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Chrysler ME Four-Twelve – dead on arrival

In 2004, Chrysler showed off a radical supercar concept with an 850bhp V12. Sadly it never came to be.

In the 1990s Chrysler developed a conspicuous desire to create more than mumsy minivans and milky rental fleet fodder. It made this clear through ritzy concept cars such as the Phaeton of 1997, an upmarket four-door convertible, and the Chronos of 1998, a huge luxury saloon running the V10 from a Dodge Viper.

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1998 was also the year Chrysler merged with Daimler-Benz, giving them access to German engineered rear-drive parts which allowed the creation of the more upmarket Crossfire and 300C. But even though the company had been telegraphing its social climbing desires for years, its centrepiece for the 2004 Detroit show still came as a shock because it was this; a Chrysler supercar

To look at, this silver-painted concept certainly had the head-swivelling chops to square up to Ferrari, combining low-slung menace with a hint of Chrysler’s Neo Deco style of the time. Only the rear lights let it down, constructed from 96 LEDs scattered like acne across the rear end as if created by a lone lunatic in a shed. Under the skin, however, the ME Four-Twelve was anything but amateurish. At its core sat a carbon fibre and aluminium honeycomb passenger cell, to which was attached an aluminium crash structure and, at the rear, a chrome moly subframe cradling a tweaked-up version of the 6-litre twin-turbo AMG M275 V12 from the Mercedes SL65 connected to a Ricardo-built seven-speed twin clutch ‘box.

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Chrysler engineers had added another couple of turbos for good measure - hence the car’s name, short for Mid Engined, Four turbo, Twelve cylinder - and the result was 850bhp in a car claimed to weigh just over 1300 kilos. Based on those stats the ME Four-Twelve would have a power-to-weight figure of 654bhp-per-tonne, significantly more than a McLaren F1, and its projected performance figures were very punchy for 2004, seeing 60 in 2.9 seconds and topping out at 248mph. Wisely, there were carbon ceramic brakes to bring everything to a standstill again. 

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Of course, it’s very easy to make up a bunch of numbers for a one-off concept knowing it’ll never move faster than it can be pushed into a lorry on the way to its next motorshow, but the ME Four-Twelve seemed to have some real depth to it. It was claimed to be engineered to meet US safety regs and it had proper space for two adults in its neatly trimmed, entirely plausible interior which featured climate control and a strangely prosaic-looking stereo.

On the outside there were even normal door mirrors and a windscreen wiper. 'This is not a fake, it is a serious car,' insisted Chrysler Group CEO Dieter Zetsche while COO Wolfgang Bernhard described it as 'an engineering statement' and boldly claimed he would have a running prototype 'road-ready by summer'. 

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It turned out Bernhard wasn’t entirely wide of the mark because later in 2004 Chrysler invited members of the US media to Laguna Seca to have a go in a matt black ME Four-Twelve mule. It wasn’t quite 'road-ready', and it turned out the quad turbo V12 had been wound down to protect the prototype gearbox, but it gave a sense of what this car could do. 'If the reception is positive,' Bernhard had crowed, 'we are definitely going to build this baby.'

Unfortunately, things weren’t as simple as that. Commissioning concept car specialist Metalcrafters in California to make one show car and one running prototype was easy; getting the car to production while offsetting the lofty development costs of a bespoke chassis with an AMG engine was not.

Though a showroom sticker of $150,000 had been whispered at first, subsequent rumours put the price at anywhere between $250,000 and $750,000 and that seemed too much for a Chrysler, even one that could do 248mph.

Disgruntled American car fans blamed the Germans for the project’s cancellation, claiming Daimler bosses culled it before it could embarrass their flagship Mercedes-McLaren SLR, but it’s more likely the cause of death was simple maths. Even for social-climbing Chrysler the ME Four-Twelve was an ambition too far.

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