The 1991 Dodge Spirit R/T, Big Performance


Much like when Carroll Shelby applied sporty touches to the compact Dodge Shadow to make the Shelby CSX, Dodge added zest to the midsize Spirit in the early Nineties to create the Spirit R/T. Let’s go.

This won’t be our first rodeo with an R/T badged vehicle, as that honor goes to the Daytona IROC R/T featured early this year. Customers for the Spirit were a little more practical, and knew they needed all four doors present and accounted for in their sports car.

The Spirit was born in 1989, as a replacement for the aging 600 and Lancer midsize cars. It was smaller and less expensive than the Dodge Dynasty and shared one year in showrooms with a midsize dinosaur, the Diplomat. Among all the K-car platform variants, the Spirit was a new AA: a K stretched a medium amount. Spirit went head to head with cars like the Ford Tempo and Chevrolet Corsica.

A time when Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep-Eagle-Colt-DeSoto-Renault-Plymouth-Mitsubishi badged its cars with many different names, you might also know the Spirit as the Chrysler Saratoga, Chrysler Spirit, the Plymouth Acclaim, or the fancier Chrysler LeBaron, or indeed the Chrysler Acclaim. No matter the name, Spirit was built in Delaware, Mexico, or Venezuela.

Engines on offer varied as one might expect, and included displacements of 2.2, 2.5, and 3.0 liters. The 2.2 had a turbo, and on the 2.5 a turbo was optional. The only V6 was the 6G72 Mitsubishi unit which saw very wide usage. Transmissions had between three and five speeds. Automatics were three- and four-speeds depending on the year, and the manual transmission was a five-speed.

The Spirit ran through the 1995 model year, and the sedan was offered in four different trim levels throughout. There was always a base trim, and an LE was offered between ’89 and ’91. The ES also arrived in ’89 and was available until ’93, which meant the last two years of Spirit, only base models were available. In between was the sporty R/T, offered only in 1991 and 1992.

R/T was meant to have a noticeably more sporty character than the standard Spirit, and all examples used the 2.2-liter turbocharged engine with a DOHC head of 16 valves. Said head was designed by Lotus, who beat out two other firms in competition for the design. The Turbo III engine as it was named made 224 horses and 217 torques. R/T customers were required to drive with Manuel Transmisen on board. R/T also included four-wheel disc brakes, and ABS was optional.

On the visuals front, there were many sporting touches for the Spirit R/T, with lots of color-keyed trim, cladding, and special painted wheels of a snowflake design called Eurocast. Those wheels were joined by Turbo Blade wheels in 1992 (above). Inside were supportive bucket seats, with a color-matched stripe motif in the fabric.

Dodge was not joking about the R/T’s credentials and immediately advertised it as the fastest sedan made in America. 60 miles per hour arrived in 5.8 seconds, which meant the R/T was one of the fastest front-drive cars ever on sale domestically. Motor Trend preferred it to even the Taurus SHO and crowned it Domestic Sport Sedan of the Year in 1991 and 1992. For 1995 Spirit was sold alongside, and replaced by, the Cloud Car Stratus, which was not really sporty but was more purple and gold.

Today’s Rare Ride is a red example, one of 774 sold in the R/T’s first year. Located somewhere in Alberta, it is not near Downtown Canada. It needs a little work, but overall looks very solid. The asking price is $4,000.

[Images: Dodge]

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