Chrysler ME 412

July 11, 2013

Chrysler ME 412

Chrysler ME 412

A Chrysler that’s quicker than an Enzo? Believe it. Even better, the guys at Auburn Hills want to build it. Bad.Okay, let’s get straight to the point: Any road car with 850 horsepower is going to get your attention, right? And while we’re talking numbers, how does 0-to-60 mph in 2.85 seconds grab you? Or a standing quarter-mile time of 10.6 seconds at 136 mph? Yep, that’s a Ferrari Enzo you just went past… And would you really care if this King-Kong supercar just happened to have a Chrysler badge on the nose? Thought not. Chrysler stunned the world when it unveiled its outrageous Chrysler ME 412 concept car at the Detroit Auto Show last January. No one could quite believe a company best known for sensible-shoes people-movers and trucks the size of Texas would seriously consider producing a mid-engine V-12-powered supercar designed to blow an Enzo off the autostrada.

Click here to order your new Chrysler ME 412 Rival with a new BMW V12 760 liter engine for US$38,000.

Chrysler ME 412

Chrysler ME 412 at a show

Rival auto execs were quick to write off the Chrysler ME 412 as an extravagant corporate ego trip, a glittery show pony that would never turn a wheel in anger.

But Chrysler bosses Dieter Zetsche and Wolfgang Bernhard insisted it was the real deal: “If the reception is positive, we are definitely going to build this baby,” Bernhard said.

Chrysler engineers stand by the incredible numbers they claim the car has achieved in performance testing: “We can walk the talk.”

Click here to order your new Chrysler ME 412 Rival with a new BMW V12 760 liter engine for US$38,000.

Chrysler ME 412 at the show

Chrysler ME 412

Fast forward to a foggy August morning at Laguna Seca. A matte-black shape rockets down the pit straight, all angles and edges and black-tinted glass, like a ground-based stealth fighter. This handbuilt Chrysler ME 412 prototype, constructed in barely four months by a small team under the direction of Chrysler’s SRT special-vehicles chief Dan Knott, is the multi-million-dollar fulfillment of a promise made at Detroit. “This is not a fake,” says Dieter Zetsche. “It is a serious car.” That much is clear as you wiggle into the tight cockpit. The stripped-out interior is as businesslike as the matte-black paint job: hip-hugging seats with six point harnesses to hold you in good and tight, a Motec instrument pack to keep track of speed, revs, gears, and other vital functions, and bare carbon fiber everywhere. With time and money at a premium, Chrysler has bypassed the showbiz of the concept-car interior to concentrate on proving out the mechanical bits on this prototype, although the prototype’s cabin follows the same basic form.

Click here to order your new Chrysler ME 412 Rival with a new BMW V12 760 liter engine for US$38,000.

Chrysler ME 412 interior

Chrysler ME 412

The 6.0-liter V-12–based on the 612-horsepower twin-turbo AMG engine fitted to the tire-frying Mercedes SL65, but with twice the number of turbos pumping up to 2.5 bar boost–booms at a fast idle as Tom O’Dell, who worked on Chrysler’s Le Mans-winning Viper GTS-R racers, cinches down the harnesses and snaps the detachable Momo steering wheel into place. Twist the knob on the center console from N to D to engage the first of six ratios available from the British-built double-clutch Riccardo transmission. Right paddle for upshifts, left for down. No clutch pedal means left-foot braking is a cinch. Let’s go… The Chrysler ME 412 burbles along Laguna Seca’s pit lane with the easy composure of a Camry mooching around the carpark at Wal-Mart. And it feels a bit of a pussycat when you snap the gas pedal out on the track. There’s no headbanging shriek and sledgehammer surge like you get when you crack the throttles wide open on an Enzo, just an elastic lunge accompanied by a sonorous sonic boom before the engine quickly runs up to the redline and the transmission soft-shoes automatically into the next gear ratio. It doesn’t sound that fast. And it doesn’t peel your eyelids back like you think 850 horsepower ought to. But then you suddenly notice you’re at the next turn already, and it’s time to give the massive 15.0-inch-diameter ceramic composite disc brakes–they’re as big as a Ford Focus wheel–a workout. Dan Knott says his engineers have recorded 2 g under braking during testing. That’s about twice the number a regular road car with good brakes will give you, and it feels entirely believable: With six-piston calipers up front and four-piston units at the rear, the Chrysler ME 412 just plain stops, straight and true, when you nail that pedal. There’s ABS, but the threshold has been set high enough to permit just a hint of lockup before the system intervenes. The steering of the Chrysler ME 412 is light, accurate and doesn’t load up through the turns. A little more feel would be nice, though–it’s hard to tell exactly what the front tires are doing midway through a turn. Five laps of Laguna Seca isn’t much, but it’s enough to tell you a few things about the Chrysler ME 412. Yes, it works. But it’s very much a work-in-progress. The transmission calibration is all wrong, especially on downshifts, which seem to take an eternity to complete. The suspension tuning needs work to fix the understeer into corners and the roll oversteer on the way out. And there’s no way it has 850 horsepower.

Click here to order your new Chrysler ME 412 Rival with a new BMW V12 760 liter engine for US$38,000.

Chrysler ME 412 engineBack in the pits, the Chrysler guys come clean and admit the mighty V-12’s torque output has been dialed back from the 848 pound-feet achieved on the dyno to a mere 553 or so to make sure the one-of-a-kind Riccardo double-clutch transmission stays in one piece for our hot-lap session. And the understeer has been deliberately tuned into the chassis to keep a lid on corner speeds around the unforgiving 2.2-mile roller-coaster ride that is Laguna Seca. And at 3200 pounds, the car is probably still 200 to 300 pounds overweight. But Knott stands by the Enzo-busting numbers he says the car has reached during testing: “We have achieved our objectives,” he says confidently. “We can walk the talk.”

Click above image to view a full size zoom of the chart.

Chrysler has proven it probably could engineer and build a car to take on the European supercar superstars. So what? “We have a very clear and good definition of the technical specifications of the car,” says Dieter Zetsche. “With that, we can do a calculation for [the cost of] building 10, 100, and 1000 cars and figure out the price points.” If the numbers add up. If he can be convinced enough people are prepared to pay what’s rumored to be somewhere between $250,000 and $750,000 for a 248-mph Chrysler, Zetsche says he will give the car the green light: “There’s no doubt.” There are plenty of folks in Detroit who reckon building a costly Ferrari-beater doesn’t make a lot of sense for a company that really needs more hot new mainstream cars to show the 300C is no fluke. But Zetsche says the Chrysler ME 412 could prove an important point: “Even though Chrysler doesn’t have much of a race history, it was an engineering-led brand,” he says. “That’s where we want to go back to, and there’s no better way to prove the capability of our engineers than going to the edge. I’m convinced that, if we can make the car work, it’ll be good for the brand.” So here’s the bottom line: If you want to see a mainstream U.S. automaker roll out one of the fastest, most spectacular cars ever built in America, start sending those cards and letters and e-mails to Chrysler HQ in Auburn Hills. Dieter Zetsche’s waiting to hear from you.

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