Chrysler is one of the Big Three of the United States automotive industry. The group, Chrysler Group LLC, now holds famous brands such as Dodge, Jeep and Fiat. As a brand, Chrysler still has major relevance in the industry. In 2012 alone it sold over 300 000 vehicles in the United States. It’s History goes back a long time. Its founder, who gave the company it’s name was Walter Percy Chrysler. His strong ambition, tendency to take big (calculated) risks and his background in the railroad and automotive industry greatly contributed for the success of the company. He was born in 1875. After spending the first years of his life in the railroad industry, he moved to Buick and General Motors (from 1911 until 1919). It was after his retirement from General Motors that he decided to accept a proposal to revive the company that soon would hold his name: Maxwell. In a famous quote of his, Walter P. Chrysler said: “Had I been Aladin, I am certain that after just one wish or two, I’d taken that old lamp apart to see if I could make another, better lamp”. The philosophy behind this idea describes his work in Maxwell. With a group of fabulous engineers, he was able to transform a company with lots of potential, but that had reached its lowest dept, into one of the biggest and most famous in the U.S.
In 1904, with Maxwells design and Benjamin Bricoe’s money, Maxwell-Briscoe was founded. In 1909 it produced the Model H. It featured a hand throttle on the steering column in addition to the foot throttle.
In 1910, after watching the successful formation of General Motors, Briscoe tried to promote the formation of a new big corporation that would include hundreds of small (and not-so-small) car manufacturers. The creation was not successful but it would be the foundation for what would later become the Chrysler Corp.
Maxwell Motor Company until Walter P. Chrysler joined it
By the end of World War One, America’s automobile industry was booming. It was led by Ford’s Model T.
After the 1910 combine collapsed (in 1913), Maxwell continued alone. In 1917, while Maxwell production was increasing, Chalmers (another motor car company) production was decreasing. Chalmers agreed letting Maxwell use their plant while Maxwell dealers would sell Chalmers’ cars. Eventually, Maxwell would end up owning Chalmers (in 1922).
In 1919, the cars had the gasoline tank moved to the back, like on most modern cars.
Chrysler joined and teamed up with Zeder, Skelton and Breer
In 1921, while Ford produced 900 000 Model Ts, Maxwell produced only 16 000 vehicles. Having left G.M. recently and on the last year of a two years contract at Willy’s Overland, Walter P. Chrysler was seen as the best possible solution for Maxwell. He was invited in and named chairman. Along with him, a team constituted by Fred Zelder, Owen Skelton and Carl Breer, also known as “The three Musketeers”, was crucial for the success of the company. Having received a big loan, Chrysler lowered the car prices as a much as possible to sell more. This type of policy matched Chrysler’s idea of making “luxury” vehicles affordable. By 1922 Maxwell was able to double the production. New engines were equipped with a new crankshaft (3-bearing) that would reduce vibration and increase engine’s life. Still in that year, the engineering team started designing a new car at Chrysler own expenses. It would replace the current Maxwell. It would be the first American car to have a high compression engine and it would be capable of reaching 70-75 mph (an impressive number). In adittion it would be the first car under the name Chrysler. In order for the car to reach production, Walter Chrysler would need an extra $5 million from the bankers. The only way to convince the bankers would be to have good feedback from the people of importance in the automotive scene. In 1924, Chrysler was able to present the car in an eccentric (but effective) way and was able to convince the bankers.
The first Chrysler Six
The revolutionary car was named Chrysler Six. Besides the innovative high-compression engine, it had, for the first time in a passenger car, four-wheel hydraulic brakes.
The Chrysler Corporation. Close to stock market crash
In 1925 the company sold more than 130 000 cars! This was the year when Maxwell Motor company became the Chrysler corporation with Walter P Chrysler as president.
A couple of years later (1928) Chrysler launched the famous Plymouth. It could cost under $700, which was relatively low price. That fact proved to be a salvation in difficult times ahead. In the same year, Chrysler purchased the Dodge brothers company, which was known for the reliability of its cars.
The stock market crash in 1929 meant difficult times ahead. Sales dropped drastically. In fact, in America, the annual production of automobiles dropped to more than half in 1930 (2.4 million cars produced). However, in that same decade, Chrysler developed one of the most remarkable American cars: the Airflow.
Chrysler had earned its reputation as an Engineering company and the 1930s confirmed it. In the beginning of the decade it was the first major company to adopt a downdraft carburetor that soon became popular. Shortly after, it introduced new 8-cylinder engines that would be used in the new Imperial 8. Still in 1931, costing much less than its rivals, the Imperial series now featured welded steel rustproof bodies that proved to be able to support a full grown elephant (in a publicity stunt). In 1932, as the depression deepened, Chrysler had to cut production dramatically. However, that didn’t stop him from introducing many novelties. The most relevant one was the floating power engine mounts that greatly reduced vibrations.
Maybe more importantly for the history of the company was that the engineers, leaded by Carl Breer, were testing in a wind tunnel a revolutionary new type of car that would become the Airflow. “Those tests showed that conventional cars should really travel back-ward in order to use air currents to the maximum advantage.” (Dammann, 1974: 180)
In 1934, combining modern concepts of aviation and car design, a new streamlined look and engineering successes, the Airflow was finally launched. It was a car ahead of its time for many reasons. One of the reasons was it had an aerodynamics-based design that made it faster and more fuel-efficient. Besides that, the car featured floating power, power steering, 50/50 weight distribution, an automatic overdrive transmission, a split or one-piece curved windshield (first use of curved glass on a production car) and a full steel body.
The fact that it was a car so ahead of its time and, particularly, the way it looked, caused initial resistance from the general public. The unexpected market difficulties forced Chrysler to introduce sober looking versions of the Airflow, which people would accept better.
Later on, the Airflow would be recognized as an American Icon. Modern vehicles adopted its features.
By 1935, Walter P. Chrysler was elected chairman of the corporation.
(To be continued on Part 2)
1. Dammann, George (1974). Seventy Years of Chrysler. Sarasota: Crestline Publishing Company. Comments: Very detailed source.
1. Chrysler Group LLC. (2013). Chrysler Group LLC – Home. Available: http://www.chryslergroupllc.com/Pages/Home.aspx. Last accessed 22th Oct 2013. Comments: Relevant to know Chrysler’s group.
2. Chrysler Group LLC. (2013). Chrysler History. Available: http://www.chrysler.com/en/this-is-chrysler/history/. Last accessed 20th Oct 2013. Comments: Relevant to understand and contextualize Chrysler’s history details.
3. Chrysler Group LLC. (2011). Welcome to the History of Chrysler. Available: http://www.chryslerhistory.com/. Last accessed 22th Oct 2013. Comments: Chrysler’s history explained by the Chrysler company itself.
4. Lee Iacocca. (2007). Chrysler. Available: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1360859/Chrysler. Last accessed 22th Oct 2013. Comments: Accurate and concise summary of Chrysler’s History written by the ex-president and chairman of the board in Chrysler Corporation.
5. United Auto Workers. (2012). Chrysler Group Statistics. Available: http://www.statisticbrain.com/chrysler-group-statistics/. Last accessed 22th Oct 2013. Comments: Relevant to understand Chrysler’s position and evolution in terms of sales.
6. Walter P. Chrysler Museum. (2009). Three Musketeers – ZSB. Available: http://www.chryslergroupllc.com/company/Heritage/Heritage Documents/Chrysler Heritage 1800/Three Musketeers.pdf. Last accessed 22th Oct 2013. Comments: Relevant information about Chrysler’s most important group of Engineers at the beginning.
7. 2013. Chrysler Group LLC Reports December 2012 U.S. Sales Increased 10 Percent –Strongest December Sales in Five Years; Full-Year Sales Up 21 Percent — Strongest Annual Sales Since 2007. Available: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/chrysler-group-llc-reports-december-2012-us-sales-increased-10-percent—strongest-december-sales-in-five-years-full-year-sales-up-21-percent—-strongest-annua. Last accessed 22th Oct 2013. Comments: Relevant to understand Chrysler’s position and evolution in terms of sales.
8. 2013. Chrysler Group LLC Reports January 2013 U.S. Sales Increased 16 Percent; Strongest January Sales in Five Years. Available: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/chrysler-group-llc-reports-january-2013-us-sales-increased-16-percent-strongest-january-sales-in-five-years-189353691.html. Last accessed 22th Oct 2013. Comments: Relevant to understand Chrysler’s position and evolution in terms of sales.
1. Chrysler Group LLC. (2011). Chrysler Iconic Cars from the Chrysler 6 to the 300. Available: http://www.chryslerhistory.com/IconicVehicles/Content.aspx?topic=Iconic-Vehicles. Last accessed 22th Oct 2013. Comments: Video by Chrysler Company
2. Chrysler Group LLC. (2011). Inventing the Comfort Zone: The Airflow. Available: http://www.chryslerhistory.com/Innovation/Content.aspx?topic=The-Airflow-future. Last accessed 22th Oct 2013. Comments: Video by Chrysler Company
3. Chrysler Group LLC. (2011). Walter P. Chrysler: A Machinist Visionary. Available: http://www.chryslerhistory.com/WalterPChrysler/Content.aspx?topic=Walter-P-Chrysler. Last accessed 22th Oct 2013. Comments:: Video by Chrysler Company
4. Chrysler Group LLC. (2011). Zeder, Skelton and Breer: The Three Musketeers. Available: http://www.chryslerhistory.com/Innovation/Content.aspx?topic=ZSB-Three-Muskateers-future. Last accessed 22th Oct 2013. Comments: Video by Chrysler Company
5. Chrysler Group LLC. (2012). Chrysler Group Historical Review . Available: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHRnf00aH0Q. Last accessed 22th Oct 2013. Comments: “Description: Chrysler Group’s Manager of Historical Services Brandt Rosenbusch gives us a look back over the history of Chrysler, including highlighting just some of our “segment busters” and what Mr. Chrysler would think of today’s company. Video conducted at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum, Auburn Hills, Mich”
6. Chrysler Group LLC. (2012). Chrysler History: 1920s . Available: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEQXjJkkZxs. Last accessed 22th Oct 2013. Comments: ”Description: In 1996, a Chrysler historical series was put together for the Chrysler Employee Network, with a review of the company’s history from prior to our founding in 1925 through the 1980s. This segment looks at the 1920s decade. The Chrysler Chronicles has not been updated since but it’s still a valuable look-back at our wealth of automotive heritage and innovation”
7. Chrysler Group LLC. (2012). Chrysler History: 1930s. Available: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IoFfr4QoJGM. Last accessed 22th Oct 2013. Comments: “Description: In 1996, a Chrysler historical series was put together for the Chrysler Employee Network, with a review of the company’s history through the 1930s. The Chrysler Chronicles has not been updated since but it’s still a valuable look-back at our wealth of automotive heritage and innovation.”
Tiago Cardoso SId 4792451