The Eighties was a decade of great change for the US auto industry, none more so than for Chrysler – reinvented as the purveyor of frugal, sensible little econobox K-cars and minivans. De Tomaso sprinkled a little exoticism on the Omni however, as Richard Heseltine discovers…
DODGE DE TOMASO OMNI 024 ‘SPORTS COUPE’
From here to Obscurity - Richard Heseltine’s weird and wonderful American cars from the past.
Oh, how the mighty had fallen. Scroll back to the late Seventies and early Eighties and the Chrysler Corporation was scrabbling. If you believe his version of events, it was Lee Iacocca who single-handedly saved the smallest of Detroit’s Big Three from bankruptcy. The glory days of Mopar muscle cars were a thing of the past, however, as the firm found its footing producing the likes of the K-car series and minivans, all of which raked in a tidy profit.
Iacocca was, nevertheless, keen to inject a little bit of glamour into the line-up and did so by calling on a couple of former allies from his days with Ford. Carroll Shelby famously put his name to a raft of gussied-up Chrysler econoboxes during the Eighties (remember the GLH?!) but who remembers the firm’s alliance with Alessandro (né Alejandro) de Tomaso?
It’s easy to forget the Dodge De Tomaso (the man himself had a lower-case ‘d’ to his name, while the marque was always ‘De’) Omni 024, aka the ‘Sports Coupe’. In many ways, that’s perhaps not such a bad thing as this car didn’t exactly heap kudos on to Dodge or the De Tomaso brands. Introduced in 1980, this was not a performance package, despite what the outer add-ons and stick-on graphics might have suggested. The cosmetic makeover comprised a choice of hue – Graphic Red or Bright Yellow – along with a black glass fibre front air dam, wheel-arch extensions, oh-so-period rear window louvres, a rear spoiler, wraparound brushed-metal ‘transverse roof band’, alloy wheels (which were closely cribbed from Italian Cromodora items) and assorted ‘De Tomaso’ decals.
Inside, the cabin comprised black cloth trim, bucket seats, Rallye gauges and a rather cheap-looking dash plaque. ‘Premium vinyl’ was available as an option. Mechanically, the Omni was bone stock. Initially offered with a 1.7-litre four-banger which produced all of 65bhp and 84ft-lb of torque, this was no ball of fire. Nevertheless, the promotional spiel stated: ‘Feel the power surge around you… Front wheel drive, independent sports suspension, rack and pinion steering and front disc brakes help [the] Dodge De Tomaso shrug off the corners, smooth out the bumps and snap to a stop, quickly and precisely. Of course, [the] Dodge De Tomaso isn’t for everyone.
But if you insist upon superior design, state-of-the- art engineering, and an exhilarating driving experience, [the] Dodge De Tomaso may be what you’ve been waiting for. It’s the one exotic Italian sports car that’s made in America for American roads.’
Car & Driver was quick to give it a mauling, however. It was of the opinion that: ‘…de Tomaso just dressed up his namesake in designer sportswear and signed his name.’ While sales were not exactly brisk, this sheep in wolf’s clothing wasn’t a complete dud, as 1333 were shifted in the first year. In 1981, a 2.2-litre variant was also offered (which meant a giddying 84bhp), with ‘Burnished Silver Metallic’ also now available, but only 619 units found buyers this time around. The model was dropped that same year, but Chrysler wasn’t done with experimenting with exotic Italian brands, witness the ‘TC by Maserati’ which was introduced in 1986. But that’s a story for another day…