What do you call a person whose prowess and unique abilities only seem to be lost to people later on? A late bloomer. Sometimes the delay is obvious, and sometimes it isn’t. If not, it’s usually because the talent or capability isn’t clear yet. That’s a perfect description of the GLH iteration of the Cleverness Omni and Plymouth Horizon twins.
Omni led a relatively unglamorous life for nearly a decade until Carroll Shelby took an unusual interest in it and transformed it in 1986 into what would become one of the most extraordinary muscle cars of the 1980s. Shelby’s GLHS, in particular, could leave anything called a muscle car in the dust when it was born in 1986.
The Porsches, Ferraris and BMWs were no match for the small sedan, not after the S treatment. It wasn’t Shelby’s first time working on such magic. His magic hands fell on Ford’s ‘Stang’ in the 1960s and resulted in the iconic GT350 and GT500 street king. Shelby’s second coming to car making transformed Chrysler’s 146 horsepower GLH into a 175 horsepower GLHS, proving it never lost the magic touch.
What is the Dodge Omni?
It began with Chrysler’s search for a compact car for the American market during the downsizing era of the 1970s. In 1974, Chrysler’s then president, Lynn Townsend, sent a delegation to the company’s European operations to find a compact car design they could sell in America, after discovering the homegrown small car FWD design with the codename “C6”.
Meanwhile, Chrysler Europe offered the rejected C6 in the European market as the Chrysler Alpine. The search turned up a 1.3 liter subcompact, shorter wheelbase version of the C6 codenamed “C2”. Remarkably, the following year – 1975 – Congress would pass the nation’s first-ever fuel efficiency regulation, which called for an increase in passenger car efficiency to 27.5 MPG within 10 years.
This development significantly shook America’s automotive landscape, as American cars grew smaller along with their performance. This context is important in understanding the magnitude of Shelby’s Omni magic about eight years later.
In late 1977, the C2 entered production simultaneously (as the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon) in Europe and North America. As such, Omni and Horizon were virtually identical subcompact models. Following PSA Peugeot Citroën’s acquisition of Chrysler Europe in 1978 for $1, Chrysler Corporation retained design rights to its version of the C2 project and continued to build it at its Illinois plant through the 1990 model year.
The Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon marked the first time Chrysler would offer a production FWD car. They were also the brand’s first FWD economy cars built in the US. Eleven years later, Chrysler had sold a total of 2.5 million Omni and Horizon units.
Brief overview of the 1986 Dodge/Shelby Omni GLHS
Chrysler offered several variants of the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon, such as the 1979 Dodge Omni 024 and Plymouth Horizon TC3, and the 1982 Dodge Rampage and Plymouth Scamp. The Carroll Shelby-modified Omni GLH (Goes Like Hell), introduced in 1984 and 1986 was offered, however, was the best performing Dodge Omni.
It had many modifications from the ’83 Shelby Charger, such as the 110-horsepower 2.2-liter “high-output” inline-4, stiffer suspension, larger brakes, and wider tires. The ’85 and ’86 model years came with optional 2.2-liter Turbo 1 inline-4 making an updated 146 horsepower and offered as the GLH-T.
In 1986, Shelby offered a modified version of the GLH called GLH-S. While some believe the “S” is a tribute to Shelby after the automaker dropped the Coyote, the “S” actually stands for “S’more,” that is, goes like crazy — some more. Shelby modified the GLHs at its California factory (only 500 units) and had them sold as Shelby Automobile models at select Dodge dealerships.
The most notable mechanical feature of the GLH-S was the turbo II intercooled engine, along with the adjustable Koni shock absorber, while the Shelby Centurion wheels were the most distinguishing cosmetic feature. The interior was notable for a unique Shelby-signed plaque on the dashboard with a three-digit serial number.
Your complete guide to the 1986 Dodge Omni Shelby GLHS
The Dodge Omni GLHS was legally sold as Shelby cars because Shelby purchased and modified the last 500 all-black 1986 Dodge Omni GLH-T by, among other things, extensively modifying and strengthening the Turbo 1 engine to become the Turbo II GLHS . The modifications include a larger turbo and throttle body, Shelby-tuned intake and exhaust manifolds, a new wiring harness, an air-to-air intercooler, and a new radiator and engine fan.
The intercooler caused torque to peak from 168 to 175 lb-ft. Shelby also beefed up the suspension with stiffer springs and adjustable low-pressure, gas-charged Koni ISO struts and wraparound shocks to support the larger tires (205/50VR-15 Goodyear Eagle VR50 Gatorback) mounted on 15-inch Shelby Centurion custom cast aluminum wheels. The tire update from 195/50HR-15 Eagle GT to 205/50VR Eagle VR50 resulted in a lowering of the rear ride height to about half an inch.
Shelby removed the sway bars, but that didn’t detract from the profile of the GLHS’s mini-muscle car when viewed from the outside. To further the performance vibe in the cabin, Shelby outfitted the GLHS with standard features, including a full instrument panel with a 130 mph speedometer, leather-wrapped steering and shifter, and reclining bucket seats.
Comfort features include air conditioning, AM/FM radio and heated rear window. If all else fails to get you up to speed, the “Shelby” decal on the windshield and driver’s-side C-pillar make the Shelby treatment obvious. The “Shelby” decal is missing from the passenger side C-pillar, probably because the gas cap was there first.
The GLH-T that formed the basis for the GLHS came in an all-black color scheme that left Shelby alone except for the “Shelby” graphics. Just about everything else – bumpers, side moldings and window trim – all dressed in black. Without a roll bar and the presence of fast-ratio power steering, the heavy-duty Shelby brakes should provide the confidence of reliable stopping power. The complete package had a one-time price of $11,000.
The most remarkable thing about the Dodge Omni GLHS is that it didn’t look like a player until you tried to push it aside. Bullies like the Ferrari 308 tried to do just that at Willow Springs International Raceway and took the bitter pill. Not even Shelby’s 1965 GT350 won the fight, as reported in the April 1986 issue of Hot Rod magazine.
Sources: Mecum, Horsepower Memories