Last week Chrysler filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US, which allows for the company to restructure without many of its liabilities and unwanted assets. The company's Australian arm quickly put out a statement that it's "business as usual" down under. We're taking this opportunity to be positive, and reminisce about Chrysler's ground-breaking vehicles of yore.
Although ultimately a financial and sales flop, the Airflow changed how designers and engineers thought about cars. As its name suggests, this was one of the first cars to be designed with aerodynamic efficiency in mind. It also rejigged where passengers sat in a car, placing them within the confines of the car's wheelbase. Lastly, the Airflow was the first mass-produced American vehicle to feature unibody or monocoque construction, where the car's body is an integral part of its structure, as opposed to the more common body-on-frame model — the body-on-frame structure continues today in utes, trucks, large four-wheel drives and anything built for serious off-road work or load carrying.
Yes, yes, we know that Willys was still 40 years away from being acquired by Chrysler, but that doesn't make it any less significant.
Created for army use in the second world war, about 640,000 Jeeps were manufactured for the military by both Willys and Ford. After the war, Willys modified the Jeep — the CJ or Civilian Jeep — for public sale with niceties like windscreen wipers, a rear tailgate and rear-view mirror. The spirit of the original military Jeep lives on in the Wrangler series.
In 1955 the company spun its top-of-the-line model, the Imperial, off to be its own brand to take on the likes of Lincoln and Cadillac. Featuring styling by Virgil Exner, the '55 Imperials sported not only V8 engines but, possibly, the most elegant and restrained styling of the era.
In the era of built-in obsolescence, American car makers brought out a new model every year with a restyled body and upgraded mechanicals. Chrysler's 300-Series sat at the top end of the brand's range with V8 engines and luxury features, and every passing year brought a new letter suffix hence the common name the 300 "letter series".
It may have been a snooze to look at and it certainly didn't pack a great big hemi-V8, but this ever so boring range of front-wheel drive sedans, coupes and wagons — along with its Plymouth Reliant and Chrysler LeBaron cousins — allowed the company to pay off its US$1.5 billion loan from the US Government which helped stave off bankruptcy.
Powered by a massive 8.0-litre V10 truck engine, the Viper's "get the hell outta my way appearance" launched a styling-led revival at Chrysler, with cars like the Dodge Neon and Dodge Intrepid following in its wake.
From the early '90s to the mid noughties Chrysler Corporation's concept cars were often the envy of the automotive world. One of the company's most outrageous concepts, the Prowler, eventually made it to production in 1997. Much to the disappointment of fans everywhere, the production Prowler came with a 3.5-litre V6 and an automatic transmission, and failed to live up to its hot-rod roots.
A Chrysler retrospective isn't complete with this art-deco masterpiece. Located on the east side of Manhattan, this building was commissioned by Chrysler's founder, Walter P. Chrysler. Both the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building were locked in a race to usurp the Eiffel Tower as the world's tallest building — a title it would hold for just a year as the Empire State awaited completion. In addition to the famous metal crown, the building also features giant hubcaps, hood ornaments and gargoyles along its flanks.