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Automotive

What was the final straight-six-powered, rear-wheel-drive American car?

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For many decades, most American cars were equipped with inline-six engines driving the rear wheels, and the straight-six remained the base engine in many models even after the V8 became King of Detroit. Then came the rise of the more compact, easily-packaged V6 engine, and the Michigan- and Wisconsin-based car companies fell out of love with the once-dominant I6, even as plenty of Japanese and European machines continued to be sold with six-in-a-row pistons. That brings up the question: What was the very last rear-wheel-drive American car with straight-six power? After a great deal of debate among some of my more obsessed knowledgeable automotive-expert friends, it appears that the 1985 Lincoln Continental Mark VII with BMW-sourced 2.4-liter turbocharged diesel I6 takes the prize.

America’s Driving Machine was available with a Slant-6 engine until the 1983 model year. Photo by Chrysler Corporation via Old Car Brochures

Assuming that only cars built for the United States market by major companies headquartered in the United States qualify for this distinction (that’s right, South Carolina-built BMWs don’t count, nor do trucks, nor do Australian- or European-market cars, nor do kit cars or single-digit-production-run cars, nor does the all-wheel-drive AMC Eagle), you might still feel that a BMW-engined Lincoln doesn’t make the cut. In that case, several 1983-model-year cars do qualify, including the 1983 Dodge Diplomat and its Plymouth Gran Fury sibling, which could be purchased with a 225-cubic-inch Slant-6 engine.

1983 Ford LTD brochure page

It’s like riding on a wall made of ice cubes! Photo by Ford Motor Company, via Old Car Brochures

The 1983 Ford LTD and its Mercury Marquis sibling were available with the “Thriftpower” 3.3-liter/200-cubic-inch straight-six, and a four-speed manual was the default transmission in these rear-wheel-drive cars (though most customers sprang for the automatic). The last year for a straight-six Mustang was 1982.

1983 AMC Spirit brochure page

The Spirit GT was the sportiest-looking of all the 1983 straight-six/rear-wheel-drive Detroit (or, in this case, Kenosha) cars. Photo by American Motors via Old Car Brochures

1983 was the last model year for the AMC Spirit, as well as the bigger AMC Concord, and both these cars had standard I6 power and rear-wheel-drive. The AMC straight-six engine stayed in production into our current century (and no, rear-wheel-drive Jeep XJ Cherokees don’t count as cars). It’s possible that some fleet/taxi versions of some of these cars were built with straight-six power after 1985, so let us know if you have information about any of these.


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