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I Bought the Ugliest Car in the USA -- And It Talks!

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author photo by Tyler Hoover June 2017

Normally, I feel pretty smug when I write posts showcasing a new addition to Hoovie's garage. My last purchase story about my 2004 Porsche Cayenne Turbo certainly made me look like a genius -- but my story today about buying the ugliest car in the USA will make me seem like an enormous idiot.

My video introducing this hideous 1983 Chrysler Lebaron marks a new era for my YouTube channel. I have invested thousands in new recording equipment in hopes my videos quit resembling amateur YouTube posts from 10 years ago. So what do I create with all of this new tech? I "Rick Roll" everybody -- which, coincidentally, quit being funny on YouTube about 10 years ago.

I also painstakingly recreated a vintage Ricardo Montalban Chrysler commercial and sang a duet with my talking car. If you didn't think I was totally nuts before, you certainly will after watching this. As crazy as all of this sounds, deciding to purchase the Lebaron in the first place tops it.

It all started with seeing an unbelievable for sale ad shared in a Facebook group I frequent. A man in Virginia was selling his collection of 22 first-generation Chrysler Lebarons, most of which were 1983 "Town and Country" package cars with the "Mark Cross Special Edition" interior. This crazy listing quickly made the internet blog rounds, leaving many people scratching their heads. Naturally, I reacted by purchasing one of them.

The Town and Country package consisted of slapping marine-grade simulated teak wood on the sides of the Lebaron -- making it resemble the Town and Country "woodies" built by Chrysler in the late 1940s and 50s. As for the "Mark Cross Edition" interior, Mark Cross is an American designer label dating back to 1845; the company used their forte of high-end leather products to craft a rich-looking interior.

1983 was the first year of the Chrysler Lebaron, which was built on the famous K-car platform. This highly successful group of cars produced from 1981 to 1995 may be a punchline nowadays, but the K-car is widely credited to have saved Chrysler from bankruptcy. The Dodge Demon of today may have never existed if not for the Lebaron and its shared platform brethren.

The owner of the 22 Lebarons advertised them to be in various levels of condition, with prices ranging from $500 to $1500. I called the seller and explained I was interested in a car with no rust and equipped with the "talking car" feature. He said he had three good ones, describing them in some detail, but was reluctant to sell a car to someone who couldn't look them over in person. All of them had been in storage for several years. He sent me several photos of the cars, and I chose the buy the Lebaron he described as the second-nicest one.

When the seller called to confirm the arrival of the check, he also noted that he inspected my supposedly rust-free car again and noticed that it had a little rust. He described one spot on the passenger door, as well as an area in the rear floorboard that needed repair. The seller then reiterated that he wished I had come to look at it in person. He also noted the speedometer needle had fallen off.

I asked that he include a speedometer from one of his parts cars, but he insisted the needle only needed to be placed back on, and the clusters were difficult to remove. I figured neither was true, and I asked him if I couldn't fix the cluster, that he kindly send one in the mail. He agreed -- and we arranged shipping. My talking Lebaron arrived about a week later.

With over a decade of hooptie buying experience, I've seen this movie plenty of times. I knew the car was going to arrive looking way worse than expected, and it didn't disappoint. There's rust on nearly every body panel of the car, and the floor has several holes. I can stick two fists through the hole in the floor he described to me. The car also ran like garbage, and the brakes were totally nonfunctional. Nearly making up for the rust was the fully functional talking car system.

Unveiled around the same time as the "Knight Rider" TV series, Chrysler created its own talking car with the Lebaron. Chrysler sourced the speech synthesizer technology from Texas Instruments, creators of the Speak & Spell, and equipped the cars with a deep masculine voice to alert the driver in various ways. The car politely asks you to fasten your seat belts and thanks you when you accomplish the task. Similar prompts are used to remind you to turn off your headlights, or when a door is ajar. It also monitors fluid levels and gives more stern warnings for low fuel and oil pressure.

Considering the condition of my Lebaron, it's pretty much worthless. I had already spent twice its value purchasing and shipping it to Kansas, and was reluctant to spend more money fixing it. My mechanic, the car wizard, was not thrilled about working on it, either. He fixed the brakes and various other minor issues, but the engine really needs a new carburetor. The 94-horsepower 4-cylinder engine was sourced from Mitsubishi, and it was only offered in the Lebaron for one year; as a result, the only carburetor my car wizard could find was $1,000. Later, I found some for under $100, but I hoped running some fresh fuel through the system would clean out my existing carburetor. It hasn't.

Of course, the speedometer wasn't fixable, so I called the seller and asked for another speedometer. He agreed, but only if I paid him $140 for the part. Being a rare, one-year-only cluster -- with zero listed for sale in the country -- I had to swallow my pride and send the man another check.

I'm honestly not angry at the seller in the slightest, since I had to convince him to sell a car sight-unseen. I also didn't dicker on the price or request a refund once he uttered my least favorite word in the English language: "rust." Additionally, the dude is obviously on the same crazy scale as I am.

Other than recording a duets album with my talking Lebaron and replacing the carburetor, I plan on parking it between a couple of Lamborghinis at the next Cars and Coffee -- or maybe alongside a Hellcat. The Mopar guys should pay their respects, considering the Lebaron helped save the Chrysler corporation, but they will probably point and laugh -- like most people do when I drive this thing.

Tyler Hoover went broke after 10 years in the car business and now sells hamburgers to support his fleet of needy cars. He lives in Wichita, Kansas.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
I Bought the Ugliest Car in the USA -- And It Talks! - Autotrader