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Dodge Spirit R/T: fastest four

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Spirit Spirit R/T LeBaron R/

The Dodge Spirit R/T: 224 Horsepower Four-Cylinder Sedan

dodge spirit r/t

Dodge Spirit R/T at rest

In 1989, the Dodge Spirit was introduced to provide reliable transportation in a traditionally styled four-door sedan, building on the architecture of the Reliant. Enthusiasts ignored it, though it gained a following among normal customers.

Then, in 1991, Chrysler added a 224 horsepower (218 lb-ft) screamer of an engine, based on the 2.2 four-cylinder that usually produced 93 hp.  This car was a fairly ordinary looking Spirit, except for the "R/T" after "Spirit" on the trunk lid, body-color crosshair grille, a modest spoiler, and a decal on the fender. But most grocery-getters don't move from 0 to 60 faster than any other four-door sedan sold in the US in their model year.

2.2 turbo III

Sold in 1991 and 1992, the Spirit R/T had a quarter-mile time of 14.5 seconds at 97 mph and a top speed of 141 mph, making it the quickest four-door sedan sold in the United States (the fastest mass-produced four-door sedan in the world. Two cars sold only in Europe might have been faster: the handmade BMW E34 M5 and Alpina B10, selling for the equivalent of $59,905 and $109,500, respectively. Thanks, Stephen, for details on the competition.) All this came at a base price of $17,820, including power windows and air conditioning.

Turbo III engine

The Dodge Spirit R/T’s 2.2 Turbo III engine boasted 1.67 horsepower per cubic inch. Yet, unlike some of the Shelby sports cars, the Spirit R/T maintained its comfortable ride. The Spirit ES suspension was modified with increased spring rates and front valving, performance-oriented rear shocks, 70mm progressive-rate front jounce bumpers, and a 28.6 mm rear sway bar. Tires were 205/60R15 Michelin XGTV4, wheels 15" x 6".

Handling was decent, and while torque steer was minimized by the modifications, it was still a palpable presence. The front roll center was raised for faster response, caster increased for better tracking, and steering flex reduced. The R/T felt solid and stable even over 100 miles per hour, though the poor aerodynamics make wind noise quite high. Roadholding was measured by Car & Driver at .80 g.

getrag transaxle

The 2.2 Turbo III engine was the third turbocharger setup Chrysler Corporation had developed. Mopar engineers worked with Lotus to create the engine, which included Lotus-designed heads; it was the first four-valve-per-cylinder engine Chrysler had ever built, and featured balance shafts, a double overhead cam, and an intercooled Garret turbocharger. There was only one transmission - the A-568 five-speed manual, created for that engine.

Dector Vega German wrote: "It also came out (in Mexico) as a LeBaron R/T.... It has a special manual gear box because conventional gear boxes could not stand the torque. Every 40,000 km or so the distribution chain (timing belt) breaks... this car is just incredible. I have reached a speed of 240 (km/h) but top speed is 270 (km/h)."

As Dector noted, unless you get a good Gates or Dayco timing belt and retension it after about 45 minutes of running (thanks, Ed at Delco), it may break far ahead of schedule. Since the Turbo III is a "non-interference" type engine, this usually causes little or no damage but is inconvenient. Common reasons for belt breaking are improper tensioning, problems with the tensioner itself, and not retensioning it.

Turbo 3 engine

A common replacement item seems to be the gears that the timing belt runs on. The symptoms seem to be broken timing belts and a loud clicking noise which is especially pronounced over 2,000 rpm. The tensioner has been fingered as a common culprit but the exhaust and intake cam gears also go bad.

The most important issue when you own a Turbo III is to maintain the engine. Have the TSBs done; change the oil regularly; and keep the antifreeze topped off and purged of air bubbles.

The oil pump may also be a problem. One R/T owner said they sometimes suddenly "bind," resulting in the bracket breaking, and or the gears on the shaft which drives the pump getting stripped. While Chrysler no longer has any of the original $120 pumps in stock, aftermarket pumps are available for $30.

All Spirit R/Ts were made in Mexico, came with four-wheel disc brakes, trip computers, air conditioning, tachometers, a message center, speed control, tilt steering wheel, and remote release trunks. There were two colors in 1991 (white and red), three in 1992 (silver was added). Very few were made in 1992. Ironically, they were not sold in Mexico until 1992, and continued there until model year 1993.

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