Celebrating Thomas Gale at the peak of his powers.
In the early 1990s, the Chrysler Group and its brands led a renaissance of American automotive design that still echoes around us today. Responsible for that renaissance that saw some of Chrysler Group's major design themes and wildest cars was an unassuming man named Thomas Gale. His first job with Chrysler started in 1967 as an engineer before working his way to exterior design. In 1985, he became a vice president and was responsible for directing the product design office. Among his greatest hits collection is the Dodge Neon and Dodge Viper, but we're going to concentrate on the most stylized concepts that emerged under his reign through the nineties.
With the Viper on its way as Dodge's halo car, it was agreed that Chrysler needed a flagship model and had a ready-made nameplate in the form of the Chrysler 300. Its styling had the same general proportions as the Viper, but it was a bigger car. The height and length were just a few inches more but it was over two feet wider than the Viper. The 300 Concept used the Viper's monstrous 8.0-liter V10 engine but paired it with a 4-speed manual as it was to be a luxury sports car rather than the powerful sedan that eventually made production. Inside, rounded edges were the theme, and the driver's area was black while the rest of the interior was tan with wood accents.
While the Viper's huge V10 didn't make it into many other vehicles, it was used to attract attention to some concepts. The Dakota Sidewinder drew eyeballs on its own, though, when it debuted at the 1996 SEMA Show. The Dakota was a working-class hero, a staunch yet unassuming workhorse. However, the Dakota Sidewinder was a wild convertible truck with a heartbeat supplied by a 640-hp version of the Viper's lump. It had very little in common with real Dakota and was built on a specially made chassis created by the same company that supplied the concept's engine and built the Viper GT-S race car. The design came from Mark Allen just two years after he finished design school.
Before we got the Charger we know and love today, Dodge tried to revive it numerous times. Dodge's only muscle car at the end of the 1990s was the Viper, so when the Charger R/T Concept Car hit the car show circuit, people got excited. It was built on the same platform underpinning the Dodge Intrepid and Chrysler Concorde, but it was rear-wheel-drive. The design drew on late 1960s Chargers with its aggressive stance for the time and soda bottle shape. The Mopar faithful weren't impressed as it didn't resemble what they considered "true" Dodge Chargers, but snobs really are never satisfied. Compounding that was the supercharged 4.7-liter V8 that was built to run on compressed natural gas.
If Tesla had ripped of Dodge's 1999 Power Wagon concept rather than an obscure Curtis Brubaker concept from the 1970s for the Cybertruck, a lot more people would have been excited than the ardent few that are waiting for a production version. Its tough but edgy design has aged well, and a large part of the concept was the environmentally friendly engine. Under the hood of the concept was a turbocharged 7.2-liter Caterpillar inline-six diesel engine, but repurposed to run on a cleaner sulfur-free fuel that then-named Daimler Chrysler Corporation was developing with a company called Syntroleum.
The Chrysler 300 concept car was just one candidate for a flagship vehicle. Our favorite though, is the retro-inspired Chrysler Chronos designed by Osamu Shikado. It's based around the equally bold 1953 Chrysler/Ghia D'Elegance show car and blends European style with classic Americana to create something sophisticated, exciting, and uniquely Chrysler. The concept was created using hand-formed steel for the body over a Concorde chassis adapted to accept a rear-wheel-drive layout. The interior is clothed in hand-sewn leather, hardwood panels and features a cigar humidor in the center console because, well, the 1990s.
When you look at the concept and production cars that followed the Chrysler Atlantic Coupe, you can see how important the concept was to Chrysler. According to lore, Chrysler kingpin Bob Lutz sketched a shape on a napkin reflecting a 1930s French-style coupe, and showed it to Gale. Gale took the napkin, but didn't show it to his team. Instead, he only dropped hints about 1930s European style coupes so as not to draw lines around the team's creativity. You can see the resulting concept is inspired by the 1938 Talbot-Lago T150 SS Coupe with the windows and the Bugatti Type 57S Atlantic as a whole. The sleek Art Deco-style style is carried on inside with features such as the gauges. It was an incredibly popular concept that Chrysler was more than happy to wheel out on the show circuit, and its shape even appeared on car-care products and advertising.
Yes, the Dodge Viper concept debuted in 1989, but it became an icon in the 1990s. Like the Atlantic Coupe, it started with a conversation between Bob Lutz and Tom Gale. This time, it was about the idea of building a modern Cobra. Lutz was sent a clay model just a few months later, the body was ready in 1989, and the V10 engine was finally completed with Lamborghini in February of 1990. Two pre-production models debuted in 1991 as pace cars for the Indy 500. It was a quick road to production, despite deliberate financial delays from the top of Chrysler, which explains the difference between the kit-car style look of the Viper concept and the first generation production car. However, it has become a solid-gold automotive icon and provided the groundwork that the much sleeker and more timeless later generations built upon.