1923-present: Chrysler Corporation
Walter Percy Chrysler was a pioneer and innovator in automobile history. Previously of Buick and Willys, Walter Chrysler obtained Maxwell-Chalmers in 1923 and the Chrysler Corporation was soon formed. The first car to bear his name, the Chrysler Six, was created in 1924 and became a sensation with its 6-cylinder 70mph performance and for just a mere $1,525 over 43,000 were sold in 1925. The development of the 6-cylinder roadsters offered an excellent performance for a low price. Their 3rd and 4th place finish in the 1928 LeMans, along with over 100,000 cars sold by 1925 was one of the bricks in the foundation that rivaled other automakers such as General Motors and Ford. In May 1928 the Plymouth Motor Corporation and the DeSoto Motor Corporation are formed and by July 1925 Chrysler took over Dodge Brothers, Inc and by 1929 Chrysler had sold 98,000 vehicles.
Chrysler introduced the Airflow, the DeSoto Six, Chrysler Eight, Chrysler Imperial Eight and Chrysler Custom Imperial Eight in 1934. Chrysler was soon entering into a higher level of competition with its Imperial design which rivaled the Duesenberg in style, but was more affordable at a third of the price. Even though the Airflow was ahead of its time with its sleek design and great gas mileage, Chrysler faced some struggles with their styling designs which limited their sales success. In 1935, Chrysler debut the more conventionally styled Airstream line and Deluxe Eight and continued to remain cautious in their endeavors although they did adopt the independent front suspension and hypoid rear axles, steering-column gear change, safety cushion dashboard, and optional fluid drive transmission from 1939 onward. Chrysler learned from their mistakes and developed the New York Special soon named the Chrysler New Yorker which would eventually become one of America’s longest running automobile namesakes from 1938-1996.
Early post war design followed the 1942 models closely with wooden exterior trim in station wagon style, or “woodies” on the new Town and Country sedans and convertibles. During the time of America’s most powerful cars and engines, Chrysler broke new ground in 1951 with a 5.4 liter overhead valve V8 with hemispherical heads, fully automatic transmission and the option of hydraulic power-assisted steering. These HEMI engines created more horsepower than previous V8s and would soon become legendary. On cars made between 1956 and 1965, the Chrysler Corporation offered a featured product of the push-button controls for automatic transmissions.
The cautiousness of styling became apparent in 1954 when Chrysler ran a distant 3rd behind General Motors and Ford. To put them back in the running, a new range of ‘300’ coupes and convertibles were manufactured with a 6 1/4 liter V8 and produced more bhp than any of their rivals and could possibly be considered the first muscle car. The 300 developed into the 300C in 1957 with distinguishing tailfins and a standard 392-cubic-inch 375hp HEMI with Torqueflite transmission making it the fastest production car built in America that year. By the 1960s the corporation was able to extend its motor-car interests into Europe and Chrysler acquired the majority of interest in Simca of France and the Rootes Group of Great Britain. Another overseas venture was Chrysler Australia Ltd of Adelaide who from 1956 to 1963 built a Royal model with a 5 liter V8 engine which eventually gave way to a version of the Plymouth Valiant.
By 1965, Chrysler sales had increased 65 percent and was ranked 9th place among automakers. Consequently, by the early 1970s oil embargo Chrysler had made an unfortunate investment in new large cars at a time when mid-size and smaller vehicles were more desirable. This forced Chrysler, along with its competitors, to make extensive and costly changes to their product lines. The change in design brought about Chrysler’s new small car, the Cordoba. It quickly became of the era’s most unforgettable cars and their unique styling continued into the 80s and 90s.
In 1998, Chrysler was purchased by Daimler-Benz, and became known as DaimlerChrysler and it effectively ended the era of the “Big Three” automakers (G.M., Ford, and Chrysler). With this new merger, Chrysler returned to its roots of design excellence and developed the Chrysler 300M and 300C, PT Cruiser, the Town & Country minivan and the Crossfire sports car. However, Chrysler still remains one of the leading American automotive manufacturers, best known for their many engineering features and leading performance edge.