Chrysler brand celebrates 90 years

AutoTrader NZ
Published 3 September 2020

Walter P. Chrysler built a company and a brand that wasn’t afraid to push the limits and think outside of the box. In 1925, when he realized his dream of creating his own company, he dedicated the company’s efforts to excellence in engineering, while building affordable, luxurious cars at a price consumers could afford. That tradition continues today.

Through the last 90 years, Chrysler vehicles were known for innovative engineering, groundbreaking style and “looking more expensive than they were,” the forerunner to affordable luxury.

1920s – The first Chrysler branded vehicle was born as part of Maxwell Motors: the Chrysler Six. Walter P. Chrysler was Chairman of Maxwell Motors prior to establishing Chrysler Corporation in June 1925. Priced at $1,565, the light, powerful vehicle had a groundbreaking L-head six-cylinder engine and four-wheel hydraulic brakes, an uncommon feature in the 1920s. Additional Chrysler Six features included tubular front axles, full pressure lubrication, aluminum pistons, replaceable oil and air filters, shock absorbers and indirect interior lighting.

1925-1930 – Early Chrysler vehicles provided style and power, but were also affordable, which contributed to the brand’s rapid success. Early models were named after their top speed: the Chrysler 58 had a top speed of 58 miles per hour (mph); a Chrysler 72 could go a max 72 mph and so on. In 1926, Chrysler introduced a more powerful and costly Imperial model, giving Chrysler a response to Cadillac, Packard and Peerless.

1930s – The 1930s brought the Great Depression in the United States and technology took hold in the automotive industry. Chrysler survived the Great Depression with stylish, economically priced cars and its reputation for practical, advanced engineering. Beginning in 1931, Chrysler introduced a number of engineering feats.

1940s – The Chrysler Thunderbolt was introduced in 1940. Walter P. Chrysler, founder of the company and the brand, died in August 1940. The early 1940s saw the development of the “Vacamatic,” a four-speed gearbox with two ranges. The driver used the clutch in the normal way by selecting either a Low (1-2) or High (3-4) range.

1950s – 1951 was the birth of what would be one of the most recognized, powerful engines in the automotive industry, the hemispheric-head V-8 engine, otherwise known as the HEMI. Initially installed in the Chrysler Saratoga, New Yorker and Imperial, the HEMI operated with exceptional volumetric efficiency and delivered truly thrilling performance for its day. The engine’s lower compression ratio also let the HEMI run on lower octane fuel than most V-8s at the time.

1960s – The brand continued to produce “style and speed” with the 300 J, as well as “affordable luxury” with the Newport line and the New Yorker.

The 1960s brought the move of all of Chrysler’s cars to unibody construction, rather than body-on-frame construction. Unibody construction is lighter, which helps to improve performance and fuel economy, and it is also designed to dissipate energy in a crash by enabling the frame to crumple and bend in specific ways, which allows the kinetic energy to travel through the car’s body, around the passenger compartment.

1970s – The muscle car era came to an end as a result of stricter emissions and safety rules, rising insurance rates and a trend toward less expensive vehicles.

Electronic ignition is standard on all Chrysler vehicles in 1973, 5 mph front crash bumpers and 2½ mph rear crash bumpers are mandated and anti-theft devices operate the horn and lights.

1980s – A financial crisis forced the brand to return to the basics. In 1981, the Chrysler Imperial received a makeover to be one of the most distinctive cars of the year with hidden headlamps, knife-edge fenders and a unique “bustleback” rear end. Each car got a 5.5-mile road test at the assembly plant before it was delivered to the dealer.

1982 brought the debut of the Chrysler brand K-car, the all-new front-wheel-drive Chrysler LeBaron. 1982 also saw the debut of the LeBaron Town & Country “woody” wagon, as well as a LeBaron convertible, the first convertible from Chrysler in a decade.

1990s – All Chrysler products are now front-wheel drive, and all Chrysler 1990 models offer a driver’s side airbag as standard equipment, leading the industry with this emerging safety technology. The 1990 model year brought the introduction of the world’s first luxury minivan, the Chrysler Town & Country. It sported imitation wood paneling and luxury accommodations and other features typically not found on a minivan at the time.

2000s – With the merger of the Daimler and Chrysler companies, Chrysler continued to develop cars that people wanted, as well as taking a page from the minivan playbook by inventing vehicles that created new segments in the marketplace.

2010s – The Chrysler brand, after emerging from bankruptcy and now a part of Fiat Chrysler, continues to engineer excellence with an entirely all-new lineup of vehicles in the pipeline.

In May 2014, as part of the FCA US LLC five-year plan, Chrysler brand refocused it efforts and returned to the founding principles of Walter P. Chrysler: a mass-market brand that delivers innovative engineering, groundbreaking style and most important, all of this at a very attainable price. Chrysler products today are a value proposition that Walter P. would be proud of.