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Enthusiasts and the Takeover of Chrysler by Daimler-Benz

I think I stumbled upon a very big difference between Ford fans and Mopar fans.

My theory is this: The majority of the Ford fans would never let anybody walk in and change the Ford Motor Company, its products, its way of thinking, its heritage, its overall greatness without a major fight. My theory is based on my experience as a once-strong Mopar fan, as compared to the experience of the Ford fan. The questions I asked myself included:

  1. Would the Ford enthusiasts have let Nasser merge Ford Motor Company with either Daimler or Toyota? I don't think so, but anything would have been possible.
  2. Would the Ford enthusiasts have buried their heads in the sand if Nasser secretly gave all of the power to the German or Japanese company, thus making a DaimlerFord or ToyotaFord, and having the company based in Stuttgart or Tokyo?
  3. Could the Ford enthusiasts have stomached the statement, "I had to deceive them ( the Americans in Dearborn) because if they knew it wasn't going to be a merger of equals, they would have said no. But, this is exactly what I wanted."? Wouldn't the Ford enthusiasts have screamed bloody murder?
  4. Could the Ford enthusiasts have stomached hearing the Germans or Japanese laughing at the Ford vehicles that were on display? Would the Ford fan have allowed a four door Mustang, or a Mustang built off of a Mercedes or Lexus platform, even if it meant sharing costs and technologies? Would the Ford fan let Mercury and possibly Lincoln go the way of Plymouth and Oldsmobile because Mercedes or Toyota felt like it was threatening their top cars? Or how about a Mazda built Mustang, complete with a turbo and a Japanese drivetrain?
  5. Would the Ford stockholders put up with a decrease in stock price from a high of $108 when the new company was formed, to a current price around $40 a share? Or a loss of $75 billion of shareholder value over the last three years?
  6. Would they put up with pink slips coming from either Stuttgart or Tokyo? Things like 6 plant closings and 25,000 workers laid off, just to break even? Or how about all of the news releases stating Ford is losing billions of dollars, thus making it look like it doesn't know what it is doing?
  7. Would a Ford fan put up with people saying that this is the future, and you better stop complaining about it? That this idea (merger) is good for Ford, and other kinds of positive bs that would make a long time Ford fan scream.

If you answered no to most or all of these questions, then you have helped prove my theory. I really believe, as somebody mentioned to me, that Ford fans bleed true blue, and nobody is going to change that. You guys can read through the BS because you expect better. I did the same thing in the Mopar web site, Allpar, and got nothing but how I'm a traitor, or I don't know anything.

The numbers are out there, and the Chrysler Group (yuck!) has a lot to worry about. Ford is not in the clear either, but Ford has 1) its independence, 2) a very large and loyal following, 3) a good majority of Americans backing it, 4) some of the most fabled cars in history, 5) a heritage and legacy second to none, and 6) a person who understands what Ford is about because, unlike GM and the Chrysler Group, he was not "sent" in to fix the problems, rather it is his name on the building, and his reputation and family heritage on the line. I think that has to be stronger than any feeling that can come from an outsider who is just there to fix the problems.

I'm sorry this is so long, but I want to thank the Ford faithful for showing me that there are some companies that still believe in heritage and pride. That the fans are so proud of that company, that they would never let anything happen to it, even if it is the CEO who is screwing it up. You, and that dealer who wrote about kicking Nasser out, stood up for what you believed, and fortunately prevailed. It is hard for me, as a Mopar fan, to acknowledge this, but Ford Motor Company did the things I always wanted Chrysler Corporation to do.

A response by Rod Wood

I learned of the corporate shenanigans that Ford played in whether is was cheaper to fix the fuel/flambe problems inherent to the Pinto or settle out of court with the families of the deceased that expired in their vehicles. Corporate decided that it was cheaper to litigate and settle out of court with the families of the deceased than to repair/replace the entire fleet of Pintos that, when hit severely enough in the rear, the quarter panels jammed the doors shut and the fuel tank would take such a hit as to open up, spill its contents and a resulting fire ensues emulsifying the passengers of the Pinto.

My instructor (a Ph.D. in economics) went as far as to describe one incident where a girl was riding as passenger in the rear seats of a Pinto, the car was rear ended, caught fire, and the occupants burned alive due to the quarter panels jammed the doors shut. When the fire was put out, it was learned that this girl riding in the back seat survived the initial impact of the wreck but clawed out her fingernails to try in vain to escape the burning car. She was burned alive and the Ford corporate heads made the decision to do so for financial reasons. Would Andrew still think as highly of what Ford is if this image was stuck in mind?

Every time I see Bill Ford’s face in his cheesy commercials exclaiming he has gasoline in his veins, I wonder if he would ever consider driving around in a Pinto rather than a Mustang with the radio cranked enjoying every minute of it because he is a car guy and getting out on the road and tearing it up is what car guys do. I'm sure if you could force him into a Pinto, he'd have his stare glued to the rear view mirror fearful of being rear ended and torched.

Most Ford enthusiasts are either kids who were born way after the Pinto, or elders out of touch with the past and too busy in their lives to really care a squat about the Pinto or remember how Ford handled the decision to burn people alive in their product. Most people are so enamored with Ford because of the Mustwang or the trumped up GT40 that they think and feel that Ford is Dodge reincarnate, '90s style. What should be asked is why the U.S. government isn't eyeing Daimler for purchasing an American icon and headquartering operations overseas, possibly driving this institution into the ground, eliminating domestic and foreign competition. But alas, Daimler picked an opportune time to get away with destroying Chrysler whilst everyone's concern is on war, stock market, terrorism, West Nile Virus, child kidnappings, etc.

I fear that Daimler will get away with tearing apart Chrysler and we (Chrysler enthusiasts) will be left holding onto our Stratuses, Reliants, and GTXs, wondering what we'll do when they break down or if I have to replace them, what car company is worth my investment. Ford enthusiasts can have Ford, I'll start my own car company and buy up as many Chrysler products I can (running or not) and keep them running with whatever I can get my hands on till I DROP DEAD FROM EXHAUSTION. How's that for enthusiasm?! Anywho, just a little light reading material to just get you to say hmmm. Thank-you for your time and patience! Sincerely, Rod Wood.

Sean O'Neil wrote:

I just wanted to say that the editorial written by andrew renth on ford vs chrysler fans was breathtaking! My dad was just as horrified as I was about Chrysler's slow and painful merger in japan and germany, and we are 100% Ford. My dad has only owned fords and 1 chevy he paid $25 for. We are currently restoring a matching #'s 1969 Dodge Charger R/T 440/auto. Every GM I've owned except 1 has bit me, my fords and chryslers have never let me down once.

Matt Cramer added:

There is one important distinction between the Chrysler and Ford fans that I think the comparison in your editorial section leaves out. The majority of Mopar fans are primarily loyal to a line of cars that died out over 20 years ago, while Ford fans have had an uninterrupted line of performance cars since the '60s.

At your typical dragstrip test and tune night, you're likely to see more Fox-body and SN95 Mustangs than pre-'80s Ford iron. With Mopars, the situation is reversed. Nearly all the Chrysler products being raced will be built before 1977, with few if any Chrysler products built after 1980 being raced at all.

While there are some Mopar fans who buy an Intrepid as a daily driver because of how much they like their Darts and Chargers, many Mopar fans either press beater M-bodies into service as daily drivers, or shop around between brands for commuter cars. Very little in Chrysler's current lineup packs the same appeal as what they sold in the '60s, except the Viper which few Mopar fans can afford. Even the turbo cars of the '80s are a distant memory, leaving the Neon as the only affordable Mopar with some racing potential. Needless to say, a 15 second front wheel drive car is not one to win over many people who favor massive displacement and rear wheel drive.

I think that Chrysler's pulling out of the pony car wars has resulted in many fans who are loyal to their vintage Mopars, but not to the Chrysler Corporation management. The "Mopar or no car" loyalty was something Chrysler earned, but did little to maintain after the mid '70s. Had Chrysler kept producing some worthy successors to their muscle cars right up until the takeover, the response from fans would probably have been very different - but a Chrysler management that kept its performance heritage in production probably wouldn't have sold out, anyway.

Mike Sealey added:

(Andrew Renth got into an interesting thread about what it means at Ford to have someone upstairs whose name is on the building. I'll respond to the more general parts of his guest editorial shortly, but thought the family-dynasty part was worth following up on.)

The situation at Ford is very different and may not appropriately present points of comparison. Possibly the biggest difference is that while Chrysler was always a publicly-owned company, Ford was solely owned by Ford family members from approximately 1917 (when Henry I bought out his minority shareholders including the Dodge brothers) to 1956 (when Ford stock was offered to the public again). The expensive and not entirely successful early-'50s moves by Henry II to take on Chevrolet up close and personal, which did little to change Chevy's position in sales other than a couple of isolated years where Ford sold more vehicles but which helped push Chrysler down into the #3 spot and helped kill off most of the independent automakers, would likely not have been undertaken had Henry II had to sell an elected board of outsiders on the idea.

The family issue is of course not without weight at Ford, although watching some of the moves among the family stockholders has been somewhat like watching medieval heirs to a throne. For many years the family heir apparent appeared to be Henry II's son Edsel Ford II, groomed for the position from his graduation from college and by all accounts skilled enough that he might have made it at a competing car maker without the family connection. Out of nowhere his relatively unknown cousin Bill Ford Jr. came in to capture the crown, exiling Edsel II to the Ford Racing Division. This may be in part due to Bill's dad, Detroit Lions owner William Clay Ford Sr., being the last survivor of his generation of legitimate male Ford descendants, but rumor has it that it had more to do with Edsel II sharing a first name not only with his grandfather but also with an unsuccessful car.

It appears likely that the whole Ford dynasty thing is a result of Henry I having taken the company private way back when. Had there been a trained successor waiting in the wings when Edsel Ford I died unexpectedly in 1943, Ensign Henry Ford II might well have remained in the Navy, where there was as you may recall a war going on at the time. To his credit, Henry II recognized his own lack of preparation and hired talented outsiders from GM and Bendix to help him bring the company into modern times. These were the famous "Whiz Kids" led by Ernest Breech. To his discredit, Henry II cast these talented men out once he no longer had any need for them. The one exception to this seems to have been Robert Strange MacNamara, a man whose own talent for palace intrigue was apparently strong enough to cover his own tastes for blander and more boring cars than the much cooler stuff produced by Ford in the '50s. Most of MacNamara's early-'60s product actually came to market after he left Ford to become Secretary of Defense under John F. Kennedy (he held the post through the LBJ administration, and has been blamed in some quarters for the level of American involvement in the Vietnam conflict). His cars were actually introduced under another master of palace intrigue, Lee Iacocca, who seems to have created excitement around the MacNamara product until designs done under his influence could reach market. (The original Mustang, to give the most enormously successful example, would never have seen the light of day under Bob MacNamara.) There is, in fact, some speculation that MacNamara was kept on board and placed in charge of Ford Division because Henry II felt more comfortable with MacNamara than with Iacocca. This would repeat itself in the late '60s when Henry II personally recruited Chevrolet general manager Semon ("Bunkie") Knudsen to take over the corporate presidency at Ford, temporarily going around Iacocca, who was considered by one and all to be next in line, and who had Knudsen's job two years later.

The other two majors have not had this kind of dynastic history with the exception of William S. and Bunkie Knudsen, the only father-&-son team to work as high level executives at BOTH GM and Ford. A Hudson/AMC dynasty is buried with Chrysler's history with the two Roy Chapins, as is a lesser dynasty (lesser from an automotive standpoint while huge in other fields) consisting of Henry J. and Edgar Kaiser, but these are too far removed from current seats of power to have any meaning.

Besides the privately held versus publicly owned company issue, another likely reason Walter Chrysler's descendants did not follow him into the auto business was that he took steps very early on not only to bestow wealth upon his wife and children but to separate that wealth from his corporate assets. Having started working and married life in humble surroundings, he wanted to make his heirs' assets as solid as he could. As Vincent Curcio explains in his outstanding biography, WPC set up trusts for his wife and children that he himself could not touch. He was probably influenced by the example of GM's Billy Durant, who bankrupted himself and his family more than once in the stock market.

Unlike Edsel Ford I, a talented man who like his namesake grandson years later would likely have been able to achieve success in the auto industry even without his father (and some say Edsel I could have achieved far greater success had he ever had enough independence from his father to rely entirely on his own counsel), neither of Walter Chrysler's sons had any interest in the car business. And to his credit, WPC seems to have accepted his sons' decisions to follow passions outside the auto industry, although there is some evidence that he hoped his children would run the Chrysler Building (a separate corporate entity from Chrysler Corporation) and the Airtemp division, which was a pioneer in commercial and residential air conditioning.

The lack of involvement of Walter Jr. and Jack Chrysler did not entirely preclude the possibilities of a family dynasty, however. WPC's daughter Thelma was married to one Byron Foy, who had been a successful auto man prior to marrying into the Chrysler family. Foy was president of DeSoto Division either from its inception or very shortly after, a position he held until World War II (shortly after WPC's death in 1940) when he took a leave of absence to accept a commission in the Navy. He returned to DeSoto after the war but did not remain very long after for reasons that remain unclear.

This ends the direct Chrysler family involvement in the management of the Chrysler Corporation and DaimlerChrysler AG, although Chrysler great-grandson Frank Rhodes Jr., who bears an astonishing physical resemblance to his great-grandfather, is involved in the Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills, Michigan. There is, however, a Chrysler still active in the car business. Distant cousin Richard Chrysler, who appears to be descended from one of WPC's Ontario-born uncles, is CEO of specialty conversion company Cars & Concepts.

So while Walter Chrysler may not have pressed the point of family involvement enough to ensure a Ford-like dynasty, he did give his children the freedom to follow their own dreams, and he did provide his descendants with the financial means to do so. He may not have ensured corporate survival sixty years after his death, but it is hard to fault his actions as a father.

(I started writing this on my dad's birthday, and he was never far from my thoughts, which may account for some of the tone of this. A. D. "Dave" Sealey celebrated his 77th birthday on August 12, 2002. I'm able to appreciate a good father because I'm lucky enough to have one myself. Happy birthday, Dad. We love you.)

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