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Chronological History of Chrysler, 1950-63: The Virgil Exner Years

1864-19111912-191920-391940-49 1950-63 1964-19711972-801981-921993-97
History By Year • Coming: 1998-2007 (disastrous Daimler deal) • 2008-2013 (re-rebirth)

The story so far. Walter P. Chrysler, after rising in the railroads as an engineer, turned around faltering Buick, then left to head Willys, and started working with Zeder-Skelton-Breer Engineering on the most advanced car ever produced. Maxwell-Chalmers runs into trouble after trying to blend together numerous companies as U.S. Motor Car Company, and hires Walter Chrysler; he rescues and takes over the company, putting it into a new shell called Chrysler Corporation. Plymouth, Fargo, and DeSoto are started and Dodge Brothers is purchased.

1950 - Keller and Colbert; Familiar car names debut; Newark announced

  • tex colbertK.T. Keller becomes chairman of the board and L.L. Colbert becomes president.
  • Two door hardtops introduced - Dodge Coronet (Diplomat), DeSoto Custom (Sportsman) and Chrysler Windsor, New Yorker and Town & Country (Newport).
  • DeSoto Body Plant opens on Warren Avenue (former Graham plant)
  • New tank plants announced for New Orleans, LA, and Newark, DE.
  • 6 millionth Plymouth
  • 2 milllionth Chrysler
  • Read more: Plymouths of 1949-1952 •  Chrysler 1949-52 • Plymouth 1950

1951: Proving ground purchased; new 331 Hemi; Fluid Torque Drive

  • Purchases land in Chelsea, MI for proving grounds.
  • DeSoto expands Warren Avenue plant to include engine production.
  • Chrysler Saratoga, New Yorker, Imperial and Crown Imperial get the new 331-cid hemi V8, dropping their straight-eights.
  • Fluid Torque Drive introduced - uses torque converter instead of fluid coupling.
  • Irv WoolsonTwo door hardtop introduced in Plymouth Cranbrook series - Belvedere. Similar hardtop model, known only as "special club coupe", introduced in export-market Dodge Kingsway Custom and DeSoto Diplomat Custom series.
  • February 25 - Fred M. Zeder dies.
  • William C. Newberg named president of Dodge Division.
  • L.Irving “Irv” Woolson named president of DeSoto Division.
  • New idea cars - Chrysler K-310, Plymouth XX-500..
  • 7 millionth Plymouth
  • See Plymouths of 1951

1952: Trenton plant; FireDome

  • New engine plant in Trenton, MI opened.
  • Last year for the Dodge 7-passenger extended-wheelbase sedan.
  • John P. Mansfield named president of Plymouth Division.
  • New 276-cid hemi V8 introduced for DeSoto - FireDome.
  • Three parade cars built on the Chrysler Crown Imperial chassis, one each for Los Angeles, Detroit and New York.
  • New idea cars - Chrysler C-200 convertible and Special coupe.
  • 6 millionth Dodge car
  • Read more: Plymouths of 1949-1952

1953: Dodge shares Plymouth body; Red Ram; Powerflite

  • Last year Plymouth assembled at San Leandro, CA
  • New downsized Plymouth and Dodge. Dodge uses Plymouth body for the two door convertible, hardtop and wagon models.
  • An extended wheelbase (five inches) of the Plymouth body is used for Dodge club coupes and four door sedans.
  • Dodge Coronet offers new 241-cid hemi Red Ram V8.
  • Fresh air automobile air conditioning introduced.
  • Briggs Manufacturing Company automotive facilities in the U.S. purchased for $35,000,000. Chrysler builds bodies for Packard to the end of the 1954 model year.
  • DeSoto moves 6-cylinder production to Trenton Engine plant.
  • Body building facilities opened at Los Angeles, CA plant.
  • New plant opened in Indianapolis, IN to produce Powerflite.
  • Chrysler Custom Imperial and Crown Imperial offer Powerflite.
  • Plymouth introduces Hy-Drive - a torque converter between the engine and clutch - which shares oil supply with the torque converter and engine. This was a semi-automatic transmission to fill in the gap as the Powerflite was being developed.
  • Last year for semi-automatic in Dodge, DeSoto and Chrysler.
  • E.C. Quinn named president of Chrysler Division.
  • New idea cars - Chrysler D'Elegance, DeSoto Adventurer, Dodge Firearrow, Chrysler GS-1.
  • 8 millionth Plymouth
  • See related article: Plymouths of 1953-1954Chrysler 1953-54

1954: Turbine, Belmont, more

1955: Imperial on its own; dealer-installed A/C; HyFire.

1956: TorqueFlite debuts with push-button drive; Killer retires; transistor radio

1957: "Dodge DeSoto"; B engines; New Process Gear

1958: Chrysler buys part of Simca.

  • DeSoto production moves from the Wyoming plant to Chrysler's Jefferson Avenue plant for 1959 model year.
  • Beginning with the 1959 models, Imperial production begins at the old Graham/DeSoto plant on Warren Avenue.
  • McGraw Avenue plant of former DeSoto complex is converted to glass production.
  • The main assembly building on Wyoming Avenue becomes the center of Chrysler export operations in the 1960s.
  • Chrysler Corporation purchases Ford’s 25% interest in Simca (Societe Industrielle de Mechanique et Carosserie Automobile) and begins importing Simca cars, including Vedette Beaulieu model, with Ford flathead V-8.
  • Chrysler International S.A., headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, is formed and succeeds the former Chrysler Export Corporation.
  • New Electrical Division begins operations in Indianapolis, IN..
  • Auto-Pilot speed-control introduced on Imperial.
  • America's first successful satellite, Explorer I, launched with Chrysler-built Jupiter-C missile.
  • Christine is made (in fiction)
  • Chrysler launches the world’s first electronic fuel injection system, made by Bendix, which looks remarkably similar to modern units; it is an abysmal failure, with materials unable to withstand automotive conditions. Bosch would buy the rights to it, and hold onto them until materials technology advanced enough to support the system.
  • The heads of the divisions are "downgraded," from president to general manager - Harry E. Cheseborough - Plymouth Division; M.C.Patterson - Dodge Division; J.B.Wagstaff - DeSoto Division; Clare E. Briggs -Chrysler Division and Imperial Division.
  • New idea cars - Imperial D'Elegance, Plymouth Cabana
  • 11 millionth Plymouth
  • Also see: Chrysler Corporation, 1958 • Plymouth 1958Inside Chrysler, 1958

1959

  • Evansville, IN plant closed. New plant in St. Louis, MO opens for 1960 production.
  • Chrysler Corporation introduces swivel seats and automatic dimming electronic rear view mirror.
  • Chrysler acquires minority interest in Chrysler of Mexico and complete ownership of Chrysler South Africa Ltd.
  • SIMCA purchases Talbot-Lago, descendant of French arm of Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq.
  • June - Harry E. Cheseborough named general manager of new Plymouth-Desoto Division
  • June - Clare E. Briggs named general manager of Chrysler-Imperial Division.
  • October - Harry E. Cheseborough named general manager of Plymouth-DeSoto-Valiant Division
  • Also see: Plymouth 1959

1960: Dart replaces Plymouths at Dodge dealers; Valiant appears; Colbert chair, president

  • Unit body construction introduced for all cars, except Imperial, and is first use of computers in body engineering
  • The alternator is introduced as standard equipment on the Valiant and optional on all other cars.
  • New Plymouth-based Dodge Dart introduced and replaces Plymouth at Dodge dealers in U.S.
  • Export Dodge Kingsway replaced by Dodge Dart for 1960; export DeSoto Diplomat based on Dodge Dart.
  • DeSoto line reduced to Fireflite and Adventurer - all on 122" wheelbase.
  • New compact Valiant introduced for 1960.
  • Dodge Hamtramck renovated - two assembly lines, one for Valiant and the other for Dodge.
  • McGraw Glass Plant begins production.
  • April 28 - William C. Newberg president of Chrysler Corporation
  • April 28 - L.L.Colbert named chairman of the board. On June 30, L.L.Colbert replaces William C. Newberg as president of Chrysler Corporation.
  • November - Harry E. Cheseborough named general manager of Plymouth Division as DeSoto is dropped.
  • Byron J. Nichols named general manager of Dodge Division.
  • Societe Industrielle de Mechanique et Carosserie Automobile split into two companies - Simca Automobiles S.A. (for automotive products) and Simca Industries S.A. (for non-automotive products).
  • New idea car - Plymouth XNR
  • 12 millionth Plymouth
  • 8 millionth Dodge car
  • 2 millionth DeSoto
  • Also see: Jeep 1958-61Dodge cars of 1960 Dodge trucks of 1960Plymouths of 1960: the Belvedere, Fury, Savoy, and Valiant; unit-body; TorqueFlite; SonoRamic engines; and more

1961: DeSoto ends; Valiant becomes Plymouth; Virgil Exner leaves

  • Imperial production reverts to the Jefferson Avenue plant with the 1962 models. The Graham/DeSoto/Imperial plant is sold.
  • Assembly of big Dodge Polara moved to Jefferson Avenue for 1961 model year.
  • Last year for DeSoto cars, now down to a 2-door and 4-door hardtop, and the export DeSoto Diplomat.
  • DeSoto replaced by Chrysler at Plymouth-DeSoto dealers; new, lower-priced Chrysler Newport moves into old DeSoto market.
  • Dodge Lancer introduced for Dodge dealers as Valiant officially becomes a Plymouth in the U.S.
  • Clare E. Briggs named general manager of new Chrysler-Plymouth Division; Chrysler-Imperial and Plymouth Divisions are merged.
  • George H. Love named chairman of the board,
  • Lynn A. Townsend named president of Chrysler Corporation
  • November - Virgil Exner leaves Chrysler Corporation and Elwood Engle is named head of corporate styling.
  • New idea cars: TurboFlite, Dodge Flitewing
  • Also see: Chrysler Corporation of 1961 (all divisions)

1962: B bodies brought out based on reduced-size Exner theme

  • New "B" body Plymouths and Dodges introduced based on a shrunken version of Virgil Exner's “S” body theme; generally considered a styling disaster, these were a quick “re-do” based on a rumor overheard by the Chrysler Corp president that Chevrolet would be cutting the size of its 1962 cars. In reality, GM was introducing a single smaller car.
  • January - Dodge Custom 880 introduced: a 1961 Dodge Polara body with Chrysler rear quarter panels and taillamps coupled to a 1961 Dodge Polara interior. Assembled at Jefferson Avenue plant. Replaces old Polara series in medium-price range.
  • Also see: Chrysler Corporation of 1962; Plymouth Sport Fury and styling for 1961-1962

1963: Last direct Exner influence; Chrysler controls Simca; Super Stock 426-II

Burton Bouwkamp wrote, when we asked if there were any cars he was particularly proud of other than the Omni/Horizon: “Probably the 1963 Chrysler. It was the first all new car that I planned as Manager of Chrysler Product Planning. It was styled by Cliff Voss. It had formal elegant lines which I still admire when I see one at Chrysler meets. The car had two shortcomings - the rear track was not wide enough for the body and the stamped grille was cheap looking for a Chrysler. We tried to sell a wider track axle housing and a cast grille to management but they were judged to be too expensive.”

  • Last Virgil Exner input into styling as Chryslers are styled based on “S” body ideas, but greatly toned down.
  • Dodge Lancer dropped, replaced by Dodge Dart in compact market.
  • January - Chrysler Corporation increased its holdings in Simca to 63%
  • February - Acquires Therm-O-Rite Products Ltd., Toronto, ON, which becomes Chrysler Airtemp Canada Limited.
  • Acquires Chrysler Hella S.A.I, (Greece)
  • Plymouth announces development of the Plymouth Super Stock 426-II engine (June)
  • 273-cid V8 engine unveiled as an option in 1964 Plymouth Valiant and Dodge Dart cars (December)
  • 13 millionth Plymouth
  • 9 millionth Dodge car
  • Note: Plymouth sold 239,327 cars, of which 36,089 were station wagons
  • Also see: Plymouth cars of 1963: Chrysler's ill-timed downsizing and other details, including the Fury Super Sport.

1864-19111912-191920-391940-49 1950-63 1964-19711972-801981-921993-97
History By Year • Coming: 1998-2007 (disastrous Daimler deal) • 2008-2013 (re-rebirth)

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