Hammer down on Chrysler’s super show car

Discussion in 'American Cars' started by ajzahn, Sep 6, 2004.

  1. THE CHRYSLER ME FOUR-TWELVE is a real runner. Chrysler showed its 850-hp quad-turbo V12 concept car at the Detroit auto show in January and promised we could drive it within the year. That promise has been fulfilled and, Chrysler claims, its tests show the car meets or exceeds the ambitious performance targets established for the program.

    But it wasn’t the show car that did the job.

    "When we said that car was a prototype, that was probably a little bragging on our part," admitted Chrysler Group CEO Dieter Zetsche over dinner the night before we drove a test mule on Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca. "We found out how much harder it is to build a real prototype with this much performance. There are a lot of 24/7 engineering hours on the program. This car, though, is a running prototype."
    Work continues on this mule, in part because Chrysler has not yet verified its earlier top-speed claim of about 240 mph, and the other claims will need independent verification. The latter will be even more important if there are enough potential customers to warrant production of a Chrysler-brand exotic supercar.

    Looking stealthy in naked flat-black, carbon fiber bodywork when the press met it early the next morning on pit lane, this test mule had been running for about a month, long enough to prove the target performance figures are real. In Chrysler’s own tests, conducted on a 12,000-foot-long runway at Wurtsmith, a former military air base in Oscoda, Michigan, the ME Four-Twelve ran 0 to 60 mph in 2.92 seconds, to 100 mph in 6.2 seconds (faster than most cars get to 60 mph), and did a 10.6-second quarter-mile at 136 mph. Besides the stint of working on the car 24/7, other sacrifices were made. On the body pillar behind the door is some evidence: stickers that attest to the number of birds the ME Four-Twelve hit on its Oscoda test runs (PETA will no doubt file an objection).

    There’s really nothing cobbly about this car: The interior isn’t finished with leather and other goodies, the switchgear is make- shift rather than productionized, and you can sometimes hear a "clunk" in the carbon fiber/aluminum composite chassis when you stress the car in a corner, but it’s a solid piece of work.

    "These figures are conservative," says Dan Knott, head of SRT performance operations for the Chrysler Group, about the numbers posted at Oscoda. "As with our other performance products, we want to make sure the numbers we claim are numbers customers can really achieve."

    We’re not so sure about that in the sense the numbers really require a good driver with high g tolerances, but we can say the car is user-friendly, and that most drivers could get an awesome experience even well inside its limits.

    Given that Chrysler has only one high-performance mule, that there were eight other press drivers in line that morning (plus Zetsche and Jochen Mass, who took turns after the press guys were done), and that we all value our own skin, none of us would achieve such dramatic levels of performance at Laguna. And, in fact, the ME Four-Twelve is not set up to match its peak. They dialed it back a little to keep the car, driver and drivetrain alive, for certain throughout the Monterey weekend, where many potential customers could be expected to see the Chrysler strut itself in a demonstration lap during the Monterey Historics (nothing as dramatic as the Ferrari F1 car’s demonstration laps, but impressive nonetheless).

    The place is well socked-in with fog when we arrive Thursday morning, but by the time we’ve all done a walk-around of the car, followed by a few laps of track-orientation in a van driven by a Skip Barber instructor, the fog has lifted enough to at least see the corners—even the infamous Corkscrew at the top of the hill.

    When my turn comes, I don a helmet and climb in beside Herb Helbig, perhaps best known to enthusiasts as the keeper of the Viper flame and one of several more-than-competent hot shoe development engineers on the project. Helbig asks if he would get hazardous-duty pay for riding with me—I tell him to take it up with his bosses, SRT’s Knott and vice president for product development Eric Ridenour. It would be Ridenour at the wheel for the demonstration laps Saturday.

    Getting into the mule is a bigger chore than it would be for a productionized version. The racing seat is fixed in place, and there is a four-point harness to do up, not to mention the helmet to work into a car designed for road use.

    In a reversal of norms, the mule does not have a windshield wiper while the show car does have one (concept cars usually don’t, but Chrysler was calling the show car a prototype and wanted verisimilitude). So, on this foggy morning, after each run, one of the car tenders wipes down the windshield with a chamois.

    While he’s doing that, I adjust the steering column, eyeball the digital instrument panel that travels up and down with the column, get a feel for the placement of the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel (it’s a racing wheel, removable for entry/exit—in production, you’d be able to push the seat back more and tilt the column up), place my foot on the brake (it’s a two-pedal car, but with a huge dead pedal on the left so you can brace yourself) and thumb the red start button.

    The 6.0-liter V12 comes to life with a lusty roar. The AMG-built mill, designed for this project, couples to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission with electronically controlled wet clutch by Ricardo. It will work flawlessly for nearly three hours of track time on this morning.

    For now, at least, initial gear selection is accomplished with a metal dial on the dash that looks like a Radio Shack rheostat. There is an N for Neutral, a D for Drive and an R for Reverse. There is one notch between N and D that could be, well, full manual? Race performance? (Later I learned it was a dead notch, but multiple shift programs are possible).

    So I pick D and ease into the throttle—you don’t go jumping all over 850 lb-ft of torque in pit lane with people all around you. But I don’t ease away too slowly, as I will only get three hot laps on this first go, and another two later.

    The sound as the engine climbs toward its 6200-rpm redline is terrific. Unlike the shrieking sound of, say, an Enzo, which has the same displacement and cylinder count, this engine has the low-pitched growl of a monster. Routing the exhaust through four turbos has something to do with it, as must the tuning of the system feeding the four pipes that exit at the tail. It doesn’t feel like half-again the horsepower of an Enzo, no doubt because, dialed back as it is from peak performance, it is also—at 3100-some pounds—300-plus pounds over its engineering target. Unlike the peakier Enzo, power delivery builds steadily with the familiar turbo surge sensation.

    On the first laps I found the chassis solid, the suspension not race car-stiff on this smooth pavement, but allowing a tiny amount of roll and pitch, somewhat similar to other high-performance mid-engine street cars that I’ve driven lately, such as the Ford GT. With an extra 300 hp or so in hand over the Ford, though, the ME Four-Twelve raises the game on performance.

    Steering is responsive, sharp and quick, with a 16:1 ratio, only 2.5 turns lock to lock, despite an excellent (for its class) turning circle of 36 feet. Quick turn-in means you have to be careful not to apex the turns too early—it really wants to dive in when you get the line right into the corners.

    Once I have the engine singing, I try the paddle shifter. It responds as quickly as the Enzo’s. Since I’m not going for any records, I figure I’ll let it shift for itself most of the time, and it handles the task well. Acceleration is awesome and yet the car doesn’t do anything scary—no dancing about, no threatening to jump sideways. It might be because they’ve really dialed back power during shifts to preserve the transmission, but still, you could lose 200 hp overall and still have more than 600 on tap. Credit the electronic assists and the beefy Michelin Pilot Sport 2s, 265/35ZR-19s in front, 335/30ZR-20s aft, for keeping it stuck to the ground.

    Downshifts come quickly and cleanly, without a showy, double-clutching throttle blip, since the system works without it. They’ve got it set to downshift for you at 1400 rpm or so, but pulling a few downshifts myself (left paddle) made sure we got the full charge out of the slower turns. Still, I suspect we were using what would be street mode in most such systems—a track mode that is quicker to downshift might have shifted down one more gear than I did going into the Corkscrew, for instance.

    Or maybe not. The car is deceptively fast, being relatively quiet inside and with such slick aero management around the cockpit, at least, that wind noise is negligible. (Ridenour says the windshield sealing wasn’t done when the ME Four-Twelve ran its high-performance tests, so the engineers doing the work found the car interior shrieked like a banshee the whole time.) The tires aren’t loud, either, so you look down at the speedo expecting to see a two-digit number starting with eight, and find you’re already over 100 mph.

    Good thing the car can erase velocity. The brakes, six-piston monoblock calipers grabbing 15-inch Brembo carbon ceramic matrix rotors, are also on the Enzo level, though the particular tuning on this mule allows a bit too much pedal travel for my taste. Getting on them hard—Laguna’s Turns One and Six are good places to do this early, since being late has dire consequences—lends credibility to Chrysler’s claim that it will brake at negative 2.0 gs. You need one of the faster turns—and perhaps a bit more bravery than I could muster behind the wheel of someone else’s one-off supercar—to imagine pulling lateral acceleration at the claimed 1.5-g level. Some testing was done on slicks, but if Michelin can make a tire on par with the Enzo’s Bridgestones, the gain in lateral acceleration from downforce should be similar. I did go fast enough to sense the downforce building and the car gaining stick, though not until my second stint at the wheel. Chrysler claims 925 pounds of downforce at 186 mph (300 km/h).

    As we wrote of the Enzo, the ME Four-Twelve is a car with a lot more in it than we’d get out of it in one morning, but it’s also a car that makes you feel like a kid when the roller coaster comes to a stop, shouting "Again!" The Corkscrew will do that for you, if nothing else.

    Mass seems happy with the car’s performance, which must be at the level of some IMSA GTP or Group C racers of legend. He says the ME Four-Twelve is "promising," and he is particularly impressed that it’s distinctive in its own right, a Chrysler, and not a copy of something else.

    So, is this an experience that might be made available to more than a handful of journalists lucky enough to strap into the mule? It might, says Zetsche, still. One point of having the ME Four-Twelve at Monterey was to gauge the potential market for a car of such exotic performance wearing the Chrysler brand. "If
    we build in units of 10, say 10 to 50 or so, it would be a very high price," Zetsche says. "If we build 500 to 1000, which is about the maximum we’d consider, it would be a lower price, of course."

    And what has he to say to those who charge that Chrysler shouldn’t be messing around in this territory, that it’s too far a departure from its family-mobile strengths?

    "Even though Chrysler has not much heritage in racing—it has some, but not as much as some who would be competitors for a car like this—it has more history than many brands have in engineering and innovation. That is what we want to be going back to, and I am convinced if we make [the ME Four-Twelve] work, it will be good for the brand."

    "Good for the brand" is essentially the same argument that was made on behalf of Dodge building the Viper in the late ’80s, but now Chrysler is operating on an order of magnitude higher up the scale. The crudeness of Viper is nowhere evident in the ME Four-Twelve.

    It is a credible effort. The trick will be balancing potential sales volume against possible sales price to see if it can be made at a profit. Zetsche says he won’t do the project if it makes a loss—it won’t be built just to raise the brand’s profile among upscale consumers.

    So while Zetsche and Joe Eberhardt, executive vice president of marketing, sales and service, crunch the numbers, work continues on development of the ME Four-Twelve as a car. It needs to come in around 2880 pounds, for one thing, which would elevate its performance even more. Helbig remembers that even while everyone said there was "no way" Chrysler would put the Viper into production, a small group of people who believed in it just kept working on the project.

    "Eventually, we’d developed it to the point that the company couldn’t not build it." (Autoweek)
  2. YA ure right, but dont go bashing Drag Racing ( BTW im not saying u directly are bashing drag racing, Im just writing it down for people that think that way)
  3. Sorry I didnt read that whole LLLOOONNNGGGGG comment, Because I dont have time( Today) Ill read it later, but I gotta know, are they going to produce this car, I mean my though is probably not, No one has ever mass-produced a car with such power or even made a car this strong, that wasnt a prototype...But I still wanna know,

    and BTW off the topic the Camaro ZL1 may be a concept, but they sell the ENgine for 13k and U can make a ZL1 Camaro for very cheap!
  4. read it again, that was the prototype
  5. Ok Ill read it yesterday, hey I went to the autoshow tomorrow!
  6. You're retarded.
  7. maybe If U pay attention, they both dont make sense amd Maybe I was doing that on purpose.... DO u think I was Joking around? I sure Hope U do
  8. I'm more impressed that Daimler-Chrysler has decided to make a supercar at all than I am with the ME 4-12 specifically. I'm of the opinion that just about any manufacturer can make a badass car when it's being pushed by a quad turbo v12, but kudos to D-C for deciding to give it a go.
  9. interesting car interesting story
  10. What do you mean they have decided to make a supercar? They just made one recently, the McLaren Mercedes SLR.
  11. awesome car, old news, why the heck the long story?
  12. looks very promising...enzo killer!
  13. Dream supercar.
  14. Chrysler will probably make it. they are reknowned for taking incredible risk, and ending up with some amazing successes as well.
  15. also its not like if this car doesnt sell, the company will go under
  16. ey boy! take ure own advice
  17. stop ruining the forums. they sucked enough before you came.
  18. Wrong...the ZL1 is not a concept...it's an actual "Project" car that isn't production...it's a project. But you are right...you can buy the 572 from GM performance...as well as any other big block...

    But no...you cannot make it for very cheap...that #$%#er is damn near 20k for the motor. That's not too cheap bro.

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