Historic Car Brands
Walter Chrysler had arrived at the ailing Maxwell-Chalmers company in the early 1920s, hired to overhaul the company’s troubled operations after having done a similar rescue job at the Willys-Overland car company. In late 1923 production of the Chalmers automobile ended.
1923 Maxwell with comedian Jack Benny and actress Eve Arden.
The first Chrysler-produced cars were introduced on January 5, 1924, at the New York Automobile Show — one year before Chrysler Corporation itself was created. These cars were Maxwells, powered by a new high-compression six-cylinder engine.
This engine was notable for having a seven-bearing crankshaft, a carburettor air cleaner, replaceable oil filter and four-wheel hydraulic brakes. Features like this had never been offered in a medium-priced car before and the 32,000 first-year record sales proved the popularity of this model.
1924 Chrysler 70 – John-Gamez.
In 1926, Chrysler Introduced the Chrysler 70 that was named for its ability to hit 70mph. This car came with innovative rubber engine and spring mounts. By 1927, Chrysler was offering the 50, 60, 70, and Imperial 80. Chrysler was fourth place in sales with 192,082 units delivered. In 1928 Chrysler invested $23 million to expand its plants.
The Maxwell brand was dropped after the 1925 model year, with the new, lower-priced four-cylinder Chryslers introduced for the 1926 year being badge-engineered Maxwells.
The advanced engineering and testing that went into Chrysler Corporation cars helped to push the company to the second-place position in U.S. sales by 1936, which it held until 1949.
1928 Plymouth – Chrysler Archives.
In 1928, the Chrysler Corporation began dividing its vehicle offerings by price class and function. The Plymouth brand was introduced at the low-priced end of the market – created essentially by reworking and rebadging Chrysler’s four-cylinder model.
1932 De Soto Sedan – Lars-Goran-Lindgren
At the same time, the DeSoto brand was introduced in the medium-price field. Also in 1928, Chrysler bought the Dodge Brothers’ automobile and truck company and continued the successful Dodge line of automobiles and Fargo range of trucks. By the mid-1930s, the DeSoto and Dodge divisions traded places in the corporate hierarchy.
In 1930, Chrysler began wiring the Chrysler Model 70 and 77 for radios. Chrysler also became the first car to offer the downdraft carburettor and a new cam-driven fuel pump.
1931 Chrysler Imperial eight-cylinder engine – Joe-Mabel
For the 1931 model year a new in-line eight-cylinder engine was available and Chryslers received new radiator grilles and automatic spark control. The new eight-cylinder engine range consisted of four straight-eights, ranging from 240 cu in to 385 cu in displacement.
The largest eight put Chrsyler’s Imperial models into the luxury class. Its crankshaft ran in nine main bearings and made 125hp with standard 5.2:1 compression. An optional 6.2:1 ‘Red Head’ raised horsepower to 135hp.
1932 Chrysler Imperial CH Sedan – Sicnag.
The 1932 Chryslers introduced Floating Power rubber engine mounts which eliminated most vibrations from the chassis. A vacuum-controlled automatic clutch, patented Oilite, oil-retaining bearings and the first universal joints with roller bearings.
In 1933 Chrysler models received a host of new improvements, including a new three-speed manual transmission that used helical gears to reduce noise.
In 1934 the Chrysler Six introduced independent front coil spring suspension and received vent windows that rolled down with the side glass.
1934 Chrysler Airflow – Randy Stern.
But the big release that year from Chrysler was the revolutionary Chrysler Airflow, which included a welded Unibody, a wind tunnel designed aerodynamic body for a better power to power ratio, and better handling.
In 1935 Chrysler introduced the Plymouth based Chrysler Airstream Six which gave customers an economical modern alternative to the radically styled Airflows. The Airflow received an updated front hood and grille for 1935.
1935 Chrysler Airstream Coupe – B R Knott.
For 1936, the Chrysler Airflow received an enlarged luggage compartment, a new roof, and a new adjustable front seat. The Airstream Six and Eight of the previous year was renamed the Chrysler Six and Deluxe Eight. The Automatic overdrive was optional to both cars.
For 1937 the Airflow range was reduced to one model, the C-17 Airflow, which received a final facelift, but only 4600 were built.
1936 Chrysler Six
The Chrysler Six and Chrysler Eight were respectively renamed the Royal and Imperial, and gained isolated rubber body mounts to reduce road vibrations.
In 1938, the Chrysler Royal received the new 95hpGold Seal, in-line-six. For 1940 Chrysler introduced sealed-beam headlights and the performance-oriented Saratoga was added to the Newyorker range.
In 1941, Chrysler introduced a fluid-drive, semi-automatic transmission.
1942 M3 Grant tank – AlfredPalmer.
On the eve of US entry into WW II, Chryslers were redesigned with wrap-a-round chrome grilles and concealed running boards. Civilian production stopped by February 1942 and Chrysler began making the M3 Grant tank that figured in Britain’s defeat of Rommel’s Africa Korps and, later, the Sherman tank that helped push back the Nazis to Berlin.
Chrysler Town & Country – Greg-Gjerdingen
For 1946, Chrysler redesigned the 1942 cars and reintroduced the Town & Country model.
In 1949, Chrysler came out with the first all new redesign in almost a decade. Chrysler also moved the ignition to key-only instead of having a key and push button start. (Interesting that a push-button start was viewed as ‘modern’ in the early 2000s.)
For 1950, Chrysler updated what were viewed as conservative 1949 models, by lowering them slightly, updating the grille, and replacing the chrome fin tail lamps with flush units.
1951 Plymouth Cranbrook Sedan – Sicnag.
Also in 1950 Chrysler introduced disc brakes on the Imperial and the new Chrysler Newport hardtop, along with power windows and a padded safety dash.
Chrysler introduced its first overhead-valve, high-compression V8 engine in 1951, Displacing 331 cubic inches, it was rated at 180hp – 20 more horsepower than the new-for-1949 Cadillac V8. It was unique, being the only American V8 engine with hemispherical combustion chambers. After winning Mexican road races, the engine was upgraded to 250hp by 1955.
1951 Imperial Convertible – Lars Goran Lindgren.
Although Chrysler didn’t have the capital to build a small sporty car to compete with the Corvette or Thunderbird, the decision was taken to build a sporting car, based on the New Yorker hardtop coupe, that featured a 300-hp ‘Hemi’ V8.
The first Chrysler 300 had the grille from the Imperial and side trim from the less-adorned Windsor. A PowerFlite two-speed automatic transmission was the only available gearbox.
1955 Chrysler C 300 – Greg Gjerdingen.
The Imperial name had been used since 1926 for top-shelf Chryslers, but was never a separate make. However, in 1955, the company decided to spin it off as its own make, to better compete with its rivals, Lincoln and Cadillac. This addition changed the company’s traditional four-make lineup to five: Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto, Chrysler and the now-separate Imperial.
1953 Imperial Two-tone dash – C Z Marlin.
A 1955 restyle by newly-hired Virgil Exner saw a dramatic rise in Chrysler sales, which rose even more in 1957, when the entire line was dramatically restyled a second time with a sloping front end and high-flying tail fins.
Although initially well-received, the new Chryslers suffered from quality issues. Also, there were problems with its fledgling electronic fuel injection systems and sales plummeted in 1958 and 1959, despite improvements in quality.
Exner’s designs for the Chrysler brand in the early 1960s were overblown versions of the late 1950s, which were unhelpful in sales. Exner left in 1962.
1960 Valiant – Emdx.
The Valiant was introduced in 1960 and became a big hit in the USA and Australia. It was launched a 225 cu in slant-six engine that produced 145hp – around 50-percent more than the Falcon and Holden competition.
The DeSoto make was discontinued in 1961 and from 1963 to 1969, Chrysler increased its existing stakes to take full control of the French Simca, British Rootes and Spanish Barreiros companies, merging them into Chrysler Europe in 1967.
In the 1970s, after the 1973 Oil Shock, an engineering partnership was established with Mitsubishi Motors and Chrysler began selling Mitsubishi vehicles branded as Dodge and Plymouth in North America. However, Chrysler struggled to adapt to the changing environment of the 1970s. Imperial was folded back into the Chrysler brand in 1971.
Chrysler could not meet the demand for smaller vehicles and additional burdens came from increased import competition in the USA and tougher government regulation of car safety, fuel economy and emissions in all global markets.
As the smallest of the ‘Big Three’ US automakers, Chrysler lacked the financial resources to meet all of these challenges. In 1976, there were more major reliability problems across the Chrysler range.
1978 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham – Greg Gjerdingen.
In 1978, Lee Iacocca was brought in to turn the company around and, in 1979, Iacocca sought US government help. Congress later passed the Loan Guarantee Act that provided US$1.5 billion in loan guarantees.
After a period of plant closures and salary cuts that management and the auto unions agreed to, the loans were repaid with interest in 1983. In 1985, Diamond-Star Motors was created, further expanding the Chrysler-Mitsubishi relationship. In 1987, Chrysler acquired American Motors Corporation (AMC), which brought the profitable Jeep brand under the Chrysler umbrella.
2006 Chrysler Crossfire (Mercedes-Benz platform) – OSX.
In 1998, Chrysler and its subsidiaries entered into a partnership dubbed a ‘merger of equals’ with German-based Daimler-Benz AG, creating the combined entity DaimlerChrysler AG. Nobody seriously believed there was anything like ‘equality’ in the deal.
The Eagle brand was retired and Jeep became a stand-alone division. In 2001, the Plymouth brand was also discontinued.
On May 14, 2007, DaimlerChrysler announced the sale of 80-percent of Chrysler Group to American private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, L.P., thereafter known as Chrysler LLC, although Daimler continued to hold a 20-percent stake.
The economic collapse of 2007 to 2009 pushed a now-fragile Chrysler to the brink. On April 30, 2009, the automaker filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, to continue to operate as a going concern, while renegotiating its debt structure and other obligations.
On June 10, 2009, substantially all of Chrysler’s assets were sold to ‘New Chrysler’ and the federal government provided support for the deal with US$8 billion in financing, but implicit in that action was the knowledge that Fiat would take over Chrysler, which happened officially in July 2011.
Chrysler Down Under
Chrysler Australia Ltd was established in June 1951 and made a substantial investment in Australian manufacturing facilities. It consolidated assembly from other state capitals to its expanding operations in Adelaide.
Initially, Chrysler Australia assembled North American Chrysler passenger cars and trucks. Its most popular car in the 1950s was the US sourced badge engineered trio: Plymouth Cranbrook, Dodge Kingsway and De Soto Diplomat, each based on the 1954 US Plymouth. A coupe utility variant was also developed by Chrysler Australia.
1960 Chrysler Royal AP3 – GTHO.
In 1957, Chrysler Australia consolidated each of the badge-engineered marques in one car— the Chrysler Royal. This was a face-lifted version of the 1954 Plymouth and continued in production until 1963. The Royal starting life as a side-valve, six-cylinder, with three-speed manual column gear change. It was progressively upgraded, with power steering, push-button ‘Powerflite’ automatic transmission and an OHV V8.
The saving grace for Chrysler at this time was the French Simca Aronde — a popular four-cylinder compact car which Chrysler Australia assembled from CKD kits. Local engineers developed an Aronde station wagon unique to Australia, with a then-novel wind-down rear window and tailgate.
In both 1958 and 1959 Chrysler Australia released Plymouth Belvedere, Dodge Custom Royal and DeSoto Firesweep models which were imported from the US in CKD form and assembled. All had V8 power and were replaced by the Dodge Phoenix in 1960 that continued until 1973.
Beginning in 1962, Chrysler Australia assembled the American Plymouth Valiant, marketed as the Valiant by Chrysler. By 1963, there was a local version, the AP5 Valiant, with distinctive styling giving the car a separate identity from the US Plymouth and Dodge variants.
Through the 1960s, Chrysler expanded the Valiant range, with two-door hardtop, long wheelbase (VIP) and sporty (Pacer) variants.
Chrysler VF Valiant Regal Sedan – GTHO.
Also, in 1966, with the Chrysler USA acquisition of the British Rootes Group, Chrysler Australia took over Rootes Australia. The principal Rootes model sold in Australia was the Hillman Hunter and this car became a steady seller for Chrysler until 1973.
Hemi 245 engine – Riley.
In 1970, Chrysler introduced the unique-to-Australia ‘Hemi’ six-cylinder engine. Although this engine was based on a US engine design for trucks, it was never produced in North America.
Chrysler Valiant VH Ranger – Sicnag.
The Valiant was a good seller, but never quite gained the level of market acceptance as its major competitors — the Holden and the Falcon.
In 1971, Chrysler Australia released the Valiant VH model that was significantly wider than earlier Valiants, with the lineup including the memorable Valiant Charger. This was a short-wheelbase two-door hardtop version of the standard Valiant. The car had distinctive sporty styling, including an integrated rear spoiler.
1972 Chrysler Valiant VH Charger – Sicnag.
By the mid-1970s, sales of the Valiant range stalled, as people moved into more economical cars, but the Valiant hung around until 1981.
1976 Chrysler Centura KB GL Sedan – Jeremy
In 1975, Chrysler introduced the Centura with a choice of a two-litre (four-cylinder) and 3.5-litre or 4.0-litre (six-cylinder) engines, and two equipment levels, XL and GL. The ‘KB’ Centura was based on the European Chrysler 180, which had been introduced in Europe in 1970 – five years earlier. As a result it was seen as ‘old hat’.
In 1971, Chrysler Australia began building the Mitsubishi-designed Chrysler Valiant Galant and that led to the very successful 1977 Chrysler Sigma.
1980 Chrysler Sigma GE SE Sedan – GTHO
In 1979 Mitsubishi took over Chrysler Australia and the company name was changed to Mitsubishi Motors Australia Limited. Mitsubishi continued to build the Valiant models with Chrysler badging until August 1981.
Chrysler returned to Australia in 1994, importing Jeep, Chrysler and Dodge vehicles. After early 2021 Fiat-owned Chrysler became part of the Stellantis Group.