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US Compacts

Two oil crises in the 1970s prompted US car buyers to seek more fuel-efficient alternatives to Detroit’s vast and profligate land yachts. At first, those newcomers came from Japanese car-makers, such as Honda and Toyota, and European brands, such as Volkswagen and BMW, which were already building what Americans considered to be small cars for their own buyers. US car-makers hit back with their own compact cars, not always with great success. But they only really got into their stride in the early 1980s, developing new platforms that were the basis for hundreds of thousands of compacts during the decade.

Chrysler LeBaron Coupe, 1987


Engine2,501 cc, straight-four
Top speed103 mph (166 km/h)

The first LeBaron of 1982 made the switch to front-wheel drive for Chrysler. This newer model added sophisticated and wind-cheating styling, and a luxurious interior. There was a choice of 2.2- and 2.5-liter engines, and the car was offered as both this coupe model and as a convertible. It was also built in Mexico, where it was called the Chrysler Phantom

Slim profile

Within its sleek bodywork, the LeBaron remained a very practical car, with comfortable accommodation for four adults on leather-covered seats.

Individual alloy wheels

In keeping with the sporty character thar Chrysler wanted the LeBaron to embody, the car came as standard with a set of specially designed alloy wheels; they reduced unsprung weight in order to make the handling slightly more nimble.

AMC Eagle, 1980


Engine4,228 cc, straight-six
Top speed88 mph (142 km/h)

In the late 1970s AMC plugged the gap between its off-road Jeeps and its Concord saloon car range with this pioneering, US, four-wheel-drive crossover. The Ferguson Formula four-wheel-drive system was completely automatic. Production ran up to the Chrysler takeover of AMC in 1987.

Cadillac Cimarron, 1981


Engine1,835 cc, straight-four
Top speed100 mph (161 km/h)

In a rush to enter the compact car market—and to compete with European and Japanese imports General Motors failed to turn its worldwide J-car platform into a convincing Cadillac. However, equipment levels were good—a 4-speed manual transmission and four-cylinder engine were standard.

Dodge Aries, 1981


Engine2,213 cc, straight-four
Top speed98 mph (158 km/h)

This spacious, front-wheel-drive saloon based on Chrysler’s K-car platform was Motor Trend Car of the Year in 1981. It sold 1 million units in seven years, and alongside its sister car, the Pymouth Reliant, it helped to improve Chrysler’s fortunes in the 1980s.

Pontiac Fiero GT, 1985


Engine2,838 cc, V6
Top speed124 mph (200 km/h)

General Motors astonished the world with the mid-engined, two-seater Fiero sports car. With economy-car roots and a four-cylinder engine in base models keeping the price low, it fitted into the GM range below the Chevrolet Corvette. It sold 370,158 units in five years.


It is a quote. The Classic Car Book – The Definitive Visual History 2016

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