Before the Dodge Neon SRT4, There Was the Spirit R/T

Although the Dodge Neon SRT4 was flawed, it was one of the few early-2000s American performance cars that could hang with the tuned imports. Remember, this is years before the Mustang GT500, and the Dodge Challenger and Charger Hellcats. Muscle cars were only starting their recovery when the Neon SRT4 debuted. However, in the 80s and 90s, there were some quick American cars available, like the Chevy Impala SS and Oldsmobile Cutlass Quad 442. There was even a kind of proto-SRT4: the Dodge Spirit R/T.

Dodge Spirit R/T specs and features

1991 Dodge Spirit R/T
1991 Dodge Spirit R/T | Scheinwerfermann via Wikimedia

It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that the K-car platform helped save Chrysler. With this front-wheel-drive platform, the automaker was able to make everything from luxury sedans to compact trucks. And, seeing Ford develop the Taurus SHO, Dodge wanted a fast FWD sedan of its own. Thus, the 1991 Dodge Spirit R/T.

1991 Dodge Spirit R/T engine
1991 Dodge Spirit R/T engine | Scheinwerfermann via Wikimedia

Under the hood, the Dodge Spirit R/T had a 2.2-liter turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder modified by Lotus, Jalopnik reports. It put out 224 hp and 217 lb-ft, mated exclusively with a 5-speed manual. Oh, and that 224 hp was the highest specific output (hp/liter) of any Mopar engine up to then, Hemmings reports.

2003 Dodge Neon SRT-4
2003 Dodge Neon SRT-4 | Dodge

In contrast, the contemporary Mustang’s 5.0-liter V8 only put out 1 more hp. And even the later Dodge Neon SRT4 only put out 215 hp when it first came out.

1991 Dodge Spirit R/T side
1991 Dodge Spirit R/T side | FCA

And, rather like Lotus did with the Carlton sedan, Chrysler’s engineers didn’t only stick to the engine. The Dodge Spirit R/T got upgraded suspension, a rear sway bar, sport seats, 4-wheel vented disc brakes, 15” alloy wheels, and a rear decklid spoiler.

Overall, though, the Spirit R/T was something of a sleeper. Which made it easier to embarrass BMW M5s.

Dodge Spirit R/T vs. the competition

As Autotrader describes, the Dodge Spirit R/T was one of the fastest sedans of its day. Allpar reports that, with a 142-mph top speed, it was the fastest American sedan at the time. It was technically also the fastest mass-production sedan in the world.

1991 BMW E34 M5
1991 BMW E34 M5 | BMW

While the contemporary BMW E34 M5 may have had a higher top speed, it was basically hand-built. It was also vastly more expensive. In 1991, Motor Trend reports the E34 M5 retailed for the equivalent of $105,000. The Spirit R/T, meanwhile, was about 1/3rd that price.

Plus, in a straight line, the Dodge Spirit R/T was quicker. MT recorded the M5 going 0-60 in 6.4 seconds. The Spirit R/T’s 0-60 time, though, was 5.8 seconds, Autotrader reports. The Ford Taurus SHO was also slower to accelerate, hitting 60 mph in 6.1 seconds.

1989 Ford Taurus SHO
1989 Ford Taurus SHO | Bring a Trailer

The Dodge also smoked both in the ¼-mile. The M5 ran MT’s ¼-mile test in 14.9 seconds, with a 98.3-mph trap speed. The SHO, in Car and Driver’s ¼-mile test, needed 15.1 seconds. But the Spirit R/T ran the ¼-mile in 14.5 seconds, hitting 97 mph.

However, although it was vastly more expensive, Car Throttle reports the M5 did at least handle better. And even by modern standards, Jalopnik reports, the E34 M5 is still a comfortable and luxurious car. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to review the Spirit R/T to quite the same extent, as few were made.

Pricing and availability

The Dodge Spirit R/T was only made in 1991 and 1992. In addition, while about 1200 were made for 1991, only 200 were produced in 1992. Add in the propensity of modification, and these sedans tend to be difficult to find.

However, for something relatively rare, they’re a bit of a steal. NADA Guides reports a fair price of $3000 for a 1991 example. Even a low-mileage, pristine example goes for less than $9000, Autotrader reports.

1992 Dodge Daytona IROC R/T
1992 Dodge Daytona IROC R/T | Bring a Trailer

Luckily, the Spirit’s powertrain did end up in another car, the Dodge Daytona IROC R/T, Hagerty reports. As of this writing, Bring a Trailer has one listed for under $5000. So, if you get one, make sure to show your Spirit.

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