Quite a few hallowed (and not-so-hallowed) Detroit brands got axed forever during the decade of the 2000s (whatever we’re calling it now— the Noughts? the Oh-Ohs?), and the one that went to the slaughterhouse first was Plymouth. Starting in 1928 (not-so-coincidentally, just a couple of years after the birth of Pontiac), Americans and Canadians could buy low-priced Plymouths with the same running gear as the costlier Dodges and Chryslers, and life was good. Then the outlines of the brand became increasingly blurred as the 20th Century waned until finally just one Plymouth was left: the Neon. Last week, we saw one of the very last Pontiacs ever made, so we’ll follow that up with one of the final Plymouths.
The Dodge Neon stayed in production all the way through the 2005 model year. Chrysler had become so eager to shed the Plymouth brand by the late 1990s that the Voyager minivan got plastered with Chrysler badging midway through the 2000 model year (after the November 1999 announcement of Plymouth’s impending termination), though the who-cares-anyway 2000 Breeze continued to stagger, zombie-style, into Plymouth showrooms for much of that year. The mighty Howler could have provided a little lift for Plymouth, but it appeared before the world with Chrysler emblems in 1999.
It may be red on the outside (except for the swapped-on silver hood), but the days of Bordello Red interiors in low-end Chryslers were long gone by 2001. This car appears to have upholstery provided by the same vendor responsible for the seats in prison buses.
With 132 horsepower from this 2.4-liter SOHC four, the second-generation Neon was a bit quicker than its low-trim-level Civic and Corolla competitors.
The three-speed automatic transmission in this car extracted most of the fun out of that engine before it could reach the wheels, though. The two-pedal 2002-2005 Dodge Neons got four-speed automatics, with only the Toyota Corolla CE and its Chevrolet Prizm twin remaining with three-speeds into the 2002 model year.
When you see rusty water stains all over the engine compartment of a car in the junkyard, you can assume the engine in question died from a blown head gasket followed by a few weeks of running straight water as coolant while the car’s final owner cycled through the various stages of Magical Overheating Thinking™ (my cousin’s neighbor says it’s gotta be the radiator cap… maybe it’s the thermostat…) and superheated steam hissed out of the weakest points in the cooling system. Eventually, the tortured engine finally seizes up and the junkyard gets a phone call.
Chrysler didn’t bother to advertise the Plymouth Neon during its last couple of years, so here’s a somewhat disturbing TV commercial for the ’01 Dodge Neon R/T.
Earlier in the Plymouth Neon’s life, buyers could choose between HI and YO. So edgy!
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