Our Cars : Steven Ward’s Chrysler Neon
Can you believe that we now have two Chryslers on the fleet – first, Richard Kilpatrick gets behind the wheel of a 21st century Rover P5 in the form of a 300C.
And now this… Steven Ward buys an automotive joke for the right reasons and loves it
To those who are about to whinge I apologise now. This is a Reader’s Drive story fit only for that illustrious Car-Comic that was Jalopy. Sadly Jalopy was so far ahead of the curve it predicted the demise of the Dead Tree Press by nearly 20 years. Which means instead of this Bangernomics Story appearing in a Pot Boiler form, it’s here electronically – for free. So quit complaining.
Late last year saw my delectable Coupe Fiat (AROnline CotY 2012) off-loaded to Ben Adams of this parish. The part-ex I’d taken in was an Omega that was losing its head, so it was sent to the Block and converted into £249. This was to be my budget for my new automotive adventure.
The missus does a daft daily commute from the ‘burbs to the country via a wretched stretch of dual carriageway that rarely moves quicker than gallop. Which means her usual steed, a Disco Diesel is hard work for two reasons; 1) That clutch doesn’t get any lighter and 2) In winter the engine never warms-up enough to heat the cabin until into its into the next county.
Christmas was coming and she wanted a new car for the now twice daily cold commute. So I thought I’d treat her while at the same time getting myself a new motor. two birds, one stone, clever of what? The only remit was it had to be auto and it had to be petrol. I knew of just the job!
A part-time Trader friend of mine had been sat on this particular bit of Detroit Iron for over 18 months. It had been his wife’s third Chrysler Neon in a row and had been maintained religiously. This was the later four-speed autobox and was the subject of the marital strife. You see, where previously the Neon used an old but lovely three-speed auto, the new mk2 model four-speed had an Achilles heel.
The new ‘box had a known issue of a weak Valve Body and this example had chucked it entering a busy bridge to the City and that was it. His missus walked away from it and picked up a Golf, vowing never to trust the Neon ever again. He fixed the car with a brand new, improved valve body from Chrysler (at vast expense), gave the car a full service, new brake pads all round and a couple of new tyres. But she wasn’t going back.
I offered a derisory sum of money as his missus was by now wanting the covered parking space for her Golf. Reluctantly and just hours away from Christmas, he called to say I’d bought the Neon. Y679HGY, a 2.0 LX finished in silver with mink leather and 60k miles showing was now mine.
A quick check over in the workshop revealed a few issues to be attended to before the MoT, but nothing serious. An odd design of brake flexi-pipe which incorporated a metal section was showing signs of surface corrosion to all four calipers and the front subframe was also showing a very slight surface corrosion. Nothing to worry about, but these are the MoT tester’s favourite failure points all the same.
Emery Cloth in hand, my mate and I sanded the surface corrosion from the brake flexi pipes until shiny metal was exposed. The subframe was attended to with a wire brush. Both areas were painted with two coats of rust converting chassis paint from an old tin I had lying around. Once they were dry, large sections of the underside were sprayed using old aerosols of stone chip guard. Then I bought a large tin of Hammerite Shultz and used the air-line gun to give the whole underside a generous coat of thick black rust-proofing. Expenditure £6. Black Snots; numerous
While the car was in the air, the four alloy wheels complete with steel centre caps were sent away to be shot-blasted and repainted in the Chrysler silver to match the body. Two tyres were new, so they were re-used. Another tyre was barely worn, while the other had suffered side wall cracks from age and low inflation. That was replaced with a new Goodyear while all four wheels benefited from new valves and a re-balance. Costs; wheels £110 while one new tyre, four valves, four lots of balancing, and one disposal = £57.60.
A rear stop lamp had failed as had a front fog lamp. The rear lamp bulb was an odd design which my local factor didn’t carry, but Halfords did. While at Halfords I also bought a new 22in driver’s side wiper blade complete with a spoiler and a 18in passenger item. The failed front fog was traced back to a connector which had unconnected. However, while sussing this, the other front fog lamp exploded as it had damp in it due to cracked lens. Costs; stop lamp £2.29, Wiper Blades £8.90.
A trip to the local scrap yard found a replacement fog lamp with a working bulb. This was soon removed from the damaged car and refitted to mine while it remained on the workshop ramp. Cost £12. Luck; plenty.
Overnight the battery had been put on charge, but not before the electrolyte levels were topped up using some distilled water. I also use a battery acid additive on such occasions to bring an old battery back to life. After a 24 hour charge, the battery was showing as ‘STRONG’ on the meter. Costs £3.60 + mains electric.
While my mate stripped, cleaned, greased and re-assembled the brakes and checked the fluid levels, I brought an old clay bar back to life and set about the bodywork. I then used some old cheap polish to shine the bodywork. The tyres were also slicked using a cut-up sponge and some bumper gel. The external glass was cleaned using a paste before getting treated to Rainex. Costs; nil – everything was lying around the workshop.
Finally a trip to the MoT station where it passed with no advisories! The next stop was the post office where six months’ tax cost a not inconsiderable £148.50. Now we were motoring!
The interior by the way was as clean as a whistle and required no attention.
The Neon is a car which is unfairly ignored and mocked, this I know. ndeed, the point was rammed home when I went to the pub on Sunday and John asked if I needed Pet insurance rather than Trade insurance on my new Smoker…
When I have the whole used car parc at my finger tips, why did I buy such a derided piece of American cheapness? Aside from the daft low purchase price, obviously. Well, in my time as motor trader, I’ve bought and sold four Neons and you know what? I liked them all, with no exceptions. What’s more, none of them gave me a moment’s grief, and in my job, that is priceless.
In my experience, old American Iron while never cutting edge in any respect, settles down to a reliable, comfortable life of unglamorous graft. They just get on with the job and don’t irritate or intrude in your life. So they like a bit of a slurp of the sans-plomb, but then so does any Honda-engined Rover. Essentially, once all of the none essential bits have fallen off, they’ll be pretty much bomb-proof and good for 200k miles.
Chrysler’s potted history is much like our BL, except its still here. There are scores of good websites and books dedicated to Chrysler and the even the Neon. Take a look at this web page on Business Week for an insight into the motivation for Neon; and try not to get too emotional.
The car I’ve bought is exceptionally well equipped. What other car gives you a sturdy, florescent, emergency release handle velcro’d to the inside of the bootlid in case of kidnap? Aside from that its also got, as standard; Leather (everywhere) CD and cassette player, air-con, front and side airbags, electrically adjustable seat, remote central locking, various courtesy, map, vanity, mood and reading lamps, locking glovebox with boot release inside, electric windows and (folding) mirrors, variable intermittent front wipe, intelligent heated rear window and a handbook clearly written by an engineer. Do you want me to go on? I can you know.
The plastics are of a nice grain and of decent quality. There are no squeaks, rattles, groans, zizzes or damaged trim in this cabin. The indicator stalks are chunky, functional and feel fine to use. Visibility is terrific, the footwell is spacious with a great left food rest. The seats are comfortable, headroom is good.
The engine is nippy and tolerably refined. The steering is well weighted and quick. The ride is quiet and well controlled. The handling is sharp enough and strikes a good compromise between sharp and sloppy. The bodyshell looks and feels strong and shows no signs of corrosion. Even the paint is well applied.
It’s a bloody good car for the money, despite what anyone will tell you and I’ll be reporting back on it over the next six months.