They were near-identical twins. Built on Chrysler’s G platform (a shorter version of their old warhorse K platform), the new Dodge Daytona and Chrysler Laser launched simultaneously in 1984 to replace the Chrysler Conquest. Their restrained but eager styling made them two of the best-looking sports coupes ever made in America, an appreciation they have never relinquished.
The Daytona already knew its target market of street performance-mad boy racers. The Laser was conceived as an upmarket version with the feel of European luxury comparable to increasingly popular imports. Initial performance matched aesthetics — but 1985 brought important mechanical changes that included the creation of the Laser XT version. Chrysler’s own publicity never even mentioned the XT until 1986. By then, word of mouth had confirmed the XT’s credentials as a supremely well-appointed powerhouse, an unlikely blend of menace and elegance that was beautiful.
It looked fast, standing still. The sharp rake of the nose was repeated in the windscreen, and balanced by the wraparound rear glass hatch with its attached spoiler. Louvres on the hood discreetly advertised the XT’s turbo (an option on the basic Laser), but not the XT’s improved power. Inside, a pleasuredrome of soft leather faced ranks of electronic dials and gauges (preferred over the digital instrument cluster of the XE, the XT’s nearest relative); and hours of fun were guaranteed by disobeying the voice-activated warning system or the electronic ‘navigator’.
In fact just about the only extra you could add to the XT was a jewellers hallmark. The mystery is why Chrysler didn’t make more of its masterpiece. It was fast, handled very well, and matched or outperformed anything else remotely near its price range. But it vanished, as it appeared, in silence. Finding one is like boarding a luxury Marie Celeste.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1985 (until 1986)
ENGINE: 2.21(135cid) Turbocharged Straight Four
PERFORMANCE: Top speed of 115 mph (185 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 8.05 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW: The noiseless disappearance of the Chrysler Laser XT makes a kind of sense since sales of the Dodge Daytona Turbo Z option, so similar to the XT of 1986 (except for the ‘Swiss cheese’ wheels), justified its promotion as a model in its own right. But logic defies the resurrection of the Laser name for the 1990 Plymouth Laser, Chrysler’s tedious collaborative variant of Mitsubishi’s Eclipse.