These Were Chrysler's Best Concepts of the 1990s and 2000s

These Were Chrysler's Best Concepts of the 1990s and 2000s

Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler churned out hit after hit concept in the waning years of the 20th century, through to the new millennium. Here were the standouts.

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Image: Stellantis

Nobody did concepts better than the brand formerly known as Stellantis in the 1990s. Sure, some got close — Ford had a good run with the Indigo and the GT90 — but the combined output of Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep kept the public’s imagination firing, even if the Pentastar’s showroom offerings often left something to be desired. Every year for a decade and change, it seemed like those three brands (even Plymouth, too) always managed to bring something eye-catching to the global auto show circuit. Today, we’re going to rank their best work, and look back to a time when concept cars deserved their place on bedroom walls.

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12. Chrysler Thunderbolt (1993)

12. Chrysler Thunderbolt (1993)

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Image: Stellantis

The Thunderbolt was, for my money, the best of the coupe-ish concepts Chrysler made basically three times — first as the Chrysler 300 of 1991 (not the one you’re thinking of), then this in 1993 and finally the Chronos in 1998. Sure it got a little weird at the back, and those rippled cheeks haven’t aged very well, but the smooth profile and simplicity of the wraparound canopy are timeless.

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11. Dodge Demon (2007)

11. Dodge Demon (2007)

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Photo: Ronaldo Schemidt (Getty Images)

With the Dodge Demon, we’re reflecting on two themes of Chrysler’s car design. First, the company’s repeat use of the same names, which I can only assume it keeps in a hat and rifles through for every new project. Second, Dodge’s two decade-long flirtation with the “baby Viper” — a rear-wheel drive roadster at times targeting the Miata, other times something more Boxster-like in terms of power and size.

The Demon never happened, nor did any Dodge entry-level enthusiast convertible. The automaker must’ve been seriously considering a production run, though; the concept’s interior looked strikingly production-feasible. Given that we’re talking Chrysler in the mid-aughts, immediately pre-Great Recession, that’s not exactly high praise.

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10. Dodge Ram Power Wagon (1999)

10. Dodge Ram Power Wagon (1999)

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Image: Stellantis

I’m torn on the Power Wagon. On one hand, this concept arrived at a time when pickup trucks weren’t vehicles anyone necessarily designed. Therefore, the ambition to devise a workhorse with a little more style, something that exuded any sense of pride at all, was novel and kind of cool. Left unchecked, however, that was exactly the thinking that led us to the murderous machines on our roads today, which is why the Power Wagon didn’t place higher. You had to be there.

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9. Dodge Tomahawk (2003)

9. Dodge Tomahawk (2003)

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Image: Stellantis

I’m not convinced anyone could actually ride the Dodge Tomahawk, a motorcycle with the V10 out of a Viper SRT-10 between both sets of wheels. (I say “both sets” because the Tomahawk actually has four of them, which isn’t obvious in profile.)

Oh sure — there is video of it being ridden, along with grandiose claims of a “theoretical top speed” beyond 400 mph. But “ride” still feels like the wrong word to me. I mean, you’d ride this thing in the same way you’d ride on the roof of a commercial jet, and the end result probably wouldn’t be that much different. Keeping in tradition, the Tomahawk name was reused more than a decade later for Dodge’s Vision Gran Turismo submission, a car best known today for helping people rectify Gran Turismo 7's obnoxious peddling of microtransactions.

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8. Jeep Hurricane (2005)

8. Jeep Hurricane (2005)

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Image: Stellantis

After the Tomahawk, and another one-off due to appear later on this list some of you are probably already anticipating, Chrysler told Jeep it deserved its own moonshot concept — something equally ludicrous and unrealistic. The Hurricane was that vehicle. Armed with two Hemis, each driving its own axle, the Hurricane allowed for four-wheel steering. Tank turns, dual-motor design — it really was the Rivian R1T of its day.

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7. Plymouth Pronto Spyder (1998)

7. Plymouth Pronto Spyder (1998)

Even Plymouth, which lasted all but 18 months into the 21st century, was briefly considered for its own sports car: a mid-engine, compact roadster called the Pronto Spyder. The pitch remains mouthwatering even today — a 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder producing about 225 horsepower, routed through a five-speed. It even looked handsome, a shining example of Chrysler’s flair for art deco at the time, so long as you paid no mind to the parts bin stereo head unit and climate control stack.

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6. Jeepster (1998)

6. Jeepster (1998)

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Image: Stellantis

Chrysler was throwing crossovers at the wall long before anyone knew what those were, let alone wanted them. Case in point: the 1997 Jeepster concept, which brought a beloved name back as a high-riding coupe with Quadra-Trac II all-wheel drive and a 4.7-liter Powertech V8 out of the second-generation Grand Cherokee. The almost nonexistent front overhang kept it suitable on trails, and the overall exterior design was the perfect mix of playful and athletic. This one deserved to make it.

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5. Chrysler Atlantic (1995)

5. Chrysler Atlantic (1995)

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Image: Stellantis

Frankly, I’m not sure what compelled Chrysler to attempt its own take on the Bentley Type 57S Atlantique in 1995, but the result has always fascinated me. The Atlantic was the sort of car I think Chrysler always felt it should produce — an unassailable flagship built to represent the soul of a brand that, at one time, epitomized American opulence. The Atlantic would’ve been quite the statement for its day, especially with a straight-eight under the hood — a combination of two Neon blocks, per Allpar. It also predicted the trend of heckblendes making a comeback.

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4. Dodge Charger R/T (1999)

4. Dodge Charger R/T (1999)

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Image: Stellantis

I’ve talked about the Dodge Charger — the good one — around these parts before. Compressed natural gas proved a non-starter for the auto industry, but I’ll give credit to Chrysler for attempting to make the technology attractive back when hybrids were only just creeping into the mainstream. This Charger was a looker, too — a much sleeker reinterpretation of the muscle classic as a four-door sports sedan than blockheaded one we eventually got — and a showcase of what the Pentastar team was capable of when it used its imagination. For good.

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3. Dodge Copperhead (1997)

3. Dodge Copperhead (1997)

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Image: Stellantis

This was the baby Viper that Dodge really should’ve built. At a time when Porsche was lowering its barrier to entry with the Boxster, and BMW and Mercedes were getting in on the two-seater convertible craze as well, Chrysler was poised to join the party with an agile sports car distilling the essence of the Viper — only without the death-wish power.

Like its namesake, the Copperhead’s slender-yet-bulgy frame was indeed reptilian. I don’t know if I’d call it beautiful, but it was striking and different, rather than a polarizing throwback like the Prowler. With any luck, it would’ve been less boring to drive, too. All I can say is that it was fun to toss around in the first two Gran Turismo games.

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2. Chrysler ME Four-Twelve (2004)

2. Chrysler ME Four-Twelve (2004)

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Image: Stellantis

Everything about the Chrysler ME Four-Twelve seemed too good to be true. It started with the numbers: a quad-turbocharged, six-liter AMG V12 developing 850 horsepower and 850 lb-ft of torque, in package that tipped the scales under 2,900 pounds, all told. The performance targets were dazzling too — a 2.9-second sprint to 60 mph, and an estimated top speed that would have sniffed at the Bugatti Veyron’s 253-mph throne.

But this wasn’t a render — it was a real, working car that people have driven. And it came from Auburn Hills, of all places! The response was so positive — because why the hell wouldn’t it be — that the company seemingly did evaluate it for production, only to deem it too expensive. That’s the easy, public facing answer, anyway; depending on who you ask, Mercedes-Benz was none too pleased with the threat of an American hypercar embarrassing the SLR McLaren, and we all know who was equal-er in the “merger of equals.”

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1. Dodge Viper (1989)

1. Dodge Viper (1989)

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Image: Stellantis

What else could finish at #1 but the very concept that started it all? The Viper was the one Chrysler was daring enough to build; the modern-day Cobra that inspired the company to dream once again; the motivation it so desperately needed to leave its malaise era in the past.

It helped, too, that this was as thorough and stellar a concept-to-production transition as they come. The first-gen Viper is among those rare pitches that only improved in looks on its way to showrooms, even if some of the more dramatic aspects of this 1989 show car — the deep-dish tri-spoke wheels, the smoked-out headlights, the low windshield and integrated side mirrors on this prototype — were always production longshots. If anything, it’s a shame this is the only car on this list Chrysler really seemed to believe in.

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