This “Dodge M4S” is a Wraith reincarnated
Racing is now a multi-billion dollar industry, with big-name sponsors familiar to anyone who watches TV or has visited a grocery store. And with big money comes big scrutiny over how it’s spent. Somewhere along the line the motorsport marketing brain trusts got wise to some of racing’s more exuberant promotional strategies, smoothing over kooky, outlandish approaches in favor of milquetoast sticker packages. Perhaps the most glorious of these goof-fueled marketing efforts was the glut of wild pace cars that ran in the CART PPG Indy Car World Series in the 1980s and early ’90s. Then, as now, PPG was an automotive supplier largely unknown outside of the auto industry, but the ambitious, imaginative pace cars it sponsored made a big impact.
PPG pace cars were heavily customized and ran the gamut of brands; everything from Ford to Ferrari nameplates paced a PPG race in this era. Many were loosely based on a production vehicle, as pieces like doors, windscreens, and quarter panels tended to be costly to create from scratch for such a narrow purpose.
Then there were outliers, like the Buick Wildcat (1985) and the 1986 Dodge M4S. These were PPG pace cars that creatively showcased the possibilities of their respective brand’s performance potential—most notably the use of turbocharging.
Chrysler designer Bob Ackerman was the man behind the M4S’s radical, streamlined body. The website Allpar noted that he was asked to “Have fun. Go wild!” with this PPG-backed project. And the M4S is anything but subtle, with low-slung, minimalist styling and a teardrop profile good for a 0.236 coefficient of drag. More detailed information on the build can be viewed here, but the sleek M4s had a top speed of 194.8 mph thanks to a heavily modified Chrysler 2.2-liter four cylinder making 440 horsepower and 25 psi of boost.
I had a hard time in my research discerning which races in the Indy Car World Series had the M4S pacing the field, but Allpar states that the M4S was shuttled to Tucson, Arizona shortly after its appearance at the Detroit Auto Show in 1986. The why of Tucson is the real gem: the M4S had a starring role alongside Charlie Sheen in The Wraith, a sci-fi action film with Knight Rider-esque undertones. The car was renamed the “Turbo Interceptor,” and much like a reincarnated Michael Knight had KITT, the Dodge aided a man who was killed under mysterious circumstances in a town under siege by gang violence. The story was the perfect formula a cult classic, and the movie earned only limited showings in theaters across the country.
While The Wraith was never Oscar worthy, the movie’s Rad-1980s vibes paired well Bob Ackerman’s minimalist wedge styling and Chrysler’s turbocharged mill. Six Dodge M4S clones were made for filming, and the blueprints behind them make for an interesting twist to the M4S’ story. (More on that later.)
The original M4S pace car survived movie production, serving only as the hero car for beauty shots rather than abusive live-action scenes. After its role in The Wraith, the car resumed pacing races for CART Indy Car (presumably) before spending the rest of its days at the Walter P. Chrysler museum.
That is, until the museum permanently closed in 2016. Since then, the M4S remained in private hands, rarely seen by the public.
The auction ended prematurely (possibly because the seller made the error of posting his phone number) but Barnfinds dug deeper and found a Facebook page dedicated to the M4S. To my delight there was a video showing the in-car experience, a moment that will either excite or disappoint you:
While it’s great to see an M4S in action, the more recent addition of a 996 (or 986?) Porsche dashboard and steering wheel housing a modern gauge cluster, audio system, and HVAC controls leaves me with questions. Is this not the original? Or perhaps Dodge didn’t have the time or money to make an interior like the Buick Wildcat’s radical cockpit? Thus a modern dashboard helped the M4S transform into a usable street car?
For more answers, I dug my heels into additional research knowing that it would only be a matter of time before it resurfaces on social media take me no time at all to find a YouTube video. Published last week, the video alters the trajectory of this story:
Turns out, the particular M4S in the footage posted on the Facebook page is actually tribute car, made from an elongated Porsche Boxster. And what a feat of engineering this passion project truly is! Watch the video to learn more, but it sounds like this is one of many more replicas in the pipeline. What are the odds that the blueprints behind the MS4 replicas made for The Wraith were saved all these years, and someone else is now in possession of them? Will the M4S get reincarnated like Charlie Sheen’s character in the movie?
Indeed, the M4S could make a DeLorean style comeback, even if The Wraith wasn’t nearly as popular as Back To The Future. Mass production of the M4S is impossible, but the owner is making all the right noises when it comes to replication of this cult classic from the 1980s. Who knows, maybe a future example will have an EV powertrain with a soundtrack worthy of a Sci-Fi superhero?
Regardless, the thing I love most about this tribute is that it’s in the spirit of the original PPG cars—fun, entertaining, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. What a thing!