Curbside Classic: 1997 Dodge Intrepid ES – This Changes Everything


(first posted 3/29/2013)    As a child of the nineties, I feel blessed to have grown up in a decade of so many breathtaking car designs. I naturally feel a small wave of nostalgia every time I see one of my favorites. One of those cars is the Dodge Intrepid. When the LH cars (Chrysler Concorde, Dodge Intrepid, Eagle Vision (CC here) came along in 1993, they completely changed the automotive landscape, signaling the end of the K-car and the beginning of Chrysler’s newest fad for the next decade: Cab-Forward.

CC Intrepid brochure

Now I’m sure we all remember the proclamation of “Cab-Forward” in every single piece of literature and commercials Chrysler used to advertise these cars. But just what exactly did it mean? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like: The passenger cabin was moved forward to the point where the windshield started over the front wheels. With all four wheels pushed out toward the corners, overhangs were reduced and passenger space was increased.

CC 1994 Dodge Intrepid ES

Short hood and long deck. Steeply raked front and rear windshields. Large lower air intakes. Wind-cheating profile. In its day, the Intrepid looked like a true four-door sports car.


The origins of the LH design date back to the 1987 Lamborghini Portofino concept by Kevin Verduyn. Given its mid-rear engine (from the Lambo Jalpa), cab-forwardness was essentially a given. Translating it to a FWD family sedan was another matter.

The LH’s design inspiration may have come from the Portofino, but its underpinnings had a more prosaic starting point: the Renault 25. The largest sedan built by Renault, it had the typical Renault north-south, ahead-of the-front-axle engine layout that would carry over to the LH.

Dodge Diplomat

In between the 25 and LHs was the AMC Premier (later the Eagle Premier/Dodge Monaco), which AMC’s Francois Castaing had shepherded through development and put into production at AMC’s new Bramalea, Ontario plant. When Castaing came along to Chrysler from AMC after its acquisition, he determined that the new LH cars would be based on the Premier/Monaco and built at Bramalea.


Prior to the AMC acquisition, Chrysler had been developing a new large, FWD car; penned by Hal Sperlich, it supposedly looked like a Dynasty on steroids. That project was tossed aside in favor of Castaing’s plan to base the LH on the Premier. The engineering mules were built up from Premiers, and although many details of the final production LH were, of course, changed, its R25/Premier origins were impossible to hide under its sleek new exterior.

Naturally, the LHs were treated to a new engine, the OHC 3.5-liter V6, as an upgrade over the base OHV 3.3-liter V6. At the time, this was an ambitious program, since mass-production V6 engines of this caliber (214 hp) were hardly common.

Of the three LH cars, the Intrepid sported the most futuristic styling, with its grille-less front end, blacked-out C-pillars, smoked-lens full-width taillights, and lack of brightwork. Sorry, no Intrepid Broughams here, although a front bench seat was optional.CC DodgeIntrepidint2With no Plymouth variant, the base Intrepid was the least costly LH, and thus the best seller of the trio. Why it was thought that an Eagle variant would be more profitable than a Plymouth, I’ll always wonder. I firmly believe that Plymouth still had a chance in 1993, but that’s an issue for another day.


Intrepids are one of those cars that always catch my eye. Every time I see one, I can’t help but laugh, thinking of the commercials I remember for the 1998 second generation.

As a kid I used to imitate the big, booming voice that proclaimed, “Dodge Intrepid. This Changes Everything!”CC DodgeIntrepidint4As I was driving through a parking lot, this candy-apple red Intrepid caught my eye. Thanks to the gold alloy wheels, I immediately knew it must be an ES. I circled back around for a better look.


Other than the minor scrape on the front fender, the body is in good condition. From the pictures, you can tell the paint has faded a bit, but this is a twenty-year-old car, and it looks much better than the peeling paint on many other Chryslers of this vintage. Apparently the “21-step paint and finishing process” highlighted in the 1996 Intrepid brochure was no match against time.

Although not the most memorable Dodge in the minds of people today, at the time of its introduction, the Dodge Intrepid and its siblings were game changers, that spearheaded Chrysler’s 1990s renaissance. The first in a series of expressive, forward looking designs, the Intrepid truly changed everything.