Photography by the Manufacturer
While foreign automakers are in a race to catch up with Mercedes-Benz's CLS "four-door coupe," Chrysler could become the first automaker to bring a four-door retractable-top sedan to market. Plans are for such a car based on the next-generation Chrysler Group LX platform, no earlier than the 2010 model year.
Think of the update Chrysler made to its LH full-size front-drive platform in the 1998 model year, and you've got an idea of the type of evolution the LX will undergo. The basic architecture will remain unchanged, but updates will improve refinement. It's too early for Chrysler to have a locked-in design for the next 300. If the two generations of LH (Chrysler Concorde, Dodge Intrepid) are any guide, the next 300 will be a more mature, refined version of the current car. Trendy design cues like the "gangster"-style roofline and Bentley-like eggcrate grille will be updated.
Chrysler launched the LX platform in early 2004 with the 2005 300 and Dodge Magnum and later added Charger. The next-generation LX must support more models and create new trends. Both the retractable-top convertible and a new Dodge Challenger expected in the 2009 calendar year are examples of how Chrysler Group plans to remain hip and competitive.
Specialty builder and supplier ASC Incorporated unveiled its Helios concept, based on a 300C four-door sedan, at the Detroit show last year. The Helios is a ragtop with a lattice structure to provide expected levels of body rigidity. The structure cut into trunk space and turned the five-seat 300 into a four-seater. ASC said it could be profitable to Chrysler at $4000 above the sticker of a 300 sedan.
But Chrysler has rejected the ASC design and chosen Austro-Canadian specialist manufacturer Magna Steyr instead to build its 300 retractable sedan in North America. Magna Steyr is the combination of Canada's Magna International and Austria's Steyr-Daimler-Puch. Magna International's president is Mark Hogan, a rising corporate star and lifer at General Motors until he left for the supplier in late 2004.
A complex folding steel roof covering four doors in a large sedan seems difficult, but Magna Steyr is one of the biggest suppliers in the business. If Chrysler can carry this off, a retractable sedan top will add more prestige to keep it at the forefront of leading-edge design.
Europeans call them "vario-roof" cars, and although they've been around for a long time, they're not easy to do. The ASC-built Chevy SSR launched in 2003 with a short first-year production run because of development problems. The retractable-roof Pontiac G6 four-seater is about to launch after several delays.
But vario-roof cars are clearly the Next Big Thing as automakers strive to deliver the evocative wind-in-the-hair sports-car driving experience without the downsides of noise, leaks, and lack of security.
• 1937 Peugeot Eclipse
Peugeot built more than 100 examples of this four-seat retractable-roof coupe, based on its 402L model.
• 1957 Ford Skyliner
The full-size, V-8-powered retractable-roof car was produced for three years.
• Hasta la Vista, SSR
It's official. Chevrolet ends production of the SSR sport truck after a buildout of 700 units on March 17. ASC assembles the SSR for General Motors. Going into the 2006 model year, Chevy and ASC had built about 19,400 since its launch in 2003.