In 1987, Chrysler purchased the bankrupt Italian carmaker Lamborghini to add an exotic brand to its portfolio. In celebration of its acquisition, Chrysler announced it would unveil a futuristic concept car at the Frankfurt motor show bearing a unique logo with the Italian raging bull framed inside Chrysler's famous Pentastar.
It was during an internal aerodynamic study that designer Kevin Verduyn drew the lines of a four-seater sedan concept called the Navajo. The project never passed the clay model stage, but in 1987 Bob Lutz recognized its potential and a few minor tweaks later, the Portofino was born.
The A-pillar sitting far forward and the low diving nose introduced the signature elements of the innovative 'cab-forward' architecture Chrysler would use until the mid-2000s. Besides pushing the cabin forward, the rear wheels were also shifted backwards, making the interior much bigger while also improving ride and cornering. It would also dramatically break from the brand's traditional models with their vinyl roofs and wire wheels.
Despite heavy proportions and a huge wheelbase, the overall design remains light thanks to the DLO wrapping around the rear to create a semi-floating roof and providing high amounts of light inside. The floating rear spoiler would make it into production on the Dodge Stealth.
It was built on a Jalpa chassis lengthened by 660mm to accommodate two extra seats and also borrowed the Jalpa's 225bhp 3.5L V8 engine and transmission. If the performance didn't promise anything spectacular, the doors were typically Lamborghini, with front scissor doors – like the Countach – and rear-hinged suicide rear doors. The spectacular pillarless opening revealed the spacious interior finished in three shades of blue with yellow plastic accents and yellow piping around the seats and doors.
Within the factory, Lambophiles were unimpressed by Chrysler's vision for the brand and christened it the ‘Big Potato'. It did, however, win a string of design awards and the cab-forward design made it into the LH platform, which includes the Dodge Intrepid, the Chrysler Concord and Eagle Vision.
In 1991 the concept was nearly destroyed in transit but Chrysler, aware of the importance of the car in its design history, had it fully restored. It now sits on permanent display at Daimler/Chrysler World Headquarters and Tech Center in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
First seen 1987 Frankfurt motor show
Designer Kevin Verduyn
Engine Lamborghini 3485cc V8, 225bhp
Top speed 240km/h
Your author, Flavien Dachet, is a UK-based, French-born car designer. You may know him as the purveyor of KarzNshit, a photo blog that if isn't already in your bookmarks, certainly should be.