Through the 1990s, Chrysler searched for a flagship car. Plymouth had the Prowler, Dodge had the Viper; but what would Chrysler have? Perhaps, at least one designer thought, the outrageous Chrysler Phaeton, with massive wheels, chrome hubcaps, and a “speeding while standing still” look.
Head designer John E. Herlitz wrote that the 1997 Chrysler Phaeton concept “embraces and contemporizes elegant, classic design cues from historic touring automobiles of the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s.”
The four-door hard-top convertible was inspired by Chrysler’s dual-cowl 1941
Newport. At least two Newport Phaetons were made: the actual pace car, which was originally silver and was later repainted to green, and the red one at the Chrysler Museum, with hideaway headlights; this one was used mostly for parade duty and ferrying VIPs.
Design director K. Neil Walling wrote, “We
took an elegant design execution that was originally intended for the wealthy and created a
practical, contemporary convertible.”
The dual cowl has finely drawn details in the egg-crate grille — which had been a Plymouth styling cue, with Chrysler taking “waterfall” grilles — and a retractable rear compartment windshield. Walling added, “Chrysler Phaeton effectively captures classic images from the Chrysler LHX and Chrysler Atlantic and translates them into a convertible format.”
The interior, with its radio and climate controls hidden, is far from the original 1941 car. Oh, and those are 22-inch wheels.
The 1997 Chrysler Phaeton interior, done in cream leather trim with brown details, woven cream leather inserts, and satin metal details, highlights the Zebrano wood accents. The separate front and rear passenger compartments have their own
radio, climate controls, and center consoles, with speedometer and tachometer
gauges to let rear passengers see their status.
The power retractable convertible hardtop was developed by ASC, which made convertible tops for Chrysler (until the 2007 Sebring) and was also responsible for much of the Chevy SSR.
Phaeton’s imposing size was supported by impressive performance from a 48-valve 5.4 liter aluminum V12 engine [perhaps two 2.7 liter V6 engines?]. Ride and handling were aided by a suspension similar to that of the Dodge Viper, but the body-on-frame, rear wheel drive car used a four-speed automatic with a Dana 40 axle, making one suspicious that the truck division contributed its basic chassis.
“We wanted Phaeton’s performance characteristics to be comparable to that of its inspirational
father, the Newport,” said Walling. “After all, the Newport was the pace car of the Indianapolis 500
Chrysler Phaeton concept car photos by Marc Rozman were taken in front of the Walter P. Chrysler Museum;
the Phaeton may sometimes be seen on display there.
Concept cars are often made so a car’s feel can be evaluated, problems can be foreseen, and reactions of the public can be judged. Some concepts test specific ideas, colors, controls, or materials — either subtle or out of proportion, to hide what’s being tested. Some are created to help designers think “out of the box.” The Challenger, Prowler, PT Cruiser, and Viper were all tested as production-based concepts dressed up to hide the production intent.
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