Dodge Decepzione

Story by Nicholas Maronese

In 1989, Dodge birthed one of the most jaw-dropping prototypes of the decade by getting their friends at Lamborghini—remember: for a few years, Chrysler owned Lamborghini—to help them stick a way-too-big engine into a platform in which it didn’t belong.

Sorry, what’d you say? “A truck engine into the Viper”? No, no, no, I’m talking about the Daytona Decepzione prototype. Y’know, that all-black G-body hatchback with the Lambo Jalpa V8 stuffed under the hood…

It was a match made in heaven, or, more accurately, Jack Stavana’s mind: take the transverse-mounted 250-horsepower 3.5-litre V8 out of Lamborghini’s Silhouette-successor, drop it into a Dodge Spirit engine bay, affix that bay to a Daytona and get ol’ Carroll Shelby to rig up an AWD system so Jack can hear all four tires chirp.

Chrysler wanted to see what could happen if they tapped into the bull-badged brand’s parts bin, and Stavana gave them (as my old colleague Brad would say) spaghetti, meatballs, and barbecue sauce: an American sports compact with an Italian heart. It took some work, of course.

As mentioned above, the 90-degree V8 simply wouldn’t fit between the Daytona’s fenders, necessitating the Spirit-bay swap. A two-inch offset hood scoop was needed to clear the quartet of Weber carbs, and fitting the five-speed Getrag trans and the viscous-couple center differential for the AWD took some finagling. Stavana swapped out most of the rear suspension for a four-link setup and beefed up the struts up front so they could handle the added 350 pounds of that engine.

Appearance-wise the car was an inch wider, longer and taller than the base Daytona, and generally looked more aggressive thanks to a set of flared fenders nicely stanced around low-pro Goodyears on three-piece OZ rims.

It was all-black. Because, y’know—Decepzione. (Speaking of that name: yes, it doesn’t translate. It’s a made-up “Italglish” word that’s supposed to be a little Italian and a little American, like the car.)

In a pun-tastically-headlined article at the time – we wish we’d come up with “Mother’s Little Jalpa” – Car and Driver’s Barry Winfield found the car had a very Italian feel, and sound for that matter. (One you could “feel as well as hear,” a “deep staccato beat [with] strong rumbling overtones.”)

During his test drive he said torque peaked in the 3,200-rpm range, but that the needle would climb off the Daytona’s dial to redline at 7,500. It wasn’t hard to bury the speedo past its 125-mph limit either, and 60 mph arrived from zero in around six seconds.

So why did Chrysler never go ahead with, at the very least, a second prototype? Most sources point to the too-tall V8 block, which, even with a cut-down oil pan, cleared the pavement by a mere 1.5 inches. (Stavana had a shield made up for it, because, yeah, it came down hard on that thing a lot, per Winfield’s test, anyway.)

Jack Stavana left for Mazda shortly after, just in time to mastermind the marketing for the Miata and, later, be involved with MazdaSpeed's revitalization. He apparently said that after five years of working with Chrysler, there just “weren’t fresh ideas” in Detroit. I'm sure Banovsky can dig up an obscure car or two to challenge that claim. 

Nicholas Maronese is a freelance Canadian automotive writer. His work can be seen on autofocus.ca.

Sources / Recommended reading