The automobile, beyond it’s ability to transport people and things from place to place, has been a symbol for all kinds of things. Wealth, Power, Status, Virility. Cruising the strip strutting one’s stuff became the thing to do in the 1950’s. But in the early 1980’s with the gas crisis and all, walking up and down the strip was apparently the only cruising you were doing. Can I hear a “womp womp womp wahhhh?”
Unless, of course you had a car that didn’t gobble gas like a portly contestant at a hot dog eating contest. One such car produced right here in these united States is perhaps one you either never heard of or promptly forgot. But I’m going to leave you hanging a bit longer. Because I can. And you know, anticipation is the foreplay of the mind. Yes I just made that last sentence up; it’s pretty good if you ask me…and no you don’t need to pay me royalties to use it.
So what was a major American automobile manufacturer who indeed placed 3rdin said hot dog eating contest to do when it sees its revenues falling and breaking a hip? Well, the first thing to do is beg for money from it’s wealthy Uncle (Sam). Which of course this 3rdplace contestant in a contest of 3 did. Successfully. Then, parsing through the reasons for having fallen and not having gotten up without resorting to beggary (which includes skyrocketing fuel prices, a slow economy, decreasing car sales, as well as manufacturing poorly built and designed gas guzzlers, and thus pressure from import car manufacturers who were making smaller, better built and more efficient cars) it occurred to the Chrysler Corporation to start doing things a bit differently.
So what did it do?
It began to manufacture smaller, more efficient and cheaply made cars. They also switched to front wheel drive. As a marketing tactic, they told the world how much better they handled in snow, with the weight of the engine over the front wheels. What? No, the change had nothing to do with how much cheaper it was to make an engine and transaxle unit that just plugged into the frame. It was efficient and better for you to drive in the snow. Did we mention that it handled better in snow? And Fuel efficient too. Snow…better in…the…
Other than Cord/Auburn who made front wheel drives in the 1930’s and the Eldorado/Toronado/Riviera trio from GM in the 1960’s that wore the front tires down quicker than a 7-year old can polish off an ice cream cone on a hot day, these were the earlier examples of mass-produced FWD in the US. Certainly the smallest, cheapest and most fuel efficient, which made them huge sellers at the time.
Unabashedly, Chrysler built twin-siblings branded as the Dodge Omni, and Plymouth Horizon. Clearly the same car ,but with different letters and symbols indicated by the little chrome emblems. So clever. But best of all, what would you expect a great American auto manufacturer to do after weaseling a gajillion dollars from the tax payer to keep all those 360,000 employees pumping out vehicles? Why, stick in a Volkswagen engine of course. All 1.7 liters of them, pumping out a whopping 68 HP in 1980, plucked straight out of the VW Rabbit. What a time to be alive.
So what about the unfortunate name?
After all, the name “Omni” wowed the public as a science and science fiction magazine which began in 1978. So cool. Yeah, science is cool. And the name Horizon? It’s where the sun comes up and goes down, where the land and sea meet the sky, what could be wrong with that? Breathtaking, eh?
But wouldn’t you know there was a stripped down version of both the Omni and Horizon branded model?
Yes, and this stripped down model was neither a symbol of wealth, power, status, and most certainly not virility. Frugality though, for sure. It was getting up to 40 mpg! It had several horsepower and went 0-60 in about 15 seconds, which nobody ever did, so don’t ask again. Imagine if you will, dressed to the nines in your finest Saturday Night Fever duds cruising up and down the strip trying to pick up the skimpily clad ladies in your Omni or Horizon Miser.
Miser. WTF? Really?
Perhaps you can remember busting out your best Saturday night banter trying to persuade las chicas to ride your Miser. Perhaps as a result you are presently living alone and subsisting on frozen dinners; still partially frozen, because you are too much of a miser to use the electricity to heat it properly. If in fact you turned out to not be one of the basement dwellers this inflicted generation, and you owned one of these unfortunately entitled teetotalers, you realized that the better strategy to show off your manhood was to park behind the Tastee Freez and cruise the strip via shoe-leather express like everyone else. Regardless of how good you looked in your Urban Cowboy boots, ain’t nobody going to ride the Miser.
Womp Womp Womp Wahhh.
*Photo credit Wikipedia.org