It’s hard to deal today that not so long ago Chrysler Corporation offered several small sports coupes from no less than four of its brands.
But that’s where we were in the early 1990s with Dodge, Eagle, Chryslerand Plymouth models, as the automaker fought a battle against Japanese passenger cars of all sizes. And the early 1990s was arguably the last time we saw such variety from Chrysler with models targeting the same segments and overlapping slightly.
While Dodge had staked much of the 1980s on the Daytona, which didn’t end production until 1993 and was also sold as the Chrysler Laser for a while, the other parts of the company were already looking to the future.
In 1989 Plymouth, which hadn’t had a sports car for some years since the end of the Conquest and Turismo product cycles, unveiled the sleek and futuristic Laser, showcasing a compact coupe intended to revitalize the side brand’s most athletic.
Introduced in early 1989 as a 1990 model, the Laser was closely associated with the Diamond-Star Motors Mitsubishi Eclipse siblings and eagle talon, with all three sharing the same basic pop-up front fascia headlights and relatively few cosmetic differences. Despite its modest footprint, the Laser and its siblings featured a 2+2 layout and relatively short overhangs, combined with some rear cargo capacity.
“This is the Laser, the first Plymouth of the 90s, and it’s brand new from the ground up,” proclaimed a copy from the era. “Get behind the wheel and feel the excitement. Plymouth’s tradition of value and customer satisfaction gives you Laser’s driving refinement at an affordable price.”
Plymouth served three versions at launch, all front-wheel-drive, and the base Laser came with a 1.8-litre inline-four good for 92bhp, while the Laser RS offered the choice of the same engine or of a slightly more serious 2.0. -four cylinders in line 16 valves good for 135 hp.
Above the Laser RS was the RS Turbo variant, which dialed things up to 195hp, representing the top of the FWD menu. This is the model we spotted earlier this year, and you’ll notice this is the first version – the Laser and its siblings were restyled for 1992, losing the pop-up headlights and gaining a new fairing before. Rare for this segment, an all-wheel-drive version of the Laser was offered in the 1992 model year, starting at $16,853 and badged RS Turbo AWD.
It was the most expensive laser at the time, with the base model starting just under $11,000. Remember when cars cost this much?
“With standard four-wheel power disc brakes, five-speed manual transaxle, dual remote exterior mirrors, tilt steering column and cloth reclining front bucket seats, the Laser offers more fun for the money and goes beyond what you’d normally expect,” the automaker promised. “That’s why critics rave about Laser’s exciting looks and electrifying performance.”
The critics did rave about the Laser, with model making Car and Driver Ten Best for several years, starting in 1989.
But when it comes to sales, the Plymouth version of this rig went on a pretty steep downward trajectory from the first model year, which is also why you don’t see them too often.
Sales peaked in 1990 with just over 42,000 units sold, but dropped to just under 15,000 for 1993. The 1994 model year would be the Laser’s last, and it ended up being cut short when Diamond- Star Motors prepared the next-generation model that Eagle and Mitsubishi would receive, but not Plymouth.
Looking back, it’s pretty clear that the Plymouth version was easily eclipsed by the Mitsubishi Eclipse and Eagle Talon, with those two models being the top sellers of the trio. The Plymouth version, on the other hand, now seems intended to simply give Plymouth dealers something to sell.
For Plymouth, the Laser also ended up being the last sporty little coupe that does not have have a sedan variant. Fortunately for Plymouth dealers, the Neon arrived shortly after production of the Laser ended, ushering in a new era of small cars for the automaker.
While you can still see an Eagle Talon in traffic today, spotting a Plymouth Laser seems like a bigger order, at least outside of club rallies awash with rare Diamond-Star Motors cars. And that’s why spotting this one seemed like a special occasion.
Have you seen a Plymouth laser on the street in recent years, or know someone who had one back in the day? Let us know in the comments below.
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