COAL: 2005 Chrysler Crossfire – The Undercover German

Now that my youngest son is old enough to drive, it’s time to add yet another car to the Halter household. He wanted something small and sporty, with two doors and ideally two seats. He also wanted something “Exotic” (or at least uncommon), at least to the extent possible within his price range. We soon settled on a Chrysler Crossfire, the unloved offspring of the DaimlerChrysler merger. When we found this pristine example a few months back, I knew we had to have it.

2005 Chrysler Crossfire Engine Compartment

Engine compartment still looks virtually brand new after 15 years.

For those unfamiliar with it, the Chrysler Crossfire was built back in the DaimlerChrysler era using hand-me-down parts of the first-generation R170 Mercedes-Benz SLK. While using a dated (but proven) platform was scandalous back in the day, 15 years later I find this to be highly reassuring. The mechanicals of the R170 SLK and Crossfire are among the last of the old-school Mercedes-Benz, when engineering excellence still mattered over all else. The 18-valve 3.2L M112 V6 engine (Mercedes’ first V6 engine) has a reputation for being virtually indestructible. It was also viewed as somewhat primitive at the time, as it sported three valves (and two spark plugs) per cylinder at a time when customers expected four (or five) valves per cylinder.

Contrast this to the R171 SLK, whose M272 V6 and 7G-TRONIC 7-Speed transmissions both have developed reputations for being brittle and failure-prone. I should know: I’ve put thousands of dollars into both the engine and transmission on my R171 2006 SLK280.

So the Crossfire got the last laugh: It may have been the ugly stepsister with dated components, but they were also proven. Its cousin, the beautiful R171 went to the ball, it eventually got turned into a pumpkin with weak mechanicals (OK, I’m messing up the story here, but roll with me).

But enough about the mechanicals. The real appeal of the Crossfire is the styling. The large (for 2005) staggered wheels and tires (18” front, 19” rear) combined with the absurdly short wheelbase gives the Crossfire the appearance of a life-sized Hot Wheels toy car.

2005 Chrysler Crossfire

Dorsal fin runs the length of the car, even on the top of the dashboard. Note the joint between the roof and windshield.

Yes, the front end looks too much like a third-generation Sebring (which actually came out after the Crossfire), but once you get past that, there is eye candy all over the place here. A side character line that goes from concave to convex. Center exit exhaust trumpets. From the boat-tail rear end (that evokes an AMC Marlin) to the dorsal fin that runs the length of the roof (and is carried over on the dashboard), there is a lot to like here.

Oh, do you know what other car has a dorsal fin character line? The Bugatti Chiron!

I’ve owned many small cars (including two-seaters) over the years, but this one is the smallest of them all. You sit closer to the rear wheels than the front, with your head closer to the rear window than to the front windshield. This, coupled with the long hood and overall cab backward styling, gives you the impression of driving from the back seat. This feeling of being in the back seat is amplified when you exit the car, which is right by the rear wheels and hatchback.

Driving the Crossfire is about what you would expect. Don’t let the Chrysler badge fool you – once underway everything you see, hear, and touch is pure Mercedes-Benz. The doors are heavy and close with a solid, satisfying thunk. Anyone who has ever been in a R170 SLK will feel right at home, as other than the silver color the switchgear is exactly the same. The steering (despite being a recirculating ball unit) is quick and precise. The roof is low and the side windows are gunslits thanks to the chop-top styling.

The short wheelbase and low-profile tires understandably lead to a choppy ride. The interior trim pieces are hard plastic (no doubt to service the weatherability requirements of the roadster model), and there is no good place to rest your right arm. The lower seat cushions are a little firmer (and shorter) than I would like, but they are embroidered, power-adjustable, heated, and look suitably expensive.

Shared bits with the Crossfire roadster show up in one other unexpected place: The windshield frame and header on the coupe is shared with the roadster, necessitating a rubber seal in the joint between the roof and windshield, similar to a C5 Corvette fixed-roof coupe. This gives the coupe the impression of being a retractable hardtop, even though the roof is fixed. Luckily I have not observed any of the water leakage problems that have plagued the Corvette FRC.

These are unusual times in the Halter household. Thanks to COVID, I have been working 100% from home since March, and likely will continue to do so on a permanent basis even post-pandemic (my wife has always worked remotely). As I alluded to in my last COAL update, the four cars that I now own seem like at least one too many, so we decided to sell the 2015 Audi Q3, with it being older and having more miles than the recently purchased A3. (nb: I transferred the title of the 2009 Audi TT over to my oldest son a few years back when he turned 18, since he paid for most of it anyway).

This leaves the Halter motor pool in an interesting situation. For the first time since 2006, there are no SUVs of any kind in my garage. All of my remaining vehicles are compact cars, with the A3 being the largest, and two of the three are two-seaters(!). For those keeping score, my motor pool currently stands as follows:

So far, things are working out well. With both of my kids now being independently mobile, I have little need for a large passenger vehicle. Even with both my wife and I driving it, the A3 barely goes through a tank of gas per month. The few times a year when I need to haul large items like trees or mulch, the rental truck from Home Depot or U-Haul (which lets me rent a truck immediately from my phone app any time day or night) serves quite nicely and is way cheaper than owning and keeping such a vehicle. Who says you need a pickup truck?

In a few more years, once the kids have graduated from college, I’m thinking there may be room in my garage (and budget) for one more recreational car. I really like the styling of 1940’s fastbacks, and right now I’m leaning towards a 1946-50 bathtub Packard, but I’ve got plenty of time to think about it. I’m sure when the time comes I will enlist the help of the readership here in selecting and locating a suitable vehicle.