As always, Dodge decided to disappoint us all by sticking the badge to a sedan

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Before embracing the muscle car vibe, Dodge was all about making a halo car able to compete with and even outdo the Corvette. While the fruit of the labor of Dodge’s skunkworks ended up being a front-engined, rear-wheel-drive gorilla of a car that’s glorified even almost 30 years after its launch, the story could’ve been entirely different if a largely forgotten concept from 1988 had been given the upper hand. That concept was the Intrepid.

In an alternate universe, the ’90s gave us a mid-engined Dodge

The Dodge Intrepid Was a Stealthily Disguised Mitsubishi 3000 GT With the Engine in the Middle Exterior
- image 978577

How many American-made production cars can you name that featured a midship philosophy where the engine is placed behind the driver’s head? The latest Corvette is one and then, also from GM, there’s the Pontiac Fiero. Ford raced the mid-engined GT40 and, much more recently, built two generations of the GT. And that’s where the list ends. But it could have included one extra name.

Back in the ’80s, Dodge was busy sending countless Caravans on their way to customers who simply couldn’t have enough of them. Shipping hundreds of thousands of units of such boxy minivans every year filled the company’s pockets and it allowed some within the Chrysler Corporation to dream big. Ultimately, the dream materialized in the V-10-engined Viper RT/10, an ode to Carroll Shelby’s original Cobra of the ’60s that was just as big of a brute.

The Dodge Intrepid Was a Stealthily Disguised Mitsubishi 3000 GT With the Engine in the Middle Exterior
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Brash and loud like a tropical storm, the Viper did its job of giving Dodge a huge boost in the image department but, as a sports car, it was far from clever.

Around the same time that ’Team Viper’ was beginning to come together, Dodge was also toying with the possibility of going down an entirely different path for its halo car. That path was embodied by 1988’s Dodge Intrepid.

Unveiled at that year’s Chicago Auto Show, the candy red Intrepid looked like nothing Dodge fans had ever seen. The low-hung, curvy beast was said to be a "sports car for the ’90s" and featured both pop-up headlights and flush running lights in the front with the taillights perched high up in the corners of the rear fascia.

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The grey rear deck hid an interesting powerplant, albeit not enormously powerful. Named the ’Turbo III’, the Intrepid’s engine was a turbocharged, 16-valve, 2.2-liter four-pot giving out 225 horsepower and 225 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed transaxle handled all that go power although the underpinnings themselves were less than stellar.

Engine turbocharged, 16-valve, 2.2-liter four-cylinder
Horsepower 225 HP
Torque 225 LB-FT

Underneath the eye-catching body hid the chassis of Dodge’s two-door coupe, the Daytona. As such, this was likely the most extreme iteration of Chrysler’s G-platform as the Intrepid’s wheelbase was 1.6 inches shorter than that of the Daytona. Sitting on cast-aluminum wheels, the Intrepid was just under 46 inches tall rivaling the products of another brand that had recently been added to Chrysler’s portfolio: Lamborghini.

Indeed, it was the know-how of the Italian supercar maker that aided Chrysler in bringing the Intrepid nameplate into production but, by the mid-’90s when that happened, the name sat on an admittedly modern-looking sedan. The cab-forward four-door was inspired by the Lamborghini Portofino, a Kevin Verduyn-penned design study unveiled at the 1987 Frankfurt Auto Show, one year before the Intrepid which, in turn, was the work of John Sodano.

What did we end up with?

The Dodge Intrepid Was a Stealthily Disguised Mitsubishi 3000 GT With the Engine in the Middle Exterior
- image 978581

While Chrysler’s top suits ultimately decided that coming out with something that could Challenge the (at the time) upcoming Diablo wasn’t the right thing to do, the Intrepid didn’t go to waste. Sure, the nameplate did end up on a far less exciting project but, at least, its key design cues were bonded together onto a gutsy car, the Dodge Stealth.

The name had presumably a lot to do with the car's genesis in Japan since the project came about after Mitsubishi shook hands with Chrysler.

The latter only did as much as giving the styling to the car that would be sold Stateside while Mitsubishi did everything else. Known as the Mitsubishi GTO inside Japan and as the 3000GT just about anywhere else, the car was a cut above Dodge’s Daytona. Larger, more powerful, and more luxurious, the 3000GT/Stealth could either be had in FWD or AWD guise.

The Dodge Intrepid Was a Stealthily Disguised Mitsubishi 3000 GT With the Engine in the Middle Exterior
- image 978607

The latter option was available if you went for the range-topping Stealth R/T Turbo, a 300 horsepower, twin-turbocharged Mustang beater that went from naught to 60 mph in about five seconds. An added spoiler made it look all that more serious and while the Stealth always battled with some niggly little problems - before being discontinued in 1996 - it remains quite popular to this day. After all, not many American cars can trace their roots back to Nagoya, Japan.

Oh, and if you wonder what happened with the Intrepid’s other key bit, the ’Turbo III’ engine, well, that one didn’t end up in the bin either. Between 1992 and 1993, you could have the sporty Dodge Daytona IROC (which was the sporty version that came in to replace the Daytona Shelby) with the added R/T package.

The cream of the pudding was the 'Turbo III' engine with its 224 ponies and its Lotus-designed DOHC cylinder head and direct ignition system.

The engine could also be had on the Dodge Spirit R/T, the fastest version of Dodge’s replacement for the 600 mid-size sedan.

What about the mid-engined Dodge Viper?

Posted by Abimelec Design on Sunday, February 9, 2020

The stories about the potential revival of the Viper as a mid-engined, Corvette-battling supercar have yet to run dry and, as ever, if there’s smoke, there was once also a spark that ignited it all. In this case, the spark dates back a couple of decades.

It all began, as recounted by Chris Theodore, then Chrysler’s general manager of the small car platform, in 1996. What began with a couple of wooden bucks meant to test engine and gearbox fitment spiraled into full-blown CAD and aero studies since Team Viper was gearing up for the car’s third generation and, as Theodore puts it, some higher-ups had Corvette envy.

The Dodge Intrepid Was a Stealthily Disguised Mitsubishi 3000 GT With the Engine in the Middle
- image 978675

Everyone was monitoring the costs of such a transition with the rule of the house being that it had to cost less than the initial investment made by Chrysler to create the original Viper, which was about $70 million in early ’90s money. "The numbers weren’t terrible [to make a transaxle work]. It was several million [dollars] more than the [forward-facing transmission] approach but nothing catastrophic."

Towards the end of 1996, a trio made up of President Bob Lutz, Engineering Vice-President Francois Castaing, and Head of Chrysler Design Tom Gale handled a presentation on the entire project.

Lutz and Gale were not particularly enthused with the idea of radically altering the Viper’s DNA and, following the retirement of Chief Engineer Roy Sjoberg, the project slowly started to phase out of the management’s interest. Theodore, however, remained adamant that America deserved a mid-engined supercar and ultimately saw it through while working for the Blue Oval.

The Dodge Intrepid Was a Stealthily Disguised Mitsubishi 3000 GT With the Engine in the Middle
- image 978676

Indeed, as Herb Helbig, former Senior Manager of Vehicle Synthesis on the Viper, put it when talking to Road & Track, a mid-engine Viper was against the grain and even the fans agreed. "Somewhere along the line, word leaked that there might be a mid-engine car in the works. And the Viper Nation, as I remember it, was not very excited about a mid-engine car," he said adding that his take was simple: "If you want to build a mid-engine sports car, fine, don’t call it a Viper. Because Viper is a front-engine rear-drive car."

Could Dodge have named it Intrepid and got on with the job? Sadly, by then the Intrepid was already out there as a sedan and, moreover, the cues presented by the 1988 prototype had come and passed once the Stealth was retired at the end of 1996. In short, the time just wasn’t right for a mid-engined sports car to come out of the Chrysler umbrella and when Daimler-Benz came into the picture in 1998, this dreams was finally and completely out of the realms of the possibility.

Michael Fira
Michael Fira
Associate Editor and Motorsport Expert - fira@topspeed.com
Mihai Fira started out writing about long-distance racing like the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the years went by, his area of interest grew wider and wider and he ever branched beyond the usual confines of an automotive writer. However, his heart is still close to anything car-related and he's most at home retelling the story of some long-since-forgotten moment from the history of auto racing. He'll also take time to explain why the cars of the '60s and '70s are more fascinating than anything on the road today.  Read full bio
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