After Detroit's automakers slowly abandoned the convertible market in the 1970s — the 1976 Cadillac Eldorado was famously the last factory-built American convertible — it took a scrappy Chrysler Corp. to resurrect the fun of open-air driving.
In the early 1980s, as Chrysler got back on its feet after a near brush with bankruptcy, the K-car-based Chrysler LeBaron and Dodge 400 debuted. The K cars were quite successful, and a LeBaron convertible was later championed by Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca.
A redesigned and re-engineered LeBaron coupe and convertible debuted in 1987 on a new J-body platform.
The new LeBaron coupes and convertibles were longer, sleeker, moderately luxurious and, depending on trim and engine choice, somewhat sporty. The 1987 LeBaron convertible was also the first modern Chrysler convertible factory-built from the ground up, rather than converted from a two-door coupe.
The latest LeBaron was considered a modern, aerodynamic roadster, making it a perfect choice to pace the 71st Indianapolis 500 on May 24, 1987. It was the Chrysler brand's sixth tour of duty as official pace car of the famed open-wheel race.
The Chrysler Imperial was selected as the pace car in 1926 (Louis Chevrolet, co-founder of Chevrolet Motor Co., was behind the wheel) and again in 1933, followed by the Chrysler Newport Parade Phaeton in 1941, the Chrysler New Yorker in 1951 and the Chrysler 300 in 1963.
The LeBaron featured headlights hidden behind retractable metal covers, a waterfall grille, a more steeply raked windshield and full-width taillight lenses.
Carroll Shelby was behind the wheel of the hopped-up Chrysler LeBaron pace car, with a 175-hp "Turbo II" Dodge Daytona Shelby Z engine, up from the 146 hp on the stock LeBaron.
Shelby, designer of the legendary Shelby Cobra and a consultant to Chrysler, was making his first appearance at the Brickyard as pace car captain.
The LeBaron was dropped in 1995 and replaced by the Cirrus sedan and Sebring coupe/convertible but remains one of Chrysler's longest-running models.