It’s not only the Lumina and Cavalier I’ve had on my mind recently. Unlike the Cavalier, the Chrysler Neon was sold here officially, and as a result the low end of the Finnish used car market is plentiful, if not flooded with cheap Neons. They are worth nothing here, which means you can pick up a road-legal one for 500 euros. If you want a clean one, you can buy one for 500 euros. If you want to spend more money, you can buy one for 1500 euros. You get the picture: there are Neons available, no-one cares about them, and no-one really cares how much money they will make by selling their Neon and no longer having to worry about anything related to Neons.
This is exactly why I want to get in on the game.
For some time now, the Neon has been enjoying some sort of small-scale resurrection. Lately, Regular Car Reviews wrote a favourable piece on them, and some time earlier I’ve read a number of articles that do not completely condemn them. There’s use for the Neon as a track weapon, which probably would horrify any Neon-driving grandma that has given the little, round-eyed car the attention it has deserved over the years.
It seems there are two kinds of Neons: horrible rolling turdboxes that people wish they had never bought, and in turn, perfectly serviceable little cars that haven’t given much trouble during their tenure. That seems to match the perception I have of Fiat Unos: either they started rusting badly and falling apart on the day of delivery, or they provided decades of cheap trundling along to the store. And a Neon isn’t too far removed from what a small Fiat is supposed to be, meaning cheap transport with a friendly image.
The other thing about a Neon is that they are light, small and there’s a 133-horsepower two-litre engine in them. We only really got the SOHC, and none of the sportier DOHC models. Some Dodge and Plymouth Neons have made it here in later years, but predominantly the Neon was a Chrysler for everybody.
Then there was the problem that the automatic cost no extra, and as a result almost everyone went for them despite there being three speeds. The box was derived from the unit in the Omnihorizon, which sort of serves them right. I would go for the manual for obvious reasons, but the automatic cars are sometimes temptingly cheap. Then again, sorting the issue where the trans cooler ingests coolant is probably more expensive than just finding a neat manual car to begin with.
For starters, I don’t hate the Neon’s image. I’m a sucker for a simple, light car, and the Neon manages to look like a not-boring Toyota Corolla, except a little bendier in the middle. That also means the two-door looks a little ungainly, but the four-door is quite fine. Both have frameless windows, remember; it seems like they had to do something to divert attention away from not doing sliding suicide doors like on the 1991 concept.
The earlier the Neon, the better: it simply has to have the two-tone wheel trims, with the darker grey hub part, and unpainted bumpers are a plus. There’s something about the purity of the concept that got diluted year after year, the more finesse Chrysler tried to inject into the Neon. The second generation looks misguided to me, proving that the Neon is one of the rare cars that got worse by being improved.
The Toyota Corolla: like a fat, boring Neon.
What would I do with a clean, manual Neon that hasn’t developed terminal rust or munched the head gasket yet? I would happily try to unearth the driver’s car underneath, the one with the low centre of gravity and no aversion to revving to 6000 rpm. Surely a few suspension improvements would be well placed, and with good tires and pre-emptive maintenance I could squeeze a good time or two out of the car. The interior isn’t much to speak of, but it got worse in the long run. The steering wheel in the second generation car is dreadfully old hat compared to the “eh, it’ll do” perforated tiller on the initial cars.
I don’t think about buying a Neon like one thinks of future classics, thinking they’d appreciate in value. It’s the time to buy one just because they are still available. The scrap heap beckons, and if you want one of the most 1990s cars there are – meaning that in a good way – just break out your piggy bank. For 500 euros, I have belief in this small Chrysler.