Chrysler Technological Innovations: The Big List of Chrysler Firsts

Also see: New technologiesAlternative fuels and such

Chrysler Corporation/Maxwell Motors has been responsible for many more innovations than one would expect, particularly in the early years, when Carl Breer was seeking out and developing new technologies. In the 1970s, many innovations were driven by the rocket scientists at Chrysler Huntsville Electronics.

1984 navigation system

The First Chryslers: the Zeder-Breer-Skelton cars

  • Overdrive. The “fourth gear” using the Keller clutch was invented at Chrysler, but to avoid tooling costs, Walter P. Chrysler had Borg-Warner supply it; competitors could also buy it (Breer, p. 124)
  • high-compression engines, 1924High-compression engine. This was the first real use of the leaded fuel invented at General Motors, which only later took advantage of it.
  • Bonderite painting process (removed oil from body panels prior to painting)
  • Replaceable-element oil filter (1924). In 1961, oil filters were still an option on some Chevrolets; they became standard on Chryslers in the 1930s.DDH
  • Four-wheel hydraulic brakes (1924)
    • Based on a system created by Lockheed, four-wheel hydraulic brakes had to be completely redesigned by Maxwell/Chrysler engineers. Earlier, Duesenberg had a hydraulic brake system on a handful of cars; Rickenbacker had used hydraulic brakes, but they were unreliable and limited production.
  • Rubber engine mounts to stop vibration (1925)
  • Rubber spring shackles (1926BW)
  • Adjustable front seats (1926BW)
  • Full range crankshaft impulse neutralizer and vibration damper (1928) — used today on all (or nearly all) cars
  • First production use of downdraft carburetors (1929)
  • Rust-proofed fenders and other sheet metal parts (1929BW)
  • Automatic spark control, centrifuge and vacuum (1931)
  • Meet the early heros of Chrysler Corporation, the “Three Musketeers,” the designers of the first Chrysler car: Fred Zeder, Carl Breer, Owen Skelton.

    Floating Power (1931): Bill Watson wrote, “Positioning the front and rear engine mounts with the engine's centre of gravity mid-way between the two. Thus, with rubber engine mounts, the engine could rock on the axis.”
  • Roller bearing universal joints (1932)
  • Exhaust valve seat inserts (1932) — made of tungsten alloy
  • Power hydraulic brakes (1932)
  • All helical geared transmission (1933) — replacing “spur gears”

Airflow and beyond

The Airflow was the first car to use scientific weight distribution and synchronized front and rear springs for an anti-pitch ride. The body provided most of the structural strength. Amola steel was used. (1934)

  • Automatic overdrive (1934 Airflow)
  • Synchronized front and rear springs (1934)
  • Fender skirts (1934 Airflow)
  • Engineered weight distribution (1934 Airflow)
  • Built-in defroster vents (1936)
  • Power-operated convertible top (1936BW)
  • Electric windshield wipers (1939DDH).
  • Sealed beam headlights (1940)
  • Dual-cylinder front brakes (1940)
  • Full-flow oil filter (1946)
  • Single-piece curved windshield
  • Lowerable rear windows in convertibles (1941)
  • First use of standard air filters, as per Breer (1946)
  • First full-flow oil filter (1946)
  • First fuel filter in the gas tank (1946)
  • Pressure vent radiator cap (1949)
  • Bonded brake linings (1949 Cyclebond)
  • Self-energizing hydraulic disk brakes (1949 Imperial)
  • Nylon upholstery (1949 Chrysler)
  • First all-steel station wagon (1949 Plymouth)
  • All-electric window lifts (1950)
  • Safety padding (on the front seat-backs; 1937)

Airflow dashboard

Former Chrysler owner Daimler claimed to have invented both the car and the truck. While Gottlieb Daimler did create the first car with a working internal combustion engine, he was decades too late to invent the car. Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot did that, in 1769, building numerous self-propelled vehicles with steering and brakes, mostly as trucks, all steam powered.
The Encyclopedia Britannica, among other sources, credits Cugnot with inventing the car, though now some call it a “steam tractor” to give Daimler (and therefore Mercedes) the credit.
Mercedes also holds claim to the first antilock brakes, only a few years after Chrysler and Jensen had started using them.

  • Safety-rim wheels (1940DDH) so that tires would remain on the wheel even after a blowout; they quickly became an industry standard
  • Rotor type oil pump (1940DDH)
  • Two-speed windshield wipers (1940)
  • Two leading shoe front-wheel brakes (1940DDH)
  • Ignition-key starting (instead of turning the key and pressing a button; 1949DDH)
  • Popup headlights in a mass-production vehicle (1942 DeSoto, following the 1936 Cord)
  • Resistor spark plugs, standard, to avoid radio interference (1949DDH)
  • Rubber-isolated steering gear (1938)
  • Padded dashboard (for fewer injuries in collisions; 1949; thanks, J. Mutz)
  • Splash-proof ignition system (1949DDH)
  • Station wagon tailgate window that rolls down into tailgate (1950BW)
  • Bob Sheaves wrote: “The ball ramp idea [from the 1950 self-energizing brakes] was later used by Eaton and AAM to actuate their electronic locking differential. The balls could deform and jam; this was also an issue with the electric magnets to lock the differential side gears together.”
  • Four-wheel, self-energizing hydraulic disc brakes (1950)
  • Water-jacketed carburetor throttle body; forced-air cooled brakes (1950)
  • Full time power steering (1951 Chrysler). GM used one in 1952, but GM’s had no assist until 3 pounds of pressure were applied to the steering wheel.
  • Functional hood air scoop (1952)

The 1950s and 1960s

fuel injected badges


  • Solid state, no-tubes radio (1956 model year — 1955 calendar year — one year before GM claimed credit for the “first”)
  • First media-playing system: Highway Hi-Fi (turntable with special records; 1955 for 1956 model year) DP
  • Search-tune radio with direct frequency entry (1978)
  • Electronically tuned radios with digital clock (1984)
  • First widely available automotive air conditioner: 1953 Chrysler New YorkerDP and possibly the first modern style auto air conditioner [Geo Hamlin wrote that the 1940 Packard had a modern air conditioner.]
    • The Imperial Club wrote: Mopar products used flush-mounted air intake grilles instead of clumsy-looking scoops . ... the compressor took up only one cubic foot under the hood. ... High was capable of cooling a big DeSoto or Chrysler from 120 to 85 degrees in about two minutes, and also eliminated humidity, dust, pollen, and tobacco smoke. Since Airtemp relied on fresh air, drawing in 60% more than any other system, it avoided the staleness associated with more primitive rigs. Instead of the awkward plastic tubes mounted on the package shelf, as on GM and other setups, Airtemp employed small ducts that directed cool air toward the ceiling of the car, the air then filtered down around the passengers instead of blowing directly at them.  
  • First American production engine with 1 horsepower per cubic inch: 1956 Chrysler 300B (355 hp, 354 cid Hemi engine) — before GM, which claimed credit DP
  • Groundbreaking Torqueflite automatic, based on the Simpson gearset, launched (1956)
  • Curved side windows (1957 Imperial)
  • Cruise control: “Auto Pilot” (1958)DP. Bill Watson wrote: “Unlike later units, you set the speed on a dial located on the dash. If you hit the brakes, you had to start all over. It was used on full-size cars through 1966, when it was replaced by 1967’s cruise with the controls on the turn signal arm.”

testing labs

  • Swivel seats (1959; did not last)
  • Automatic-dimming rearview mirror (1959 Chrysler)
  • Electroluminescent instrument panel lighting (1960)
  • Alternators — first car to have them standard in a civilian car (1960 Valiant); first to make them standard in all cars (US only, 1961)
  • First American full line of passenger cars with unit-body construction: 1961 DP
  • Cold-extruded axle shafts (1960)
  • Axial flow blower for HVAC (1962)
  • Four wheel drive with an automatic transmission (1963)
  • Elemental tin used in cast-iron engine block (1963)
  • Distributor vacuum advance control valve to slash emissions and raise gas mileage without side effects (1963)
  • Tailgate window washer (1968)
  • Chrome-plated plastic grille to save weight, money (1968)
  • US use of auxiliary driving lights using quartz-halogen bulbs (1969; first seen in Europe in 1962)

The Electronic Age begins

  • electronic ignitionModern silicon electronic voltage regulator on all cars (1970, after debuting on Imperial in 1969; reached all trucks by 1972)
  • Four wheel antilock brakes (SureBrake) on the 1971 Imperial, introduced during 1970; though the first production car to have antilock brakes at all was the 1966 Jensen FF. (J. Mutz wrote that the 1967 Imperial also had rear anti-lock brakes. Mercedes later claimed that its S-Class was the first production car with antilock brakes, in the late 1970s.)
  • Electronic ignition in all cars, 1973 (Studebaker used electronic ignition in 1965, but only on a single model. Chrysler beat every other automaker by several years in making it standard; they had started using their system in 1971.)
  • On-board computers (1976 Chrysler Lean Burn). See the “Lean Burn” page.
  • trip computerTrip computer (EVIC): first use on a low-end car (1978 Horizon), just after BMW launched the first trip computer in any car
  • Hall Effect electronic distributor (1978)
  • Electronic beam welding of aluminum die-cast intake manifolds (1978)
  • Stamped aluminum wheels (1979)
  • Standard radial tires on all cars (1979)
  • Permanent-memory electronic display odometer (1981)

engine analyzer

  • Don Clark, inventor of the cupholderElectronic transmission range display (1981)
  • Electronic Voice Alert (1983): your car speaking pre-recorded messages
  • Modern cupholders (1983)
  • Turbocharger with water-cooled bearing housing (1984)
  • Computer-controlled charging system (1985) [Daniel Stern commented that this is debatable — it’s a Chrysler claim but “All Chrysler did was move the
    voltage regulator onto the boards inside the engine control computer
  • Post-hardened nodular iron camshaft (reduce friction, increasing as mileage, with roller followers, by 4%; 1988)
  • Multiple access, arbitration-based communications network with non-destructive collision detection (1988)
  • Electronically-controlled automatic transaxle (Ultradrive, 1989)
  • Adaptive electronically-controlled automatic transaxle (Ultradrive, 1989)
  • Direct-acting, ball-type solenoid valves for transmission shift control (1989)
  • Electro-hydraulic, logic-controlled transmission switching valve (to allow one solenoid to operate two transmission elements and to prevent unintended application of one element)(1989)
  • Four-wheel anti-lock brake system on a four-wheel drive vehicle (Jeep, 1989)
  • Two-component mix-at-the-gun clear-coat paint system (1989)
  • Variable-nozzle turbocharger for non-diesel car engine (1990, 2.2 Turbo IV)
  • Optional cellular phone built into the driver’s sun visor (1991; may have been a first, not sure; contrib. by Daniel Stern)


Modern times

  • “Beehive” valve springs (1989 3.3). Paul Bunce wrote that Mercedes later claimed credit for these
  • Standard driver side airbags (1988) and on all cars (1991)
  • Crankshaft timing and camshaft reference sensors for distributeless ignition (DIS) (1989 3.3, for 1990 model year cars)
  • integrated child seatsIntegrated child restraint (1992 minivans)
  • Electric minivan (1993)
  • Modular clutch and flywheel assembly (1993)
  • Microprocessor controlled methanol concentration sensor (1993)
  • Automatic transmission display based on shift lever position, confirmed with hydraulic pressure (1993)
  • Cast aluminum front suspension upper shock mount bracket (1994)
  • Customer programmable automatic door locks (1994)
  • Single point sensor for air bag (1994)
  • First use of "flash" reprogramming with vehicles's diagnostic tools (1994)
  • Molded-in-color fascia with optimum gloss body color (1995)
  • Tuned recyclable thermo composite intake manifold and air induction system (1995)
  • Automatic transaxle with twin silent chains on phased sprockets (1995)
  • All mechanical air bag restraint system (for the Jeep® Cherokee, 1995)
  • Entire climate control system managed by the body controller (19 patents; 1993)
  • Obstacle detection for powered sliding doors (2001)
  • First factory-installed Bluetooth hands-free calling solution in North America (2003)
  • Added exhaust braking to class 3-5 trucks (2007)
  • World’s first rear cross path accident avoidance system (2008)
  • First minivan with blind spot monitor (2008)
  • AWD system that disconnects front axle when not needed (for better mileage, 2009)
  • Cloud-based voice recognition system for hands-free receipt of and response to text messages (2012)
  • First light pickup with LED turn signals, marker lights, and tail lamps (2012)
  • First AWD system with rear-axle disconnect (2013)

1996 Minivan Firsts

  • Removable cowl plenum chamber (1996) for easier service of a tight engine bay
  • Removable windshield wiper module (1996) for easier service of a tight engine bay
  • Driver’s side minivan sliding door (1996)
  • Computer-operated air conditioning evaporator temperature control (1996)
  • Seamless passenger air bag door
  • Long-travel front suspension upper strut mount
  • Electronic starter override (cannot activate the starter with the engine running)
  • Positive temperature coefficient devices for wiring protection

Deeper looks

Duane D. Hughes added:

  • Unitized body (Airflow, 1934) — though Bill Watson wrote, “it still had a chassis frame. The frame was not as stiff as normal and the body framework was welded to the chassis to provide stiffness. The first unit body in the design we are familiar with appeared on the 1941 Nash 600.” Nash ended up as part of Chrysler via the AMC purchase in 1987.
  • There's been a lot of arguing about who made the first two door hardtop. Generally, the honor is given to Buick in 1949. Chrysler built seven in 1946, though (Town & Country) and claimed credit for this in 1995. At least one of these cars still exists. They also claim credit for the first hard-top convertible, 1946.
  • Chrysler introduced hardened valve seat inserts in their engines around 1935. Other manufacturers let the valves close on a seat that was machined into the block or head. Up to that time, it was common for owners to have to have a valve job at 30,000 miles or earlier. The Chrysler engines, because of the inserts, were good for at least 80,000.
  • Chrysler used a process called “Superfinish” on bearings starting in the early 1940s that decreased friction and increased the life of the engine. The Superfinish process reduced grinding marks to 1 millionth of an inch or less, so the Chrysler engines outlasted their counterparts from Ford and GM. Typical oil consumption for V-8 Fords of 1936 was listed in gallons, not quarts, in a Ford service manual. Chevy had only one technological advance in the "stove-bolt 6", overhead valves; otherwise, the engine was a throwback, using cast iron pistons, non-replaceable rod bearings, and splash lubrication. In contrast, Chrysler used aluminum pistons, bearing inserts, and full pressure lubrication. Details on this and hardened valve seats are in Carl Breer's book.

digital dashboard
Chrysler popularized digital dashboards, starting with the 1981 Imperial;
the one above is from a 1985 Dodge 600ES.

Automotive development: Pioneering CAD

Russ Shreve wrote that the Valiant was one of the first cars to have its suspension tested for loads and stress by computer. Computers cut development time by testing parts electronically, rather than by hand. Designs not failed by the computer were then built in prototypes.

CAD - CATIA Aries designThe Valiant was one of the first vehicles to be tuned for lower noise by computer. An October 1959 magazine said that "the Valiant may well be the quietest small car ever made."

Adopted innovations

Diagnostics and customization

The 1996 Grand Cherokee allowed owners to easily set preferences such as whether the horn honked on locking and the doors locked at a certain speed. Patent application 152968 by Kevin Schwanz, David Pruett, and Tracey Stanyer covers a means of accessing the computer via a standard serial interface (RS-232) to retrieve information and change settings. Chrysler has usually used, from their 1980s fuel injected engines to current models, a system which lets ordinary people access error codes.

Credits / key

BWBill Watson       DDH Duane D. Hughes       DP Dave Pope

Also see Moving to front wheel drive • New technologiesAlternative fuels and such

What are we missing? Let us know!

Is there an error on this page? Let us know and you could win a prize!

Windsor loses Transport

Jeep’s concept previews

Will Trackhawk make 700 hp?

More Mopar Car
and Truck News

We make no guarantees regarding validity or accuracy of information, predictions, or advice — see the terms of use and privacy policy. Copyright © 1994-2000, David Zatz; copyright © 2001-2017, Allpar LLC (except as noted, and press/publicity materials); all rights reserved. Dodge, Jeep, Chrysler, Ram, and Mopar are trademarks of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Spread the word via or Facebook

Driving the Dodge SlingShot Mopar 3.9 V6 2010-2014 Chrysler 200