Chrysler Aviat

Car of the Day #70: 1994 Chrysler Aviat

Chrysler Aviat
Chrysler Aviat • via Chrysler

You remember the Neon, don't you?

That poor little Chrysler compact, often derided for its cheap-ness, was on-sale for only 11 years, with an uninspired refresh before being canned for good. Whereas the Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire tried to appear sophisticated, Neon burst onto the market with a one-word marketing campaign that leaned heavily on pretty privilege.


In my interactions with the Neon, I found it quite the impressive little car. Yes, it may have been filled with overcooked interior plastics (such was the hardness and cheapness of the fittings inside). 

Yeah, it had a cutesy face that could have aged into its own space in the compact car market, however: like the company later perfected with its Dodge Challenger and Jeep Wrangler models, Neon’s looks should have been left alone. 

Performance? Decent. Refinement? Meh.

I once drove a Neon SRT-4 with a Stage 2 Mopar upgrade kit, which was a complete Tupperware rocketship. Rated for 265 horsepower @ 5200 rpm and 280 ft-lbs of torque between 3600-4800 rpm, its engine was slathered with Mopar special sauce.

Its Stage 2 PCM, +30% Fuel Injectors (682 cc/min), Wastegate Actuator, and uprated 3.0 bar Throttle Input Pressure (TIP) Sensor conspired to unleash an intoxicating, aggressive crackle tune. Damn thing had a boost hold feature that kept boost pressure consistent between shifts, so long as you kept your foot pinned. 

All very antisocial, even in ~2004. 

On the day, the roads were slick (Toronto’s SB DVP) and I learned it had a habit of spontaneously changing lanes to the left or right. There was much power and torque but so little grip—it warped my brain. How is this the same underneath as other Neons?

Side note: why do I now want a f****** Neon?

^ Highly period news piece from the Chicago Auto Show. Sweater game: 10/10

In 1994, when the Neon was introduced and Chrysler had yet to hook up with the three-pointed wienerschnitzel, its plan was to push the vehicle's chassis and styling far enough to trial a future where Neon could have been its own family of small cars. 

Who needs tea leaves when we have concept cars? The mini-MPV Plymouth Expresso concept could be seen as the most practical take on the Neon theme. There was a miniature pickup truck, the Chrysler Back Pack, for outdoorsy types. Finished in actual neon green was the Dodge Venom, significantly reconfigured into a V6-powered, RWD sport coupe that could have ignited America’s love for sliding into things a decade earlier.

For you and I: this, the Aviat.

Chrysler Aviat info sheet • via Alden Jewell on Flickr

In many respects, it's an attempt to answer the same problems that manufacturers are facing today: how to make compelling small cars using only simple ingredients. Despite its looks that imply a complex, advanced vehicle, underneath Aviat are bone stock, normally-aspirated Neon parts.

With its hollowed out fuselage, aggressively streamlined profile, and fully faired rear wheels, it can be seen as a sort of Volkswagen XL1, G1 Honda Insight, or Aptera (maybe?): a small car that performs past expectations thanks to its approach to aerodynamics. 

Aviat’s show car scissor doors, miniature window openings, and uncompromising form factor would have no doubt been toned down for production…but it’d never be enough to be considered practical.

Chrysler Aviat info sheet • via Alden Jewell on Flickr

Would people back in the mid-’90s have been happy to pay a premium for an aerodynamic coupe based on the Neon and powered with only a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine with ~145 horsepower?

While other automakers take pride in hoarding as many of its stillborn concept cars as possible, I don’t have evidence to say that Chrysler’s historic collection of some 400 vehicles, now located at the former Connor Avenue Dodge Viper plant in Detroit, still houses the Aviat. 

Hemmings reported that the Aviat may yet exist in 2024, however, I haven’t been able to confirm this. Until that happens, all we're left with are a few press photos and some B-roll footage of the striking coupe…if anyone can add to the Aviat’s story or fate, get in touch.


Thank you to my supporting members: Ben B., Brad B., Chris G., Daniel G., Damian S., Daniel P., Ingrid P., Karl D., Luis O., Michael J., Michael L., Michelle S., Mike B., Mike L., Mike M., Richard W., Sam L., Wiley H.