Chrysler Defines Cab-Forward and the Second-Generation LH Cars' Styling
Chrysler's marketing department coined the term "cab-forward," and it has been used by journalists to describe the styling of Chrysler's 1990s-era cars ever since. This discussion of the style quotes from Tom Gale, Chrysler vice president of Product Design, and John Herlitz, Chrysler's director of Exterior Passenger Car Design (at the time, 1998).
What precisely does the Cab Forward look entail?
It means taking the entire interior cabin of a vehicle and moving it forward -- extending the windshield over the front wheels. The result is an interior that can be "stretched" to provide more space.
At the same time, the rear wheels move closer to the rear of the vehicle. This reduces body overhang, and provides a longer wheelbase for better ride and handling, as well as a more stable vehicle platform, all within the same, or even shorter overall length.
"To illustrate, envision the overall length of a four-door sedan as 100 percent," explained Gale."The amount of space dedicated today to interior occupant and cargo capacity would be about 60-65 percent. Using a Cab Forward design on the same vehicle stretches the interior space to 75 percent or more of the total vehicle."
In short, Cab Forward maximizes space for man while minimizing space for machine.
This is particularly significant in the rear passenger compartment of the LH cars where occupant room is extremely generous. By extending the rear wheels to the corner of the LH's 1 1 3-inch wheelbase, the traditional intrusion of the wheel-wells into the rear door-opening area was eliminated.
The Cab Forward design's over-sized interior presents a multitude of engineering challenges -- most notably a smaller engine compartment -- when the cab is moved forward. Yet Chrysler's Large Car Platform Team, with members of Gale's design staff accorded charter membership, found the necessary solutions.
We at allpar note that this was hardly Chrysler's invention - indeed, it was very common among imported cars for years (see our Omni/Horizon section for comments on overhang by the Horizon designers.) However, Chrysler was the first to apply it to a full sized car.
"The major functional benefits we have achieved out of Cab Forward are going to redefine the architecture for four-door sedans toward the end of this decade," Herlitz predicted.
Gale noted that the 1993 Dodge Intrepid, Chrysler Concorde and Eagle Vision represented major breakthroughs in vehicle technology, packaging and processing, as well as styling. "We didn't just want to imprint a new look to the same old package," he explained. "Our intent was to have intrinsic value instead of just things decorative. We were willing to give up vinyl roofs, wire wheel covers and the traditional elements to get a good rear suspension and more space inside the vehicle. That was the philosophy from the very beginning."
Gale credits Chrysler's senior management, most notably Chairman Lee A. lacocca and President Robert Lutz for having the vision to pursue the Cab Forward design in its embryonic stage.
"We knew that if we reached far enough on this one, maybe we'd get a couple of years where everybody wasn't there," Gale said.
Comparison: pre and post Cab Forward
How Cab Forward was born
The genesis of the Cab Forward design within Chrysler has two scenarios.
One is that it began in the mid-1980s with the concept car Portofino at Chrysler's Pacifica Advance Design Studio in Carlsbad, Calif. The other is that it emerged from a vehicle package review between Engineering and Design staffs in early 1989. Neither is in conflict, actually.
Gale subscribes to either viewpoint and -- in his own narrative -- recounts both scenarios. First, the Portofino:
"We had done the first concept at Pacifica in 1986. Neil Walling, director of Advanced and International Design, and his staff did it on their own. It was to be a designer's car ... one just for us. It was sort of a side study, a 'wild card,' and really wasn't going anywhere.
"But Bob Lutz saw it and immediately recognized its potential. He commissioned us to build the actual concept car, which became Portofino. I remember when the Portofino was first shown at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 1987, it was a smash hit.
"Both Bob and Lee (lacocca) felt a strong kinship with the car. Bob was the sponsor and Lee at the time was driving hard to get the company back into Europe and expand its presence. He had already seen the design theme for the Intrepid, which had the Portofino as its inspiration. And he was very much for it.
"After all the magazine covers of Portofino showed up, that's all we needed to get us started thinking about production vehicles.
"The Portofino had the proportions and the look of the Intrepid and we were well along with a model of it. Lee took one look at it and asked, 'Why can't we build a production car like this?"'
It was a typically wintry day in Highland Park, Mich. in January, 1989 when Francois J. Castaing, Chrysler vice president of Vehicle Engineering (and fresh from newly-acquired AMC), along with key members of his Large Car Platform Team, huddled with Gale's Design Office staff, to review the latest packaging proposals for the LH. Gale continues:
"There already had been a good deal of development work done under the old Liberty project, but when the initial vehicle packaging was brought into that concept review, both Francois and I felt we ought to take another look at reaching even further.
"We asked ourselves what would happen if we fundamentally changed the way we packaged vehicles? We recognized it would require us to take a serious look at how we could handle the mechanical components of the vehicle in far less space.
"Those were the things we were dealing with. We were saying to ourselves, 'How much is enough? How much is too much? Have we asked the team to do too much? The things that came out of that meeting were pure judgment calls, of course. But we (Castaing and Gale) decided to take a roll of the dice.
"I asked Francois to give us five weeks. We went back and revised the whole package concept, not the design theme. We cut up the existing fiberglass models. We changed the position of the front wheels, moved the base of the windshield forward, pushed the rear wheels back. We fundamentally changed the entire architecture of the vehicle.
"When we got back together in February of '89, everybody there, including senior management, agreed these should be the hard points of the LH vehicle. I guess you could say Cab Forward was born that day."
Was cab forward really born in 1939?
Many people credit other automakers with developing Cab Forward; Honda in particular has been singled out, though given Chrysler Engineering’s leaders, AMC may have been a likely candidate, too. AMC dealers were pointing out their short hoods and big wheels pushed out to every corner of the car back in the early 1980s.
That said, the Plymouth models for 1940 — and the DeSoto and Chrysler models of 1939 — had an early cab forward design, not as radical as that of the 1990s, but still quite significant. The company did not do much with aerodynamics, lacking effective tools; but the 1940 Plymouth cars’ engine was moved four inches forward and the rear axle 7 1/2" aft, so the passenger compartment increased in size with the seats now cradled inside the suspension, rather than over it. The glass area in the new bodies was increased by 18%, with larger windshields. Interior space was up over 10 cubic feet from 1939 and trunk space increased to over 21 cubic feet. As the illustration shows, moving the motor forward and the rear axle back reduced the rear overhang, providing more space. It would be hard to reduce the front and rear overhands any more!