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I Bought a 1986 Plymouth Horizon

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author photo by Eric Brandt June 2017

I recently became the proud owner of a 1986 Plymouth Horizon in incredible condition with just 52,000 miles on the clock. I bought it because ... well ... it's a 1986 Plymouth Horizon in near-mint condition. I wanted it as soon as I discovered somebody saved this disposable compact that was never meant to be saved. The example I found has a carbureted 2.2-liter 4-cylinder "K" engine and a 3-speed automatic transmission.

This is the corporate twin of the Dodge Omni, and together they were the first true compact cars to come out of the Chrysler Corporation (are we really going to count the Aspen or the original Dart as compacts?) -- starting in 1977 going all the way through 1990. The Omni and Horizon were also the very first front-wheel-drive Chrysler products.

These cars were developed by Chrysler Europe for the now defunct Simca brand. While Ford Pintos were exploding and Chevy Chevettes were embarrassing their unfortunate drivers, the Horizon and Omni truly stood out as an American (sort of) car that was actually small, and actually good -- arguably a first for the U.S. auto industry that was struggling to compete with compact imports.

Here's what I've learned about my pristine Horizon in my first week of ownership.

It's Bigger Than I Expected.

This car is so roomy that it's bordering on midsize wagon rather than subcompact hatch. It's a bit bigger than my wife's 2008 MINI Clubman, and I'm consistently amazed by the ample cargo area in my Horizon. The front seats are a little close together, but the car never feels cramped. Even the back seat has fairly generous space for a car that's supposed to be considered subcompact.

It's Faster Than it Looks.

Now, I didn't say it's fast -- but it is faster than it looks. With about 90 horsepower and a curb weight of around 2,100 pounds, it's quick enough to get out of its own way -- and it even does just fine getting on (and staying on) the highway. So far, I've never felt like the Horizon was too slow for regular, everyday driving. Indeed, this car was made specifically for regular, everyday driving and it fulfills that duty amazingly well to this day.

It Gets a Ton of Attention.

Every Mopar guy knows what this is and loves it. I've only had it for about a week, and I've already gotten enthusiastic waves and thumbs-ups from drivers in a wide range of cars -- from a Cummins Ram to a Mitsubishi Eclipse convertible (that's close enough to a Mopar, right?). This humble, boxy hatchback gets way more attention than my showy, bright yellow Ford Focus ST.

Every Day is Arm Day.

This isn't the first car I've owned that doesn't have the luxury of power steering, but its absence is more noticeable here than it was on my smaller, lighter Chevy Metro. It makes any low-speed maneuvers a challenge and it turns parking into a bit of a nightmare. Turning the Horizon at low speeds is such a workout that I'm thinking about canceling my gym membership. Remember that scene in Predator when Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers do that masculine high-five/handshake followed by an epic, mid-air arm wrestle? I'm fully expecting my arms to look like that after driving my Horizon for a month.

Going Back to My Focus ST Feels Like Flying a Spaceship.

After just a day or two of exclusively driving the Horizon, I climbed into my Focus ST because I felt like having fuel injection that day. Upon pushing the button to start the Focus, the 8-inch touchscreen lit up, my phone connected via Bluetooth and the map appeared on the infotainment screen -- and I felt like I was in the future. Then, I started to drive it -- and I was blown away by the brisk acceleration, the sharp handling, the precise steering and music coming from more than two speakers! It's no surprise how different these two cars are, but I wasn't prepared for such a shift in the driving experience. It didn't make me like the Horizon less, but it made me appreciate my ST a lot more.

I'm not planning on keeping this car for more than a few months, but I'm looking forward to my time with it. Stay tuned here at Oversteer for more updates and adventures with my new compact companion.

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I Bought a 1986 Plymouth Horizon - Autotrader