The Chrysler brand has been pushing the limits of performance, design and luxury for 90 years. Since 1925, when Walter P. Chrysler founded the brand, until 2015, with our lineup of bold, innovative vehicles, we’ve been at the forefront of craftsmanship and technology. Walter P. Chrysler built a company and a brand that wasn’t afraid to push the limits and think outside of the box. Here’s a quick look back at a selection of our benchmarks and rich history, and, as has always been our style, a look ahead at what’s to come.
Roaring Into The Roaring Twenties
1920s – Early Chrysler vehicles provided style and power, but were also affordable, which contributed to the brand’s rapid success. The first Chrysler branded vehicle was 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. Other early models were named after their top speed: the Chrysler 58 had a top speed of 58 miles per hour (mph). In 1926, Chrysler introduced a more powerful and costly Imperial model, which offered prestige as a top-of-the-line Chrysler. Among its early engineering firsts, Chrysler introduced the downdraft carburetor on 1929 models.
Powering Through The Depression
1930s – With a focus on style and affordability, and with a reputation for practical, advanced engineering, Chrysler weathered the storm of the Great Depression. Among the innovations of the decade were “Floating Power,” automatic spark control and rustproofed, welded steel bodies. Chrysler also constructed a scale model wind tunnel at the company headquarters to study aerodynamics in the development of the 1934 Chrysler Airflow, an “engineer’s” car with impressive innovations at the time.
In the late 1930s, Chrysler went on to introduce a “Fluid Drive” gearbox design, a precursor to automatic transmissions, as well as the “Superfinish” method of mirror-finishing engine and chassis components, which set a new benchmark for bearing smoothness and helped minimize friction. Other notable vehicles of the era included the Chrysler Royal and the New Yorker.
Gearing Up For The War
1940s – Chrysler, like many automakers, geared up for war production after the start of the 1942 model year and halted civilian production of automobiles in February 1942. Among the better known of Chrysler’s World War II products were the M-4 Sherman tank, “Sea Mule” marine tugs, Harbor Utility Tugs (HUTs) and Chrysler-Bell air-raid sirens. Still, it was a decade that saw the introduction of the Chrysler Thunderbolt as well as the development of the “Vacamatic,” a four-speed gearbox with two ranges. The decade was also notable for the shapely, wood-bodied Chrysler Town & Country sedans, wagons and convertibles, part of a smoother look for Chrysler products, with signature grille bars that wrapped around the front fenders.
A Boom In Performance
1950s – With the Baby Boom generation in full swing, Chrysler turned its attention toward a new era of power, most specifically the HEMI® V-8 engine. In 1955, the first muscle car — the Chrysler 300 — took to the streets boasting 300 horsepower. With solid valve lifters and dual four-barrel carburetors, it was the most powerful full-size car in the world.
Then in 1957, Chrysler Corporation’s entire line of cars was awarded Motor Trend‘s “Car of the Year” award, and the design team received the Gold Medal from the Industrial Design Institute. Closing out the decade, in 1958, a Chrysler 300-D set a land speed record at Bonneville at 156.387 mph.
Flexing Our Muscle
1960s – During the famed muscle car era, Chrysler full-size cars would get the biggest V8 to date, a 440-cubic-inch engine. As always, 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. And perhaps more powerful than the vehicles was Chrysler’s introduction of a five-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty — the first of its kind in the industry — in 1963. Finally, the 1960s brought the move of all of Chrysler’s cars to lighter unibody construction to improve performance and efficiency, and designed to help 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.
Turning Our Attention To Safety And Efficiency
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. With fuel shortages on the rise, Chrysler had to shift its focus to production of mid-size and small vehicles. 1975 saw the debut of the new Chrysler Cordoba, and a certain Hollywood actor took TV by storm as the pitchman for the vehicle. The Cordoba was billed as the new small Chrysler and a personal luxury coupe. A new “fuel pacer” option debuted on 1975 models to warn drivers when they hit the gas pedal too hard.
On the safety front, in 1977, Chrysler and Calspan jointly developed a Research Safety vehicle that featured a reinforced body structure, soft elements, run-flat tires and a driver’s side airbag. In 1978, Lee Iacocca is named President of Chrysler Corporation.
Room For The Entire Family
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. The company introduced the K-car platform in 1981. 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. In 1984, Chrysler Corporation introduced an entirely new vehicle segment that revolutionized the automotive industry, the minivan, a front-wheel-drive compact van that was garagable, and provided easy entry and exit for drivers and passengers.
The Tradition of Luxury Continues
1990s – The 1990 model year brought the introduction of the Chrysler Town & Country. It sported imitation wood paneling and luxury accommodations and other features typically not found on a minivan at the time. With more than 75 minivan and industry innovations and more than 275 awards worldwide, the Chrysler minivan forever changed the automotive world. The decade also saw the debut of the front-wheel-drive LH-body Concorde sedan and the Chrysler Cirrus mid-size sedan, and the 300 nameplate returned to the Chrysler lineup in 1999 with the introduction of the 300M, the first in the series to be powered by a front-wheel drive and a six-cylinder engine. Meant to be a modern interpretation of the 300 series, the 3.5-liter, 253-horsepower 300M offered a balance of performance, handling and efficiency. The 300M sedan would be named Motor Trend‘s “Car of the Year” in 1999.
A New Era Begins
2000s – With the merger of the Daimler and Chrysler companies, Chrysler continued to develop cars that people wanted, and took a page from the minivan playbook by inventing vehicles that created new segments in the marketplace. In 2001, the Chrysler Town & Country debuted the fourth generation of the minivan with an available power liftgate. The too-cool-to-categorize PT Cruiser sedan also joined the Chrysler family in 2001, and was named Motor Trend‘s “Car of the Year,” and the Chrysler Pacifica debuted in 2004 as a “Sports Tourer,” the forerunner to the now-popular crossover segment. The Pacifica was a segment buster with the flexibility and safety and security of a minivan, the capability of an SUV, but the style and refinement of a luxury sedan. The introduction of the 2005 Chrysler 300 series marked a return to rear-wheel drive and included the 5.7-liter HEMI® V8-powered 300C model with 340 horsepower. The new 300 was named “Car of the Year” by Motor Trend.
Looking Forward, Moving Ahead
2010s – Chrysler products today are a value proposition that Walter P. would be proud of. Chrysler debuted the all-new-from-the-ground-up Chrysler 200 mid-size sedan in 2014 as a 2015 model-year vehicle. The only mid-size sedan in its class to offer a nine-speed automatic transmission as standard equipment*, the 200 brought a number of features into the mid-size segment that were previously only seen on luxury cars. In addition, Chrysler debuted the new Chrysler 300 in 2015. It takes the nameplate’s bold style and sophistication to new levels and highlights six decades of ambitious American ingenuity through iconic design proportions, inspired materials, quality, craftsmanship and best-in-class 31 mpg highway fuel economy†. Finally, the highly anticipated next generation of the Chrysler Town & Country minivan will make its debut in the first quarter of 2016.
From decade to decade, from nameplate to nameplate, we take pride in the Chrysler brand’s rich history, and we’re excited to show you what else we have on the horizon for our 90th anniversary celebration and beyond. Learn more at chrysler.com.
*Based on the latest competitive information and FCA US LLC Standard Midsize segmentation.
†Based on the latest competitive information and FCA US LLC Upper Larger Car segmentation. EPA estimated 31 hwy mpg with 3.6L V6, RWD. Actual mileage may vary.