Slowly Spun Cerulean and Azure in the Rays

Another bang from the past, this: the much-lauded but penultimately and then ultimately rather awful Chrysler Stratus

Tom Gale thought this car the bee´s legs.

Whenever I get a chance I take random bike rides or walks around Basel. For many Anglo-Saxons it’s an unknown city, perhaps one that causes confusion as it reminds them of silly toff first names or green leafed herbs used in pesto. Perhaps it suggests a certain degree of Mittel-European obscurity. To some Switzerland is a bit obscure and Basel is a part of that, making it extra exotic.

A Union Flag motif? Ironic?

Basilians are humans too and some have made mistakes such as buying this specimen. I expect it is now a cube of metal and dents in a yard of crushed cars. I saw it last July, 2016. I doubt the rear windscreen was ever fixed.

I gave this car about three minutes of my time as I trickled down to the sparkling river. You can get a good views of the cathedral promontory from the promenade and avoid a bad view of the horrid conference centre and Ciba’s affronting towers which have sprung up to ruin a view as old as the Rhine. Bad cars come and bad cars go but bad buildings are for life. I had the good luck to see the view from the Dom before they built the towers but it’s hard to remember the view with pleasure now.

We read about the Kia Opirus a few days back: both cars are in the ‘more for less category’. However, decades later, Chrysler is barely able to make a saloon and Kia are barely able to keep up with demand. Thought-agitating that?

Cab-forward? Why did anyone really think that enclosing a cubic metre of space ahead of the driver was a good idea?

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

24 thoughts on “Slowly Spun Cerulean and Azure in the Rays”

  1. It would be a great pity if said car has ended up being crushed as it looks to be in pretty good nick for its age. As for the styling, it just goes to show what a subjective thing that is as I find it vaguely handsome especially for its time when you think of some of its competitors like the blobby Mondeo or slabby Accord. The cab forward design might be impractical but it was an attempt to shake up the three box saloon. I’m currently reading Tatra – The Legacy of Hans Ledwinka and in it the author points out the advantage to ride comfort of sitting well within the wheelbase of the car, something the rear passengers of the Chrysler clearly do. I also think the cab forward stance may have been trying to capture the style of mid-engined supercars. I’ll get my coat.

    1. The Swiss MFK is notoriously strict – the German TÜV is plain sailing in comparison, and the MoT an outright joke.

  2. Cab forward was a lie from the beginning. It premised “pushing to the wheels to the corners,” delivered enormous overhangs at both ends. The interesting thing is that our automotive journalists, all bought and paid for, repeated it under pictures of vehicles. There was no sign that they blushed.

  3. All of the Chrysler output at the time was execrable (when is it not) but was oddly praised to the skies by auto journalists. The rental fodder Stratus with it’s coarse and thirsty 2.4 I4 engine was probably the worst, with the engine managing that curious American car trick of feeling like it had about 66% of the claimed power.

    I think the most disappointing was the 300M though, claimed to be a competitor to the 5 series in 1999 and with 250 odd of the most anemic and workshy horses ever to be forced into a V6 carefully engineered to offer the mechanical refinement of a four.

    I cannot understand who has been buying Chryslers output since, well, forever really.

    1. That’s a good summary. They are a Rootes Group: there only for historical reasons. The Stratus was a pretty okay car, if as I did in 1995,one have no idea about cars. Chrysler customers are going after price and features. And yes, the hype was extraordinary which is why I remember them so well.

  4. I remember being quite impressed with Chrysler’s cab-forward range back in the day. The LH range of saloons was rather sleek, hell, they even had a Jaguar Mk VIII-inspired rear window on that New Yorker!

    In all seriousness: at a time when most American cars looked like the Oldsmobile Ciera to some extent, the Chryslers came across like a breath of fresh air. Even Daimler-Benz’ management bought into this particular Chrysler revival (literally).

    1. The New Yorker looked the best yet it really only ripped off another design. At the time it looked striking. It has no heir today which is revealing.

  5. In many ways these are the the equivalent of what GM was churning out in the 1970s – nickel-and-dimed rubbish, but rubbish that had the veneer of sleek attractiveness to lure punters in. Considering what their Detroit rivals (especially the General) was pushing out at the time, I can see how they managed to shift some in the US. But it has always been a mystery to me how they managed to shift any at all in Europe. Yet, shift some they did – they aren’t the ultra-rare obscurity one might imagine. I can see buying an early Voyager if, for whatever reason, you refuse to have an Espace or Previa. But these? One way or another, it is a strange logic process to turn down every single European D-segment sedan for a Stratus.

    Mind you, at least these had superficial attractiveness on their side. Almost unbelievably, Chrysler tried flogging the 2007 Sebring in Oz as an ‘upmarket’ sedan, with pricing to match. There was literally no reason at all for anyone to buy one of these at any price, let alone at the $38k launch price for the base model, compared to $34-35k for a Camry, Mondeo or Accord. Yet you see the odd one running around.

    1. The contrast with Kia/Hyundai is marked. They had quality well managed and offered a good set of cars at a decent price. Chrysler offered superficial good looks but never grasped how to put things together in a finessed way.

    2. At core the difference is that between a company with a long-term strategy, and one that doesn’t think beyond the end of the current fiscal quarter. That is true now and was true then. The results speak for themselves.

  6. So much Chrysler-loathing…

    There’s no doubt that they deserve a thorough J’accuse, but there are plenty of bright spots: the Hemi V8, the original 300, the ’59-’75 Dart and Valiant, the effective alliance with Mitsubishi.

    They used European talent effectively; Bob Lutz, Roy Axe, Francois Castaing. The takeover of dead-in-the- water AMC-Jeep actually brought value far beyond expectations.

    That said the only recent product I like is the 300C (both generations) but above all, it’s a Mercedes.

    Going back a bit further, the ’95 Neon impressed; a $9000 car which was better than every US-market rival except possibly the Civic, and cost around half the sale price to produce.

    I fear the next chapter in the Chrysler part of the FCA story isn’t going to be a happy one. Jeep’s the only prize, and who will claim it is anybody’s guess.

  7. I wonder how many people here have even driven one of the Cloud “cars”? Anyone? Bueller? The previous iterations, typified by the Plymouth Acclaim, were in a different class compared to the K Cars that spawned them, much better. And the Stratus had a complete new chassis again, as did the cab-forward bigger cars like the Intrepid and Chrysler. Why did Mercedes buy the company in the late 1990s? The cars were selling well, the company profitable. It took the genius of Dieter Zetscheke and Jurgen Schremp to ruin Chrysler and lose $40 billion in less than a decade. Walking around barking out orders to the minions brought us the Dodge Caliber and other treasures of vehicular delight.

    When my Audi 80 quattro, last of the square ones, was being repaired after being rear-ended comprehensively (it really should have been written off), a Mitsubishi 3.0 V6 engined version of the Acclaim was my ride for a month. I was annoyed to discover it was quite a reasonable car, and easily had the legs of my Audi (140 bhp to 115). Annoyed? Yes. It was only half the price of my 18 month old quattro, and many rentals of K Cars previously for business purposes had certainly allowed one to stand there and dun the Chrysler product by comparison to an Audi. In fact, I quite liked the Acclaim, and it wasn’t a load of rubbish at all.

    Fast forward seven years, and two of us had to drive a car filled with exhibition stuff from Halifax to Montreal, 800 miles each way. Cheaper than flying with baggage overage and renting a car for five days. We had a Stratus rental, and I had just turned in my 1994 90 Quattro blob after a short lease (much poorer car than the ’87 I mention above – couldn’t stand the thing and wrote a book to Audi Canada on its design flaws pre internet). The obvious thing about the Stratus was that on spring thaw heaved roads (I bet you lot don’t even know what they are!), it had the obvious structural integrity on the twisting, humping, racking roads of New Brunswick that no American car I’d driven before ever evinced. I considered buying one, because my other car after the Audi was banished was a 1990 Mitsubishi Eclipse AWD turbo two seater (Galant VR4 underneath) and I needed a sedan. For $16K, which was what a 2.4l Stratus cost, they weren’t a bad deal on the face of it. It cruised handily on superior Quebec autoroutes at 130 to 140 km/hour. Its faceplant was electronic injection that was surgy beyond reason at city speeds – quite tiring and unrefined. On the open road, not bad at all.

    My wealthy friend, who kept a BMW for tootling around about town, always needed what he called a family car for long road trips. Always GM barges. But then he bought a Chrysler 300M, and roared off across North America on various trips with his wife, since working every day was not something he had to worry about. Whoever said above that the 250 horse 300M was coarse, slow and unrefined – my experienced differs, that’s all I’ll say, friend. Not what I experienced. At all.

    I have noticed a recurring theme here on DTW, which is to spot some old Yank car somewhere and then proceed to crap on it from a high altitude with the equivalent of a series of guffaws, tee-hees and nudge, nudge, “Know what I mean”s. Cheap entertainment, I suppose.

    Too bad I know such uninformed criticism when I read it. And then we have minute dissection of some Euro tintop that is not much more than a cardboard box on wheels, but with obvious style, panache and lashings of “good taste”. I understand the Eurocentric outlook of DTW, and obviously I keep coming back for the great majority of quite wonderful articles which I enjoy immensely. In fact, unless I believed that DTW wasn’t populated by thinking persons, I wouldn’t spend the time to pen missives such as this. I care. Still, a bit more objectivity on what you may on the surface regard as a suitable subject for derision wouldn’t go amiss. This Stratus against the Ford Contour of 1996 (A Mondeo with no rear seat room whatsoever) wasn’t such a poor comparison at all in the real world. Actual humans could fit in the Chrysler.

    In any case, all the futzing around with Audis not being up to par any more was what led me to Subaru in the late 1990s. The relative lack of service trouble the Eclipse caused me versus Germany’s finest opened my eyes to trying something different. I kept my preference for AWD and since the Audi/Subaru dealer was one establishment then, and the chief technician had pulled off a miraculous repair on my 1987 quattro’s fuel injection, I asked him his opinion years later. His reply was, well the bolts don’t rust into being nigh-on impossible to remove on Subarus on the few occasions you actually need to do something. Has worked well for me these last 19 years.

    1. I think you make some fair points, Bill. But I have intimated here previously that I do not buy in to the general narrative that Chrysler was flying high in the mid-1990s, and thus inevitably set for future success. The cars were selling well and the accounts looked good, for the time being. But it doesn’t change the fact that the product was built cheaply and engineered down to a price that left plenty of customers burnt. Jamie Kitman was among those voicing the perspective at the time that Chrysler’s revival was built on sand, and I don’t believe he has been proven wrong with the passage of time. I never considered that the Chrysler of the ’90s was a competitive proposition over the long run because I never saw any sign that the corporate culture of chasing quarterly returns rather than reputation had changed – quite the opposite, in fact. Daimler were arrogant and made lots of mistakes, but then I thought they were silly to get involved in the first place.

      Tangentially, I realise this is not a popular opinion, but I have never understood the hype around Lutz, who has long struck me as a ‘feels over reals’ kind of guy. Recently I came across this interview, which to my mind pretty much confirms that he isn’t a guy you’d want in a position with the ability to commit millions of dollars worth of investment on product development:

      “One of my guys, Colin Phipps, put this beautiful sketch together of a CTS wagon. Bob saw that and he said, ‘A wagon, huh? If we’re going to be competitive in Europe, and taken seriously, we’ve got to have a wagon in the Cadillac portfolio.’

      “Then, the product planning team weighed in. They said, ‘American’s don’t buy wagons. You can’t do a wagon. You already have an SRX in the portfolio. Why would anyone want to do a CTS wagon?’

      “Bob said, ‘You know, we’re going to do it because we can and it makes sense for the Cadillac portfolio.’” God bless Lutz. Manoogian continued, “He said, ‘It’s coming down the same line. All we have to buy are the side rings, quarter panels, tailgate, tail lamps, rear fascia and a roof.’ He said, ‘We just need to do this.’ And we wound up doing the Wagon against everybody’s wishes. And, of course, in hindsight, they were right.”—wait! Who did he say was right?

      “The planning guys were right. I was wrong,” he said. Wow. I guess I’d always looked at it from the perspective of having been a styling grand slam. That’s subjective, though. Even if it had been a consensus opinion, the planning people indicated a weak sales case. “They said it, Americans don’t buy wagons. And the SRX was in the same showroom, at a cheaper price point.”

    2. We are glad to see you enjoy the site despite our dim view of certain old US cars. I would like to say that quite a few get favourable treatment. Off the top of my head I was happy to see a Buick Centurion, a Chevy Caprice estate and a Cadillac Seville. I was quite taken with a Mercury Monarch and wrote a long and forgotten piece here last year. It’s the Chryslers that get the bad press but I was also uncharitable about an Alero. Are we too nice about the flimsy Eurocars? That’s possible.

    3. The problem with the Cloud cars, and the reason for much of the dim view people hold of them now, is that they were reliability nightmares. Electrical issues, engine issues, steering racks that seized, tie rod ends seemingly made from the same light bulb glass Saab used for their pinion gears and a host of other gremlins have turned these cars into rare sightings. But more that just mechanical problems, and I feel the big reason for the derision they receive today, is how they failed to live up to the excitement they induced at their release. They claimed to have reached a higher bar that they have in fact missed by a country mile.

      I had two friends for whom a Cloud was their first new car purchase after college. Neither kept the car longer than 2 years and both are fully in the “Never again will I buy an American car” camp even after 20 years their experiences. That’s how wildly unreliable the Could’s could be. Yet, they don’t hate the cars. When they ran properly they did very well and both friends still have a fond memories of certain aspects of the cars. The ride was good (over frost heaved great lakes roads), they had decent power, the interior was well appointed for the time and they featured an exterior styling that manages to hold very well 22 years on.

      If Chrysler had been able to make the JA and LH platforms at industry standard levels of quality it’s very possible today’s automotive landscape would be different. The tag line for the all new Cirrus was, “It’s not just a step above, It’s the new plateau.” They sold a new Chrysler and failed to deliver with the result being that the Cirrus name was dropped entirely 6 years later after a truncated production run.

  8. I have to second Kris here. I liked the cab-forward concept when it appeared. It promised an alternative to conservative RHD three-box proportions, long wheelbases and probably a touch of Citroën-ness.

    Alas, not all promises were kept. As mentioned by other commenters here, the wheelbase-to-length ratio was not that exceptional. Compared with contemporary Citroëns, the Stratus had quite exactly the same wheelbase as the Xantia, but added 30 cm in length. The bigger Eagle Vision again had a wheelbase that differed by only 2 cm from that of the XM, but its length was 40 cm more.

    While these cars remained somewhat exotic, the Eagle Vision (branded Chrysler in Europe) actually proved quite popular in Switzerland, and along with the then popular Voyager, the Chrysler Group actually had a presence on our streets.

    By the way, speaking about exotica: not only Northerners think that Basel is an exotic place, for the rest of Switzerland it’s also rather enigmatic.

  9. Being from Sweden I know what spring thawed heaving roads are. We also has a great passion for American cars and culture here in Sweden and the PT Cruiser and 300 where everywhere 10-12 years ago.
    I rarely see one now, the majority of Chryslers I see are from the 60’s or 70’s.
    I liked riding in them but judging from the very low number I see and the very, very low number for sale on the country’s biggest used car sale place they have already vanished (most at least).

    1. The Voyager and PT Cruiser were the biggest hits followed by the 300s. Here in Denmark the Cruiser can be seen not infrequently. I even saw a Neon last week. Shouldn’t a car able to cope with N America be able to cope with Sweden’s conditions?

  10. Absolutely. But the cost of keeping them running is so high and the car prizes so low that no one really bothers.
    You can get a PT Cruiser for 6-10.000 Swedish kronor. That put’s it in the bangernomics specter.
    The Voyager is a hit still for people who needs more seats..

    1. And 300Ms? They might possibly begin to look more appealing in a few years, I think. Not to me but to blokes in their 20s who liked them when they were new.

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