The Chrysler LeBaron (or Chrysler Imperial LeBaron) was originally a classic luxury car of 1930s manufactured by Chrysler which competed with other luxury cars of the era such as Lincoln and Packard.
The LeBaron has become one of the longest running nameplates in Chrysler history. The first LeBaron models were designated as the top-of-the-line 1957 through 1975 Imperials.
The Chrysler LeBaron was re-introduced in 1977 as Chrysler's lowest priced model, and the name was used on various Chryslers until 1995. Resurrected to add cachet to the Chrysler Division's new mid-sized entry, the "LeBaron" name has since been applied to five different cars built by the Chrysler Division:
- 1977–1981 M-body Mid-size LeBaron sedan, coupé, and wagon
- 1982–1988 K-body Compact LeBaron sedan, coupé, convertible, and wagon
- 1985–1989 H-body Mid-size LeBaron GTS hatchback
- 1987–1995 J-body Personal luxury LeBaron coupé and convertible
- 1990–1994 AA-body Mid-size LeBaron sedan
The LeBaron background
LeBaron was one of the many prominent coachbuilders in the 1920s to provide bodies for luxury cars. It was founded in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1920 by Thomas L. Hibbard and Raymond H. Dietrich. It was later purchased by Briggs Manufacturing Company of Detroit in 1926 and operated as a subsidiary.
LeBaron supplied exquisite custom bodies for various car companies such as Chrysler's luxury Imperial line, Duesenberg, and Cadillac. LeBaron's last projects for Chrysler were the Chrysler Newport, a super-streamlined dual cowl phaeton with an aluminum body and the remarkable 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt, a sleek roadster with concealed headlights and a retractable metal hardtop styled by Alex Tremulis, who would later style the legendary Tucker of 1948.
Chrysler purchased Briggs Manufacturing in 1953. Two years after the Chrysler Corporation introduced the Imperial as a separate luxury division, LeBaron was designated the top of the line Imperial models in 1957 through 1975.
The LeBarons started in 1930s during the automobile's Classic era and competed directly with the luxury brands of its day such as Lincoln, Cadillac, and Packard.
In the mid-1930s, Chrysler added a radical new "Art Deco" design shape, known as the Airflow Imperials, to the Chrysler line. The high-end CW series were supplied by LeBaron. The design features were considered advanced and perhaps ahead of their time. However, the shape was too radical for buyer's tastes and non-Airflow models outsold Airflows by about 3 to 1.
Raymond Dietrich, co-founder and former stylist at LeBaron, was hired in 1932 to be Chrysler's in-house stylist. Dietrich restyled the Airflow line and Chryslers moved to more mainstream styles. As a result of the poor Airflow sales, Chrysler design actually became quite conservative for the next two decades. Auto manufacturers continued to build up their in-house styling departments and bodyworks, with the result that LeBaron became less important to most of its customers for design ideas and bodies. Toward the late 1930s, LeBaron/Briggs built more bodies for Chrysler and fewer bodies for Ford. Chrysler became their biggest customer, with additional bodies built for Packard, Hudson, and Graham-Paige. During the late 1930s and early 1940s, the LeBaron name and division became less important for Briggs, although it remained a division of Briggs until the Chrysler buy-out in 1953.
LeBaron's last projects for Chrysler were two concept cars: the Chrysler Newport, a super-streamlined dual cowl phaeton with an aluminum body and the remarkable 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt, a sleek roadster with concealed headlights and a retractable metal hardtop styled by Alex Tremulis, who went on to later style part of the legendary Tucker of 1948. Only 6 of each were made.
The Chrysler Corporation introduced the Imperial as a separate luxury make and division in 1955. LeBaron was designated the top of the line Imperial models in 1957 through 1975. These cars were Imperials and did not bear the Chrysler name.
The Imperial LeBarons were made to compete directly with competitor's luxury brands such as Lincoln, Cadillac]], and Packard, just as they had since 1930s. The last model was made in June 1975, a victim of dwindling sales and the 1973 oil embargo.
Although the LeBaron name had been used before on Imperials, this was the first time the name was used on its own. This first Chrysler LeBaron was a rear-wheel drive M-body, a rebadged Dodge Diplomat with deluxe trim and equipment sold from 1977 to 1981. LeBarons were available in coupes, sedans and station wagons. A Police version was available in 1981 only. The wagons arrived in 1978. All wagons had the Town & Country wood panelling until a plain base wagon was added in 1980-81.
The car received a major refreshening for 1980, with new front and rear fascias giving it a more upscale appearance. The rear roofline was also made shorter and steeper. The 2-door coupe received new smooth rear sheetmetal, that replaced the old curved rear panels. On the inside, enhancements were made to the interior to make it more luxurious. For 1981, a limited edition "Fifth Avenue" package was available; only 654 LeBarons were produced with this package.
The LeBaron model name was moved to the new front-wheel drive K-platform for the 1982 model year. The former M-body LeBaron sedan became the Chrysler New Yorker; it could still be equipped with the Fifth Avenue package. The M-body wagons and coupes were discontinued after 1981. Chrysler's M-body sedan was ultimately renamed Fifth Avenue for 1983 and it was produced through 1989 little changed from the vintage-1980 LeBaron sedan.
For 1982, the LeBaron moved to the front-wheel drive Chrysler K platform, where it was the brand's upscale offering related to the Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant. It was available in sedan, coupe versions. In 1982, it was released in a convertible version, bringing to the market the first open-topped domestic vehicle since the 1976 Cadillac Eldorado. A station wagon version called the Town and Country was added as well. A special Town and Country convertible was also made from 1983 to 1986 in limited quantities (1,105 total), which like the wagon featured simulated wood paneling that made it resemble the original 1940s Town and Country.
Despite being mechanically identical to the Aries and Reliant, its fascias looked much more like those of the larger E-body sedans. This generation featured Chrysler's Electronic Voice Alert, a computerized voice which admonished drivers with phrases.
The LeBaron was facelifted for 1986 receiving rounder front and rear ends to improve aerodynamics. Coupes and convertibles were dropped for 1987, being replaced by the all-new J-body LeBaron released that year. The sedan and wagon continued with minor change until 1988. A larger LeBaron sedan based on the Dodge Spirit and Plymouth Acclaim would arrive for the 1990 model year.
A modified 1986 Town and Country convertible was prominently featured in the 1987 film Planes, Trains and Automobiles. A 1983 Town and Country convertible was also famously featured in various episodes of the sitcom Seinfeld; George Costanza purchased it because he believed it previously had been owned by Jon Voight.
1985–1989 LeBaron GTS
The 1985 LeBaron GTS was a somewhat different car than the standard LeBaron and was based on the Chrysler H platform. As a 5-door hatchback still derived from the K-car, the GTS (and the similar Dodge Lancer) was more of a performance vehicle, than the softer-tuned K-car LeBaron sedan. In base configuration, the car was powered by Chrysler's 2.2 liter inline-4 engine, later replaced by a 2.5 L TBI version generating 100 hp (75 kW). A turbocharged 2.2 L engine producing 146 hp (109 kW), was also available. The GTS moniker was dropped for 1989, the final year of this vehicle's production, after the K-based LeBaron sedan was discontinued.
- Highline - 1985–1989
- Premium - 1985–1988
- GTS - 1989 (replaced "Premium" after the "GTS" was dropped from the name of the car)
European market - the Chrysler GTS
After some years of absence, Chrysler officially started offering some models under its own brand on the European market from April 1988 on. One of them was the "Chrysler GTS", which in fact was a rebadged version of the Dodge Lancer ES. Sales figures were extremely moderate.
1987–1995 coupé/convertibleAfter discontinuing the first generation LeBaron coupé and convertible in 1986, Chrysler released a new LeBaron in 1987, built on the J platform (a K platform derivative) and available as a coupé or convertible. The all-new LeBaron looked modern and aerodynamic compared to its boxy predecessor. It featured headlights hidden behind retractable metal covers, a waterfall grille, steeply raked windshield, full-width taillight lenses (though only the edges actually lit up), and curved (Coke bottle) style rocker panels. In Mexico, these models were marketed as the Chrysler Phantom.
Available engines were the stock 2.2 liter and 2.5 liter, naturally aspirated or turbocharged, and for the 1990 model year a 3.0 liter Mitsubishi V6 became available, although the Mexican Chrysler Phantom R/T DOHC 16V also offered the same 2.2 liter turbo engine as used in the US market Dodge Spirit R/T.
The LeBaron was equipped with a trip & fuel economy computer and full instrumentation. For 1990, the LeBaron's interior was refreshed, featuring an all new dashboard, gauge cluster, door panels, and center console design. All of the new components were designed to be smoother and more flowing than the comparatively blocky 1987-89 interior style, making it more in tune with the "aero" revolution of the early 1990s.
1992 LeBaron coupes and convertibles could be ordered with a new "sport package", which featured a monochrome appearance including body-colored grille, accent stripe, and decklid logo. The package also included 14-inch "lace" style wheelcovers and a black strip below the taillights in place of chrome, with special blacked-out window moldings on coupe models.
Several ARCA (one tier down from NASCAR cup racing) teams built LeBaron based cars (support by a revitalized Chrysler Direct Connection performance parts division) and ran them from 1988 to 1994. The cars were very competitive and won several races during those years.
In 1993, the LeBaron's exterior was slightly restyled. The hidden headlamps of the 1987-1992 models were deleted in favour of less costly aerodynamic replaceable-bulb headlamps, new wheel styles were made available, and all models got the amber rear turn signals introduced on the deluxe 1992 models. New for 1994, was the "Bright LX" decor package. It included a "bright" chrome grille, "bright" chrome badging, and "bright" chrome molding inserts, as opposed to being body-colored on the GTC. Available engines were naturally aspirated 2.5 L and turbocharged 2.2 and 2.5 L versions of Chrysler's I4, and the 3.0 L Mitsubishi V6 making a 141 hp (105 kW) in this application. The coupé was discontinued after 1993, and the convertible after 1995, to make way for the new Chrysler Sebring coupés and convertibles, for 1995 and 1996 respectively.
Trim levels: 1987–1995
Throughout its lifetime, the LeBaron convertible/coupé was available in many trim levels. For its first year, the LeBaron was available in Highline and Premium, typical Chrysler trims at the time. The number of trims grew, peaking in 1990, with six available. After that, the number decreased until just two trim levels remained for 1995.
- GT Turbo
- GTC Turbo
- GT Turbo
- GTC Turbo
- Highline Turbo
- GTC Turbo
- Highline Turbo
- Premium LX
- GTC Turbo
- Bright LX
M and K-platform cars were assembled in the Toluca, Mexico facility. The M-platform LeBaron was sold in Mexico from the 1978 to the 1982 model years. The K-car LeBaron was also produced in Toluca and was sold for the 1983-86 model years. There were no K-platform convertibles, at least none right from the factory.
Chrysler Phantom was the Mexican-market version of the J-Body LeBaron Coupe. There were no convertibles of the J-body 2-door for the Mexican market. Phantoms were sold with the same options as the LeBarons in the U.S., and frequently at a higher trim level. Chrysler Phantoms were marketed from 1987 to 1994, with an R/T version (similar to the American LeBaron GTC) starting in 1992.
The 4 door A-A-body Lebaron 4-door sedan was called the New Yorker (with Landau roof) as well as LeBaron (sans Landau roof).