I’ve been thinking about the Dodge Neon a lot lately, on the advice of my clergyperson, and I happened to come across information about the original 1991 Neon concept car. Um, IT’S FANTASTIC. You should already be about 60 percent wow’d by just looking at that picture, but I’m gonna blast the needle out of your wowometer with the next facts I’m about to lay down here. Are you ready? You’re not, but here goes anyway.
These are in increasing order of wow: The Neon concept had a power, fabric full-length sunroof. The Neon concept had those four power sliding doors, with no B-pillar. The Neon concept had a drop-down rear window. The Neon concept had a three-cylinder, 1.1-liter engine that made 100 horsepower. That engine was a two-stroke. The Neon concept had a goddamn built in trash compactor.
What? A two-stroke, 100 hp, sliding-door, collapsible-roof sedan with a freaking trash compactor? Why aren’t we all talking about this bonkers little marvel all the time?
How come I had to learn all this cool shit from an obscure British television show, and can find this stuff almost nowhere else?
I think the design looked pretty great overall, too, with the full-arc roofline predicting the look of J Mays designs for Volkswagen a few years later. The unpainted bumpers are practical and give the car a somewhat more rugged look, the round-light face is friendly without edging into retro, that’s a remarkably well-integrated roof rack, and those elevator-style sliding doors are inspired, and it’s a crime on the level of aggravated mopery that they’re not common on cars today.
Also, those taillights are sort of dead ringers for first-gen Miata tailights.
The two-stroke engine is an especially interesting detail, because Chrysler was very serious for a time in the late 1980s and early 1990s about trying to make two-stroke engines viable in the modern market.
In fact, the two-stroke idea lived beyond the concept car, and was planned for installation into 1997 Neons.
Chrysler partnered with Mercury Marine to develop the two-stroke engines, and there were plenty of advantages: many fewer moving parts, more power given the engine size, better fuel economy—but in the end, it was emission concerns that killed the project, like it always kills every modern two-stroke project.
What happened to this adventurous Chrysler? What happened to novel, interesting small sedan ideas? Also, me? What happened to me? I was once young and beautiful, too! Probably two-stroke, as well.
Let’s get back to that trash compactor. It looks like the whole car was designed with recyclability in mind, quite forward-thinking for 1991. I’m a big fan of cars having integrated, planned trash-management systems— we just went nuts for a new Volvo with a trash can, for example, and this thing does it even better, with a freaking compactor.
Fiat-Chrysler, get your asses down to your vault and pull the cover and old newspapers off this thing and take a good, long look.