Here’s one for the Mopar fans, especially those who have a thing for the more obscure examples of Dodge performance. The Dodge Spirit was a boring, small sedan sold in North America that pretty much epitomised why US automakers got such a bad rep for cars in the 1980s and 1990s.
Available with either a lame four-cylinder or a terrible Mitsubishi-sourced 3.0-litre V6, it excelled at being absolutely average. I should know, because I had the lame four-cylinder version as my very first winter beater.
That was remedied in a big way for 1991, when Dodge - which was rather turbo-happy at the time - installed the ultimate evolution of its 2.2-litre turbocharged engine beneath the Spirit’s bonnet. Unlike the previous 2.2 turbos, this engine - dubbed Turbo III - was capped with a DOHC 16-valve head developed by Lotus. It delivered 224bhp to the front wheels through an honest-to-goodness five-speed manual transmission. And thus the Dodge Spirit R/T was born.
Back in 1991 it was among the fastest sedans in the world, and yes that includes performance offerings from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The little Spirit could go from 0-60 mph in 5.8 seconds and breach 140 on straights.
It wasn’t much of a handler though, and even with some exterior add-ons, it wasn’t exactly a looker. Sleeper yes, total sleeper. But with only 1399 built over a two-year production run (with the vast majority built in 1991), it wasn’t a sales hit by any means. And as the years passed, the survivors tended to get modded and hot-rodded to death.
So finding one at all is something special. Finding one that is still factory stock with less than 100,000 miles is borderline divine. And yet, here is one near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, selling on Craigslist for a very modest $2500. The seller says “everything works” (except for the parking brake) but curiously stops short of saying the magic words buyers want to hear—runs and drives good. That is especially critical on this car, because that fabulously turbocharged engine is virtually impossible to find parts for.
Minor surface rust is also listed in the ad—not surprising for a northern city like Milwaukee but different people have different definitions of “minor surface rust.” Again, that could be worrisome for the Spirit because Dodge vehicles of this era aren’t exactly known for their structural integrity.
Still, the pictures look good, or at least as good as they can look since the photographer’s camera skill leaves a bit to be desired. After some minor photoshopping, there does appear to be an interesting amount of grime and corrosion under the bonnet for a car supposedly kept in heated storage since 2001. For such a rare car you’d think the seller would at least get it cleaned up and have some decent photos taken.
And that leads me to a couple possible conclusions on this particular hidden gem. Either the seller doesn’t realise just how rare a car this is, or there’s a major issue that’s been conveniently omitted from the ad, in the hopes of talking around such problems on the phone or in person with a potential buyer. I suppose it could also just be as it appears - these cars haven’t ever been particularly valuable, but with years turning into decades since their release, I suspect these cars in good condition are going to appreciate in value quite a bit.
Regardless, $2500 is tempting for such a unicorn of front-wheel drive Mopar performance. If it does indeed run and drive good, then I doubt you will find a better bang-for-buck purchase than this little four-door screamer. Offer $2000, meet in the middle at $2250 and either go for a restoration or just have a blast until something gives, at which point part it out to the Spirit R/T community who could certainly use the spare parts. You could probably make a good chunk of your money back just from the engine and transmission, as long as neither are completely destroyed.
CTzens, this could be an epic cheap car challenge. I’m out of the market right now, but if anyone takes further steps on this car, you must tell me all about it.
(If the Craigslist ad goes down, let me know in the comments and I’ll post a screenshot of the original listing.)