In the latest edition of Coolest Cars I Saw Last Week, we have a forgotten front-wheel drive Chrysler product, a mysterious van from Mexico and the kind of rust-free survivor you only see in Arizona. To see more weird cars like these, follow me on Instagram at @MountainWestCarSpotter.
We start with a Plymouth Horizon TC3 I saw casually parked outside of a Pep Boys. Built from 1978 to 1990, the Horizon and the Dodge Omni 4-door hatchbacks represented Chrysler’s first FWD vehicles, and were developed with an eye on efficiency and to compete with the popular Volkswagen Rabbit. Fastback coupe variants of each were introduced for 1979, positioned against their more mainstream counterparts in the same way Volkswagen offered the Scirocco alongside the Rabbit.
From 1979 to 1980, the FWD Chrysler coupes were dubbed the Omni 024 and the Horizon TC3. The "Omni" and the "Horizon" prefixes were dropped for 1981, and the two vehicles were referred to as simply the 024 and the TC3. In 1983, the two vehicles were again renamed, this time to the Dodge Charger and the Plymouth Turismo. Pickup variants were spawned for the 1982 model year, known as the Dodge Rampage and the Plymouth Scamp. Again, this largely mirrored VW’s strategy with the Rabbit, which bore a pickup variant for the 1979 model year.
This one was wearing "Horizon TC3" badges on its front fenders, so it’s safe to say it’s from either the 1979 or the 1980 model year.
Next up, what you’re looking at here is a fifth-generation Toyota HiAce Commuter Van wearing Mexican license plates. The fifth-gen HiAce has been on sale since 2004, but obviously it has never been offered in the U.S. Its closest relative here in the U.S. is the Toyota Van that was sold stateside from 1983 to 1989.
Toyota has consistently offered two sizes of commercial van — large and small — with the larger HiAce being akin to the Ford Transit, and the LiteAce comparable to the Transit Connect. This is the second time I’ve seen this mysterious van on U.S. Highway 6 near Price, Utah, the main artery leading between Salt Lake City and Moab. I’ve also received reports of sightings by friends and car-spotting colleagues in this very canyon as well. What’s it doing? Where’s it coming from? Where’s it going? Why’s it such a common site? One possible answer is that it’s transporting drivers from Mexico to vehicle auctions here in the U.S. where they buy vehicles and drive them back to Mexico for resale. My guess is that the bikes on the roof are used for getting around the lots quickly to inspect vehicles.
Here’s what is likely one of the cleanest Ford LTD Crown Victorias left in existence. It’s a 1991 model, and I spotted it, unsurprisingly, in sunny, dry Scottsdale, Arizona. From 1980 to 1991, the Crown Victoria nameplate was attached to the third-generation Ford LTD line. The third-gen LTD introduced the famous full-size, rear-wheel drive Panther Platform.
This is somewhat misleading, though, as the regular LTD was split from the LTD Crown Victoria for 1983, moving to the smaller Fox platform that underpinned the Mustang of the era, leaving the LTD Crown Victoria as the only LTD to ride on the Panther Platform. The LTD Crown Vic soldiered on through the 1991 model year, after which it was redesigned. That’s when it dropped the "LTD" prefix — but it still rode on the Panther Platform, which would see use all the way through 2011.
Chris O’Neill grew up in the Rust Belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He worked in the auto industry for awhile, helping Germans design cars for Americans. Follow him on Instagram: @MountainWestCarSpotter.