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Junkyard Gem: 1988 Dodge Aries America LE Station Wagon

One of Lee Iacocca's Chrysler-saving K-Cars, now junked in Arizona

Junked 1988 Dodge Aries wagon
Junked 1988 Dodge Aries wagon / Image Credit: Murilee Martin
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During the late 1970s, Chrysler appeared doomed as outdated car designs and a second catastrophic oil crisis caused by Middle Eastern conflict hammered sales. Chrysler had some successful economy cars made by Mitsubishi or based on Simca designs, but the need for an efficient, modern front-wheel-drive platform grew desperate. After a government bailout in 1979 bought some time, CEO Lee Iacocca masterminded the creation of the all-new K Platform, which hit showrooms for the 1981 model year. The first two K-Cars, the Plymouth Reliant and Dodge Aries, were big sales successes, and Chrysler went on building vehicles based on the platform through 1995. Here's an example of the later Aries wagon, found in a Phoenix self-service wrecking yard.

The "true" K-Cars were the Aries, the Plymouth Reliant, the Chrysler LeBaron, and the Dodge 400. They have become very rare in wrecking yards today, so I honor their historical significance by documenting the ones I find. During my junkyard expeditions, I have photographed this '81 Aries wagon, this '81 Reliant wagon, this '82 Aries wagon, this '82 400 coupe, this '82 LeBaron convertible, this '83 Aries sedan, this '83 LeBaron Town & Country wagon, this '85 LeBaron woodie convertible, this '86 Aries sedan, this '86 LeBaron Town & Country wagon, this '86 Reliant wagon, and this '89 Reliant coupe.

The early K-Cars could be purchased with optional Mitsubishi Astron 2.6-liter four-cylinder (complete with "HEMI 2.6" badging), but in 1988, the choices were down to a 93-horsepower 2.2-liter Chrysler-built four-cylinder or a 2.5-liter version of the same engine rated at 96 horses and 13 extra pound-feet of torque. This car has the 2.2.

The "America LE" trim level was the only one available for the 1988 Aries, and it resulted in a fairly Spartan car. Tough, scratchy cloth upholstery and lots of hard plastic were the order of the day.

The MSRP on this car started at $7,695, or about $16,770 in 2018 dollars. That's a lot of car for that kind of money. For comparison, the rear-wheel-drive (and much bigger) 1988 Pontiac Safari wagon went for nearly twice that price.

By 1988, the Aries wagon was looking pretty old, but it was a bargain.

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