My Favourite Car

Which I had from 1990 until 1997

Plymouth Acclaim LX

This is the Plymouth Acclaim resp. the Dodge Spirit
The Saratoga is a slightly modified Version of them
The Picture is taken from Chrysler Friends from USA. Thanks

Read some more technical information about "The Saratoga History" in Europe





Looking back: April 1990. I'm working for nearly two years now at CompuNet° in Hamburg. Every Monday morning I've been driving 250 km from my hometown Lemgo to Hamburg, every Friday driving back 250 km from Hamburg to Lemgo. Along the week I have a small appartment a 20 km outside of Hamburg. During work it may appear that I have to visit our customers outside and used to take my own car, because it is much more comfortable than the companies cars, have my cassettes with me and may smoke as much as I like in the car.
Those days our customers were spread in a much larger area than today, CompuNet° Hannover and Kiel weren't existing yet and some customers reside in locations maybe 300 kilometers off from Hamburg. During the years I have reached an average of about 50.000 km a year. My old Opel Senator had reached the 300.000 km mark and the next TÜV-exam for road-worthiness should be held in August. The waterpump and the radiator were leaking, the undersides of the front doors were rusted through and there were some larger and expensive repairs to come at all.
A new car had to be purchased.

So I made some visits to the car dealers. It should have been another Opel as well, cause I knew them very well. In that year the Opel Omega with the 2.6 liter straight-six engine and 150 hp came out - a fine car and a potential powerful and reliable motor. This one it should be: either a sedan or a caravan, either coloured in black or dark red.
But my Opel-Dealer wanted to make me wait until August/September - they have a delivery forecast of some month. Alright - I'll have to wait. I didn't order one in advance, cause maybe I find something else ...

Half a year ago the girl-friend of my old fellow Roland had bought a Chrysler ES with that 2.5 liter / 145 hp turbo-engine. A real great thing, elegant, fast and remarkable inexpensive. I've been driving some rounds with that car and found him really impressive. But from the layout it was a complete different type of car I originally wanted: Four cylinder, manual gearbox, two door Sports-Coupé. Well - at least there should have been a Sedan of that type available. So I went to the local Chrysler dealer. Accidently I knew this guy from some years ago. Roland and I had helped him with some of his computer related problems and he listens to want I wanted.

Saratoga Logo

The limousine to the ES was the GTS. It was available with the 2.5 liter / 98 hp-engine with manual and automatic gearbox, with the 2.5 liter / 145 hp turbo-engine only with manual gearbox and with the 2.2 liter / 177 hp Turbo-engine and manual shifting. A Turbo-Automatic version was not available. I've been testing the 98 hp-automatic version. Result: you may forget about it. The automatic of those time was an old-fashion 3-speed type and the engine was too powerless. Six cylinders ? No chance. Not in the GTS, not even the LeBaron of those days had one. That was available only in the Voyager (Mini-Van) or in the Saratoga.

"Saratoga ? What is that anyway ?"

A four-door Sedan with numerous extras, a 141 hp / 3.0 liter V-6 engine, an electronic controlled 4-speed automatic gearbox and a - for Europeans - very unusual look. I hadn't heared about that before.
A first walk around the car. Well - it has about the size of the Senator but looks a little different in shape, wider, taller. Alu wheel, hmm, 205 tires, aha, dark-red metallic.
"And how does it drive ?" I asked the dealer.
I shall find out by myself. This is his presentation car and he hands me the key.
"You should come back before we close."
First way leads me back to my house. When I enter the parking lot behind the house I nearly come off the way. This thing has got 13 meters turning diameter. The Senator has got 10 meters. That may cause problems. Minor - probably. So I drive on the federal road leading eastwards out of town. The automatic shifts soft and nearly unnoticeable, a lot power is available. Roadholding, Accelleration and driving through bends is excellent. The mayor equiment is electrified: Power windows rear and front, both outer mirrors, adjustment of drivers' seat. Tinted windows, Cassetteradio with four speakers, tilted steering wheel with integrated speed-control buttons, cupholders. Sorry - but no Air Condition. And no Anti-Lock Brakes and no Airbag, but I haven't missed that until today. I could have an A/C installed after selling, the installation-kit including cables is already build in the car, but I didnt't miss it that much that I had spent much money on it. It was okay without one until now. Sometime I drove back to the dealer from test-driving.

3.0 ENGINE

The presentation car was half a year old (November, 13th 1989 first allowance for traffic) and had about 6.000 km on the counter. The warranty lasted until 110.000 km or three years - under my conditons 110.000 might be the point. The official selling-price was 39.990 DM plus delivery, first inspection and additional extras. The metallic paint would have been an extra, which might have cost another 500 DM. A/C and an optional sunroof would have cost extra money, but the car came without that.
After some dealing and calculating we made an agreement over 32.000 DM. Therefore the dealer hadn't to take my old Senator. That was promised to another one of my fellows.
On July the 3rd 1990 I have got the Saratoga with the VIN 1C3BA7634LF736669 into traffic with my name in its papers. The sign on the number-plate - taken over from the dealer as first owner - is DT-AX 917 and the counter was on 6.551 kilometers.

The first reactions of friends, neighbours and relations: "Well - will that go fine all the way ?"

Funny people. They have no problems buying a japanese, a french or even a korean car - but if you mention, that you own an american car they still use to think in terms of street-cruisers, gasoline guzzlers, poor quality and lousy economic stats. They ignore the fact, that american car-manufacturers have taken giant efforts to make their cars more efficient and competitive. Those US-guys haven't sleeped all the time - especially not at Chrysler, which was close to bankrupcy some years ago and came back onto the US market in a triumph with a brand new variety of small, economic cars worth the money the cost. At those days I owned the only american car far around. Not included the several Mini-Vans that often were not recognized as alien, american cars anyway.

STEERING WHEEL
No standard in German cars of that time:
Speed Control with Buttons in the steering wheel

Most recent question: "It takes a lot of gas, right ?"

No. It doesn't. My statistics from the previous years up to now reads a nearly constant 11 liter/100 km. You must obey, that 90% of my average ways lead over german Autobahn or rush-hour type Hamburg city traffic. The economically good country or federal roads are less travelled. Absolute minimum was an average of 8.3 liter / 100 km when I visited the not-yet-reunited DDR (former socialistic East Germany) somewhere in early 1991. There was still the old speed-limit of 100 km/h on Autobahn and 80 km/h on all other roads.

Next recent question: "And what about workshops ?"

No problem. If something is broken there is always a workshop somewhere. At least I haven't had problems with that. But almost.

Away from the usual service and maintenance there were just two things that needed replacement outside normal routine. The first were the disks of the front brakes, the second were the headlights. The brake-disks came from a US-only series of disks that tend to wear out very fast - and so they did on my car. The headlights were untight from the very beginning. While the replacement of the brake disks fixes the problems a 100 percent the replacing of the headlights was only good for a couple of month. After that the lamps were wet from the inside again - and still are, after several (vain) attemps to repair or tighten them. Then came kilometer 66.609.

FRONT VIEW

I had notified the counter-reading. I drove on a monday morning on the Autobahn A 352, along the Hannover airport into the Hamburg direction. A girl from Hamburg was sitting in the car also, she used to travel with me, cause her friend lived in Lemgo. We had just leaned back in comfort and reached our normal travelling speed of 160 km/h when we heared a strange noise from the front, a hard shock, then the engine turned up to the maximum revs (6000 rpm), all warning lamps in the instrument cluster light up, then the engine stalled and switched himself off. We rolled on to the side emergency lane of the Autobahn and stopped. Deadly quietness, a deep breath thru.
"What to hell was that ?" I don't know. Starting the engine. Runs perfectly and makes no unusual noises. Shifter on "OD". The car is rolling, first gear, second gear, idle, second gear. When we stopped, the car won't roll on automatically, the change between first and second gear is well noticeable. Gearbox malfunction.

The dealers' workshop in Hannover could help or didn't want to. It is monday, no mechanic is there, I didn't even have made an appointment (!), emergency or not - the people there are completely overstressed. So we do the travel-back with the damaged car, which only drives in first two gears - and can reach up to 120 km/h. But is far away from being silent or comfortable. The way back for over 100 kilometer takes about one and a half hour and my workshop comes to the same result that I've made on the way there: the automatic is wrecked. A new one should be ordered and I got the occasion to drive three long weeks with a 45 hp Fiat Uno, because there were certain problems to get a correct gearbox with an appropriate torque-converter and send both to the correct address. Finally everything was in place and I was able to get my car back. But the enthusiastic mood lasted just a couple of hours: on an intersection I suddenly had no power. I had to stop the engine and restart it again, then the gearbox managed to act as normal. Back to the workshop. Another week with a rented car, this time with a 90 hp Opel Vectra.
The solution of that clue is simple and surprising: the sensor with measures the rotation of the gearbox' output shaft has a broken cabling. Probably it was that, which primarily caused the first gearboxes destruction, when he told the shifting-computer that the car were standing, while driving at 160 km/h and the computer consequently shifts back into second gear. All expenses - including those for the rented cars - were covered entirely by Chryslers Full Warranty.

The remaining time of the warranty and the following 100.000 Kilometers we are able to pass without unusual actions. Away from usual stuff like tires, shock absorbers and brake pads there were no repairs outside the normal routine maintenance. I am satisfied and do some larger tours with the Saratoga, sometimes 1.300 kilometers in one day.

GEARBOX
The A604 Gearbox - no other shiftes so smooth
No other is known as so horrendous because of
it's total damages

Then - at 178.000 kilometers - the gearbox had its black day again. It won't stay in fourth gear. It had some 'drop outs' recently but now that becomes a general condition: you speed up to 120 km/h from third gear. It shiftes into fourth gear and now you are able to speed up the engine up to the red line at 6000 rpm without any result on the cars speed. If you release the pedal the automatic shifts back into third gear and stays there no matter what you try until you stop the engine and restart it again. Then the shifting computer gets a reset signal and the bad game starts again. The workshop - a different from the original, which had been sold - couldn't fix the problem. Neither the so called 'expert' from Chrysler Germany could fix it. After three days of trying and testing he had replaced nearly everthing he could replace: Computer, wiring, sensors, filters, trans-fluid ... so the error must be in the mechanic itself. So a new gearbox must be ordered. And that will cost an incredible 4.500 DM. I'm thinking about selling the car on that point, but with a defective gearbox I wouldn't get much for it. On the other hand the gearbox is the only thing which is not Okay and a new car costs a lot of money anyway. So I let them install a new gearbox. That works fine up to now.

In between the car has made over 290.000 km. For now one and a half year I am doing all the neccessary maintenance by myself to reduce the horrendous costs. Nontheless I had to visit the workshops as well for some times. In early spring '95 I drove over a large piece of plywood in a pitch-black night on the Autobahn with something about 160 km/h and the left engine mount is broken by that. On a morning a week after that the radiator suddenly lost all the water, I had to stop on the Autobahn and the car had to be towed away for the first (and only) time. The wood piece had caused more damage than visible on first sight. The radiator was totally damaged, the waterpump as well and one of the hoses from the cooling system had to be replaced too. That fine joke costs another 2.500 DM.
For the two front-disks I have to blame myself. I should have changed the brake pads some time earlier, but was too lazy for that job and forgot about it until it was too late for the disks. My own fault - not one of the constructors.

I must confess that I keep the car just running with the minor maintenance what is possible. The shock absorbers around should belong to the crap, the noisy bearings of the front wheel should have been replaced, the outer half of the left drive shaft is making loud noises for about 70.000 km - and I got used to ignore that. Meanwhile the catalytic converter block is broken in pieces and makes rattling noises in the exhaust system while in idle or while accelerating. The engine mounts should have been replaced, adjusting them is useless anyway. Resume: a lot of things should have been done, a lot of money should have been invested, but does it pay ?
Other way round: the body itself is nearly 100% free from rust. Only on the lower parts of the rear hood are some rusty places crumbeling, where tins are layed double and badly secured against moist. The engine runs like hell, except that the hydro-lifters from cylinder 6 make loud knocking noises and then takes some minutes to be quiet, when the engine is cold and / or the oil level sinks close to the 'refill' mark. Simply fill up half a liter of motor-oil and everything is okay again. The oil consuption is a continous half to three-quarters liter over 1.000 kilometer - like on the first day. Unless the fact, that the complete suspension, bearings and shock-absorbers are so much worn out, you are still able to take the hands off the steering wheel at 100 mph without any risk of leaving the road. It calmly runs straight ahead. How good it runs shows this picture: taken while driving free-handed on the Autobahn A7 one Monday morning. Look at tacho and odometer and then show me another car, which behaves like that after more than 290.000 kilometers.

SIDE VIEW

If I were able to make a decision, to invest some money in the car, it could be in an acceptable condition again. At least in theory. But you can't calculate that the automatic gearbox will last longer than the previous ones or blow up again very soon. If the gearbox dies again I will have spent all the money in vain. Really: I don't know what to do. On the one side I would have the car in good condition again, on the other side I don't know if I will give away money for nothing. With this internal fight I drive around for about 60.000 kilometers. Another 10.000 will make a good 300.000 on the cars counter - can a car with minimal maintenance make it through for so long ?

My neighbours have stopped asking silly questions for long about the reliability of my Saratoga. For over six years now they see it standing in front of my house or driving away for another working week. In those years lots of Golfs, Kadetts or Vectras have passed away ... !

06. April 1997 - Update

The old ark really made it !

We had successfully passed German Test for Roadworthiness (TUEV) in February - and only needed to clean the engine and install a new catalytic converter to fulfill all EPA-requirements.
That new catalyzer costs 1.200 DM (about 750 $) - but I did invested it.

On Wednesday the 19th March at 8:43 AM we crossed the 300.000 km-line in Hamburg harbour area. I'd tried to picture this moment with my old trusty russian camera - here is the result:


Not very clear to see - but that was the moment ...!

That was the good news.

The bad news: On Thursday, 27th March one guy crashed into my car while driving backwards without looking. (See "Accident 6" further below) This accident caused a lot damage - maybe too much to keep the car. I try to fix it temporarily, but if the frame is really bended I will have to give up my old ark. Too bad !


Doesn't look that bad ...

... even the bulbs are already in function ...

... but a total loss anyway !

Actual Situation on 03. May 1997: The Saratoga has been signed off from traffic. If it will ever come back is not quite clear. The opponents' insurance payed 6.000 DM for it. But there is no other Saratoga available for this price.

I'll keep you informed ... !


Update am 28.02.98:

Silver Spirit
That's the "New One". A 1991er.
A good year as it seems

No - the red one has not been signed on again. Instead I bought this silver 1991 Saratoga from a good friend (who likes american cars a lot too) .

Because I was very lazy in the meantime I will now have to bring all the details and news. Let's track it down.

On the 13.06.1997 I signed the car in the picture on for traffic here in the Lippe-county. "Accidently" I got the numberplate LIP-PE 17 from the traffic office ... so if you meet me while cruising along the road - just wave or honk to gain my attention, and if time and traffic situation allowes I'm always interested in parking, meeting and talking.

This Saratoga has the VIN 1C3BA7630MF622797, and it also has the Air Condition, Anti-Lock braking system and the mysterious Height Adjustment for the Headlamps - but no Height Adjustment for the front seat-belts and no Airbag.
The -M- in the VIN determines the car as Modelyear "1991" (L was 1990, N was 1992, O is 1993 and so forth). However the Modelyears at Chrysler start in around June of the previous year and end in June of the current (Model) year, which means: a Model with code "M" is built some time between June 1990 and June 1991.

When I got the car it has already 108.000 km on the counter. Meanwhile the odometer stands at 129.800 kilometers. This car drives totally different compared to the red one. The gearbox has a different, longer gear-ration (2.3:1 instead of 2.5:1) and the speed in 4th gear is a bit higher than on the the precessor. In addition Chrysler must have changed the gearbox itself a little and did some changes on the computer, because it was impossible in the red one to force a downshift into 3rd gear after 140 km/h. In the silver one it works even at 180 km/h - the speed you can reach in 3rd gear when running the gears to the maximum at full acceleration.

Silver Spirit Rear
The 1991 from the rear

The interiour is identical up to minor details with that in the red one. The design of the door panels is slightly modified, the radio is a later model from Clarion, the ventilation openings between dashboard and front windscreen are oval holes instead of longish slots to be found on cars without A/C. The heater panel is of course different, due to the Air Condition.

From the outside you can identify the later model only through the different front grille. On the rear trunk the Chrysler Penta in the middle is missing and one of the former owners removed the "Chrysler Saratoga" logos and installed the "Dodge Spirit" signs again - the original name of the model.

Everything else is almost as usual. Luckily the 1991 Saratogas kept the "snowflake" design wheels and did not get the somewhat ridiculously looking "pizzadishes". They also did not have additional chrome gimmicks. The lean and nice base design has been kept at least until early 1991. For the 1992 Modelyear until the production ended they modified the front-grille again and some models got additional chrome rims.

Most of the cars sold after 1992 were mostly original US LeBaron Sedans (VIN begins with 1C3XAB...), which have been adapted for european regulations and which might have had leather interiour and wooden-style applications on the dashboard and along the door-panels.



Accidents And Incidents

Of course: if you own a car for a longer time you will face some situations in traffic that end up in accidents. You wish not to have one - and maybe it wasn't your fault - but it happened. So had I. The previous years haven't passed without a trace and here's a list of the mayor incidents.

  • Accident No. 1
    Volkswagen Passat (1990 model)
    One of my team-mates hadn't expected, that it would take so many meters to stop a car on wet stones in the backyard of our company. The car he hit with his Passat was my Saratoga - which I bought ten days before. I heared the noise of slipping wheels from outside ... and that BANG-tune which makes one a chicken-skin. Sound of falling glass. I rushed out to look.

    Damage Report
    Saratoga : nothing
    VW Passat: One headlight destroyed, other knocked, left fender bended, frontgrille broken.


  • Accident No. 2
    Grandpa (app. 68 years) with Bicycle (Made in Russia - model unknown)
    I had stopped on a morning about 9:00 AM on an intersection to let some pedestrians (schoolkids) pass. While beginning to roll Grandpa with his bike came from around a building corner and hit my right fender, slipped over the hood and fell on the street. Didn't drive further. Stopped, called Police and Medics. Later that year I was sued for "rude driving" and had to pay 1000 DM "for a social task" - didn't help me, didn't help the Grandpa, who was on the way to church that particular morning. Might have been his last ride, but wasn't. Lucky guy. Payed him a new bike.

    Damage Report
    Saratoga : right fender slightly deformed. Got most of it out but left a little uneven
    Grandpa : was in hospital for two days, left foot overtensed, half a year of resconvalence
    Bicycle : a total loss. Too many parts to repair, frame broken


  • Accident No. 3
    Honda Civic (Model and year unknown - elder type, awful painted black)
    Young hasty man - couldn't figure out, why I stopped just in front of him when traffic lights change from yellow to red. Left not enough space to stop without - BANG - sound of falling glass. The accident happened on a sunny sunday afternoon right in front of a fully occupied restaurant which had the tables outside. Lots of witnesses, lots of bystanders, gaffers and some cheer-ups when police arrived. My Chrysler dealer told me, that he had a remarkable more interest on the Chrysler models on the days after that incident. But refused to let me participate on the future sellings for my 'Demonstration'.

    Damage Report
    Saratoga : minor scratches on rear bumper
    Honda Civic : both headlights broken, damage on hood and front fender. Numberplate fallen off


  • Accident No. 4
    Audi A4 (latest model in dark-metallic blue)
    Driving home on Autobahn on Friday. Slow moving traffic, all three lanes very busy. Probably accident on opposite direction, many people slow down for staring. One on my left side changed onto my lane. I had to stop hard and immediate to avoid collission. Maybe too hard for the guy with the blue Audi A4 right behind me, who had looked, too. Got his punishment. You know that bit: BANG - and sound of falling glass ! Not much to say. One called the police, takes them fifteen minutes to come around. First question "Where's the other car of that accident ?" Afterwards they said I had a camouflaged battle-tank, I denied that. Could drive home as usual.

    Damage Report
    Saratoga : minor scratches on rear bumper and numberplate (away after a 20 minutes polishing job on Saturday)
    Audi A4: both headlights destroyed, hood bended, both fenders deformed, front bumber entirely broken from body, lower waterhose broken from radiator, car had to be towed away



Now - these cases came over a total distance of 280.000 kilometers. Makes an average of 70.000 between two of them. I guess you can't rely on statistics. Maybe the next idiot is waiting just around the corner ... BANG ! Sound of falling glass ... whose glass this time ?

Here's the answer:

  • Accident No. 5
    One of my team-mates with a black 1996 Ford Escort Caravan must have been still a little tired at 9.00 AM. I stopped behind another car which has stopped behind a truck which blocked the road. I stopped some meters earlier not to block an intersection to my right. My fellow thought I would drive closer to the car next in front - what I didn't. He stopped too late and - BANG - hit me. No falling glass this time.

    Damage Report
    Saratoga: Nothing. Some dirt from formerly having sticked under the bumper is now on the road.
    Escort: Numberplate and plate-holder broken off, front bumper partially broken from body. The team-mate has got a new bumper on this car just a week ago. Will need another new now again.
    Blue Chrysler LeBaron Cabrio just behind us: driver nearly laughed his ass off.


  • Accident No. 6
    Gone shopping with my girl, cruised through the streets of my hometown, looking for another parking lot to leave the car. Had to stop behind a dark-blue, short-wheelbase older Mitsubishi Pajero 4x4. Guy behind the wheel drove a little too far into intersection and now wanted to leave another car pass by. Hit the reverse gear into the gearbox, stamped on the accellerator and let the clutch go. After about 1 Meter - BANG - Sound of falling glass.
    Obviously he didn't know what these ugly reflecting glass things in his car are good for.

    Damage Report
    Saratoga: left headlight and sidelight totally destroyed. Fronthood on left side bended, left fender bended. Probably the frame has taken damage too. The car will be "written off" - because the costs for the repair exceed the actual value. Will try to fix it by myself and buy another Saratoga.
    For pictures look above.
    Mitsubishi: right side of rear fender broken from body, slight damages on the body, probably rear spring leaf holder on right side damaged.


  • Accidents with the silver Saratoga
    (after 13.06.1997)

    None so far. Wish me luck that I will not have any in the future !!



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© 1998 Peter H. Wendt - pw software production