Dodge Viper Central

Dodge Neon ACR:

Neon - American Club Racer

So you want to go racing. But you don't have the budget of Roger Penske, or the engineering skills to build your own car.

We're not talking about unsafe, illegal street racing. Or oval or drag racing, which are pretty specialized. No, we are thinking of sportsman road racing and solo racing against the clock. Something where you can drive to the track in most cases, have a weekend of fun, and drive home - if you haven't bent the car!

Now, add that it has to be economical and easy to drive, and a warranty might be nice too. Impossible? Nope.

Because your friendly local Chrysler dealer has just such a car, a little-known Neon model called the ACR.

"ACR" stands for American Club Racer, and notwithstanding the narrow geographic definition of it, this Neon has been massaged and tweaked in all the right areas to stand up to the rigors of competition, while maintaining all the attributes and some of the foibles it is known for.

Neons come in both coupe and sedan versions, and so do ACR's, although the way Chrysler equips each of them makes the choice an easy one. The sedan comes with the single cam 2-litre engine and smaller tires, while the coupe has the twin cam engine with more horsepower, and bigger tires - for less money. A no-brainer there.

So the coupe it is. The engine is the same optional unit found in any other Neon, its 2 litres pushing out 150 horsepower at 6,500 rpm, and the same degree of noise and buzziness that this engine has been known for. In the heat of battle, it sounds purposeful and menacing. But around town, it's not the epitome of refinement.

Anyway, it is a willing performer, and is suitable as a race engine, the only change to it being the removal of the rev limiter, so you can spin the heck out of it. There isn't much to be gained by revving it above 7,000 in any case.

The five-speed manual - no automatic is available - has the same ratios as stock, except that overdrive fifth is a little bit shorter for more revs. Can't imagine needing overdrive in a race, but you'd want it on the highway.

The brakes are four wheel discs, without anti-lock, which the race driver's foot is supposed to be able to take of. The steering ratio is quicker than stock, and the cooling system is heavy duty. All good stuff, but wait till you hear about the suspension. The ACR has slightly stiffer front springs, a larger front sway bar plus a rear bar not found on ordinary Neons, and the kicker, adjustable Koni shock absorbers, the Dutch brand renowned as being among the best anywhere.

The great majority who drive normal everyday cars might well ask, why do all this to an economy car? Well, these are standard tricks done to cars to make them track-ready, but they also have the happy result of making the Neon ACR a lot of fun to drive. Its reflexes are razor-sharp, at the cost of some ride harshness, and if your driving skills are a cut above average, the ACR can be quite entertaining. And, it can be argued, somewhat safer in evasive manoeuvers and the like.

As a race car, the ACR as equipped from the factory is perhaps limited to an extent by the somewhat middle-of-the-road tires fitted to it. No doubt, Chrysler realizes that owners intending to race it will equip it with larger, more aggressive tires of their choice, so their was no need to go to the added expense of fitting the better tires it deserves. I'd like to try one with such tires; if it was mine, that is the first thing I'd do to it.

As a street car, the ACR is not all hard-edge. The seats are very comfortable, for example. There aren't many creature comforts standard, although Chrysler will let you equip an ACR with air conditioning and stereo. Good for those long, hot days at the track! An interesting concept, the ACR. Which way to the race track?


Price: $16,235 (2-door DOHC)
Engine: 2-litre, DOHC 16-valve 4 cylinder
Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive, five-speed manual transmission
Brakes: Four-wheel disc, no ABS, 257 mm front, 270 mm rear
Wheels: 5-bolt, 14x6, alloy
Tires: 185/65-14 Goodyear RSA
Suspension: Koni adjustable shocks, front and rear sway bars

Cute Neon

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