A Look Back At the Innovative History of Chrysler

September 19th, 2017 by

Though the two other major American carmakers had a head start over them, Chrysler soon closed ground with their competitors and earned a spot as one of the ‘Big Three’ manufacturers thanks to their innovative and forward-thinking vehicles, which introduced several components that would later be seen as basic on later cars both here at home and worldwide. Of course, in the process they also produced several iconic vehicles, and we at Bob Richards Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram feel very privileged to be able to sell cars with such pedigree and history behind them – a history that we share with you in this week’s blog, as we take a look at the history of Chrysler and the innovations they’ve brought to the modern world of auto making.

The Chrysler timeline begins in the early 20’s, as Walter Chrysler works to revive the fortunes of Maxwell-Chalmers and stop them from falling prey to their competitors in the fast-evolving early auto industry. Chrysler’s plan for this involved replacing the Chalmers cars with a vehicle of his own design for 1924 – the Chrysler 70 – which was the first car to have a carburetor air filter and an oil filter on its high-compression engine. Both filters would go on to become standard parts in later engines, and higher compression ratios would prove to be a key element in producing more powerful engines. Following the success of the 70, Walter Chrysler created the Chrysler Corporation on June 6 1925, and absorbed Maxwell into the new business entity. As a result, the Maxwell brand suffered the same fate as Chalmers did in 1923 – The last Maxwells were produced in 1925 but their handiwork lived on for one more year, as the smaller Chrysler that went on sale in 1926 was in fact a rebadged Maxwell design.

Continuing the technological advancement started by the Chrysler 70, the years that followed saw Chrysler lead the way again with their use of rubber engine mounts, Oilite bearings, hydraulic brakes and more features never before seen on a motor car. They also expanded operations by acquiring the Dodge brand, and creating the Plymouth, DeSoto and Imperial marques to join the established Chrysler badge. The vehicles produced by all five ’divisions’, as Chrysler called them, would also use parts from a sixth – MoPar.

A foray into aerodynamics was Chrysler’s next step forward in the mid-to-late 30’s. Unfortunately the ‘AirFlow’ vehicles this venture led to were a commercial failure, but they do show just how far ahead of the game Chrysler’s engineers were in their thinking at the time. Commercial vehicle production was halted during WW2 so the company could focus more on the war effort – charged as they were with the production of military vehicles and mobile radar units. However, Chrysler would come back to the civilian market with a renewed vigor once peace returned, and got back to doing what they did best – being bold and pioneering in their ideas and technology. Bit by bit, Chrysler slowly worked to move the auto industry forward through the 50’s and 60’s with another succession of firsts. Again, some were failures like the 1955 and 1956 Dodge LaFemme – a car aimed squarely and solely at female drivers – but they were more than balanced out by the successes, with this period seeing Chrysler switch to unibody construction (the method by which most cars are produced today) on most of their vehicles, add alternators to all vehicles by 1961, and put the first pony car on sale – the 1964 Plymouth Barracuda beat the Ford Mustang to dealerships by just a couple of weeks.

Another by-product of their wartime projects was a new engine design that was test flown in the P-47 Thunderbolt in the closing weeks of the war. A much smaller descendent of the aircraft engine, dubbed the ‘FirePower’ engine had found its way into some Chrysler-developed cars by 1951 and spread from there – but a legend would truly be born in 1964 when it was renamed with a nod to its revolutionary combustion chambers, which were hemispherical in shape. As a result the design became known simply as the ‘Hemi’ engine, and it almost single-handedly ushered in the era of the muscle car. Models such as the Dodge Charger, Dodge Challenger, and the Plymouth Barracuda were essentially street legal race cars, and in that respect a kind of spiritual successor to the hot rod. Thanks to their affordability and sheer performance, muscle cars proved immensely popular and netted Chrysler a lot of money through the late 60’s and early 70’s, but they would also very nearly kill the company…

The gas crisis of 1973 spelled the end for the muscle car, and did considerable damage to Chrysler’s (and the rest of the Big Three’s) sales. Things got so bad that the corporation was on the verge of bankruptcy when former Ford executive Lee Iacocca was brought in to save Chrysler in 1978. Iacocca knew that the future lay with more European and Japanese- style vehicles with smaller, more economical engines, and so the thirsty, overly-powerful rear-wheel-drive cars that Chrysler had relied on for decades were phased out in favor of models offering less performance, but better gas mileage and more practicality. Amazingly, even with these restrictions Chrysler found some room for innovation – they’re widely credited with inventing the Minivan in the early 80’s, and the reintroduced Imperial of this era was the first American car to have fully electronic fuel injection – technology that Chrysler had tried to introduce back in the 50’s but had been unable to popularize or make reliable at the time. Thanks to the success of Iacocca’s designs, he was able to repay the government loan used to keep Chrysler alive after just four years, and in a strange twist of fate Chrysler added Jeep to the fold in 1987 – a deal not without irony since company founder Walter Chrysler got the job at Maxwell-Chalmers based on his successful resurrection of the struggling Willys Corporation, who would later go on to design and build the WW2 Jeep the civilian versions are descended from.

Lee Iacocca retired in 1992, and by that time the era of true innovation could be said to be over across the entire auto industry. Car makers the world over were largely using the same design formulas, pursuing the same long-term goals in terms of mechanical components, and quickly copying any unique elements on their competitors’ models that proved to be commercially successful – think of the decades-long efforts by multiple manufacturers to make electric and hybrid vehicles commercially and practically viable, or the rapid proliferation of features like touchscreens, sensors and Bluetooth connectivity today. Nevertheless, even in such times one avenue always remains open – styling – and Chrysler took full advantage to again set themselves apart from the competition, this time aesthetically. Starting with the AC/Shelby Cobra-inspired lines and paint of early Dodge Vipers, moving on to the retro hot-rod looks and bright colors of the Plymouth Prowler and PT Cruiser in the late 90’s and 2000’s, before bringing a sleek art-deco look to cars like the Chrysler Crossfire and 300C of the 2000’s. These cars stand out in traffic even today, as the theme is continued by the current Dodge Challenger – which is a clear homage to the 2nd generation Challenger of the 70’s. What’s more, the car also continues to break new ground in the name of the Chrysler corporation – the supercharged 6.2-liter engine you’ll find under the hood of the ‘SRT Demon’ Challenger is the most powerful engine ever placed in a production car at 840 horsepower, and has led it to a host of record times, speeds and even a wheelie – something that’s never been done before by a stock production vehicle.

The future will always have to remain a mystery, but we can say for certain that the Chrysler Corporation’s contributions to the fields of car-making have been instrumental in its development thus far, and as we stated earlier, the Bob Richards team feels very privileged to sell vehicles with the kind of provenance and backstory possessed by the likes of the 300C and the Challenger. You can never tell when ‘the next big thing’ will come along or what it will be, but with a track record like Chrysler’s there’s a good chance that they’ll be at the cutting edge when it arrives, and that means that there’s no better place to stay up to speed than Bob Richards Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram!

 

Sources:
‘2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon’ at Dodge.com: https://www.dodge.com/demon.html
‘Chrysler Hemi Engine’ at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chrysler_Hemi_engine
‘Chrysler PT Cruiser’ at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chrysler_PT_Cruiser
‘Dodge Challenger’ at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dodge_Challenger
‘Dodge La Femme’ at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dodge_La_Femme
‘Engine Compression Ratios: What They Are, How They Work’ at J&P Cycles: http://blog.jpcycles.com/engine-compression-ratios-what-they-are-how-they-work/
‘Hemi Pros And Cons’ at How Stuff Works: http://auto.howstuffworks.com/hemi2.htm
‘History of Chrysler’ at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Chrysler
‘Maxwell automobile’ at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxwell_automobile
‘Mopars in movies’ at Allpar.com: https://www.allpar.com/history/movies.html
‘Muscle Car’ at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muscle_car
‘Plymouth Prowler’ at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plymouth_Prowler
‘SCR-584 radar’ at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SCR-584_radar
‘Willys’ at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willys

Posted in History