Dodging bullets, our resident Mr. Miles offers his thoughts on an underappreciated Pentastar.
I’m Fortunate enough to have a scenic commute to and from work, the route encompassing rolling hills and open moorland before plunging headlong into suburbia and masses of unwashed vehicles. Vicious in winter, the summer weather has allowed occasional non-use of wipers alongside higher external temperatures, accompanied by regular morning sightings of a car whose rarity increases daily. DTW’s Richard Herriott wrote about the Chrysler Crossfire six years ago. Inspired by his words and my daily flash past this black bolide, I wanted to see what changes, if any, had occurred.
In military parlance, crossfire is never a good place to be caught in but one remains impressed by the look of this car, now, if anything, more than ever. Your author has no recollection of this car’s launch but felt suitably impressed by its avantgarde looks. Inexplicably, these eyes missed the crossfire connection; Andrew Dyson’s transverse character lines crossing just beneath the side-view mirrors having been dismissed by this hapless car spotter.
My eyes always seem drawn to both claw-like slashes on side and bonnet. The former is a pointless flourish, a dirt collecting area. Perhaps Wolverine’s adamantium claws could have scratched those six bonnet flutes but where’s the fire? Ah, yes, the cozy collaboration between Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler and the car’s boat tail rear which garnered more fire brigade attention than a large pile of blazing 18” (front) and 19” (rear) tyres.
Controversial styling, archaic underpinnings tied with high prices placed the car in an unfortunate position which led to a short forty eight month lifespan and but seventy six thousand made. The Crossfire could have worked out better. The styling was all American but the car was built in Germany by Karman; Chrysler bargaining on 20,000 stateside units per year over a five year period – which did wonders for their financial status.
Regular viewings are momentary but evoke some feeling within. Unencumbered by daytime running lights, the Crossfire maintains its odd but charismatic looks to the front. Checking my rear view mirror reveals that still controversial rear end – there really was nothing like the Crossfire then – today the car is a welcoming sight. Neither a true hatchback (fish, per-se) or SUV (fowl!) one can see what Chrysler were aiming at – something different.
As the Mercedes R170/1 versions appear ten a penny (yet fading fast), this gregarious Yank cuts rather the dash. Those wearing the three pointed Star never tickled my fancy as much as its Germano-American cousin did. The stretch of road where our paths often cross is tree lined. When the dappled sunlight catches the (nominally) clean looking bodywork, my thoughts turn to attractive film stars of a time that one hasn’t seen in years, such as Siena Miller or Uma Thurman.
Back in 2004, as an avid cinema-goer, these leading ladies became the focus of my attention, briefly. As time moved on, along with a growing ambivalence towards cinematic outpourings, like the Crossfire, they became forgotten until such a brief yet happy reconnection occurs. Occasionally, it’s good to revisit (sections) of the past. The SLK’s flickers are a dying memory ember of peroxide blondes, moustaches and driving gloves. To me, that was the wannabe car.
Our car hails from the same year as Layer Cake and Kill Bill. And comes across as being cherished for its seventeen years. Should the government’s data capturing be correct, the car has traversed only 57,000 miles in all those years. The car has failed the yearly MOT several times over the years but on small rather than significant maladies; tyres, lights unaligned, brakes, perished wipers, etc.
No mention of anything nasty or dangerous. One can never tell the service history though, even from logbooks filled in by nefarious grease monkeys, or dealerships or that matter. Those of acidic tongue may offer the Crossfire was trashed on its announcement but one hopes this specimen has lived the right side of the red line.
On a glorious morning recently, two American cars were in close approximation, the elder leading the new recruit. Rather unhealthy in the exhaust department, the Crossfire’s 3.2 V6 emits 243 grams of nastiness, no doubt making the following Tesla S driver wince in disgust. Knowing which model I’d prefer to steer and it isn’t from the land of Musk, the two really are gamekeeper and poacher. The Crossfire augments that air of indifference that I applauded then, more so now. In fact, I’d give the Crossfire a new moniker – the Gamine.
Dependant on where one looks (such a critical matter) such definitions as elfin, teasing, mischievous or neglected street urchin; all four (and more) could apply here. Reports suggest the Crossfire suffered from an element of style over substance. But much water has since passed under the bridge and the Crossfire has taken on the role of urchin, however well nurtured.
But that’s not to discredit the car, circumstance can force different and difficult life choices. Getting to know someone can take time, peeling away layer by layer and understanding those behavioural complexities. And while far from the best of its kind these past score years, the Gamine retains its favour with this enthusiast, even if that should be just seen when passing at 60mph.
But the Crossfire wore the wrong badge at the wrong time. A niche prospect doomed to fail. As indeed Chrysler were, shuffled off in a very public divorce into private equity hands in the form of Cerberus Capital Management briefly before the late jumper wearing fellow snapped it up. Of course by this time, the Crossfire had become outcast, homeless and forgotten. The keeper of this case in point saw fit to offer a second chance. Not all urchins turn out bad.
According to www.howmanyleft.co.uk there’s around 2,500 left on UK roads.
23 thoughts on “The Gamine”
Well done, Andrew, on not shooting the proverbial fish in the barrel (as I might have been tempted to do) and instead giving the Crossfire a more nuanced review. The principle of rebodying (soon to be) previous-generation Mercedes-Benz models as Chryslers worked out pretty well in the case of the 300C, but rather less so in the case of the Crossfire. The R170 SLK was not a great starting point, admittedly. Its strongest suits were the trick folding roof and its very pretty styling, neither of which made the cut to the Crossfire. Unfortunately, its inert dynamics and iffy interior did. Still, I can appreciate the Crossfire’s left-field appeal.
Good morning Andrew & Daniel. I cannot for the life of me work out why I quite like the Crossfire – it can only be the ‘left-field’ aspect….. They were strange times for the marque; the PT Cruiser was plain weird and yet it seems to have developed a cult-following with the custom car mob whereas the 300C, reasonably good-looking as it was, was invariably driven by psychopaths. The Crossfire might have survived in a different league, perhaps?
But the idea of cars which re-imagine a previous generation, coupled with the commute to work, remind me of a summer morning some (alright, many) years ago when en-route to my office I joined the A57 at Ashopton viaduct to find myself following what appeared to be a Matra Simca on steroids. Far too tall for its soft suspension, it nevertheless was making rapid progress, albeit somewhat disconcerting as it wallowed and bounced past the Snake Inn and up the climb to Doctor’s Gate. Some weeks later I discovered that it was a new Land Rover called Discovery….
The R170 SLK was not a great starting point, admittedly. Its strongest suits were the trick folding roof and its very pretty styling, neither of which made the cut to the Crossfire. Unfortunately, its inert dynamics and iffy interior did.
I beg to differ Daniel as I found the interior and dynamics of my SLK 230 absolutely fine. The folding roof was very clever too but heaven help you if a storm was imminent and the thing failed to complete the closing cycle. Mine did once!
Another interesting article Andrew about a car I quite enjoy the look of.
Hi Mike. I also had an SLK230, a 1997 car in metallic silver with a red and black interior. It was fast, safe and comfortable, and was a great long-distance GT, but I found the steering a bit lacking in feel, at least for a sports car. These things are, of course, subjective and relative. The SLK was no Boxster, but it was a much better drive than my 2002 Audi TT 225 Quattro convertible. That really was inert, and was no real fun to drive.
Regarding the SLK’s interior. It certainly looked nice, but I thought there were instances of cost-cutting highlighted by the colour scheme in mine, which looked like this one:
There was a raw upper edge visible on the red plastic surround to the instruments. The door pulls and padded sides to the centre console weren’t self-coloured but painted and the paint used to wear off on higher mileage cars (but not on my low-mileage example, admittedly). I imagine that these would be non-issues on a car with a black interior.
To be honest, I never really warmed to the SLK because it had a catalogue of electrical issues that the main dealer struggled to sort out under warranty. At least the roof on mine was unfailingly reliable!
That is some interior Daniel! My car was a silver limited edition with black leather so slightly less colourful than yours. Purchased used so no warranty issues and it went really well. Traded it in against a W124 300TE which was an entirely different driving experience.
Count me among the Crossfire fans as well (but primarily the coupé); the left-field aspect is certainly valid as is a certain dose of “jolie-laide” too.
For comparison, here is the 2001 concept car version:
Seems the intention was for a much larger car.
Gooddog: I checked the dimensions of both: Length- Concept 156.4 inches, production 159,8 inches. Width- Concept 72,4 inches, production 69,5 inches. Wheelbase- Concept 102,6 inches, production 94,5 inches. So apart from wheelbase they are not that dissimilar, it’s just the different proportions that make the concept look larger.
Thanks Bruno. I have just noticed that the concept’s split windscreen is actually the wiper.
The idea of taking a single windscreen wiper to simulate a split windscreen to complete the Atalante quote is definitely in the top ten of missed opportunities.
I’d say that the Crossfire was a failure of execution.
Conceptually, the idea of moving Chrysler upmarket with a premium roadster while keeping costs down and margins up by using previous-gen underpinnings makes a ton of sense. But an air of cheapness permeated the car, with an excess of plastichrome inside and out. And the decision to throw a bone to Karmann meant that build costs(plus importation) sent sticker prices higher than Chrysler customers were willing to stretch.
Leaving aside the possibility that going with a convertible rather than a crossover SUV as a halo car was a strategic mistake, imagine what the Crossfire’s fortunes may have looked like if it was priced about $5k less by being built in Bramalea rather than Osnabruck and fitted with less expensive/cheaper to service Chrysler engines(3.7L V6 for the standard model and the ‘Hemi’ 6.1L SRT-8). And had real metal brightwork on the exterior and decent, untinselled plastic on the inside.
Also felt the Crossfire was badly executed and needed a wider choice of engines.
Speaking of using previous-gen underpinnings, could Chrysler in theory have gotten away with using the C-Class as a basis for an alternate RWD Sebring / 200 to slot below the 300?
I liked the Crossfire from the beginning. Kind of. Despite its not so perfect realisation.
It was always the kind of American art-deco for me – a nice joke with a wink that made me smile in contrast to all this tortured seriousness on German roads.
Unlike most contemporaries, I like the stern, with its reminiscence of the Rambler Marlin – even if I always found it strange that under the Mustache Regiment, of all things, the history box was opened at the time.
I can also block out the image of a dog, in whatever activities, in the side view and delight in the crease behind the front wheel arch as it disappears into the door, reappears and widens into a powerful shoulder.
The windshield frame is way too thick.
But the front is ok (for a Chrysler of those years). The concept car has the more beautiful headlights, but beauty usually dies the moment the red pencil acrobats enter the room.
One can criticise DC for the execution of Crossfire. No doubt they had their reasons. The worst decision par excellence was the production of the vehicle at Karman: Bad and expensive in perfect combination. Well, maybe they weren’t as bad as the decades before, but finding a more expensive location was quite difficult back then.
For a few seconds the-best-wife-of-all (and her husband) thought about getting a Crossfire (Coupe only), but either they are too expensive or too black (that non-colour that German buyers liked to choose) – most of them in combination of both. The cars for sale on the German used car market also have that fifty-shades-of-coalmine trim that was popular even then. So no thanks twice.
Every now and then we come across a wine-red Coupe on the road and it puts a smile on our faces.
It´s roofline that kills the car. If you put a white card over a picture of the car, hiding the roof your mind´s eye does not replace the blank space with that roof. The concept car has much the same problem. This ought to have been a shooting brake.
I’ll just say that looking at it actually gives me a headache and leave it at that.
Amazingly, they went one worse, with the Airflite saloon version.
Charles, I’ll see your Airflyte and raise it a Dodge Super Hemi 8.
Crikey. These designs have so many odd aspects to them, I find it hard to work out what’s going on. The best way I can describe it is that they’re ‘tiring’ to look at.
Goodness. If we are being charitable, we could commend them for taking some risks. Then again, did the risk-taking have to get so far. I still think the Buick Signia is the top-trump disaster concept car of recent decades. As I don´t want to cause shock I will let you risk Googling it yourself.
Good Lord, Richard. That Signia looks a bit like a poorly executed hearse conversion of the AMC Pacer. Other than that, words fail me…
Richard, your concern for the sensibilities of DTW’s readership does you credit. I have a cruel streak, apparently:
Interestingly when I googled ‘Buick Signia’ this also popped up:
Vaguely alternate reality Jaguar, possibly?
the XP2000, an alternate Holden Commodore, actually. Abandoned in favor of the Cadillac Catera (Opel Omega B).
The XP2000 was briefly mentioned in Richard Herriot’s analysis of the 1995 Riviera:
I feel the need to tell everyone that I actually saw an 04 plate Crossfire in silver yesterday afternoon!
Here’s an interesting build. Aside from the grille, I like it.