What If? 1989 Dodge Daytona and Chrysler Imperial … By Lamborghini

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Chrysler Imperial by Lamborghini front three-quarter
Abimelec Arellano

Welcome to What If, a new feature from imaginative illustrator Abimelec Arellano and Hagerty. We’ll be taking you back in time—and possibly forward into the future—to meet alternative-universe automobiles. Even better, our time machine is working well enough to bring “short take” reviews along with the photographs and advertisements. Buckle up and enjoy the ride! — Jack Baruth

(Originally published in Auto and Steerer, August 1988 edition)

Dodge Daytona by Lamborghini AD
Abimelec Arellano

Are you tired of waiting for Chrysler’s new TC by Maserati? So are we—it’s been almost two years since the exotic Milanese take on the K-car was scheduled for its debut, and the production line is just getting set up now. The new Italian convertible will no doubt be a serious competitor to the Eldorado and 380SL, but it will also no doubt be hard to get.

In the meantime, Chrysler’s dealers are crying out for some high-end product to take advantage of the American recovery from last year’s Black Monday. Chrysler itself is trying to turn its recent acquisition of Lamborghini from the debit side of the ledger to the side where the shareholders are happy. Put these two things together, and you get a pair of feisty, Lamborghini-badged takes on the evergreen, and hugely malleable, FWD ChryCo platform that arrived eight years ago wearing Reliant and Aries badges.

Dodge Daytona by Lamborghini rear three-quarter
Abimelec Arellano

The Daytona is the more predictable of the two collaborations, which are both rolled off the line as normal everyday variants before being sent to American Specialty Cars in Warren, MI, for their conversion to “by Lamborghini” models. The Daytona starts as a “C/S” with the new 2.5-liter Turbo I engine. Its 152 horsepower and 210 lb-ft of torque can only be paired with a three-speed automatic. 0-60 is quoted at a believable 8.4 seconds. You can get a much faster Daytona for much less money with the stick-shift “Shelby Z”, but you’ll miss out on the Gandini-styled fender flares and an authentic set of Campagnolo wheels, flown to Warren in bulk to replace the St. Louis Steelies on the C/S Daytona donor car.

Abimelec Arellano

Our brief test of the Daytona by Lamborghini at Chrysler’s Chelsea Proving Grounds revealed a vehicle more hampered by the exotic running gear than freed by it. The 2.5 turbo is almost incapable of squealing the massive Pirellis from a standing start. Slalom grip is predictably massive, although there is no combination of brake and throttle that will allow the rears to break free before the fronts. A tremendous amount of road noise and vibration comes through the steering wheel, while even minor potholes feel like Pompeiian events. The interior, which features Italian leather stitched onto the base seat frames by ASC, is oddly reminiscent of the Zimmer Quicksilver in the contrast between supple, expensive materials and determinedly rectangular plastic underpinnings.

Abimelec Arellano

The Daytona’s price—$32,995—is bang-on what you’d pay for Chevrolet’s Corvette, which has a sensational six-speed manual transmission and ninety more horsepower from its antiquated pushrod V-8. Five grand more will get you the Imperial by Lamborghini. We haven’t seen this badge since Ol’ Blue Eyes teamed up with Lee Iacocca to foist a reskinned Cordoba on the gullible American public nine years ago. That Imperial was notorious for quality problems and a tendency to almost immediately rust its bustleback trunk off.

This new Imperial is obviously a K-car-based New Yorker with a stretch of the wheelbase and an all-new fascia both front and rear. It will go into production as a regular model six months from now. In the meantime, the “by Lamborghini” version is the only way to get your hands on one.

Abimelec Arellano

A 3.8-liter variant of the corporate Chrysler V-6 turns out 147 horsepower through an innovative four-speed “Ultradrive” automatic. This is on par with Lincoln’s new Taurus-based Continental, although the man who drives a new Cadillac will likely sneer at the idea of a luxury car without a V-8. A cliff-face dashboard houses an all-digital instrument panel. Next year’s car will come with your choice of velour or Mark Cross leather, but this one has Italian hides sewn and glued liberally throughout. Even the dashboard has a leather cover with visible stitching, a lazy touch that doesn’t feel luxurious to us.

A full monochrome treatment, as with the Daytona, is the very most modern thing and goes a long way to hide the staid six-window, Landau-roofed styling. (How do they dye the vinyl of the roof the same color as the rest of the car? Nobody’s telling, and we will be surprised if it looks like that two years from now.) Those Campagnolo wheels don’t hurt either, and they match the discreet bull badge on the fenders very well.

Abimelec Arellano

On the move, the Imperial by Lamborghini has much less shake, rattle, and roll than the Daytona, likely due to a substantial investment in acoustic foam. Yet although this luxurious K stretches to an astounding 203 inches, it can’t hide the narrow bones of the Reliant. Long-legged passengers will enjoy the Imperial, but it would be a crime to sit three of them in the back seat.

An attempt to set a fast lap of the Chelsea inner loop in the Imperial resulted in a front-brake fire, a swerve into the grass, and a triple-salchow aerial maneuver in which our editor managed to vomit into his own pants. Despite this, we were mildly impressed by the 0.89g figure the Imperial recorded on the skidpad before embarking on its road-course adventure.

Compared to the $51,225 base price of a Mercedes 500SEL, the Imperial by Lamborghini is an obvious bargain. Compared to all other base prices of all other cars, it is a tragedy. Look for a few of them, possibly in arrest-me red, to appear at your local senior-citizen buffet restaurant by January.

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