The history of Chrysler

By: Unique Cars magazine

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After abandoning Australia in 1981, Chrysler has returned to mount a serious attack on the local prestige market



Chrysler's weapon of choice is the sinister-looking 300C, which during 2007 sold more than 1600 units and will doubtless prosper following the disappearance of Ford’s Fairlane/LTD line.

Whether Chrysler survives another decade of Germanic dominance is debatable, but the company’s recent product confirms it will not relinquish what autonomy remains without a battle.

Using part of his considerable fortune and the facilities of a faltering Maxwell Motor Company, Walter P. Chrysler built a car capable of challenging the Buicks he had helped build during a decade with General Motors.

The first Chryslers were sold during 1925. Two years later, sales had topped 180,000 and the Chrysler Corporation was about to embark on a massive expansion. Acquiring Dodge, founding Plymouth and adding luxurious Imperials to its range helped push annual sales to more than 400,000 by the late-1930s. Some innovations including the ill-fated ‘Airflow’ aerodynamic models of the mid-1930s were disastrous and expensive, but Chrysler continued to invest in advancements that included standard safety glass and the ‘Fluid Drive’ automatic transmission that first appeared in 1939 Imperials.

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During the 1950s, a fiercely conservative Chrysler abandoned convention to produce one of the most significant and potent engines ever to power an American production car. The first ‘Hemi’ V8 was developed to foster a power race with Cadillac but quickly came to dominate North American Nascar racing when fitted to the lighter and lower-priced 300 Series.

Expansion by acquisition saw Chrysler competing directly in markets across the world – in Britain via ownership of the Rootes Group, in France with Simca, and in several South American countries where US Valiants and British-made Hillman Avengers were sold. Australia also based its 1960s Chryslers on the Valiant but in 1971 produced the unique and locally-designed Charger; E49 versions ranked as the fastest Chrysler-badged cars of their era.

Chrysler’s US fortunes were boosted during the 1980s by association with ex-Ford Icon Carroll Shelby and brief ownership of Maserati. However, the organisation continued to struggle even after its 1998 amalgamation with Daimler-Benz.

The 300 that appeared in 2003 ranks as the most significant large US car design since the 1960s. With a new 5.7-litre Hemi engine and awards including Motor Trend’s 2005 ‘Car of the Year’, the 300 brought renewed interest and relevance to a brand that without it was facing the prospect of extinction.

From Unique Cars #285, Apr/May 2008


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