Flushed with the spoils of acquisition, Chrysler underlined their Bolognese connection in 1987 with this highly prescient concept.
Thirty years ago to the month, the Chrysler Motor Corporation (as was) purchased Italian supercar manufacturer, Nouva Automobili F. Lamborghini. Acquisitions by US automakers were in full swing by the late 1980’s, with GM having taken control of Group Lotus the previous year in addition to Chrysler’s 15.6% stake in Allessandro de Tomaso’s Maserati business. At the 1987 Frankfurt motor show, the Pentastar proudly displayed this, the Portofino concept.
According to Car magazine’s Georg Kacher, Portofino was originally designed in 1985 by Chrysler stylist, Kevin Verduyn at their West Coast Pacifica studios, but was heavily modified during the summer of ’87 to accommodate a mid-engined Lamborghini Jalpa powertrain – (which could trace its lineage as far back as the 1970 Urraco) – scissor-style doors and a number of more minor style-related modifications. Portofino was not intended to prefigure a Lamborghini production car – more perhaps a statement of well-meaning and benevolence towards its Bologna-based acquisition. However, there was another dimension.
Well received by industry big-wigs and public alike, the Portofino quickly disappeared again, but its styling themes would prove remarkably resilient. Certainly something stuck, because Tom Gale’s Chrysler studios appear to have used it as a springboard for the much ballyhooed ‘cab-forward’ style, proportions and silhouette of both their LH family of saloons, as well as the more compact Dodge Stratus and Cirrus models.
It probably seemed like a good idea at the time; after all if you’re going to have a front wheel drive architecture, you might as well try to sprinkle a little exotic-car fairy dust on proceedings. Cab-forward may not have been all that influential or thematically durable, but these were some of the more distinctive American cars of an era not necessarily noted for it.
Cross-pollination between Italy and Detroit was of course the other big deal in the late ’80s: TC by Maserati, Cadillac Allante to name but two. A lot has happened in the intervening thirty years, wouldn’t you agree?
3 thoughts on “Bull Market”
The European purchases all failed: Lotus is still a hot potatoe (now owned by Mexicar Inc but soon to be bought by Hyderabad Motors), Lamborghini is a badge-engineered variant of Seat; Maserati make Alfa Romeos. Chrysler is now owned by Fiat (so reversing the favour) and Ford has no European brands and GM only has Chevrolet in Europe and a few Cadillac dealers busy storing air in the unvisited showrooms.
Imagine: GM has effectively abandoned the EU market and two ailing firms prop each other up. It really is quite a thing to have sink in.
The Stratus lost most of the cab-forward drama. It really means rear axle backwards.
I liked the LH cars a lot. Nice low scuttle, biggish windows and long wheelbase meant a nice cabin. Shame they didn’t last.
I guess a lot of credit for Chrysler’s (perceived) renaissance during the ’90s must go to Tom Gale. Even if cab-forward design was just fad, it at least stirred things up a little, which couldn’t be said about the Bigger Two’s output at the time.
Isn’t it very peculiar to read those stories about how the Detroit manufacturers were brimming with cash to such an extent that they were pretty much forced to go on a shopping spree? In this day and age, that appears almost absurd.