Walter Percy Chrysler (1875-1940) was born the son of a machinist in Wamego, Kansas. He only had a primary education, but was an extraordinary mechanic.
He started his career as a railway worker, but was greatly interested in the rise of the automobile. For instance, on a Chicago exhibition he bought a Locomobile for $ 5,000. Since he never learned to drive, he had the contraption delivered by rail to his home in Minnesota. There he took it completely apart at least a dozen times, to examine its construction...
In 1910 he joined the American Locomotive Company, and quickly worked his way to the top by his exceptional technical skills.
In 1912, Billy Durant hired him, and immediately appointed him as Buick's Work Manager. Four years later he became Buick's president, and in 1920 he even became GM's vice-president.
Willis-Overland / Maxwell
After a serious argument with Durant he left the company, but was immediately contacted by an administrative board of bankers. They wanted him to bail out the ailing Willis-Overland company (now Jeep), which was followed by the equally ailing Maxwell company.
Meanwhile, he and some friends worked on the plans for what later would become the famous Chrysler Six. In 1924, the Maxwell Motor Corporation brought this car on the market and sold 32,000 units in one year !
The Chrysler Corporation
In 1925 he founded the Chrysler Corporation, that absorbed Maxwell Motors. Three outstanding engineers (Zeder, Skelton and Breer) invented many innovations, which steered Chrysler to the top for a long time.
For instance, they came up with hydraulic brakes, six-cylinder engines with high compression, and the carburetor.
They set the back seat in front of the rear wheels, instead of on top of them, which significantly improved ride comfort, and allowed a complete redesign of the bodywork.
Plymouth - DeSoto - Dodge
In 1928 he founded the Plymouth and DeSoto brands and bought Dodge Brothers (John and Horace Dodge), which again gave rise to several famous models.
In 1930, the beautiful Chrysler building was built in New York, and in 1933 Chrysler surpassed Ford's sagging sales.
In 1935, Walter Chrysler withdrew from business, and he died in 1940.
A more than remarkable man !
The Post-Chrysler Era
At the outbreak of World War II, of Chrysler's production was also converted to military purposes. The company produced tanks, which they powered by five car engines next to each other, yielding 445 HP. They also produced trucks, aircraft engines and guns.
After the war, Chrysler's legendary creativity apparently got lost after the demise of Walter Chrysler. For ten years, the brand produced almost no new models, and it slipped to third place among the constructors.
After that came one blunder after another. In 1955, Chrysler produced blocked cars, while the other manufacturers designed rounded lines. In 1963 it produced smaller cars, when the customers asked for larger cars and more luxury.
In 1973, after the oil crisis, it maintained its huge and greedy line, whilst the other manufacturers hurriedly switched to small and fuel efficient cars...
Chrysler's market share plummeted from 21% in 1952 to only 9% in 1979.
Vanishing Point - Movie Trailer (1971)
In 1980 the company was threatened with bankruptcy, and the former Ford president Lee Iacocca was appointed to save the company. Although the American public was strongly opposed to any support, the federal government guaranteed a loan of 1.5 billion dollars.
By 1983, Iacocca managed to reimburse the full loan !
The Walter Percy Chrysler museum
Chrysler remains best known for the lush forms of the rich limousines from the 30's, the 1950 Phaeton , and of course for its fantastic Mopar Muscle Cars from the 60's.
We visited the Walter Percy Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills, MI , and walked through this beautiful museum, where different models are exhibited in an extremely neat setting.
Several movies feature the life of Walter Chrysler, the evolution of the company, and the unbeatable Mopar Muscle Cars.
In the basement there is a fine collection of Mopar cars on display.
With nostalgia we admired a beautiful 1970 Dodge Challenger...
Mais où sont les neiges d'Antan !...
This museum is most definitely worth a visit !