I totaled my 1997 Chrysler Cirrus in early 2000 and needed to find a new car before the insurance rental coverage ran out. The Cirrus was paid off so I had a nice check in my hand from the insurance company for a down payment. I had some cash from bonuses and overtime (thank you, Y2K crisis) but I was holding on to that to pay for our September wedding.
Now, my fiancée and I had truly liked the Cirrus and went back to the dealer to check out the 2000 model. What we found is that Chrysler had barely changed anything since the car’s introduction in 1995 and it now seemed rather outdated.
The things that had changed didn’t impress me. On cars with the tan interior the dark brown dashboard was a practical choice that reduced glare on the windshield. Now it was as light as the rest of the interior, and it made it look cheap. The sporty, perforated leather seats had been replaced with bunched leather that almost pushed the interior into LeBaron territory. I wasn’t feeling it.
Sensing my disappointment, the dealer pointed me at a Chrysler Concorde LXi, which (despite being a somewhat larger car) could be had for only a bit more money. Now in its third year on the second generation LH platform, it was certainly a lot more car for the money. I’d certainly been reading a lot about the 300M but it was a bit out of my price range.
When the 1998 Concorde was introduced, I thought it was the ugly duckling of the LH trio. I looked like they were shooting for Jaguar but ended up landing on Catfish. By the year 2000 I had gotten used to seeing them around, and if I didn’t find them attractive they didn’t offend me, either. The license place bracket toned down the fish-mouth effect a bit.
For the test drive we tried a maroon car with a tan interior. It was certainly comfortable. The 225-horsepower 3.2 liter V6 moved the car very nicely, indeed. The route around town and on the highway proved to be very pleasant. Most of my driving these days was on the Interstate, and this would make for a very comfortable highway cruiser.
It’s funny the little details you focus on. I distinctly remember thinking that on the tan interior the brown plastic on the HVAC vents looked weirdly cheap. I asked to see a car with a black interior and he brought me to one painted in a very sharp Deep Slate pearl coat. This was Darth Vader’s car. The black interior looked a lot better, even if the fake wood looked very, very fake. My fiancée gave me the thumbs up and I was off to make the deal.
In hindsight I probably should have left and done a bit more research and shopping. However, I still wanted to buy American and GM and Ford were off my list, so I was probably staying in the Chrysler family, anyway. I think mostly I just wanted the whole car situation to be done so we could move on with wedding plans.
Initially, I didn’t have any issues with the Concorde at all. Certainly, it was reliable and got us where we needed to go comfortably and without fuss. The Infinity sound system and in-dash CD changer kept me entertained on long commutes to client sites.
If I had a problem at all it was with visibility. The small rear window and high trunk led me to back into light pole at least once, leading to some minor cosmetic damage that I had repaired without involving the insurance company. The low front end meant I had to be careful pulling into parking spaces since I couldn’t see where the front of the car ended. If I wasn’t careful there would be a loud scrape as the air dam hit the parking block.
I had one real accident in the Concorde, but this time it wasn’t my fault. It was a snowy night as I was driving in the right lane of a four-lane state road. Running down the middle of the four lanes was a median and a metal barrier. A bit ahead of me in the left lane a car hit an icy spot and began to fishtail. I slowed to avoid them but they slowed even more. One of their fishtail swings caught my passenger-side fender as I swerved, pushing me into the median barrier as I got to experience my second ever airbag deployment.
The Concorde still ran, but with the headlights busted and the airbag hanging out of the steering wheel I couldn’t drive it home. The other driver’s insurance company took care of everything once mine put the screws to them. The car was repaired and all was well.
The next year I had left the IT consulting company for a steadier corporate job. A regular job meant a regular schedule, which was a nice perk for a newly married guy. Also, with Y2K behind us I could see the writing on the wall. Business was down, offices were closing, and if I was going to leave it was going to be my choice. (Sure enough, a year after I left they instituted across-the-board pay cuts, and shortly after that the Connecticut office where I had worked had closed).
This was where I fell out of love with the Concorde. Half of my new commute was smooth highway sailing. Well, not exactly smooth because that stretch of highway was notorious for bad drivers, and many days were stop-and-go as we navigated around the latest crash. I got very good at finding alternative routes.
The other half of my commute (the route I took to get to the highway) was a hilly and twisty state road. It was a drive that would have been a lot of fun in a 300M or anything else remotely sporty. The Concorde, however, which had been so nice on the highways fairly wallowed into the turns, forcing me to slow down significantly to feel safe. It grated on my nerves and became a daily ordeal.
After a few years of this I decided that I’d had enough. The Concorde was paid for and I wanted to drive something that wouldn’t annoy me. Maybe something with a hatch for more utility. Or all-wheel-drive to handle those snowy days. Maybe even something that wasn’t built in North America. But what?