Chrysler Gets Some Hip Designer Style

Photo Chrysler Group LLC

2013 Chrysler 300 John Varvatos.

From the get-go, the Chrysler 300 has had a tough, urban vibe to it. A full-size sedan with optional V8 power under the hood, it somewhat defines a mix of blue-collar roots and a white-collar corner office.

Now, well into its second generation, the 300 gets even more Detroit-meets-Wall-Street cred with the John Varvatos edition. Like the Chrysler brand itself, Varvatos came from Motor City roots to become a fashion name among rock stars, celebrities, and others who want stylish apparel that encompasses a street-tough attitude.

The big Chrysler has always been a rather striking design, with many people remarking that it has a bit of Bentley style to it. The John Varvatos edition pumps up that striking look with a distinct black paint job, set off by muted titanium accents and wheels. I don’t tend to peruse the fragrance counters at department stores, but I’m told that the look of the car was partly inspired by Varvatos’ signature cologne bottle.

Step inside, and the Varvatos touches continue, with a handsome selection of leather (black in my test car), embossed with the designer’s signature graphic. Everything in this interior is just so, with every little detail covered. The instruments, for example. They were patterned after Varvatos’ wristwatch designs. His lower-case name shows up on the speedometer, tachometer, and of course, the analog clock in the center of the dashboard.

Pairing a name designer with a luxury car isn’t a new idea at all. Back in the mid-1970s, Ford Motor Company enlisted the help of several design houses to give the Continental Mark V some extra panache. You could get all fashion-y in a Givenchy, Cartier, Pucci, or Bill Blass Lincoln. Let’s face it, there wasn’t much to brag about in the car world in 1976, so adding some designer touches to the bloated luxury cars was probably a savvy marketing move.

And if we really want to get esoteric, the late American Motors Corp. tried designer editions as well. How about a Gucci AMC Hornet, or an Oleg Cassini AMC Matador? Yes, those cars really existed, as lame as the concept might sound today.

Adding a famous name shows up in Chrysler’s history as well. For 1982, you could buy a Chrysler Imperial FS, for “Frank Sinatra.” Yep, Old Blue Eyes helped out his buddy Lee Iacocca, then head of Chrysler, with his own edition of the company’s top-of-the-line luxury coupe. The dark blue cars all came with a complete set of Sinatra’s albums on cassette tapes in the center console.

In recent years, Fiat (parent company of Chrysler these days) brought out a Gucci edition 500, with the designer’s trademark stripes and signature adorning the car in several places. Even the folding roof of the cabriolet has the red and green Gucci stripes, though I can’t even imagine how much a replacement fabric roof would cost, given the price of a Gucci handbag.

But while there’s often a bit of mockery associated with those other designer (and singer) models of the past, I think the Varvatos Chrysler 300 carries itself a little better. The car doesn’t look in any way garish or ostentatious. It just looks elegant, and rich, like a Varvatos suit or sport jacket.

Even without the designer trim level, the Chrysler 300 is a very nice car. Its roots go back to the days of DaimlerChrysler, when the American brand received some engineering help from then-parent Mercedes-Benz. Underneath the big Chrysler there is essentially a bunch of Mercedes hardware.

If you do step up to the Varvatos model (limited to 2000 examples, per the numbered plaque on the console), there are a few variations. Two interior trim levels are available, and you can be fuel frugal with Chrysler’s excellent V6, or show some muscle with the Hemi V8. My test car featured several option packages and the bigger engine, and wore a sticker price of $52,820.

Designer threads on a tough-looking Detroiter, an interesting, appealing combination. For a person, or a luxury sedan.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave

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