In 1991 Dodge built the quickest sedan on sale in America. It wasn’t powered by a massive V8 and it didn’t even look fast. And although it was rated Americas best performance sedan over the Ford Taurus Sho by Car and Driver, the world quickly forgot about the Spirit R/T.
Dodge’s first attempt to crack the performance sedan market was surprisingly successful. In 1991 only 224 horsepower was required to claim the title of fastest American sedan compared to the 707 horses needed today. The Spirit R/T looked like the boring Dodge sedan your grandmother would drive to church on Sunday; however, great performance cars are more than a shouty exterior. The unassuming Spirit R/T proved Americans could build fast sedans.
When Dodge realized they couldn’t fit a Hemi under the hood of their Spirit sedan they turned to Lotus for help. The result was a 2.2-liter intercooled turbocharged four-cylinder engine good for 224 horsepower and 217 lb-ft of torque. Extra power came from a Garrett turbocharger that produced a healthy 11psi of boost. These numbers seem common today but in 1991 it was one horsepower less than the 5.0-liter Mustang. A top speed of 143mph and a 0-60 time of only 6.8 seconds meant the Spirit R/T embarrassed competitors. The 2,900lb Spirit R/T was Dodge’s first taste of high-performance sedans that wasn’t remembered until the birth of the Charger Hellcat.
To back up this new found power Dodge fitted a stronger 5-speed gearbox with a Getrag gearset. They also added larger brakes to harness the extra power with ABS as an option. To complete the package Dodge went to work revising the suspension to handle this new found performance. The base model’s spring and dampers were replaced by stronger “gas charged” units and a thicker rear sway bar was added to combat understeer. The suspension was described as tight and refined in 1991 but a lot has changed in the past 26 years.
Today we are so spoiled by horsepower and performance. It’s amazing to see what the car market was like only 26 short years ago. In 1991 the Spirit R/T was a high-performance sedan that blew the minds of auto journalists with its sub 7 seconds 0-60 time. Who could have imagined that in 26 years an American electric sedan would do the same sprint in only 2.5 seconds?
Then look at the styling. The Spirt R/T’s squared off edges and general lack of passion made it the perfect costume for a genuine sleeper. Compared to the performance products Dodge is making today, this looks like a bland lifeless cardboard box. But in 1991 the Spirit R/T was described as “aggressive”. Its monochromatic color design was a nod to the performance cars built my AMG for Mercedes.
With a production run of only 1,300 units, it’s very unlikely you will see a Dodge Spirit R/T. The world may have moved on to the latest and greatest super sedan but it’s important to remember your first. The Spirit R/T was more than just a fast performance sedan. It was a proof of concept. In the early 1990s, fast sedans were a new idea. They weren’t the highly contested market we know and love today. Although we give credit to the Germans for creating the segment, it’s important to remember that for a brief moment in the 1990s Dodge was winning.