In designing the these models, Chrysler didn't replace a car as much as design a brand new, efficiency sized car for the US market. The goal was to design a car with outstanding roominess, good handling characteristics, good fuel economy and flexibility of use.
According to chassis and body development studies the new car would be based on these criteria:
The starting point was a fuel efficient, 4-cylinder engine, the first 4-cylinder engine to power a domestic Chrysler Corporation passenger car in 45 years. The last 4-cylinder powered Chrysler Corporation passenger car was the 1932 Plymouth.
The base engine is a 1.7 liter powerplant purchased from Volkswagen in the form of an assembled cylinder block and cylinder head. The unit is shipped in special containers to the Trenton engine plant, where samples of each shipment are tested on a dynamometer and completely torn down during a complete quality control inspection. The other components; intake and exhaust manifolds, fuel pump, carburetor and controls, emission controls, alternator, power steering pump, clutch, air cleaner, ignition system, are all obtained from US suppliers and installed at the engine plant. Since the Omni and Horizon models are Chrysler's first metrically designed models built in the US, the cylinder block, head and crankshaft are built to metric measurements. Other components, mostly those obtained from domestic suppliers, such as the power steering pump or alternator retain inch-size dimensions.
In 1981, a new 2.2L (135 cu. in.) 4-cylinder engine was introduced as an option on all models except the fuel efficient Miser.
Early in the design stages, Chrysler engineers realized that even with their design parameters, the luggage carrying needs of people hadn't changed that much. Front wheel drive offered the dimensional advantages to obtain the desired front and rear legroom with a superior luggage carrying capacity, and still stay within the design criteria. The lower floor, made possible by front wheel drive eliminating the driveshaft tunnel, resulted in extra inches that could be devoted to a luggage area.
Front wheel drive also gave advantages in handling. The car was more stable and didn't drift during cornering; directional stability was increased and traction was improved due to more weight over the driving wheels. The front wheel drive transaxle allowed the car to be bigger on the inside and smaller on the outside to achieve the overall length and width parameters.
Emphasis was also put on minimal weight coupled with a solid, substantial look, to appeal to those who were used to larger cars. The solid, stable look was achieved through the use of a wider stance, and careful choice of line and form, the proper degree of curvature to the door and the proportion of body panels. Extensive use of strong, but lightweight, components allowed the final product to weigh in at slightly over 2000 pounds, just under the 2100 pound goal.
A strut type front suspension was chosen to keep weight to a minimum yet provide the best possible handling and ride qualities. The objective was to eliminate the harsh, choppy ride often associated with small cars, through the use of anti-sway bar, soft oval rubber pivot bushings, non-concentric coil springs and well balanced front and rear systems.
The actual design of the cars began in April of 1975, after preliminary planning had settled the issues of length, width, wheel base and configuration. More than 16 different exterior concepts were wind tunnel tested to determine their aerodynamic behavior. The results refined the 4-door hatchback configuration to obtain the minimum aerodynamic drag. Design improvements were translated in half scale, plastic models before producing a total of 84 prototypes that would log over 6,000,000 test miles. The final result, ""Job Number One," rolled off the Belvidere assembly line on November 21, 1977.
Popularity of the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon in their first full year in the marketplace, achieved a new production record for Chrysler Corporation's Belvidere assembly plant. In calender year 1978, 288,236 cars were built and sold. Demand was so great that the plant capacity was increased from the initial 960 cars per day to the present rate of almost 1200 per day.
In 1979 the Plymouth Horizon TC3 and Dodge Omni 024 were introduced. The sporty, 2-door hatchback design had all the basic ingredients that made the 4-door version a success, in addition to a low profile, 2+2 sport look. The aerodynamically styled 024 and TC3 are about 8 inches longer and almost 2 1 / 2 inches lower than their sedan counterparts.
In 1982 the 024 Charger and the TC3 Turismo performance version were introduced. The Charger and Turismo body styles were refined versions of the original 024 and TC3 models, with added features such as mellow tuned exhaust, simulated hood scoop and fender exhaust vents. Also included on these models are bold nameplate graphics, rear spoiler and raised white letter tires.
Probably the most radical model introduced in this body style in 1982 was the Dodge Rampage pickup truck which was the first front wheel drive pickup to be built by a member of Detroit's ""Big Three". Introduced in both the Sport and High-Line trim packages they share many of the same components with the other models. The major difference is in the rear suspension, where the other models have rear coil over strut type shocks and independent trailing arms the pickup model has conventional rear shocks, leaf springs and a tubular rear axle in order to support the additional rear weight capacity required in a pickup.
For the 1983 model year, Plymouth added a pickup to their model line called the Scamp. This model shared comparable features to the Dodge Rampage pickup introduced the previous year.
Introduced in mid-1983 was the aggressive styled Dodge Shelby Charger. Built to be a high performance ""image car" with its high output 2.2 liter engine and 5-speed transaxle. Its designer, Carol Shelby, that's right, the same man who brought us the 0-100 and back to zero in ten seconds AC Cobra, and the famous Shelby Mustang once again proved that he could come up with a high performance car that would be popular in the 80's.