Home » Meet The Lamborghini Concept Car That Inspired A Bunch Of Chrysler Sedans In The 1990s

Meet The Lamborghini Concept Car That Inspired A Bunch Of Chrysler Sedans In The 1990s

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Have you ever seen a Chrysler sedan from the late 1990s to the early 2000s drive by and find yourself saying “holy crap, a Lamborghini?” I realize that whoever may be around at such a moment will likely look at you like you’re some drooling simpleton, but, as you may know, the joke is very much on them. In fact, you’d be more like a drooling genius because you correctly noted that Chrysler’s “cab-forward” design language used on LH-platform cars like the Chrysler Concorde, Dodge Intrepid, Eagle Vision, Chrysler New Yorker, and a couple others were, in fact, very directly inspired by the design of a Lamborghini concept car called the Portofino.

That’s right, it was a Lamborghini that gave the distinctive look to the sedan your friend’s dad’s poker buddy drove back in 2002. That whole “cab-forward” look that was so important to Chrysler’s re-emergence at the end of the last century was born in 1987, when a designer named Kevin Verduyn adapted a clay model of a concept car from the previous year called the Chrysler Navajo into the design for a Lamborghini concept. The reason this happened at all was because that was also the year that Chrysler bought Lamborghini.

Lamborghini was in real financial trouble when Chrysler picked them up at bargain-bin prices, and eagerly dove into what the legendary brand had to offer like a kid tearing into birthday present wrapping. It was only months after the deal closed that Chrysler shoved Lambo’s famous rearing bull into a Chrysler pentastar and stuck that on their latest concept.

Look, on the steering wheel, that’s the Lambo bull in a Chrysler-shaped pen:


This concept car was pretty radical, even for a Lamborghini, mostly because of how many doors it had: four. Four supercar-style scissor-opening doors, a full four-door, four-seat sedan that was somehow still mid-engined! The Portofino was built on a lengthened Jalpa chassis, making it one of the vanishingly rare mid-engined four-door sedans. The whole thing was radical and unexpected; I mean, look at the damn thing:

Porto Side

Hot damn. Look at that wonderful design untainted by a B-pillar, leaving that dazzling void in the middle when all those doors are dramatically flipped up. Why shouldn’t there be a dramatic, four-door/four-seat Lambo? Lambo owners have more than one friend, don’t they? Or at least up to three people who want to pretend to be their friend? Of course they do.

For whatever reason, maybe borne of some bitterness at being bought by the company that once made the Maserati TC by Chrylser, the honchos at Lamborghini were not impressed, referring to the Portofino as a “big potato.” Chrysler, however, understood how delicious and filling big potatoes can be, and took the general design concept from the Portofino, mated it to the surprisingly competent chassis from the partially-Renault-designed Eagle Premier, and boom, out came the LH platform:


Of course, in translation to reality, a lot of things had to change from the concept, not the least of which was the engine moved from the middle to the front, but even then Chrysler was sure not to make anything feel too normal, so it was front wheel drive with a longitudinal engine, like a Cord or Citroën Traction Avant or Oldsmobile Toronado.

What’s remarkable is just how much the production car actually does look like the concept, something especially impressive for such a radical design. I mean, okay, the scissor doors had to go, which is a real shame, but there’s still a lot of Portofino in the LH cars, even down to some of the details. Look at these rear quarter angles of the Portofino and the Dodge Intrepid:

Porto Rear1

…there’s the Lambo. Now, look at the design vocabulary of the Dodge, the taillight treatment with the full-width heckblende and those oblong strakes below, on either side. You also have the blacked out pillars and general, if made real-world-plausible, proportions:

Intrepid Rear

I’m not certain if one day these LH platform cars will become the sorts of things people want to collect, but I tend to think they should. They were genuinely novel designs of the era, with an emphasis on maximizing interior volume, pushing the wheels to the corners, and providing a lot of surprisingly good handling and safety for a mass-market family sedan. They didn’t look or feel quite like anything else out there at the time, and a lot of that may be because they were born, at least in part, from an incredible and daring Lamborghini concept car.

That’s an unexpected genesis for one of the lines of cars that helped get Chrysler back on their feet, but there it is.

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32 Responses

  1. I remember taking a driving trip during my college years with the folks where none our existing fleet of vehicles were suited to the task. I think we had dad’s B2600i Mazda extended cab, mom’s Honda CRX and my unreliable 1961 Oldsmobile 98 at the time. So we rented a car and ended up with an Intrepid. That was a great highway car with plenty of comfort and space. But we ran into a couple of electrical gremlins with the instrument panel illumination going out at night a couple of times. Turn lights off and back on and they’d come back, but one of those things that on a car with less than 2000 miles gave great concern.

  2. I call BS on Jason. A Chrysler built from a Lambo design? No in the article it is clearly a chrysler design sent to Lambo and back to Chrysler. T The fact Lambo hated it is a clue. I must be an idiot because all these experts keep mixing car manufacturing together but failing. And I have a theory but it must be wrong because it is so simple the experts would see it. First the Brits and Italians design lovely vehicles. But between the wine and beer lunches they cant build shit that works and lasts. The Germans known for quality and dependability on specs. But left on their own over design and questionable dependability. The French the Cirquedelese of cars quirky, weird. Then the US. Frankly they are a solid B average student. They don’t excell at any but they dont suck to bad either. Don’t let a Brit design an electric system or rust proof it but hey design it. And if the mamoth growth of BMW grills doesn’t prove Germans can’t design you are drunker than I am. Oops the Chinese the caricature artists.

      1. Yes because ford designs concept cars for chevy. It cannot be a Lamborghini concept if it isn’t coming from Lamborghini. Noone else can legally do it. The designer here draws his ideas for what he thinks companies should or should have done. But they aren’t concept cars.

  3. I had a 1994 Dodge Intrepid as a company car. It was the base model but it was shockingly roomy, handled well, had a decent amount of oomph (the base model was a 3.3 V6 with a respectable for the day 162 hp), and managed pretty well on Detroit’s legendarily crappy pavement. At a time when those who went for the SUV’s of the era were just rolling them over constantly, this thing was properly planted and stable at 80 MPH, which is the speed you drive on those freeways.

    1. When I was in HS/college my dad had a ’95 Intrepid ES with the 3.5. Similar to the one pictured. It was a joy to drive, handled great and looked rather stunning.

    2. I spent a week in one, driving with a coworker through central PA field measuring mall spaces to become Verizon Wireless stores (the glamorous life of an architect in late 2000). It was a very comfy traveling office, including being able to use a substantial laptop in the passenger seat to do a little drafting between stops.

  4. The front reminded me of the Jaguar XJ220 when I first saw one on the road. My sense was/is a good design. Especially after having eye searing ugly of the K cars

  5. “I’m not certain if one day these LH platform cars will become the sorts of things people want to collect, but I tend to think they should.”

    I think the window on that may be closing rapidly; I’m not sure I’ve seen an LH car moving under its own power in about 5 years.

    1. I saw a 300M at a Cars & Coffee last year, but that was the first I can recall in some time. The owner was an aerospace engineer who bought it to have something comfortable to drive between his primary residence and his beach house in the Outer Banks while keeping the heavy miles off his other cars. He said looked a long time for a decent one, then did a whole crap ton of immediate catch-up on deferred and preventative maintenance

    2. I was going to say the same thing – I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen an Intrepid, and they were the most common of the lot by far.

      (my fav though was always the New Yorker, as I liked the juxtaposition of the ancient name with then futuristic look)

        1. Ha – yes! I actually saw one last year. It was nighttime, but the taillights stand out as different, so I took a closer look and sure enough saw the squiggly M in the nameplate. I was shocked.

          The 300M seemed like the Chrysler version of the Ford Five Hundred when rebadged to a Taurus – a vehicle who’s main contribution is to make someone in management say “what the hell is this?! We can so do better!”

          1. The 300M was supposed to have been the second generation Vision, but when the Eagle brand was killed off, it was too late in the development process to cancel, so they had to stick it somewhere and it went to Chrysler. Same thing with the PT Cruiser re Plymouth

          2. “a vehicle who’s main contribution is to make someone in management say “what the hell is this?! We can so do better!””

            At least Chrysler eventually did with the 300C, Ford never getting into the RWD sedan game is a shame.

            1. Yeah, I was always kinda hoping at the time that the Five Hundred would be RWD given it was supposed to be an attempt at a 300 fighter. The eventual Taurus with AWD was pretty cool, but…

  6. I always thought the early LH cars were very attractive, especially the Intrepid in that color shifting copper brown color.

    The longitudinal engine configuration and mounting of the steering rack on the firewall are legacies of the LH’s Renault roots.

    1. And were retained, in part, because Chrysler felt that an easy conversion to RWD in the future might be needed, they had hopes of challenging Ford and GM to take back a bigger share of the police and taxi markets and felt that would be necessary for that. In the end, the capability was never used, and they ended up unsuccessfully marketing FWD Intrepid police cars.

      What became the LX 300 initially started off as a rebody of a RWD converted LH, until Daimler had it re-engineered to use Mercedes IP as a demonstration of corporate synergy

  7. I’d totally forgotten about this – thank you for reminding me! I remember reading about it in the car mags of the day, in fact, IIRC, one of them had a centerfold (ha) of it. All doors open, of course.

    What really makes my day here is the Lambo bull in the Pentastar badge. This after the version with the Maserati trident. Gotta respect Chrysler’s willingness to go there, not once but twice.

  8. I sat in the driver’s seat of this thing at the LA auto show one year. I was somewhere around 12 or 13 years old. I recall thinking that it was pretty unimpressive for the company that produced the Countach.

  9. This brings back some memories. In 1994 I was working for Chrysler Corp in the old Highland Park complex. My roommate and carpool buddy (he worked there too) had a ‘94 Intrepid ES in Char-Gold Satin Glow paint exactly like the one pictured in this article. The LH cars really were quite good for their time.

  10. I had a 1998 Intrepid with the dreaded 2.7 liter V6. It grenaded at 125K miles despite my best efforets of staying on top of maintenance. I don’t miss the repair bills, but I do miss driving it. The cornering was too much fun. I would take any excuse I could to drive it through Laurel or Topanga canyon during rare low-traffic times (usually 1 or 2 in the morning).

  11. Thanks for the trip down memory lane! I remember seeing the Portofino displayed at the Buffalo Auto Show in the early ’90s, shortly before the introduction of the LH cars. As a scion of a long-time Mopar family, the LH’s loomed large and it wasn’t long before an Intrepid ES replaced dad’s LeBaron in our driveway next to mom’s Voyager.

  12. It’s not like I generally advertise it but I have an irrational admiration of the Chrysler LHS. I remember my father-in-law had one as a rental when we were traveling and it was roomy with what I thought were attractive looks. I can’t remember the last time I saw one in the wild, though. The Intrepid shown above also remains an attractive car.

  13. I remember I was 8 years old…it was the fall of 1992. I was at a soccer tournament. My coach bought a brand new black Eagle Vision. I thought it was a fucking space ship.

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