What happened to all the Dodge and Plymouth Neons?

J.G.
By J.G. Pasterjak
Nov 23, 2023 | Dodge, Plymouth, Neon, Dodge Neon, Plymouth Neon | Posted in Features | From the May 2023 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

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We lived through the ’80s and ’90s and spent a lot of time with the era’s greatest hits–drove them, raced them, even knew them when they still had that new car smell. We fondly remember shopping for Kamei air dams, Hella lamps and 14-inch tires.

But were the cars of those times really that rad? 

We wondered that ourselves, so we ditched the rose-colored glasses for a few to take a look back. Were they all winners, or did a few duds get released? Let’s slip on some Vans, break out the vinyl and take a trip back in time.

This week, we're looking back at the humble-looking Dodge and Plymouth Neon–a staple of our scene back in the day that seems to have all but disappeared.

When Dodge invited us to try out its new factory race car at Moroso Motorsports Park circa 1994, we weren’t expecting a front-drive compact that looked more at home in rental fleets than on the grid. But the Neon ACR was truly a revelation: a turnkey race car you could buy from a dealer and drive to a national SCCA title in autocross or road racing. 

Then add in all the factory support and all-important contingency dollars. Through the second half of the ’90s, Neons were everywhere in our scene. We ran a borrowed ACR for a few years: autocross, road racing and even hillclimbing. I won a regional Showroom Stock road race championship in it, and I drove it to and from every race that season. (Next time you see us, ask how we used an umbrella as a pit board.)

While historically and culturally significant in our scene, the actual product was, um, not built to last. The Neon is best remembered as a highly effective tool instead of a great all-around car. Sure, it was practical and economical, but between the pounding they took in production-based racing series and their inherent lack of general durability–particularly with soft parts–these days they’re rare, and spares can be precious. 

Luckily, lots of the bits were used across the corporate lineup, so hard parts are out there. But if you see a Neon racing today, you can bet the owner has a good chunk of shop space dedicated to spares they’ve collected.

Still, few other cars allowed so many people to compete on such a level playing field for so little money.

Verdict: A piece of history, even if they didn’t last forever.

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Comments
stroker
stroker PowerDork
6/1/23 8:51 a.m.

I was wondering about this very subject just a week or two ago...

 

wae
wae PowerDork
6/1/23 9:09 a.m.

About 5 or so years ago, I could get a replacement transmission any day of the week within a 2 hour radius from craigslist for $75.  Yeah, it'd be the 3.55, but that was okay.  If I ate up a transmission, it wasn't worth keeping around to rebuild or anything, I just took them to the scrapper. 

I could also go to my local junkyard and have 4-6 from which to choose if I needed anything else, although they were usually ATX.

A couple months ago, when the first 1gn Neon showed up in a yard since forever ago, I basically dropped everything I was doing to run out there as quickly as possible to pull the transmission to have a spare.  I'm hoarding dash pads like a dragon, and I even have a set of Koni blacks that are blown and I won't really ever need.  But I keep them just because you can't get them.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
6/1/23 9:12 a.m.

Wow, our Neon during its transitional phase from D Stock to CSP trim. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
6/1/23 9:12 a.m.

Also, see that SCCA SOLO EVENTS sticker on the rear bumper? Anyone have some? I’m on the hunt for them. 

Thanks. 

Appleseed
Appleseed MegaDork
6/1/23 10:12 a.m.

Around here, they all returned back to the Errff.

red_stapler
red_stapler SuperDork
6/1/23 10:18 a.m.

Sadly, I think we've hit the point of "How far can a neon go on one timing belt?" and that is why they've all disappeared rather quickly.

CrashDummy
CrashDummy Reader
6/1/23 10:25 a.m.

From the article: "I won a regional Showroom Stock road race championship in it, and I drove it to and from every race that season."

A bit of a tangent, but are there any cars/classes in which I could reasonably do that today? Sounds like a great budget setup to have a streetable car that can compete in autocross and road racing. 

BlueInGreen - Jon
BlueInGreen - Jon UberDork
6/1/23 10:27 a.m.

I think circle track and Lemons/Chump claimed a lot of the Neons that did survive.

To be fair, around here most cars from that era have pretty much started disappearing from the road anyway.

Tyler H
Tyler H GRM+ Memberand UberDork
6/1/23 10:39 a.m.

I remember thinking when the Neon came out that Dodge had finally gotten it's sh-t together.  They were fast at the time!

parker
parker HalfDork
6/1/23 10:57 a.m.

I was thinking about this a couple of days ago.  I sold my 1972 911 (20 years ago before the prices went bonkers) to be able to buy another Neon.  The Neon was faster and actually more fun to drive than the 911.  Fast forward to today.  Neons are much more rare than long hood 911s but if you can find one they're $3000 or less vs. $60k and up.  I did a search on AutoTempest and found 14 Neons for sale in the entire country.  The first site on AutoTempest had 25+ long hood 911s.

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