Walter P. Chrysler started his career at 17 as a railroad mechanic whose engineering skills enabled him to rise through the ranks at several railroad companies. In 1912, an interest in automobiles led him to accept a job with General Motors as Buick’s production manager at age 36.
Eight years later, fed up with General Motors’ management, Chrysler quit Buick. He acquired a controlling interest in the ailing Maxwell Motor Company and, within a few years, had repositioned the company, given it his own name, and produced his first model.
Recognizing the wisdom of offering models in several price ranges, he soon launched the mid-priced DeSoto division and the economy-model Plymouth. And in 1928, he made his company one of the industry leaders by purchasing the Dodge Brothers operation. (For more on the auto industry’s early years, check out Post‘s new special collector’s edition, Automobiles in America!)
Subscribe and get unlimited access to our online magazine archive.
Chrysler’s first model offered several attractions to buyers. Its powerful, six-cylinder engine could achieve speeds of 70 mph using just 20 miles per gallon. The Chrysler Six also featured aluminum pistons, replaceable oil and air filters, shock absorbers, and standard-equipment hydraulic brakes on all wheels.
Two years later, Chrysler entered the luxury car market with his Imperial Series 80. The number referred to the fact that the Imperial’s slightly larger six-cylinder engine enabled the car to travel for hours at 80 mph.
The Imperial was redesigned in 1931 to include a straight-eight cylinder engine and wire wheels as standard issue.
Floating Power was Chrysler’s new engine mount, which reduced vibration.
The Airflow was an abrupt departure from traditional design. The innovative design was intended to reduce wind resistance, and incorporate the art deco style that was popular in the 1930s. Some of its features, such as its repositioned engine and passenger compartment, have since become standards of auto design. But it proved a little too up-to-date for buyers. Sales were disappointing and the Airflow as discontinued in 1937.
After the Airflow’s failure, Chrysler carefully avoided innovative designs. But while the car bodies rarely strayed from the boxy look, the company introduced an innovative engine design with hemispheric cylinder heads, which came to be known as the Hemi.
With sales falling farther behind Chevrolet and Ford, Chrysler had to do something different. So the following year, Chrysler introduced more modern, streamlined shapes that they called the Forward Look.
Chrysler styling grew even more progressive in the following years. The car in this advertisement from 1957, shows the start of rising tail fins, which would grow even more pronounced in following years. The company claimed the exaggerated fins were helpful in managing cars traveling at high speeds.
In the late 1960s, Chrysler introduced “fuselage” styling with sleek, rounded car bodies similar to jet airplanes. The interior, or “cockpit” according to Chrysler ads, was built to curve around the driver in a continual fluid line with all controls within easy reach.
The 1973 oil crisis sparked a demand for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. But Chrysler ignored the trend to produce a new, personal luxury coupe, the Cordoba. In an otherwise bad year for the company, the Cordoba proved a strong seller. (The TV ads for Cordoba featured Ricardo Montalbán, whose carefully enunciated “soft Corinthian leather” was one of the most imitated commercial lines of the year.)
Recognizing the demand for smaller cars, Chrysler produced a modest version of its New Yorker, which it called its E-class. It looked like an elongated version of Chrysler’s economy model, the K-car. But the market wasn’t interested in Chrysler’s scaled-back luxury, and the E-Class was E-liminated in 1984.
Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access.Subscribe now