1984 Dodge Daytona Turbo Z Gets Serious About Performance

From the July 1983 issue of Car and Driver.

The guys at Chrysler have been telling us they were going to do it. In fact, they’ve been telling everyone within earshot, from congressmen to Wall Street bankers, that the new G24 sports coupe would stop the heart of the American car enthusiast. And now, months later, after one of the most well­-orchestrated examples of pre-production tub-thumping seen in the car business in recent years, it appears the Chrysler guys are right. They’ve done it: the G24 is so hot it will scorch your throttle foot. This new sport coupe is the first bona-fide all-American front­-wheel-drive muscle car.

In production form, the G24 becomes the Chrysler Laser and the Dodge Daytona, which together provide a sophisticated alternative to the Shelby Charger. The Laser falls into the luxury slot, whether in normally aspirated form or in the turbocharged XE version with its complement of dashboard electrickery. The Daytona is for those of us prone to hyperextension of the right foot. It comes in three versions: the normally aspirated Daytona, the Turbo, and the Turbo Z, which features a muscle­bound suspension to accompany the newfound strength under the hood.

Chrysler previewed final prototypes of the Laser Turbo and the Daytona Turbo Z for us at Laguna Seca Raceway in California. As you can imagine, we were a little bemused when we got the invitation, since Chrysler and road-racing circuits have always been mutually exclusive entities. And after all, even though a racetrack has a way of cutting to the quick of a car’s personality—ripping away the veneer of civilized behavior and accentuating the flaws—it doesn’t give you the whole truth about a car, not even a performance car. But the Chrysler guys told us that the performance target for the Daytona Turbo Z was the Porsche 944—with the high­-performance suspension and sixteen-­inch tires, no less—so we went along with the program.

Robin RiggsCar and Driver

Right away, we were glad we did. The Daytona Turbo Z feels good as soon as you climb behind the wheel. It feels substantial, as if every square inch were packed with tiny gears meshing in celestial harmony, and has the same kind of presence at speed. There’s no place for a car to hide as you hustle over the hill at Turn One, swoop around Turn Two, and bear down at Turn Three with the speed tickling the 100-mph mark. At Turn Three you’re supposed to turn hard left with your foot down, which is just what we did, as calmly as we might bear left into the parking lot at 2002 Hogback. At speed, the Daytona proved to be a completely normal car, with predictable, even graceful responses. Pound it across the alligator teeth at the exit of Turn Four, jump off the hill at the Corkscrew, and challenge the braking markers at Turn Nine, and the Daytona won’t bottom its suspension, get loopy at the apex, peel the tread off its tires, or demonstrate any of the bad stuff a street car usually does on the racetrack.

Robin RiggsCar and Driver

The Daytona proved remarkable for two things we hold dear: steering and acceleration. The quick-ratio power steering has the right amount of effort for precise maneuvering on the street. Meanwhile, the car pivots on its 195/60R-15 Goodyear Eagle GT tires with only a fractional delay as the front rubber readjusts its grip. There’s very little roll, and the rear tires follow the fronts dutifully. While the steering isn’t quite as crisp as that of the Camaro Z28, the Daytona holds its balance exceptionally well and handles close to neutrally besides. Acceleration is exceptional as well. Port fuel injection and 7.5 psi of boost put 142 hp into Chrysler’s 2.2-liter four-cylinder. According to the company’s own performance figures (C/D tests will follow), the turbo takes the car to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds, to the quarter-mile in 16.4 seconds, and on to a top speed of 128 mph. For the time being, we can only verify that there is sufficient power to spin the tires until essence of Goodyear pours in the windows—without a trace of wheel hop (thanks to a special hydraulic engine mount) and with little torque steer (thanks to equal-length half-shafts for the turbo engine only). In short, this engine reinforces our feeling that it’s the Chevy V-8 of the Eighties, arguably the best motor made in America.

Robin RiggsCar and Driver

All is not sweetness and light with the Laser and the Daytona, of course. The Laser’s electronic instrumentation is marginally legible. The shift linkage, despite wholesale improvement, feels sticky and imprecise. The brake-pedal travel is too long (designed to facilitate heel-and-toe work), and it has a mushy feel. The emergency brake is unfortunately pedal-operated. And the Chrysler guys have taken a wrong turn in trying to make their engine sound like a V-8 instead of a high-winding Euro-motor, cursing the car with the same annoying exhaust resonance that makes the Charger 2.2 sound cheap.

And yet this car is clearly destined for greatness. The drag coefficient (for the Daytona Turbo Z) is 0.35, a number bettered by only a handful of cars. The interior is Porsche-like in its shapes and Japanese in its convenience features. The high-performance seat, with its inflatable lumbar and thigh supports, is more supportive than either the Camaro Z28 or the Mustang GT seat and offers sufficient room between the bolsters for an American-size driver.

Robin RiggsCar and Driver

There is a lot more good stuff locked away in the Daytona and the Laser, but we’ll have to wait two months for our road test of a production car to tell you about it. We can tell you right now, though, that this sport coupe lives up to the lofty goal set for it by Chrysler: it is the first front-drive muscle car, the car Chevy and Ford are busily designing right now. It’s already capable of going nose-­to-nose with the Camaro Z28 and the Mustang GT, and it seems like a better car than its rivals in several respects. In short, Chrysler’s new sports coupe is a significant happening for people who like to drive.

This car is also significant for Chrysler. It has revolutionized the way the company designs and produces cars, combining the best of American, German, and Japanese methodology. The depth of Chrysler’s commitment to new manufacturing methods is suggested by the fact that a short run of cars was built 60 days before production to ensure that everything will be right when the first car rolls off the line. It’s that philosophy and methodology, not to mention the performance of the Daytona and the Laser, that could make Chrysler the leading American manufacturer of performance cars.

Specifications

Specifications

1984 Dodge Daytona Turbo Z

VEHICLE TYPE

front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 4-passenger, 2-door hatchback

BASE PRICE (C/D EST)

$11,000

ENGINE TYPE

turbocharged and intercooled SOHC 8-valve inline-4, iron block and aluminum head, port fuel injection
Displacement

135 in3, 2213 cm3
Power

142 hp @ 5600 rpm

TRANSMISSION

5-speed manual

DIMENSIONS

Wheelbase: 97.1 in

Length: 175.0 in

Curb weight: 2650 lb

PERFORMANCE (manufacturer est.)
60 mph: 8.2 sec
1/4 mile: 16.4 sec
Top speed: 128 mph

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