by Kate E. Stephenson
Counting adopted companies, the first military contributions of Chrysler Corporation were the Dodge Brothers trucks used in General Pershing’s battles in prewar Mexico, and the early 4x4 Jeffery Quad (later called the Nash Quad). After the first World War, one of the major American tools was the Bantam Reconnaissance Vehicle, which would become the Jeep. Dodge Brothers cars were also used with great success by the military; they also built howitzers in a specially built plant.
Chrysler Corporation itself quickly gained momentum as a leading automobile producer and distributor, pioneering automobile technologies; Chrysler became a major force in military defense production during patriot K.T. Keller's reign in the late 1930s.
World War II gave Chrysler its first opportunity to prove its manufacturing mettle (though Dodge Brothers had supplied cars, trucks, and artillery to the military starting in 1917). Demonstrating a patriotic dedication to the manufacture of defense materials during the 1940s and 50s, Chrysler made great strides in war goods production, increasing cost effectiveness and time efficiency — not just in cars, but also in aircraft and nuclear weapons development.
Even before the United States entered World War II, Chrysler had begun a high-energy push into defense work, manufacturing wartime goods for the European Allied nations. In the Spring of 1940, Chrysler began mass production of tanks for sale overseas.
By the late summer of that same year, Chrysler received a contract with the Department of Defense for $54.5 million to construct and staff a tank-building plant. This contract, an incredible amount of money for the time, demonstrates the magnitude of governmental interest and trust in the reliability of Chrysler production, as at the time the second largest tank contract had been for $11 million dollars.
The Chrysler-produced Sherman M4 tank would be the main combat vehicle of U.S. ground forces. The tank plant contracted in 1940 was operational and production tanks in quantity by 1941. One year later, DeSoto president Byron Foy resigned to take a commission in the Army Air Corps (he served for three years, returning to Chrysler as a vice president in 1945).
Having received multiple contracts from the government to produce numerous types of tanks, Chrysler was also contracted to outfit other military vehicles (such as ambulances and trucks), anti-aircraft guns, the Martin B-26 Bomber and B-29 “Superfortress,” bomb fuses, shells, and domestic items like field kitchens and refrigerators.
One of Chrysler’s greatest WWII achievements came with the Dodge productions of the Boeing B-29s. The assemblage rate of B-29 bomber engines at Dodge-Chicago exceeded the target amount by at least a hundred per month, while at the same time, cutting the cost of engine manufacturing by half. By the end of the War, Dodge had produced 18,413 B-29 engines and approximately 500,000 military trucks; the Chrysler corporation amassed over $3.4 billion in U.S. governmental contracts and had produced items of transportation and protection for both ground and air forces. The company consistently delivered higher quality products, earlier than expected, and at far lower cost.
During the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, Chrysler participated in 31 government projects for a total of $1.1 billion. In the post-Korean war period, Chrysler continued to build tanks, amphibious vehicles, and military trucks. It continued its involvement with missiles and was a lead contractor on the Saturn V rockets.
Chrysler had ads in 1958 that showed its involvement in launching America's first satellite, for the military, on a Jupiter rocket. There were magazine ads in the late 1960s showing all the vehicles Chrysler built, from the little Simca to swamp vehicles to the Saturn V. It was involved in the turbine-powered M-1 tank (until the goverment forced them to sell some military assets during the loan guarantee phase). In the 1960s, Chrysler also worked with the military on a hovercraft. [This paragraph from J. Mutz, Leon County, Florida]
While its massive war effort declined after the 1950s and the Korean conflict, Chrysler and its subsidiary companies continued to contribute to defense development and space exploration.
Chrysler’s 1964 Marsh Screw Amphibian used two counterrotating screws, powered by a car engine; it was good in water and marshland, but poor on dirt and sand, and government tests were disappointing. The 1969 Riverine Utility Craft (RUC) used two 39”-diameter aluminum rotors, powered by a pair of 440 car engines. It was government-tested to a top speed of 15.7 knots on water, and nearly 25 knots in marshes; but it too ran poorly on dirt, not quite reaching 4 knots.
In 1962, the M-60A1 combat tanks started production as well, under a contract which stretched into 1964. Fire control equipment for the tanks was made by Airtemp. Other projects included:
Research (in 1962) by the Missile Division included programs for tactical and intercontinental missles, reentry vehicles for the Air Force, a Navy sea launch program, and electro-optical systems.
Chrysler Canada also had military programs, for the Canadian government, including the pictured truck — developed with a reverse-canted windshield which prevented aircraft from spotting it by reflection.
In 1976, Chrysler signed a contract of $4 billion with the Army to build XM-1 tanks and then again in 1994 (of currently posted governmental contracts on the website)(1) two subsidiary companies of ChryslerElectrospace Systems, Inc. and Chrysler Technologies Airborne Systems, Inc.received contracts with the Army and Navy, totaling over $50 million between 1994 and 1996, after which both companies were sold to Raytheon.
In 1978, Chrysler delivered the first XM1 tank, the Army’s first turbine powered main battle tank, which had double the power, cross-country speed, and mobility of existing combat tanks. Later M-1 tanks had telemetry, first handled remotely and later processed by computers within the tank, created by Chrysler Electronics in Huntsville.
Gaps in our information may be credited to any number of causes, three of which seem particularly credible; first, the government could be keeping more defense projects under wraps, including to whom contracts are being awarded; second, Chrysler controlled subsidiary companies which may have held government defense contracts but are difficult to identify as Chrysler assets; and third, many of the contracts between Chrysler and the Armed Forces may have remained active and therefore not registered as new contracts or new involvement.
FMC turned to Chrysler Industrial and Marine for powertrain components. The original M113 armored personel carrier, for example, was powered by a 361 gasoline B block. The XM311 was a pilot vehicle used to determine the direction of military tactical vehicles for the replacement of Kaiser’s Jeep M38/M38A1, and the forerunner of the AMGeneral HMMWV (Hummer) M998. A lot of the technology from XM311 testing was written into the HMMWV RFP (Request For Proposal).
The Wall Street Journal, January 16 1951; February 25, 1952.
Briant, David George. “The B-29 Superfortress: Dodge plays a major role”, Chrysler Bulletin. 1999.
Mullin, Michael. “Preparing for War: Chrysler military production, 1940-1942.” 1985. Plymouth Bulletin
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