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The people who created the first Valiant

by Al Bosley
via interview

Who was responsible for creating the 1960 Valiant, Chrysler’s first modern compact car?

The president of Chrysler, people in Engineering, and others in the company were concerned about the future, and set up a new car committee, which you can see in the upper left-hand corner of the diagram. The committee put Bob Sinclair in charge, as program manager; his staff assistant, Dave Cohoe, followed him everywhere, even Europe. Dave was the world’s foremost observer; anywhere you’d go, he could see anything. He was a really neat guy; I really liked him and he was a personal friend, but he was the world’s foremost observer.

org chart

The program was coded A901. Drawings were labelled QX1; (series Q, car X1). When it got closer to production, they changed the code to the normal Chrysler letter designation for the body.

Bob Sinclair was a great blocking-back, who moved obstacles out of the way and got things that we needed, but he had very little technical input. That came directly through the existing engineering structure, which is abstracted in the chart above (which isn’t quite the same as the official chart).

Sometime in the third quarter of ’57, the top people laid out a set of general goals and specifications. From there on, the advance designs and layout were not done as they had been for the past five to eight years, in the mechanical design group. Instead, the original layout, prototype, and quarter-size work was done in Development and Design.

The head of that department was Otto Winkleman; he had been the chief engineer of Mercedes, but he left Germany after World War II because he wanted to take care of his sons. He was an acquaintance of Keller or Zeder or one of the other leaders, and was put in to assist Gid Herreshoff.

timeline

Griswald (“Gid”) Herreshoff, was the son or grandson of Nathanael Greene Herreshoff, who designed the best sailboats in the world at the time; Halsey Herroshoff would later design leading-edge Chrysler sailboats.

Gid Herreshoff had been in charge of development design, which reported to Carl Breer; Breer had development and advanced engineering. Carl Breer was one of the “Three Musketeers” who created the original Chrysler; and Gid Herreshoff was involved in engineering the Airflow. By the late 1950s, the research activity had spun off; those were the people that designed the XI-222, the aircraft engine.

In any case, the original full car layouts were done by Development and Design. There were three engineers as managers under Winkleman: Bill Swan, Bob Bachelor, and Tom Wall. This car, I believe, was done cooperatively by Bachelor and Wall. Wall is the credited inventor of the K-member design.

Creating the production car

A special task force was organized, the management selected, and then it was staffed; then we went to work at a separate facility on Midland Avenue. Chassis thought the project was important, so Dave Toot was told he could pick whoever he wanted. Dave Toot chose Ross Cooper as assistant chief engineer of body engineering, and John Betti, an especially aggressive, dynamic pusher, as assistant chief engineer of chassis.

valiant cars

I think that John Betti picked me as manager because I was pliable and would pay attention to him. I got to pick Bill Shellman and Sherwin Post and Gerry Schwander. Don McDonald joined a few months later as an engineering graduate; I’d had him working with me as a student engineer before, and I thought he was a pretty good guy. Finally, we asked Personnel to hire somebody from outside who had engine or automotive design experience at a competitive company. I wanted somebody that could tell us how other people did things, what their processes were.

The top guy I knew was Dave Toot, chief engineer of chassis. He selected John Betti, who had been working for another assistant chief engineer, to become the assistant chief engineer for the Valiant program. Jim Shank selected Russ Cooper to run a drafting center, with roughly 150 people.

A structural specialist named Bob Kushler did a lot of the planning and coordinating of the full-size cars. Although he was an advisor specialist, did not have direct reporting responsibility. At that time, Product Planning was part of Engineering (it separated later); and a programming group within Engineering converted product plans to job orders, telling various groups, “Do a new engine. Do a new axle. Do a new what’s-it. Do a new steering wheel. Do a new bumper.”

There was a manager of the drafting design activity, and those guys came and went. During the time I was there, there were, I think, three of those people. One of the lead guys in their drafting design area that worked the board is a guy name H.E. Philpot, who had taught the Philpot drafting class outside of work. That was famous if you were going to be a body designer at that time, because he had developed a way of smoothing the curves that came from styling templates so that you didn’t get highlights, lowlights, and dimples and that kind of stuff. He invented that smoothing mechanism.

1961 Valiant

Bob Sutton did hardware and mechanics. He invented – after a lot of discussion about how to do it – that method of getting the hood open by pulling a lever (decorated as a Valiant logo) in the grille. Bob left Chrysler shortly after the Valiant program and went to Fisher Body. He had a degree in mechanical engineering; GM sent him to the art and design school, the Center for Creative Studies, and he got a degree in automotive design. He ended up head of the design activity for Fisher Body and retired from that job.

There were several operations managers. The weight guy was Pete Dawson. Cost was Paul Frusti. The mock-up reporter was Dick Rossi. There was some other people that did records and reports. The secretary was Maureen, and she ultimately married one of the engineers at Chrysler.

John Betti, as I said, was our assistant chief engineer. After the Valiant program was over, he became assistant chief engineer for electrical and electronics, and left that job to take a job at Ford Motor Company and then went to Washington for some job in the government.

The suspension specialist was Ed Collier, and he spent maybe one or two days at the Valiant and he was also manager of suspension and steering design at Chassis Central Engineering. He did not give up that job as other people on the project did. He was really the inventor, if you will, of the front suspension.

Ed Collier had really made the Chrysler torsion-bar suspension work, when he was in chassis engineering back in 1955-56. Ed had joined Chrysler as a blueprint runner in or around 1920, and worked his way up and became a lead designer in the drafting activity.

The electrical design was under Tom Wilsey, who was a genius but unusual. He was from Canada; he was sent by Chrysler Canada to the Chrysler Institute, worked for us in the Valiant program as manager of electrical engineering, instrument panel lighting, wiring, all that kind of stuff. He got tired of working in the US, so he left and went back to Canada and another fellow took over.

Tom Wilsey, believe it or not, invented, built, and had in his car out in the parking lot at Middleton Avenue, a remote starter. He could push a button sitting in his desk and that car would start and he would go out and it would be warm in the wintertime. It didn’t work all the time because we had carburetors. The thing that made remote start possible was fuel injection. Not impossible, but difficult and expensive.

We had general chassis — the front and rear suspensions, the exhaust, all of that stuff; sheet metal, fender shields. At that time those were all part of the chassis because they’d been part of chassis back when we had frames. Steering, brakes, that kind of thing.

Gary Schwander, a very, very bright guy, who left after this project to become chief engineer of the Mattel toy company.

bendix brakes

Jim Rose came to us from Cadillac, because he didn’t like the Cadillac people. He brought over some techniques that Chrysler, to my knowledge, had never done prior to that time. The Valiant was the first Chrysler car with Bendix brakes — a different parking brake configuration, and a push-on/step-on parking brake. Jim said, “I don’t know much about parking brakes, but I do know that every one of them that we ever did at Cadillac, we made a mock-up on a big sheet of plywood, so we could push on everything and be sure the brakes would come on.” He pushed and pushed and finally got the labs to do that for us so we could get the cable routing for those things that were new to Chrysler.

Finally, there was records and releasing, a very complex system at the time; you had to take each individual drawing, indicate that part’s use, when it was used, and such. I brought in a guy when I got in charge of suspension and design; when we re-did the engineering and information systems in the later 1960s, he helped out in that task team.

Chrysler Engineering and Drafting changes over the years

Up until about 1952, Chrysler had a project engineer system; there was a separate drafting activity that had no engineers in it, and they only made drawings. When the union unionized the drafting activities in Detroit, it was treated differently under each of the companies. At Chrysler, the drafting function was separated, and all of the design and that sort of thing were done in the laboratories. The project engineers in the laboratories would do sketches and rough drawings and send them to the drafting function who would then create the final drawings and release them.

There was an advanced mechanical design function in the chassis part of the drafting function, that kind of created core sizes and configuration things for the cars. Prior to maybe 1937, or 1938, that stuff was done by the very top engineers themselves, as were the engine configurations. Chrysler took a different path on that, and that, in my opinion — if I were to talk about the whole organization and engineering at Chrysler at the time — that caused a slowdown in the growth of quality design at Chrysler.

car sketches

At the time that I came to Chrysler in ’53, there were a few engineers beginning to get into design. The process of that was that most of us were called on a special project – worked in a special project group – which is where I ended up after my stint after the Institute. We all reported to a Jack Gilmore, who was the assistant chief engineer of special projects, and John Betti was there. I worked for John for a few months in doing things there and I worked a little bit on doing some mechanical calculations and that sort of thing.

Then they decided to put engineers in the drafting rooms, and a number of engineers were moved out as supervisors in the drafting design area, and it changed from being drafting to design, so there were engineers there. Later on, when Ed Collier retired and I became manager of suspension and steering, we had about 60 drafters and about 30 engineers in that department doing all of the calculations and designs, you know, caster, camber, that kind of thing, optimization. We had a guy who was one hell of a computer guy who developed all the programs to do force and load analysis on a front suspension and that sort of thing.

valiant.orgWorking at Midland Avenue • Dodge Dart • Creating a new axle • Stories of the Valiant’s creation
See “Valiant Through Advertising: Launching the 1960s” • Valiant and Barracuda 1960-69Valiant and Duster 1970-76

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