Protesting vehemently that "I didn't die, I only lost," former Chicago mayor Jane M. Byrne moved back into the headlines today with the news that her otherwise inactive mayoral campaign committee recently bought a 1983 Mustang convertible.

"It's a political car," Byrne said, not a personal car.

"I had been using a Camaro as a political car, and the Mustang is still a political car," Byrne said. "Nobody's hiding anything."

The Chicago Tribune reported today that Byrne traded in her daughter's 1982 Chevrolet Camaro at a suburban Ford dealership in June, added $4,066 from the once-bulging coffers of the Jane M. Byrne Political Committee and rolled away with the black Mustang for the daughter, Kathy Byrne.

"Totally erroneous," Byrne said. "The Camaro was the property of the Byrne campaign committee, and so is the Mustang.

"Kathy went out there for me to pick up the car. In fact, we disagreed on the color. I wanted brown, but she didn't think that was smart enough. She chose the black one instead."

Kathy Byrne, 25, uses the car occasionally when she represents her mother at political functions, Jane Byrne said, adding:

"Why not? She's secretary of the campaign committee."

The former mayor said she drives the $14,000 auto most of the time because it has high visibility.

When the Mustang is inappropriate, she has the free use of a 1983 Ford LTD supplied her by Joe Rizza, the same dealer who sold her committee the Mustang.

Rizza says his wife, Nives, first suggested that he give Byrne a free replacement for the city limousine she lost when her term ended in April.

"My wife is a Byrne fan," Rizza said. "I think all ladies are. She felt bad seeing her being defeated. She felt I should be able to do something for her. I found out she was losing her car. I called her and offered her one."

Byrne says she went out to Rizza's North Riverside dealership to look at the LTD, a full-sized luxury model Ford.

While kicking the tires, conversation turned to the cost of turning in the year-old Camaro, which Byrne said was showing the effects of having been used by "hundreds of volunteers."

A deal was made and the political committee had itself a new car.

Rizza objected to reports that he acted from promotional instincts. But he conceded that having the former mayor zipping around town in one of Ford's flashiest new models "certainly can't hurt."

Although she raised a record $10.6 million for her campaign, Byrne's committee is $270,000 in debt.

True to Chicago political tradition, she put her husband, Jay McMullen, on the campaign payroll for $166,000. Kathy Byrne received $14,175. "She quit a higher-paying job to work for the campaign," her mother said.

Meanwhile, Mayor Harold Washington, who beat Byrne in the February Democratic primary, and won the general election despite bitter accusations from Republican opponent Bernard E. Epton that he didn't pay his bills, reported collecting $4 million in contributions and having a surplus of $177,000.

The mayor filed his campaign financing data a day late.