Fourth-gear musings: Thoughts from the road in a long-distance 1981 Plymouth Reliant K – Mark J. McCourt @Hemmings

Fourth-gear musings: Thoughts from the road in a long-distance 1981 Plymouth Reliant K – Mark J. McCourt @Hemmings


Our K-car-driving friend Joe Petralia has made time to keep us up to date on his adventurous Michigan-to-Arizona trip in a new-to-him 1981 Plymouth Reliant K two-door sedan.

At 2:15 p.m. on Wednesday, September 28, he shared the above photo and some driving impressions from 3-1/2 days on the road.

The stout 82 horsepower is enough to keep you moving but not enough to get you anywhere real fast. The car actually drives very nicely; it has a great ride and is a fairly tight and well maintained automobile, just by the feel. Even though it has no power options, it’s small, light enough, and a simple-enough car just to drive as-is. The manual steering is not a big deal and the manual transmission shifts smoothly and easily with no issues from the shifter. I have had a couple of these cars in the past, usually with double the mileage; the shifter is usually worn out, sloppy, and it’s generally hard to find first gear. This one, however, feels like it’s brand new: no strange noises, the transmission is tight, the clutch feels good… it did recently have a new clutch cable installed. As far as handling, this car is not going to win any autocross event, but it does feel pretty confident on the road as long as you don’t go over 35-40 mph on a highway exit ramp; she goes around corners ok, but she’s not designed to corner like a sports car. Overall it’s a great little car. It feels no different [to me] now than it did when I was driving them back in the day. Being a 56,000-mile car probably accounts for a lot of that, and this one has definitely had some pretty good maintenance along the way because it’s still tight and drives like it’s fairly new.

Joe has related a couple spots of bother, both pertaining to the car’s cooling system. The first came in the form of a leaking heater core, which manifested in dripping coolant thankfully captured by the passenger floormat.

“Well, like every trip across-country in an old car, something always has to happen,” he reported. “I was doing pretty good on the trip until a wet passenger side floormat in Nashville, Tennessee: leaky heater core! Now before I go into the process of disconnecting and looping the core, I’m going to throw some Bar’s Leaks in it and see if i can get it to tighten up, stop leaking, and continue on driving…”

“Second day on the road: fuel stop on the west side of Tennessee, getting ready to head into Arkansas,” Joe tells us. “So far the Stop Leak is holding up in the heater core, so that’s a good sign. The car’s running and driving real well – no issues, not using any oil, averaging about 25 miles to the gallon. I just made a fuel stop and checked all the fluids… we’re in good shape.”

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