A GTI-powered Plymouth Horizon

By Staff Writer
Feb 18, 2023 | Plymouth, VW, GTI, Low-Buck Tech, Horizon | Posted in News and Notes | From the April 2022 issue | Never miss an article

Photography by Eric Rood

If nothing else, the 24 Hours of Lemons renders its events a true celebration of forgotten cars. Classics, maybe not. And with that in mind, Lemons organizers were thrilled to see a Plymouth Horizon show up to a race at last at MSR Houston. After more than 15 years and 240 events, the first Horizon was truly something to behold.

Friends Lee Childers and Jason Ernst had wrenched on Mopars since their time in college together, and while Ernst has raced Slant Six-powered Lemons cars for many years, Childers had yet to participate. When Childers finally decided to get into Lemons, both agreed the car should be a Mopar, but also something weird.

And weird they found. Their 1980 Horizon came from the early run of the Omni-Horizon twins, before Chrysler even had its own four-cylinder engine for it. As a result, Volkswagen provided the engine–Rabbit engines punched out to 1.7 liters–and four-speed transmissions. 

[Vintage Views: Dodge Omni GLH]

After hauling home the kinda running Horizon, both Childers and Ernst suddenly found themselves in the deep end of parts bin engineering. Sorting out which parts were Chrysler and which were Volkswagen became a full-time job during the build, nearly driving them to abandon the car. The internet is deeply unhelpful on the matter, and any Chrysler techs who worked on these cars have forgotten about them. Still, they persisted and limped in with it sort of working.

The one thing they did complete was an engine swap. Childers exchanged the sickly 65-horsepower (when new), 1.7-liter engine for a slightly later 1.8-liter Volkswagen Rabbit GTI engine with 15 more horsepower. The ignition system was a cheap eBay knockoff, and while they had the original Horizon 13-inch wheels, they raced on a set of 15-inch Honda rims. 

[Project Car: 1984 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI]

If you’re keeping track, that’s a French-designed car sold by an American manufacturer with a German engine getting spark from a Chinese ignition and racing on Japanese wheels. This automotive United Nations, complete with a sweet “Event Horizon” theme, was certainly not quick–the slowest car at MSR Houston, in fact–but it beat 22 cars and looked majestic while doing so.

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hobiercr GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
2/23/22 10:54 a.m.

We had an early Horizon with the 1.7L. It was the first car I learned to drive (stick!) and even with only 65hp you could roast the front tires and grab second if you did it right. It was also the first car I ever experienced the inside rear wheel lift that came to identify FWD shenanigans. It also had no pin at the top of the speedo. I'd shift into 4th around 77-75 (iirc) and wrap the needle around the bottom and back to 0.

Our fake wood-paneled version had an Omni badge on one side and a Horizon badge on the other. I'm pretty sure this set me down the path of loving oddball cars.

vwcorvette (Forum Supporter)
vwcorvette (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UberDork
2/23/22 3:19 p.m.

I learned to drive on a Horizon TC3.

deaconblue New Reader
2/24/22 9:30 a.m.

When I was first married we needed a 2nd car so I bought a 4 year old used '81 Omni 2.2L 4-spd for my work car.  I had read in some performance car publication of the day that if you installed a cat test pipe, removed the deceleration dash pot on the carb and then re-tuned the carb it would wake up the 2.2L and turn the car into a fun little ride.  I did so and thought it was, even with the wide ratio 4-spd.  Not sure I would have thought the same with the 1.7L engine.  It made for an entertaining and nimble ride to work.  The suspension wasn't anything to write home about, lots of roll but it rode fairly well all things considered.  I miss the Omni in an odd sort of way - lots of fond memories of a simple (primitive now), low tech, yet fun to drive "beater".

slantsix HalfDork
2/24/22 4:19 p.m.

Cool Stuff..

Maybe it will show up at cmp in april.


Apparently Talbot did a prototype or 2 of the simca / talbot horizion for Group B rallye spec.


That would be one cool fwd mopar.



msterbeau New Reader
2/24/22 8:02 p.m.

In reply to slantsix :

ZOO (Forum Supporter)
ZOO (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
2/25/22 7:55 a.m.

I have vague memories of my friend's beater GLH.  If you hit the dash in the right spot, the speedo needle would "jump and stick" at the 50k/h mark.  He claims he got out of a few tickets because of it.

Wasn't the 1.7 a VW block?

Woody (Forum Supportum)
Woody (Forum Supportum) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
2/25/22 8:41 a.m.

These were incredibly popular cars when they were new. They were everywhere for about five years or so, and then they started disappearing. I didn't even know about VW connection until many years later. I guess they were good cars for the time, but I haven't seen one in a long time, and I'm not sure if I even miss them. I don't think I've seen a GLH in more than 20 years.

Streetwiseguy MegaDork
2/25/22 9:10 a.m.

The 1.7 is totally a VW, not just kind of a VW. From the outside, impossible to tell from a 1.6.  

I'm not sure whether carburetted Rabbits were sold in the US, but by far the best thing you could do to one of them was install the Holley/Weber carb and intake from the Omni, while throwing the German carb as far as possible.

Have I ever expressed my theory of why Germans came up with fuel injection so early?  Because they couldn't build carbs...

jimbbski SuperDork
2/25/22 10:35 a.m.

As with all late 70's and early 80's US cars they had almost no corrosion protection and in the snow belt they started to rust as soon as they were driven off the lot.  I had a friend who bought 2 of the "sporty" models (024 & TC3)?  They were purchased used and the first had a bad trans which did last about a 9 months before it died. The second was bought from a friend of his. I inspected it and told him to pass as it was "very" rusty. He bought it anyway and a few months later the rear shock tower broke from the inner fender. No surprise!  I did think the later model called the Dodge Rampage was somewhat cool!

jerel77494 New Reader
6/9/22 1:27 p.m.

In reply to Streetwiseguy :

I read a book in high school called "How to repair your foreign car - a book for the housewife and the mechanically inept".  It had a chapter called " 'Carburetor' is French for 'leave it alone'".

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