Chrysler Group's first press conference of the 2006 NAIAS brought warmth onto the company's Cobo Hall stage with two top industry executives, two design teams led by Chrysler senior styling guru Trevor Creed, and two of the most exciting concept cars this year's Detroit Auto Show will unveil. A skit with Tom LaSorda, Chrysler Group President and CEO, officially accepting the reins (and a memorable collection of hats from previous auto show stunts from around the world) from Dieter Zetsche, Chairman and CEO of DaimlerChrysler AG, was memorable and lighthearted for journalists who will see dozens of new models introduced over a three-day time span, but it was the sheetmetal icons from decades ago that truly raised the heat. The Chrysler Imperial Concept took an enthusiastic second place to the recreation of a pony car that muscled up to the brawny, big boys of the early seventies -- the Dodge Challenger Concept. But, even further flavor and pizzaz was added to the stage when "Desperate Housewives" actress Eva Longoria lusted after the concepts -- instead of the presenters. "I'm desperate for one of these," enthused Longoria, pointing to the new cars.Based on the 1970 Dodge Challenger, the new hip-looking performance coupe was penned in Chrysler's West Coast Pacifica design studios and rides on Chrysler's LX platform that also founds the Charger, Dodge Magnum and Chrysler 300. So far this rear-drive architecture has proven immensely popular, especially when combined with Chrysler's Hemi V8 engine. What's even better about the two-door concept, shown in day-glow orange with black carbon fiber exposed in the striping on the long hood, is that the standard 5.7-liter 340-hp Hemi is replaced by a 6.1-liter version putting out 425 horsepower. Paying homage to the past is a pistol grip shifter that operates the concept's six-speed manual transmission, but modern-day technology abounds, punctuated on the outside by a rear light panel illuminated by diffused neon technology. The Dodge Challenger Concept rides on a 116-inch wheelbase, six inches longer than the original icon, but is more squat as it sits two inches wider and has a higher "thrust" line running in a horizontal arch through the fender and door to its kickup just in front of the rear wheel. The Challenger rides on five-spoke, 20-inch chrome wheels, while the driver-oriented interior has a ribbed steering wheel. With Ford revealing the Mustang Shelby GT500 and Chevy a new Camaro Concept at this year's NAIAS, the Challenger concept represents Dodge's desire to maintain muscle car superiority.
Photos by Ron Perry