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Second-Hand: Chrysler Intrepid, Concorde, Vision, LHS, New Yorker

The first-generation LH sedans -- Intrepid, Concorde, Vision, LHS and New Yorker -- debuted in 1993 to critical acclaim.

  • The image of cars on a parking

By the early 1990s, Chrysler Corporation had wrung every possible permutation from its versatile Kcar platform, except for, perhaps, an Oscar Meyer wienermobile.

Its money-saving scheme of building derivatives from one platform paid off: Chrysler discharged its debts early and entered the 1990s flush with cash.

It was time to start with a fresh sheet of drafting paper.

The first-generation LH sedans — Intrepid, Concorde, Vision, LHS and New Yorker — debuted in 1993 to critical acclaim.

Developed for the bargain-basement cost of US $1.5 billion, these large cars were like a bolt of lightning out of clear blue sky.

“Polished for more than show, they are of a calibre that we once suspected Chrysler could not comprehend, emulate or equal, let alone enhance,” wrote one critic.

The cars were the first volley in a $17.4 billion spending spree that would see the company completely replace its product line during this decade. The LH platform was a signal to the

world of Chrysler’s newfound engineering prowess.

Chrysler also showed impeccable timing, launching these big Bramptonbuilt cars just as the economy was warming up and Americans were shedding their econo-boxes for cars as big as

their elasticized britches.

CONFIGURATION

With a 0.31 drag coefficient, these were the slickest sedans available at the time, save for those wearing the Audi rings.

Their claim to fame is space. Large on the outside, the LH cars are cavernous inside, with the cabin stretching 200 mm longer than a Crown Victoria’s from windshield to rear window. It’s welcome space, too, if you’ve ever ridden in the back of a police cruiser (so we’ve heard).

Need more room? The LHS and New Yorker versions, while using the same wheelbase, provide an extra 76 mm of legroom by mounting the rear seat further back (the wheel wells begin to

intrude on these models, while the seatback in the shorter cars is flat — a rare achievement).

Buyers could opt for a bench set up front, increasing seating capacity to six. All models were equipped with a four-speed automatic transmission and dual airbags. While optional, you’d

be hard-pressed to find one without air conditioning.

ON THE ROAD

The Intrepid and gang earned accolades for their road manners. Powered by one of two V6 engines — a torquey 153 hp 3.3 L push-rod motor or a 24-valve SOHC 3.5 L that produces 214 hp

the cars deliver good acceleration and outstanding handling.

Control responses have been characterized as intuitive, belying the cars’ bulk. The steering is light and the suspension yields a ride that is free of harshness while controlling body motions admirably.

The firmly suspended Intrepid ES rewards the driver with even less squat, dive and roll — foibles unbecoming of good road cars. Braking is considered midpack or slightly better than

average, depending on the model.

OWNERS RANT

Sales of Roget’s Thesaurus experienced a brief spike as auto journalists ran out of superlatives to lay on the Intrepid and its siblings.

Owners who wrote to us agreed the LH cars are beautiful, first-class rides. Especially given the reasonable purchase price (new or used).

But what auto reviewers never see are the repair bills. And the LH drivers who wrote in their comments have had more than their share.

“There were so many problems in my car that at one time I was afraid to drive it,” starts off Brian Wong’s note about his ’95 Intrepid ES. A faulty, unpredictable transmission was at the

root of Wong’s fears. Eventually, it was fixed to his satisfaction, but the car continues to be plagued with “abnormalities.”

The automatic transmission caused a lot of consternation among owners of 1993 to ’96 models. Complaints included rough shifting, missed or delayed shifts, clunking noises, fluid leaks

and complete breakdowns. Owners reported repair costs ranging from $1,100 to almost $2,000.

A second major source of complaints was the air conditioner. Chrysler was proud of its CFC-free system, which debuted on several 1993 models. But the refrigerant r134a, while

ozone-friendly, does not transfer heat as efficiently as bad old freon.

Consequently, compressors work harder to provide adequate cooling. Chrysler thought it had the problem licked: the system on the LH cars was rated at the equivalent of 33,000 BTU —

almost two tonnes — enough to cool a house.

Still, almost every letter and email we received listed problems with the LH’s air conditioner. The cost of a compressor and/or evaporator replacement is just shy of $1,000 and some

owners reported having theirs repaired more than once.

Other deficiencies included premature brake wear and poor front-end componentry, such as tierod ends, control arms and bushings.

Tony Anzivino wrote: “The car loves to eat front brakes, no matter how you drive. You can count on a new set of brakes every 40-50,000 km.” Alistair Brown, who purchased a new Eagle Vision TSi, needed a brake job after travelling less than 20,000 km. Chrysler refused to replace the brakes under warranty. Defective water pumps, and water leaks into the cabin, added

to the litany. John Allen of Leak Pro, a company that helps dealers solve persistent leaks in customers’ cars, wrote that the LH cars are susceptible to wind and water leaks due to poor

weather-stripping around the door openings.

His cure involves stretching the material back in place and applying urethane. “There is not a single Intrepid out there that does not leak,” he claims. Check the spare-tire well for pools of water. Bad metal fit and poor application of sealer are the likely causes.

Since acquiring a used 1994 Chrysler LHS two years ago, Bruna Simmonds has spent $8,000 on engine, air conditioning and frontend repairs. She is furious with Chrysler for the excessive

repairs, which she attributes to manufacturing defects.

But as a testimony to Chrysler’s styling savvy, Bruna is considering buying a 1999 Intrepid anyway.

WE NEED YOUR FEEDBACK: We would like to know about your ownership experience with the following models. Please note the deadline dates.

Nissan Quest and Mercury Villager, by Sept. 16

Saturn, by Oct. 21

Send your letters and comments to Second-hand, c/o Wheels section, Toronto Star, One Yonge St., Toronto M5E 1E6. Fax 416-865-3996. Email: toljagic@idirect.com

Mark Toljagic, a freelance Toronto writer, contributes Second-hand once a month.

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