepower and pulling about 2,600 pounds.

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But it wasn’t as muscly as something like a Camaro, nor was it as daring as something like a Toyota Celica Supra or a 300ZX. The Laser didn’t really make sense.

Photo Credit: Chrysler
Photo Credit: Chrysler
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But I’m a big dummy and I have a personal connection to these cars and I love them. Watch today’s episode of Know This Car at the top of the post and bask in the ultimate forgotten ’80s hero. Or, you know, not quite a hero.

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

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DISCUSSION

themousethatroared
themousethatroared

But it wasn’t as muscly as something like a Camaro, nor was it as daring as something like a Toyota Celica Supra or a 300ZX. The Laser didn’t really make sense.

I’m the last person anyone would expect to come to the defense of one of Iacoka’s FWD follies, or any Big Three proto compact/economy car attempt, but FOR CHRIST F-ING SAKE, YOU F-ING MILLENIALS AND F-ING POST MILLENIALS MAKE IT SOUND LIKE EVERYTHING ON THE ROAD IS AND ALWAYS WAS A F-NG BUGATTI VEYRON!

The a-typical car on American roads in the early 1980's was the Ford Fairmont, the K-Car Sedan mentioned in the story, and Chevy Celebrity, with a sprinkling of Granadas, Caprices, and Diplomats. All medium and large sized box-mobiles, low horsepower, and slow.

That Camaro you mention, the base model 2.5 liter engine boasted something like 90 HP. The 2.8 V6 was 102 HP. The V8 was rated at 135 HP!

Celica-Supra: 112 HP! The more common Celica: 97 HP.

The 300ZX was introduced halfway through the lifespan of the Laser, with 160 HP on the more common naturally aspirated model, and 200 HP from the Turbo. I’d guess the sticker price was about double that of the Laser, and no one ever confused them as competing for the same market segment.

In the early 1980's we had these cars that were a little fancier than the basic four door economy sedans, but not Corvettes or Ferraris. They had four cylinder engines, but nicely styled bodies, and two doors. Attractive cars that were not powerful enough to really hurt yourself in. You could go out on a date and look cultured and sophisticated when you pull up at a nice, sit down restaurant. They were nimble enough to shame those box-mobiles and Camaros in the corners, and had enough oomph to rack up some pretty serious speeding tickets. This was before the insurance industry killed off the Coupe and true hatchback (two doors and a hatch), and everything became four door sedans or five door wagons.

The Laser was one of many “sporty” cars. And it made perfect sense.

It’s too bad we dont have anything like them now. It would be a pleasant change of pace from the bloated guppies and Canyoneros that ply today’s roads. Now, everyone wants to drive around on the street while sitting in their living room, in a reclining Lazy Boy chair, with a big screen TV and a fireplace in their dashboard, and enough cargo capacity to haul around a refrigerator and a sofa, in case they need to move, because some salesman convinced them they needed to plan for that rare occurrence.