Last week, nearly everybody figured out that they were looking at General Motors’ crash-absorption design from the 1980s and 1990s in our junkyard quiz. While they were used on many cars, quite a few readers noticed they were from a fourth-gen Chevy Camaro. This weekend, let’s see if you can guess what the car is from the cropped photo above. Anybody have any bright ideas?
This should help.
This is a very-1990s Plymouth Neon from one of the first years after Chrysler introduced the compact with its famous “Hi.” ad campaign. Those first years of the happy-looking, “cute” car were matched with a color palette that included this magenta color.
Many of these bubbly-looking compacts have withstood two decades of wear and tear, but it seems that Midwest winters took their toll on this particular example.
At its 1994 introduction, the Neon tossed the gauntlet in the compact-car world. Chrysler’s “cab-forward” design gave it ample interior room with a comfortable, simple layout of the controls. All of it was a massive leap forward from Chrysler’s previous offerings, all of which were based on the outdated 13-year-old K-platform and its derivatives.
What set the Neon apart, however, was its powertrain, designed new for the Neon. The base single-cam 2.0-liter engine made about 115 horsepower, which was competitive with other base models. However, the optional dual overhead-cam 2.0-liter popped out 150 horsepower, which was a healthy heart for a car that weighed well under 2,500 pounds.
For the opening year, Dodge offered the “ACR” trim to Sports Car Club of America members. The ACR coupe came with the DOHC engine, but it also featured shorter gearing, majorly upgraded suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, and some weight-saving options like radio and air-conditioning deete. Why did Dodge sell them to the SCCA in 1995? That goes back to the old Showroom Stock classes, which allowed cars that were basically mechanically identical to a car on the dealership floor. With trick suspension and 150 horsepower, the Neon belied its cute appearance to become unbeatable road racer in the SCCA’s Showroom Stock C. From 1995 to 1997, the Neon won three national championships. Here’s a great piece of video from that era featuring Scott Webb racing his privateer Showroom Stock ACR against factory-backed Neons.
Dodge also prepared a pile of them of Neons for a celebrity race at the Belle Isle Grand Prix in Detroit back in 1999. Sure, it’s mostly local celebrities and executives so it won’t ever be confused for the Long Beach Celebrity Pro-Am race, but the Neons were a good platform for beginner racers.
It wasn’t just circuit racing where the Neons shined. They also captured titles in autocross and rally during the 1990s. A few enterprising souls even took them drag racing, often with 1980s turbo mopar engines and, later, the SRT-4’s turbocharged 2.4-liter engine. Tim Kish, however, built an all-motor DOHC Neon that would run mid-12s. That’s not astonishing today in a world where 10-second turbo LS builds fall out of the sky, but for a 20-year-old front-drive car, that was scooting.
Naturally, Neons’ background in road racing has made them a regular sight in the 24 Hours of LeMons. The front-wheel-drive setup tends to be more forgiving for newcomers and more stable in the rain. Ironically, the SOHC engine has proved typically more durable in LeMons; the Tetanus Racing has raced the same SOHC engine block since 2008.
A Neon won one of the earliest LeMons races at Altamont Speedway in a time when contact was tolerated more by the series. Simply surviving with the car and not getting hit were usually the tricks to winning and Lemon Lappers did that in the second-ever LeMons race at Altamont in 2007. Only one other team has won with a Neon and that team, Skid Marks Racing (above), won three times in their SOHC Neon. While it never had the outright speed of some cars it faced, the Skid Marks crew could wheel a car without getting themselves into trouble. And no, they weren’t Juggalos, but they did cave to Judge Phil’s requests to retheme their car as a LeMons JuggaLambo.
This long battle between the Skid Marks Neon and the Launcha Splatos—a Fiat X1/9 with a mid-mounted 3.0-liter Alfa V6 painted like the Lancia Stratos rally car—remains one of the best pieces of actual-racing video from LeMons history.
Sadly, this Neon is headed to scrap, where its unmistakable Magenta paint will be scraped away along with the whole car’s 139,000-mile history. No racing will befall this cutest of Mopar.