Concept Car of the Week: Dodge Super8 Hemi (2001)

21 April 2016 | by Karl Smith

The Dodge Super8 Hemi was created to evoke the America of the mid-1950s; a time of automotive adventure that pre-dated the Interstate system, one of Route 66, the Lincoln Highway and other seemingly endless ambling routes that led to exotic, far-flung places.

"The Dodge Super8 Hemi embodies the culture and essence of American optimism," said Freeman Thomas, then vice president of advanced design strategy at DaimlerChrysler. "With its distinctive tall stance, Hemi powertrain and telematics applications throughout, the Super8 symbolises everything we loved about sedans then, plus everything we need now."

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Introduced at the NAIAS in 2001, the car was a family sedan unapologetically retro in form and spirit. Its name even recalled the legendary Chrysler Hemi engine – revived for the concept car – and the popular Super8 motion picture camera and film that was the recording medium for many a '50s family vacation.

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The Super8 Hemi was a five-seat sedan designed to be the ultimate in family travel. Its retro-inspired form was dominated by a wraparound windscreen and reverse-swept A-pillars, large wheels and a bold stance all used to help perfectly capture the essence of 1950s tailfinned Forward Look cars of Virgil Exner.

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The body's boxy shape was accentuated by a strong chamfer line that ran just under the glasshouse, and by the three strakes that ran through the doors below. The car featured a very long wheelbase, at almost three metres, and short overhangs at the front and rear. This countered the upright, monolithic 'tall stance' design, used to give the car even more on-road presence.

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"In using the tall-stance concept, we created unique proportions while remaining true to the classic American sedan,” said Kevin Verduyn, then senior design manager at DaimlerChrysler's Pacifica Design Center in Carlsbad, CA. “Although very much a road car, the visual language of the exterior [was] characterised by 'machined' truck-like surfaces that [were] simple and very powerful.”

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The reverse swept A-pillars, a lack of a B-pillar and a strong, arching C-pillar that seemed to carry the roof all by itself, placed great emphasis on the glasshouse in a way that was popular in the '50s, but has fallen out of favour today.

In addition to its proportions, to give the car the road presence of its '50s inspirations, the concept's face featured a strong crossbar motif, borrowed from Dodge truck design. Quad headlamps at the extreme upper corners of the fascia evoked late-1950s Chryslers, too, but the design team stopped short of going full retro and adding the massive chrome bumpers and rubber dagmars that characterised the era.

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"The Dodge Super8 Semi's interior conveys a certain nostalgic optimism expressed in a modern, purposeful design," said interior designer Bill Chergosky. "I not only borrowed design cues from cars of the '50s, but other evocative aspects from that era, such as jukeboxes and diners."

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The instrument panel was festooned with retro gauges, a jukebox stereo system, and jet-turbine air vents. The four-speed 'AutoStick' automatic transmission was operated by buttons, in a nod to the 1950s vision of the triumph of hydraulic technologies over the tedium of the gearshift and clutch.

The steering wheel was constructed of high-strength plastic and wood bound with an aluminium frame. Brushed and polished aluminium also featured on the IP and door cards, and most expressively on the transmission tunnel which looked like a jet engine protruding through the floor of the cabin.

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The interior was designed using a 'Passenger Priority' philosophy that included higher-set front seats than a conventional sedan, for a better view, while the rear seats were higher still, theatre style for an even better view out of the side windows and panoramic roof.

The car also included a high-tech 'Infotronic' infotainment system, created by Chrysler's nascent research team in Silicon Valley, that included screens for all passengers, with access to navigation maps, games and internet linked systems like home security cameras.

The Super8 Hemi was meant to be a halo car that would herald things to come, while acknowledging the firm's illustrious past. It would also preview the Chrysler 300 that still features a similarly bold presence and attainable big American luxury character that has made it a strong seller to this day.