Chrysler Technological Innovations
Energy saving / alternative fuels
We now have an entire section devoted to turbine, hybrid, fuel-cell, and electric vehicles, along with other energy-saving and alternative-fuel projects; alternative fuels section.
- Using CATIA to create the 1997 Dakota
- The Digital Factory project - designing production on the computer
- Using computers in the Neon engineering process
- CATIA in the engineering process
- Auto development notes
- CATIA and NX: CAD / CAE / PLM programs
- DealerConnect and the eEngineering Portal
- Profile of IT chief Sue Unger
- 1988 tech roundup
- automatically shifted manual transmission (dual-clutch)
- cab forward
- alternative fuels and such
- UConnect 2
- plastic and resin body parts
- Chrysler and the environment, 1993
- New technologies, based on patent searches and Chrysler releases
- Components affected by a wheelbase change (March 2003)
Chrysler has been responsible for many more innovations than one would expect. (While Chrysler Corporation was not yet created in 1924, we are including the innovations of engineers working on the Chrysler car.) In the 1970s, many innovations were driven by the rocket scientists at Chrysler Huntsville Electronics. A few of these include:
- The steering wheel (1898-1902) if you include Jeffery/Rambler.
- The first conventional (two wheel drive) trucks, 1910, if you include Jeffery/Rambler.
- All-steel bodies - as standard across the line (Dodge Brothers)
The Breer years
- Overdrive. The “fourth gear” using the Keller clutch was invented by Chrysler, but to avoid $25,000 in tooling costs, Walter P. Chrysler chose to have Borg-Warner make and supply it. That meant that competitors could also buy the system (Breer, p. 124)
- High-compression engine with replaceable-element oil filter (1924)
- Bonderite painting process (removed oil from body panels prior to painting)
- Four-wheel hydraulic brakes, 1924; the system was nominally designed by Lockheed, but had to be completely redesigned by Maxwell/Chrysler engineers before it could be used. Duesenberg had a hydraulic brake system, but only on a handful of vehicles; Rickenbacker had also used hydraulic brakes, but they were unreliable and also limited production.
- Full range crankshaft impulse neutralizer and vibration damper (1928) — used today on all (or nearly all) cars
- Rubber engine mounts to stop vibration (1925)
- Electronic ignition in all cars, 1973 (Studebaker was the first with electronic ignition in 1965, but it was restricted to a single model and Studebaker stopped making cars the same year. Chrysler beat every other automaker by several years in resurrecting electronic ignition, in 1971.)
- First production use (possibly first use, period) of downdraft carburetors (1929)
- Automatic spark control, centrifuge and vacuum (1931)
- 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”
- Automatic overdrive (1934)
- Synchronized front and rear springs (1934)
- Fender skirts (1934) with the Airflow
- Engineered weight distribution (1934 Airflow) for superior ride and handling
- Sealed beam headlights (1940)
- Dual-cylinder front brakes (1940)
- Lowerable rear windows in convertibles (1941)
- First use of standard air filters, as per Breer; first full-flow oil filter (1946)
- Pressure vent radiator cap (1949)
- Bonded brake linings (1949)
- Self-energizing hydraulic disk brakes (1949)
- Bonded brake linings (1950)
- Early use of high compression engine in mass production (1924 Chrysler with Ricardo heads)
- Post-hardened nodular iron camshaft to reduce friction and increase gas mileage (with roller followers, by 4%; 1988)
- Popup headlights in a mass-production vehicle (1942 DeSoto, following the 1936 Cord)
- 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. Overdrive was automatic; the windshield was a single curved piece. Amola steel was used. (1934)
- Rubber-isolated steering gear (1938)
- Full-flow oil filter (1946)
- All-electric window lifts (1950)
- Water-jacketed carburetor throttle body; forced-air cooled brakes (1950)
- Functional hood air scoop (1952)
- Early use of aluminum as a weight-saver, with an aluminum slant-six engine in 1961 (one year after the Corvair) and the economical (30 mpg highway in a relatively large car) Plymouth Feather Duster in 1976.
- Solid state / all transistor radio (no tubes, 1956 model year — 1955 calendar year)
- Curved side windows (1957)
- Automatic-dimming rearview mirror (1959)
- Electroluminescent instrument panel lighting (1960)
- Cold-extruded axle shafts (1960)
- Axial flow blower for HVAC (1962)
- Elemental tin used in cast-iron engine block (1963)
- Distributor vacuum advance control valve to dramatically lower emissions and increase gas mileage without side effects
- Tailgate window washer (1968)
- Chrome-plated plastic grille to save weight, money (1968)
The modern times
- On-board computers / electronic feedback for ignition timing and carburetor (1976 Chrysler Lean Burn)
- Trip computer (EVIC): first use on a low-end car (1978 Horizon), just after BWM launched the first trip computer in any car
- First use of modern electronic fuel injection (tried and failed in 1958)
- The Ultradrive was the first transmission in the world to have electronic controls; it also adapted to changing internal conditions and driver needs. A rush to production and not using appropriate fluids led it to have a poor quality record.
- Hall Effect electronic distributor (1978)
- Electronic beam welding of aluminum die-cast intake manifolds (1978)
- Search-tune radio with direct frequency entry (1978)
- Stamped aluminum wheels (1979)
- Standard radial tires on all cars (1979)
- Permanent-memory electronic display odometer (1981)
- Electronic 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)
- Multiple access, arbitration-based data communications network with non-destructive collision detection (1988)
- Fully 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 (1989)
- Two-component mix-at-the-gun clear-coat paint system (1989)
- Variable-nozzle turbocharger for non-diesel car engine (1990)
- Integrated child restraint (1992)
- Electric minivan (1993)
- Modular clutch and flywheel assembly (1993)
- Microprocessor controlled Methanol Concentration Smart Sensor (1993)
- Electronic automatic transmission display based on shift lever position and confirmed with hydraulic pressure (1993)
- Crank timing and cam reference Distributeless Ignition System (DIS) sensors (1994)
- 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 electronically managed by the vehicle’s body controller (19 patents; 1993)
A 1973 Dodge brochure claimed:
- First four door sedan (1919)
- First full front seat (1921)
- Windshield cleaner (hand-operated, 1921)
- Industry first all steel coupe body (June 1922)
Russ Shreve noted that the Valiant was one of the first cars to have its suspension tested for loads and stress by computer. Indeed, computers were used to greatly cut development time by testing competing electronically rather than making each part and testing it by hand. Designs not failed by the computer were then built in prototypes.
The Valiant was one of the first vehicles to be tuned for lower noise by computer, work normally requiring many mathemeticians working for months. Computers were used to find electronically where and why parts would resonate or echo with road or engine noise and vibration. An October 1959 magazine said that "the Valiant may well be the quietest small car ever made" and that "Chrysler is building more than just a smaller car. Instead, it appears to be a revitalized approach to basic transportation."
- AC Alternator instead of a DC generator that kept electrical current flowing, even at idle. (First non-fleet automotive use.)
- Regular production engines that got a "supercharged" effect without having the mechanical components of an engine driven blower.
- Mass produced unit bodies that were designed using computers and did not require outside sheet metal for body strength.
- A seven step series of body structure rust proofing baths that employed the use of electrostatic charge to insure sealant bonding to the structure metal. (Nash started using the bath in the 1950s, dipping to the roof; Lincoln dipped the bottom 18 inches in 1958; Chrysler went up to the beltline and added the electrostatic charge for better adhesion.)
Duane D. Hughes added:
- 4 wheel antilock brakes (1971 Imperial) — introduced during 1970. The only production car to have antilock brakes before that was the 1966 Jensen FF, a specialty car. Mercedes later claimed that its S-Class was the first production car with antilock brakes, in the late 1970s. But then, Mercedes also invented the car over a century after the invention of the car.
- Electric windshield wipers (1939; they had been pneumatic and, before that, hand-operated)
- Replaceable cartridge oil filter (1924 Chrysler).
- Oil filters were standard on Plymouths way back into the 1930s at least. I don't know when they became standard on Fords, but in 1961 they were still an option on 6 cylinder Chevrolets. [This was based on a vendor idea with considerable Chrysler engineering]
- Ignition key starting (1949) (rather than pushbutton starting)
- Safety rim wheels (1940) (made blowouts much safer by keeping the tire on the wheel even when the tire was not inflated; this became an industry standard)
- Resistor spark plugs, standard, to avoid radio interference (1949)
- Rotor-type oil pump (1940)
- Disc brakes (1949 Imperial--quite a different design than today's disc brakes.)
- Bill Watson added: “They had two expanding dics that that rubbed against a finned drum's inner surface. A series of ball bearings between the discs forced the discs apart as brake pressure was applied. The system was self-energizing. The brakes were designed by H.L. Lambert and built by the Auto Specialties Manufacturing Company. Chrysler first tested the brakes in 1939. ”
- Chrysler claimed a first for four-wheel, self-energizing hydraulic disc brakes for 1950.
- Two leading shoe front-wheel brakes (1940)
- Full time power steering (1951 Chrysler--GM didn't get it until 1952, and unlike Chrysler's full time system, GM's had no assist until 3 lbs of pressure was applied to the steering wheel.)
- Unitized body (Airflow, 1934) — though Bill Watson wrote, “Although Chrysler hypes the Airflow as unibody [see bottom of page!], 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 unitbody in the design we are familiar with appeared on the 1941 Nash 600.” For what it's worth, Nash ended up as part of Chrysler later!
- Auto Pilot (1958). 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 Mopar cars through 1966. Chrysler's cruise control with the controls on the turn signal arm was introduced for 1967.”
- Steering wheel rim-blow horn
- Superlight (1969 Dodge Monaco) and swivel seats (1959) - neither lasted
- Electronic dimming rear-view mirror (Chrysler 1959)
- Ram induction
- Driver side airbags standard on all cars (1990)
- Driver side sliding door on minivans (1996)
- Splash-proof ignition (1949)
- Independent front suspension (1934 Plymouth) - Chevy also brought out a version in 1934, calling it "knee action"; it was standard on the Master (deluxe) model, with an I-beam one piece axle standard on lesser models. Plymouth went back to the one piece axle in 1935. The design of the Plymouth suspension was much closer to that of independent suspensions of the 1940s and 1950s. [Webmaster: Bill Watson pointed out that Olds, Buick, and Cadillac all had coil-spring, short-long arm independent front suspensions in 1934; Plymouth and Dodge returned to IFS in 1939.]
- 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 (Town & Country models) and the company claimed credit for this in 1995. Bill Watson wrote: “Photos of the hardtop appear on page 259 of 70 Years of Chrysler and on page 34 of The Postwar Years - Chrysler & Imperial. The latter also has a photo of Chrysler General Manager David Wallace's 2-door hardtop. He had a padded top installed along with a larger rear window.” This car still exists. They also claim credit for the first hard-top convertible, 1946.
- High compression engines. Work on this started even before Walter Chrysler joined Maxwell-Chalmers. Throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, Chrysler typically had the highest compression ratios in the industry. During the 1930s, optional high compression aluminum heads were offered on some models.
- 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.
Dave Pope added:
- First widely available automotive air conditioner: 1953 Chrysler New Yorker (this system was also the first of the modern type). Nash and Pontiac brought the condensor under the hood in 1954. [Geo Hamlin wrote that the 1940 Packard had a modern air conditioner.] To quote the Imperial Club:
- Air-conditioned Mopar products used flush-mounted air intake grilles instead of clumsy-looking scoops like the competition. ... the compressor took up only one cubic foot under the hood. The condenser panel was mounted out of the way, diagonally, in front of the radiator, where it received fresh air without blocking the cooling system. ... 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. It was also silent and unobtrusive. 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 modern air filter: 1955 Chrysler C300
- First 1 horsepower per cubic inch engine: 1956 Chrysler 300B (355 hp, 354 cid Hemi engine)
- First American full line of passenger cars with unit-body construction: 1961
- First music system where you select what gets played: Highway Hi-Fi (turntable with special records and dampening)
- First digital fuel injection: 1957 DeSoto Adventurer (Bendix aircraft system adapted for Chrysler use); again, for an American automaker, 1981-1982 Imperial. The DeSoto's system was modern in design and had reliable circuit materials for underhood use been available, it would probably have been very successful.
Ellis Brasher added: Clutch and selective gear transmission
J. Mutz added:
- 1937 Chrysler safety interiors with soft armrests, recessed controls
- 1949 Chrysler padded dashboard (verified)
- 1967 Imperial rear anti-lock brakes
Bill Watson added:
- 1926 - Rubber spring shackles and adjustable front seats.
- 1929 - Rust-proofed fenders and sheet metal parts
- 1931 - Floating power introduced - positioning the front and rear engine mounts with the engine's centre of gravity mid-way between the two. Thus the engine could rock on the axis.
- 1931 - Rust-proofed bodies, introduction of vacuum spark control.
- 1934 - One piece, curved windshield - Custom Imperial Airflow CW (oddly they would be late in spreading this to all cars)
- 1936- Built-in defroster vents
- 1937 - Fully insulated rubber body mountings
- 1937 - Safety padding on back on front seats
- 1939 - Power-operated convertible top
- 1946 - Fuel filter in tank
- 1949 - Nylon upholstery fabrics - Chrysler
- 1949 - Bonded brake linings - "Cyclebond"
- 1949 - First car all-steel station wagon - Plymouth
- 1950 - Station wagon tailgate window rolls down into tailgate - steel-bodied wagons
- 1956 - Introduces Torqueflite, 3-speed automatic. A ground-breaking unit. Both GM and Ford finally use Simpson designs starting in 1964 (all three automakers licensed it, Chrysler in 1955, Ford, interestingly, in 1953).
- 1957 - Curved side glass windows - Imperial
- 1960 - Alternators — diodes were used to convert AC power to DC, and prevent power from flowing back into alternator from battery if the unit dies. These replaced the then-standard and problematic generators. See the story.
- 1961 - First automaker to make alternators standard across the board (U.S. only)
Filter Taylor wrote: “When the anti-theft steering wheel lock went into production, you would put the key into the steering column, not the dash, and break the key. Mopar had it with the key in a lock that you twisted (the lock not the key), no problem.”
We're nowhere near having an exhaustive list. Perhaps you would help by contributing?
Chrysler popularized digital dashboards on various K-cars before moving on to electronically driven dashboards with analog displays. The first appeared on the 1981 Imperial; the one below is from a 1985 Dodge 600ES. The Mitsubishi Conquest used Mitsubishi’s own digital dashboard in 1983; Mitsubishi was part of a keiretsu that included a large electronics division.
Diagnostics and customization
Long ago (around 1990), this site's webmaster wrote to Chrysler and suggested that owners be able to connect to their cars via laptop and adjust things like shift points and default behaviors. 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, not USB) to retrieve information and change settings.
Chrysler has used, from their very first computer-controlled fuel injected engines to current models, a system which lets ordinary people access error codes.
Lanny Knutson wrote in the Plymouth Bulletin (reprinted by permission):
A new electronic spark advance module called Lean Burn was introduced by Chrysler [in 1976] on all its 400 and 440 engines. Six sensors monitored the engine RPM, manifold vacuum, water temperature, ambient temperature, intake air temperature and throttle position, sending the data to a small computer unit mounted on the air filter housing. A pioneering version of what is now under the hood of nearly every contemporary car, Lean Burn was designed to avoid the driveability problems usually arising from manually leaned carburetors. Although it gained approximately one mile per gallon, the primary purpose of the system was controlling emissions inside the engine. For a time, it permitted Chrysler to avoid use of expensive power-robbing catalytic converters. In 1977 Lean Burn was extended to the 360 engine. [It was later put onto the 318 and Slant Six before.]
Chrysler talks about their own electronic advances
1960: First made the alternator practical for automotive use by incorporating silicon diodes as an electronic rectifier in the design.
1969: Introduced a modern silicon electronic voltage regulator on all vehicles. This device has no moving parts and is much more reliable than the electromechanical regulators used previously.
1973: Made electronic ignition standard on all cars and trucks. This device eliminated troublesome ignition points and condenser-the major cause of engine tune-ups.
1976: Introduced the Electronic Spark Control System. This system uses an electronic computer and engine and environmental sensors, which combine to adjust the timing of spark plug firings for good combustion and smooth engine performance.
1977: Introduced second-generation Electronic Spark Control Computer. This computer includes circuitry for electronic ignition, and computes all vital information necessary to control the ignition system. The distributor centrifugal advance flyweights and one of the two pickup coils were eliminated from the distributor.
1978: Introduced Electronic Search-Tune radio.
1979: Electronic Feedback Carburetor Emissions Control System introduced on compact and midsize cars sold in California equipped with a 3.7-liter (225 CID) 1-barrel 6-cylinder engine and automatic transmission.
1980: Incorporated a digital microprocessor in the spark-control computer of the Electronic Spark Control System. The digital electronic circuitry of this unit offers more operating precision and programming flexibility than the voltage-dependent analog system used previously.
Incorporated a detonation suppressor system in the Electronic Spark Control System on V-8 engines sold in California. A sensor mounted on the intake manifold monitors background vibration levels of the engine. When engine knock frequencies are detected, the engine spark timing is electronically retarded to suppress tne engine knock-and is automatically advanced when the condition is removed.
1981: Expanded use of Electronic Combustion Control System to all U.S.-built 4-cylinder and V-8 engines and the California 3.7-liter (225 CID) Slant Six. This system employs a single Combustion Computer for the electronic ignition, Electronic Spark Control System and Electronic Feedback Carburetor.
1982: Adaptive memory system incorporated in Electronic Spark Advance Computer for 1.7-liter and 2.2-
liter engines sold in high altitude areas. This memory system continuously fine tunes air-fuel mixture
calibrations and spark advance calibrations as the car moves from one altitude to another in mountainous terrain. It has a built-in altitude compensator.
1984: Electronically tuned radios with integral digital clock.
1985: EFI turbocharged engine equipped with electronic boost pressure control. New AM stereo.
1986: Electronic speed control for Voyager. Electronic intermittent feature for rear window wiper/washer on Voyager. AM stereo use expanded to all domestic AM/FM radios.
1987: Single module engine control computer introduced on 2.5-liter EFI and 3.0-liter MPI engines. Electronic lockup torque converter introduced on 2.5-liter EFI and 3.0-liter MPI engines. Electronic speed control usage extended to include all front drive vehicles, except Horizon America and Turismo.
1988: Single-module engine controller on all domestic front drive cars.
1991: Sequential electronic fuel injection used on 2.5-liter turbo engine; 2.2 Turbo III pioneers Chrysler’s use of distributorless ignition, four-valve-per-cylinder design, and dual overhead cams.