88 Chrysler LeBaron
by Mark Smigle
88 Chrysler LeBaron convertible 4 cylinder V8 killer. I will admit I have an obsession with the 87 through 92 Lebarons. I have owned 6, 4 convertibles and 2 hardtops. I currently still have 2 88 convertibles with the turbo engine. I have a white on which I payed $500 for. I had it repainted and rebuilt the motor to stock factory specs.
Here's the good part: my insurance company has valued the var at $5100.00, the agent had to take pictures of the outside, interior and the engine compartment. This is my daily drive and gets 23.5 MPG in my daily commute, which is mostly stop and go. My other one was purchased in 2002 for $350. It had the original 2.2L turbo engine which needed a new head gasket.
It had 210000 miles when I bought it. By the way this one has an auto trans and the previously mentioned daily driver has a 5 spd manual (only the second manual trans Lebaron I have seen). I fixed the head gasket, added a front mount inter-cooler and ran 15 psi of boost with the small but quick spooling Mitsubishi turbo. Well I went a little too high on the boost without adding more fuel and cracked a piston.
I wanted to see how a 2.5 liter turbo would do so I bought an 89 turbo Caravan for $200 and dropped the motor and trans out. I rebuilt the 2.5 with new pistons and a brand new cylinder head, mildly ported. I also installed a mild turbo cam from Forward Motion. The exhaust sounds really cool. No cat converter and a Flowmaster muffler.
It sounds , with the slight lopey idle, like one tailpipe of a V8 performance engine. The car which weighs 3200 lb empty did a 1/4 mile time of 14.1 @ 97.3 MPH. I made 5 runs that day and all were consistent with the 97.3 MPH, but the ET was all over the place due to wheel spin and very little traction.
Since I installed the 2.5L I have gone thru 4 transaxles. Not normal wear, hard part failure. One was a torque failure and the last swap was a planetary gear "explosion". If I use my right foot gently the car is very reliable. The engine had a Garret turbo, and an extra fuel system which squirts more fuel upstream of the throttle plate at 16 psi of boost.
I run 21 pounds of boost with no problems with 93 octane pump gas. The best part of the car is the fact that it's a great "sleeper". The paint is faded so I removed most emblems and primered the car. The rims do not match and it looks like a typical worn out 22 year old car.I always get great pleasure in meeting at a stoplight with a Mommy and Daddy who bought a Mustang GT, especially if the kid has his girlfriend with him, and totally make an ass of him as I wonder what's going through his mind while looking at my taillights.
By the way, the car has 270,000 + miles on it with about 35,000 on the engine. If you're ever in Baltimore MD and see a red primered 88 Lebaron with a black top and you're driving a factory Mustang, Challenger and Camaro, don't be surprised when I keep up with you and maybe even pass you.