16 January 2004

The numbers are truly unbelievable: 0-60mph in 2.9sec, 0-100mph in 6.2sec, standing quarter mile in 10.6sec, top speed 248mph. These are slingshot dragster times that belittle even the mighty McLaren F1, still Autocar’s favourite supercar.

Chrysler is better known for building lacklustre cars such as the Voyager MPV, boring Neon saloon and the once-trendy PT Cruiser. But it is deadly serious about building the audacious 850bhp ME412 – or Four-Twelve, according to the badge – to steal the title of world’s fastest-accelerating production car from the much-delayed 987bhp Bugatti Veyron.

‘This is a prototype, not a concept,’ vowed Wolfgang Bernhard, chief operating officer at Chrysler and former boss of AMG. He wasn’t alone among Chrysler execs keen to build it. ‘We would love to do it, because it will lift the brand,’ said Dieter Zetsche, Chrysler CEO. ‘We’ll spend the next months looking at the business plan to find the right price/volume ratio. Our aim is to build between 10 and 2000.’

That’s Zetsche’s view. Other senior executives suggest it could be from one car a month, or up to 100 cars a year, for a couple of years. It will be priced somewhere between the £100,000 Ford GT and the £425,000 Ferrari Enzo.

At the heart of the mid-engined exotic is an AMG-developed 5980cc quad-turbo version of Mercedes’ 60deg V12 that pumps out a staggering 142bhp per litre. Peak torque of 850lb ft is available from 2500-4000rpm.

All that grunt passes through a seven-speed Ricardo twin-clutch gearbox, based on the transmission developed for the Veyron, on its way to the rear wheels. The absence of all-wheel drive helps account for the low 1310kg (dry) weight, with 58 per cent over the back axle.

Suspension, developed by Roush Industries, is by cast aluminium double wishbones with pushrod spring/damper units which are both driver-adjustable. Huge 381mm carbon disc brakes come from SGL, the same German supplier as the Merc SLR’s brakes, while steering is by electrically power-assisted rack and pinion, with 2.4 turns lock to lock.

The carbon body is built around a carbonfibre and aluminium honeycomb tub, and Chrysler claims a slippery – for a supercar – drag figure of 0.36Cd. The idea for the ME412 comes from Bernhard, who wanted to top last year’s Detroit Tomahawk, the V10-powered four-wheel bike. ‘We asked what would be the ultimate, most difficult challenge we could come up with in terms of design and technology. Pagani was our inspiration. If Horatio’s tiny team could build the Zonda, why can’t we?’

Trevor Creed, the Brit who heads Chrysler design, said his team benchmarked the Ferrari Enzo, Porsche Carrera GT, Zonda and McLaren F1. ‘We asked could we go one better?’ Chrysler people visited Pagani in the early stages, but claim the ME412 owes nothing technically to the AMG-powered Italian supercar.

Creed asked the ME412’s stylists, Brian Nielander (exterior) and Mark Walters (interior, and also responsible for the Tomahawk), to come up with a car that’s obviously a Chrysler and American. The result is bigger than normal supercars: 4542mm long and 2000mm wide, with a 2795mm wheelbase.

Creed said: ‘This is part of the rebirth of Chrysler. There was no old DNA we wanted to hold on to. We are defining the new Chrysler and need to change people’s perceptions of the brand, just as the Viper did for Dodge.’

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