Creating the second-generation Chrysler LHS and the Chrysler 300M
The Chrysler LHS and 300M were both based closely on the Dodge Intrepid/Chrysler Concorde/Eagle Vision, the “LH” cars. For the second generation, Chrysler planned a short and long version — the short version to be the 300M (originally designed Eagle Vision), and the long version to be the LHS. The 300M was biased towards sportiness, and the shorter length was intended both to reduce weight (for better acceleration) and to make it friendlier for European buyers; the LHS was biased towards comfort, its shorter length providing greater trunk room and rear-seat leg room.
As development chief Burke Brown told Allpar, “Most spaces in Europe are five meters or so, versus here in the States, they’re deeper... That’s why they had to shorten that back up, and they called it the 5-meter car and that’s what the M car was built for, both US and European sales. It did well, I think.”
The two cars were benchmarked against much more expensive vehicles, in general: (we have verified the Audi A6, at least)
Chrysler LHS Chrysler 300M Both LHS and 300M Lexus ES 300 Lexus GS 300 1993-1997 Vision and LHS Toyota Avalon BMW 528 and BMW 740i Nissan Maxima Lincoln Continental Buick Park Avenue Infiniti Q45, J30, I30 Cadillac STS Oldsmobile LSS Mazda Millenia Oldsmobile Aurora Audi A6 Lexus LS 400
The standard, 250-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 engine increased acceleration, while work to stiffen, strengthen, and refine the engine made it smoother and quieter. Platinum-tipped spark plugs and coil-on-plug ignition systems provided 100,000-mile scheduled tune-up intervals. Fuel economy was increased by lowering weight and reducing brake and aerodynamic drag. The two cars had different axle ratios, providing the 300M with 0-60 times of around 7.5 seconds, while the LHS was in the mid-8s (ironically, the larger car had better gas mileage, due to the engine moving more slowly on the highway). They did have the same four-speed automatic transmissions, with the same gearing other than axle ratios.
Subtle revisions of the steering system, suspension, and tires improved the steering, handling, and ride, while cutting road noise; the cars still were tuned to provide more “road feel” than most full-size cars. The company tried to make both cars quieter by cutting engine noise, isolating the suspension, increasing body stiffness, and adding insulation. The suspension work included isolating the rear suspension cross member, and refining the front suspension and power train mounting cradles. Larger door weather strips and more accurate door fitting helped minimize wind noise; full-stamped doors provided a consistent sealing surface. See 300M and LHS noise, vibration, and harshness reduction.
Body enhancements from the first generation included unique sill construction, with no outer skin, so each body had unique sill appearances using molded plastic claddings; standard quad headlamps; wind-tunnel-developed washer/wipers (with six individual body-mounted washer jets); and one-piece window opening moldings.
Inside, new seats had better comfort, support, and appearance, and a new defroster cleared the glass more quickly and completely. The radios and vent controls were improved, and the driver’s floor mat was given a tie-down hook to keep it in place. Both LHS and 300M trunks used a new hinge linkage that did not intrude on useable space; the seat tracks had 8.7 inches (220 mm) of back-and-forth motion, to accommodate 96% of the United States’ adult driving population.
LHS and 300M, despite being opposites in length, shared the same dashboards; the gauge pointers came to a sharp point at the end, favoring appearance over cost.
In addition to the obvious visual upgrades to the dashboard, a number of ergonomic changes weere made, including raising hte floor console armrest and moving it forward to match the door armrest; raising the left stalk and rotating its graphics toward the driver; making the trunk release button visible and easy to reach; putting radio and climate controls closer to the driver, while refining both (paying attention to button shames, labels, and tactile feedback); curving the tilt-wheel lever; and changing the steering wheel.
Burke Brown said the design was done by Tom Gale and Neil Walling, among others:
I remember a little story about the Concord, when we first started working on it we weren’t getting enough cooling air. So the guys took a saber saw and started opening up that grill until we got enough air through it to meet our goals. Then we dressed it up a little bit and showed it to Tom and the guys. I remember looking at that and we thought, “He’s going to say no way,” and he looked at it and he said, “That kind of makes it. I like it.” Cool, okay. We’re good. It worked out really well.
As with the original LH cars, aerodynamics were refined, in this cases bringing the drag coefficient of both Chrysler LHS and 300M down to 0.310 — better than any Charger or Challenger to date. Designers and engineers worked together to provide good looks, low drag, and efficient engine cooling, with a rounded front end, carefully shaped lower fascia, gently flowing windshield pillars, sill cladding (to enhance air flow around the tires), and a tapered rear end; there were also subtle refinements in the cowl, mirrors, and windshield header to cut wind noise and control water flow.
Some of the changes made were using window moldings with little offset from the glass; fully stamped doors; a cowl screen to deflect the air over the wipers, and end washer fluid movement off parked wiper blades; water channels in the windshield moldings to keep the lower half of the side windows clear; and full-door-opening weatherstripping to stop roof water from entering open doors.
Attention was also paid to engine cooling, including changing the surfaces around the grille opening, putting slots in the cowl screen to send air over the engine mounts, removing part of the hood-to-cowl seal to cool the electronics there, adding louvers to the engine bay side panels (and enlarging the drive shaft and tie rod openings) to let air exit through the wheel-wells, improving the front air dam and fascia, adding a small tray by the radiator cross-member and powertrain/suspension cradle to force air out behind the engine (rather than coming back to the radiator), and adding baffles between the fascia and radiator support panel to force air through the cooling system.
As for safety, new next-generation front airbags used smokeless inflators; head impact protection met 2003 standards; “radio keys” added theft prevention; the universal garage door opener used rolling codes; a “battery saver” system turned off exterior and interior courtesy lamps if the driver forgot; and the starter was blocked from operating while the engine was running. Not noted by Chrysler’s press releases was a simple but unusual addition: dual brake light bulbs in each location, so that if one light burned out, the brake light was still be lit.
These steps all led to critical acclaim when the car was finally produced and sent around to reviewers. Some called the 300M the best big front-wheel drive car every made — all things considered.
In model-year 2002, the Chrysler LHS was renamed to Chrysler Concorde, and the existing Concorde was eliminated. We have a review of this vehicle (the Concorde-named LHS), as well as the 1999 and 2001 300M and the 2002 Chrysler 300M Special.