2004 Detroit Auto Show Coverage by TCC Team (1/5/2004)
2005 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren by TCC Team (11/24/2003)
Two seats, eight cylinders, 617 horsepower and $400,000 – but does it add up?
Call it a high-powered fix for those with the need for speed.
The North American International Auto Show featured plenty of intriguing and exciting new products, but relatively few surprises, perhaps because manufacturers have a tendency to provide early sneak previews for the automotive media. Chrysler kept one in reserve, however, providing what was unquestionably the biggest bombshell of the three-day car-fest.
Chrysler Group design chief Trevor Creed, who was part of a very small and select design and engineering team explained that the ME Four-Twelve project “has been one of the most closely guarded secrets, not only to the outside world, but also within our organization.”
The unexpected supercar
The Chrysler ME Four-Twelve is definitely not what you’d expect from the struggling Detroit automaker. The name says it all, albeit in shorthand. This is a mid-engine, quad turbo, twelve-cylinder supercar that could make Ferrari fans hide in shame.
Chrysler claims this knife-edged two-seater makes an incredible 850 horsepower at 5750 rpm (a new benchmark at 142 hp per liter). This translates into the type of numbers that left even the most hard-to-please members of the media momentarily breathless: 0-60 acceleration in 2.9 seconds, 0-100 in 6.2 seconds, and the quarter mile in about 10.6 seconds at 142 mph. Top speed is an equally awe-inspiring, although theoretical, 248 mph (400 km/h).
Created with the assistance of AMG, the performance arm of Chrysler’s sibling division, Mercedes-Benz, the Four-Twelve’s 6.0-liter V-12 is force-fed by four turbochargers with dual-core intercoolers and a very free-breathing exhaust (if the sound of the show car was any evidence). Power is delivered through a seven-speed sequential, double-clutch Ricardo transmission with quick 200-millisecond shift times. The supercar features column mounted F-1 racing-style paddle shifter with aluminum shift paddles.
Power alone isn’t enough when you’re operating at supercar speeds, so Creed’s design team put a top priority on aerodynamics. The utmost attention was given to maximizing downforce by pressure-mapping the car’s shape for high speeds. There’s a front-fascia air splitter, a fully developed underbody, and a computer-controlled active rear spoiler that goes into action at 100 mph. All that generates 925 pounds of downforce at 186 mph.
Weight is another critical issue for a supercar. Carbon fiber is used extensively, providing the material for the bodywork while the composite is mated with an aluminum honeycomb for the monocoque tub. Aluminum is the material of choice for the ME Four-Twelve’s crash structures, while the subframes use a chrome-moly alloy. In combination, what you get is an ultralight-weight structure that also meets all U.S. federal crash regulations.
Like the new Mercedes-Benz SLR supercar, Chrysler claims to have made extensive use of racing technology in the ME Four-Twelve. Take the braking system, which features huge, 15.0-inch ventilated carbon ceramic composite disc brake rotors with six-piston aluminum mono block calipers. They should be able to slow the two-seater down even faster than it launches, and weighing in at less than half the weight of traditional brake rotors, that means a lot less unsprung mass.
The ME Four-Twelve’s suspension is comprised of double wishbones, aluminum control arms, horizontally-opposed coil-over dampers with electronically controlled compression and rebound tuning, stainless-steel push rods and a blade configured anti-roll bar. Up front, the car is shod with 19 x 10-inch Michelins. To put all the power onto the pavement, there are 20 x 12s in the rear.
Overall, the ME Four-Twelve measures 44.9 inches tall, 78.7 inches wide, and 178.8-inches long. Curb weight is a very light 2880 pounds, making for an unprecedented power-to-weight ratio.
Every detail of the ME Four-Twelve appears to be fully executed. The interior has the refinement of a top-line Swiss watch. Indeed, the show car’s cockpit is significantly more sophisticated than that of the fairly spartan Mercedes SLR. The cabin is surprisingly spacious, with 42 inches of legroom. Light, carbon fiber seat structures are enveloped in leather. There’s even an adjustable foot support for the “co-pilot,” notes one Chrysler official, to make it easier to hang on during ragged-edge maneuvering.
The unexpected debut was surprising for several reasons. For one thing, it follows just months behind the formal debut of the Mercedes SLR, a vehicle designed to provide the ultimate halo for the German brand. The Mercedes supercar has a front-mid engine design, while Chrysler’s mid-engine layout actually is preferred by most supercar aficionados.
Company insiders acknowledge this created some tensions within the trans-Atlantic automaker. If it wasn’t for Chrysler chief operating officer Wolfgang Bernhard’s personal backing, TheCarConnection.com was told, they probably wouldn’t have allowed the ME Four-Twelve project to proceed. But Bernhard — who conceived the project barely two years ago — wasn’t about to be denied.
Those who spent some time on the show stand after Chrysler’s news conference ended were surprised by the degree to which the ME Four-Twelve show car was developed. Usually, “fantasy-in-chrome” projects prove a little rough in the details once you take a close look. But the two-seater looked ready to roll into a showroom.
That’s not far from the truth, it turns out. “This is not just a concept. It’s something that’s completely feasible,” Bernhard explained, adding that virtually all the necessary engineering work has already been completed. That includes the cooling system, usually the most difficult part of a supercar to pull together.
With that in mind, the inevitable question is whether Chrysler will go ahead and build the ME Four-Twelve. Actual track testing will begin later this year, and until then, Bernhard is putting that topic on hold.
“Assuming it goes well and we have our business case, we go ahead,” he suggested.
Among the many things that still must be discussed is where a production version of the ME Four-Twelve would be built. It’s very likely production would go to an outside specialty maker.
The business case also would depend on how many cars Chrysler decides it could sell. Bugatti plans to build just one Veyron a week, while Mercedes intends to produce ten times as many SLRs.
As for price, well, the current crop of offerings range all over the place, starting with the new Ford GT at $139,000 and stretching to more than a million for the Bugatti.
For those with the need for this type of speed, money is often no object. But image is as important as horsepower numbers. So it appears that perhaps the biggest question mark is whether potential buyers will accept a Chrysler supercar. Said Bernhard, “That’s the challenge.”