On December 31, 2012, the Walter P. Chrysler Museum closed its doors to the general public, citing the low attendance numbers that didn’t justify keeping the museum open to the public year-round. Still, Chrysler has preserved the museum and occasionally opens the doors for special events. Luckily, we got behind the usually closed doors earlier this year at the 2015 Chrysler Employee Motorsport Association (CEMA) charity car show. Here are the top ten most interesting and important vehicles on display.
1934 Chrysler Airflow
In the early 1930s, Chrysler looked for a way to set itself apart from the homogeneous lineup of American cars. The company settled on investigating how the aerodynamic properties of a car effected both performance and efficiency, and discovered the average American car for the time had unbelievably inefficient aerodynamics. The revolutionary Chrysler Airflow was the result of extensive wind-tunnel testing, and was radically different from the rest of both Chrysler’s lineup and the rest of the vehicles sold in the U.S. Unfortunately, the new styling alienated potential buyers, and the car was ultimately considered a financial flop.
1954 Dodge Power Wagon
First introduced in 1946 as the first civilian 4×4 truck, the Power Wagon set the roots for the current heavy-duty truck formula. The first Power Wagon had a 230 cubic-inch flathead inline-six engine, which was mated to a four-speed transmission and transfer case, making the Power Wagon extremely capable off-road. Today, collectors prize the classic Power Wagon for its extremely aggressive Mil-spec styling and rugged capabilities.
1995 Chrysler Patriot Race Car
The 1995 Chrysler Patriot might just be the most interesting and forward-thinking vehicle to emerge from Chrysler in the past 30 years. The roadster is powered by a natural-gas turbine that spun a conventional flywheel, acting as a power reserve for an electrical motor that powered the wheels. Initially, the concept seemed to work, and the engineering was sound, but the Patriot project was doomed from the start, as the engineers were unable to properly shield the driver in the instance of a catastrophic failure of the flywheel, which spun up to 58,000 rpm. Because of this, the Patriot never raced, and now sits in the basement garage at the museum, a sad reminder of what could have been.
1982 Dodge M4S Concept
This wild-looking coupe was created in 1981 as a Indy pace car, designed as a joint project between Chrysler and PPG Industries. A 2.2-liter, fuel-injected twin-turbo Chrysler/Cosworth four-cylinder gave the coupe a heady 440 hp. This rocketed the M4S from 0-60 in 4.1 seconds, on its way to a lofty top speed of 195 mph. While the M4S never made it into production, it was cemented into the minds of movie fans with a starring role in the 1986 film “The Wraith,” where it made an appearance under the guise of the “Turbo Interceptor”, a name which it has been unable to shake to this day.
1978 Dodge L’il Red Express
With wood-panel siding, gold-on-red decals, pinstriping, and dual side-mounted exhausts, this truck might appear as a tacky modified truck with big-rig aspirations. In reality, this was actually a special factory model, part of Dodge’s “Adult Toy” lineup from the 1970s. Surprisingly, the L’il Red Express has the gumption to match the testosterone-heavy appearance, with a cop-spec 360 cubic-inch V-8 pushing out 225 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. This shot the truck to 100 mph faster than any other American-made car at the time, apparently.
1986 Shelby Omni GLH-S
While Carroll Shelby cemented his name into legend with the numerous Mustangs and Cobras with his trademark handling and power know-how, the Shelby name also found its way to some front-wheel drive four-cylinder cars. Shelby made the switch to Chrysler in the 1980s, and helped create one of the earliest examples of a hot hatch with the Chrysler Omni GLH and GLH-S. The GLH-S, like the one pictured here, received a boatload of engine modifications including heavy-duty fuel rails, injectors, and wiring harnesses, a larger throttle body, a bigger turbocharger, high-flow intake and exhaust manifolds, a bigger intercooler and radiator, and a GLH exclusive ECU. Power was an impressive 175 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque, allowing the GLH-S to scoot away from contemporary muscle cars.
1955 Chrysler C-300
Arguably the first muscle car, the 1955 Chrysler C-300 was essentially a gorgeous Chrysler Imperial coupe aimed at NASCAR homologation. The all-new 5.4-liter Chrysler FirePower Hemi V-8 churned out 300 hp, made possible through race-spec camshafts, solid lifters, and twin-barrel carburetors. A high-flow exhaust system and a race-bred suspension ensured the C-300 was a roadgoing stock car. By 1956, the power jumped to a previously unheard of 355 hp. Sadly, sales of the 1955 and 1956 model only topped 2,827 units, so values of the rare C-300 have already skyrocketed.
2005 Chrysler Firepower
If you think this concept appears to be a Dodge Viper with a Chrysler rhinoplasty, you’d be correct. The 2005 concept grand tourer hides Viper bones underneath the Crossfire-eque lines, with changes made mostly to the powertrain and interior. In place of the mighty 8.3-liter V-10 engine found in the Viper, the Firepower was motivated by a 6.1-liter Hemi V-8, producing a reported 425 hp routed to the rear wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission. Sadly, the concept never saw the light of production, with Chrysler citing the inability to produce this with any sort of profitability, and it remains a one-off.
2003 Dodge Viper Competition Coupe
Ten years after the debut of the original Dodge Viper, Dodge pulled the covers off a special concept, which blended motorsports know-how into a street-friendly package. The sinister-looking Viper GTS R Concept was two inches wider and three inches lower than the normal street car, and featured insane aerodynamic effects like a carbon-fiber front and rear splitter, along with a massive rear wing. Dodge loved the result of that concept so much, it released a limited series of race-only Competition Coupes based on the GTS R Concept. The wide, aggressive body was carried over, and the 8.3-liter V-10 engine got a power boost, pushing output up to an estimate 520 hp and 540 lb-ft of torque. A full race-spec suspension and braking system meant the Competition Coupe as able to rip off 1.3 Gs in the corners.
1953 Chrysler Ghia Special
The sumptuous Chrysler Ghia Special was legendary automotive designer Virgil Exner’s experiemental design project, and was not specifically an official Chrysler-backed project. Instead, the Specials were requested and backed by Chrysler’s chief of export C.B Thomas. Exner partnered with the famed design firm Ghia to create a series of what he called “idea cars” to set the pace for future Chrysler design. The result of this partnership was a series of cars with an extremely European design, winning the praise of contemporary critics. While the Specials never saw full-blown production, influences of the Specials can be found in the 1955 and 1956 Chrysler Imperial and C-300.