The Chrysler Corporation was incorporated on June 6, 1925 with Walter P. Chrysler as president and chairman of the board. In 1998 Chrysler merged with Daimler-Benz (the parent company of Mercedes-Benz) and became DaimlerChrysler. On July 27, 2007, DaimlerChrysler sold the Chrysler division to Cerberus Capital Management, creating Chrysler LLC and DaimlerChrysler was renamed Daimler AG.
Early History (1925 - 1949)
While today the Chrysler Corporation is no more, Chrysler lives on as a division of DaimlerChrysler, though recently Daimler-Chrysler has begun entertaining offers for the Chrysler division as well as Jeep and Dodge. Companies such as General Motors and the parts manufacturer Magna International are considering purchasing the group. The company was its own entity from 1925 to 1998, maintaining a position as the number three American auto manufacturer throughout most of that time period.
Walter P. Chrysler had been working for a group of bankers, restructuring the Maxwell Motors Company. Mr. Chrysler had previously worked for General Motors and Willys-Overland and had a reputation for improving products and making companies profitable. One of his personal goals was to build a new, more advanced automobile with a higher compression engine and hydraulic brakes. The bankers who owned a controlling stake in Maxwell Motors were not receptive to a new car with untested technology and so Mr. Chrysler paid a private engineering firm design the car for him. After showing it in the lobby of The Hotel Commodore where the 1924 New York Auto show was headquartered (it was a prototype and couldn't be shown in the show) he had hundreds of orders and managed to get the car into production.
By the end of that year he had sold over 80,000 models of the new car. The model was named the Chrysler Six, and 48,000 were sold under the Maxwell brand, with 32,000 being sold under the new Chrysler marquee. Even so, the bankers were still concerned with the financial stability of the company and the debt that Maxwell Motors still had. Walter P. Chrysler bought their shares and on June 6, 1925 incorporated the company as the Chrysler Corporation. By the end of that year, the Chrysler Corporation had recorded a profit of 17 million dollars.
At this point Chrysler was ranked among the top ten automakers and throughout the following years released several new, successful models, including the both the Plymouth and the DeSoto in 1928. A pivotal point in the young companies expansion was the purchase of the Dodge Brothers Corporation that same year. The Dodge brothers had started as a parts supplier and had a large base of machining and tooling equipment. Through a series of events the Dodge brothers had expanded from a parts supplier to a full automobile manufacturer and had also built a strong dealer network. This purchase put Chrysler in a position to compete across all price segments of the market and the ability to expand smoothly.
The Chrysler Corporation weathered the Great Depression by lowering prices to sell cars at the smallest profit margin possible, but not at a loss. Through the depression they also remained focused on research and development which allowed them to emerge from the depression with new products and ideas for the post war era. An example of this advancement even during the depression is the 1934 Chrysler DeSoto Airflow. This model was among the first vehicles to be designed with aerodynamics in mind. Its creation was aided by the automotive industries' very first wind tunnel. Unfortunately the Airflow was not well received and few design innovations were made by Chrysler through the thirties and forties as a result. During the thirties, Chrysler introduced its formal parts division, Mopar (Motor Parts), and to this day Dodge, Plymouth and Chrysler cars are often referred to as 'Mopars'.
Walter P. Chrysler remained president of the Chrysler Corporation until 1935, when he stepped down and was succeeded by K.T. Keller, a man Mr. Chrysler had met in his time at Buick. Mr. Chrysler remained chairman of the board until his death in 1940.
In 1940 Chrysler spent 20 million dollars in building a plant to build tanks for the US military. In 1941 the tanks began mass production. As with all car manufacturers in the United States, Chrysler ceased production during war-time and did not sell new cars except to the military and key civilian agencies.
Chrysler in the 1950s
In 1951 Chrysler produced the first Hemi. This was one of the earliest mass-produced overhead-valve engines. The engine displaced a volume of 331 cubic inches (5.2 Liters) had an output of 180 brake horsepower and 320 pound feet of torque. The engine weighed 922 pounds and was the most powerful American V8 of its time. Later versions of fifties Hemis included the famed 392 cubic inch (6.4 Liter) 325 brake horsepower version, which was the engine that powered the first car to exceed 200 miles per hour. The record was broken by Don Garlits at Atco N.J. in 1964.
In 1955 Imperial moved from a Chrysler model to its own brand. This was partially facilitated by the 'Look Forward' design that Virgil Exner created for the company and brought to life in the 1955 Imperial. 'Look Forward' brought about bold new designs and in 1957 'Look Forward 2' furthered those designs by implementing such things as the dramatically raised rear quarter-panels that became the hallmark of late fifties cars. Those raised panels are often called wings and were also popular on Cadillac vehicles.
1955 also heralded the entry of the Chrysler C-300. The C-300 was the first production car with over 300 horsepower and is the namesake of the current Chrysler 300. The bold design of the C-300 revitalized the automotive industry and is to this day considered by many to be one of the most stunningly beautiful cars ever made. The model was renamed the 300 with each year incrementing the letter until the last letter series 300 in 1965 (L). The last 300 model year was 1966 until its re-incarnation in 2000 as the 300M. When the C-300 was introduced in 1955 dealer showrooms were swamped and owners told stories of people following them to their homes to ask questions about the car.
Another notable contribution to the automotive industry by Chrysler in the fifties was the first cruise control, dubbed the 'Auto Pilot', which was introduced on the 1958 Imperial.
In 1959 the 392 cubic inch hemi was replaced by a 413 cubic inch (6.8 Liter) 'Max Wedge' engine. There was to be no Hemi engine available to the public until the introduction of the 426 cubic inch (7.0 Liter) hemi in 1966. The 426 Hemi is often simply referred to as 'The Hemi' and is while the last year it appeared in a production vehicle was 1971, it is still available from Chrysler to this day as a crate engine. Even today competition in IHRA or NHRA top fuel dragster categories requires a hemi V8 engine.
1960s Expansion, 1970s Gas Crisis
1960 saw the release of a new model in the Chrysler lineup, the Chrysler Valiant. The Valiant marked the auto maker's entry into the then-emerging compact car market. With two wagon variants, a four door sedan as well as a two door sedan and coupe, the Valiant carried an option for either a 2.8 liter or 3.7 liter engine.
Also during the 1960s, Chrysler launched Chrysler Europe, an extension of the company aiming for profitability in the European market.
Though the early seventies brought much in the way of success to Chrysler, it would prove to be a very troublesome decade for the car manufacturer. The first gas crisis, occurring in 1973, increased the demand for smaller car models, contributing additional sales to the Valiant and it's Dodge division counterpart, the Dodge Dart. The company, seeking to modernize the aging pair of car models, announced the Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare, intending to replace the older models in the 1976 year.
However, neither car would prove to be as successful as it's predecessors, and the company soon felt financial pressures. In an attempt to stay out of bankruptcy and preserve funds, the company offloaded Chrysler Europe to Peugeot in 1978. Soon after the sale of it's Europe division, the company began it's offloading Chrysler Australia, in progressive amounts of shares, to Mitsubishi Motors, with the complete acquisition completed in 1981.
Regardless of it's attempts to stay prominent, the corporation soon found itself in more financial trouble, petitioning in 1979 for a government loan of 1.5 billion dollars, in a last attempt to avoid bankruptcy. In addition, Lido Iacocca, a former Ford executive, was brought in as CEO of the company.