Name: Chrysler Atlantic
Debut: 1995 Detroit Auto Show
Engine: 4.0-Liter Straight-Eight
Output: 360 Horsepower
Drive Type: Rear-Wheel Drive
The Chrysler Corporation was a design powerhouse in the 1990s. The mid-size LH family of 1993 – Dodge Intrepid, Eagle Vision, Chrysler Concorde and LHS – brought accolades for their aggressively cab-forward designs, as did the cheerful and spacious Dodge and Plymouth Neon compact cars. But the automaker also became known for its dreamy show cars, the most famous of which was probably the Chrysler Atlantic.
The concept made its debut at the 1995 Detroit Auto Show, wowing onlookers with its retro styling and powerful proportions. Tom Tremont, one of the Atlantic’s designers, said in a 1995 episode of Top Gear that the idea for the car came about in 1993, after the company’s then-president Bob Lutz and design chief Tom Gale returned from the Frankfurt Motor Show and Paris Concours d’Elegance. Lutz’s napkin sketch on the plane ride back became a “free ticket for the designers to express their pent-up emotion for that romantic period of car design,” per Tremont.
The final design came from Bob Hubbach – who also penned the Dodge Viper GTS concept – and clearly shows that romance and dramatic flair. A prominent centre rib starts from the pointed nose and runs over the bonnet, roof, boot, and glass, recalling the Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic (which also donated its name, obviously). The split grille is reminiscent of a 1947 Delahaye Saoutchik, while the pontoon wheel arches and rounded side windows take inspiration from the 1937 Talbot-Lago T150SS “Teardrop” – my favourite design of all time.
The 21-inch front and 22-inch rear wheels were massive for the era, but they pale in comparison to some of the rollers found on those pre–World War II coachbuilds. The finned, disc-shaped design borrows more than a few notes from the Bugatti Type 41 Royale, thoroughly appropriate for Chrysler’s love letter to the era.
The story is similar inside. A crisp line runs down the dashboard and through the full-length centre console, connecting the four-seat cabin with the exterior. An analogue clock and temperature gauge appear on the centre stack with mother-of-pearl faces, paired with the beige and deep red upholstery to give the Atlantic a sophisticated, Art Moderne look. And although I might have liked to see a full wood dash à la the 1930s Chrysler Airflow and Imperial, restrained use of extraneous trim helps the Atlantic’s interior look relatively modern, even after almost 30 years. The same cannot be said of many 1990s show cars.
It Actually Ran And Drove
Unlike many of today’s concepts, which have tiny electric motors to get on and off the stage and little else, the Chrysler Atlantic was built to drive using a modified version of the Dodge Viper platform. Underneath the long bonnet is a 4.0-litre straight-eight engine built out of two Chrysler Neon 2.0-litre four-cylinders laid end to end. The inline eight-cylinder design was yet another throwback to 1930s luxury, and it made a decent 360 bhp.
Underneath the long bonnet is a 4.0-litre straight-eight engine built out of two Chrysler Neon 2.0-litre four-cylinders laid end to end.
At the rear is a four-speed automatic transaxle from the front-drive Chrysler LHS but flipped to the back, with a robust torque tube going through the centre tunnel from the engine to the gearbox. The Plymouth Prowler would later use the same powertrain layout, though with the LHS’ 3.5-liter V6 underbonnet instead of a V8. Despite the engine’s reasonable output, the Atlantic wasn’t particularly quick, as the transmission wasn’t geared for the massive wheels.
The Atlantic wasn’t seriously considered for sale, although engineers made sure the Viper’s V10 would have fit in the engine bay, and the steel bodywork – coachbuilt in grand pre-war style by Gaffoglio Family Metalcrafters in California – was more production-ready than the styrofoam and fibreglass that many show cars use.
Chrysler even let a few members of the automotive media drive the Atlantic, albeit at a modest pace on closed roads. A review appeared in the 19 April 1995 issue of Autocar magazine, and Chris Berry drove the Chrysler concept for that aforementioned Top Gear episode. The TV host hypothesised that a production version of the Atlantic would likely cost $100,000, nearly double the price of a contemporary Dodge Viper RT/10.
Where Is It Now?
The Atlantic is a part of Stellantis’ historical vehicle collection, and it occasionally makes an appearance on the auto show circuit. It recently showed up at the 2023 Lime Rock Concours and was spotted by a Reddit user who was able to inspect the Chrysler’s mechanical components and listen to its straight-eight start up and drive away.
While it would have been great for Chrysler to build an ultra-luxurious two-door to do battle with the Mercedes-Benz S500 Coupe and Aston Martin DB7, its chances of long-term survival would have likely been slim. But alongside the automaker’s innovative engineering and competent production cars, the Atlantic showed how talented Chrysler designers were as well. And thank goodness it still shows up here and there, ready to wow onlookers today just like it did 29 years ago.