A tour of the Walter P. Chrysler Museum, with docent Pete Hagenbuch

This is a body model that they used to use in the stress lab. They used to build one of these for every body shell we ever tried to develop, and in clear plastic, it’s a very accurate model of that car.

plexiglass stress lab model

We used to see them all over. The stress lab was just one building north of the building I used to spend a lot of time in, and you used to see these things everywhere.

Would they flex them under a polarized light?

Yes, something like that, I’m sure, yes. I think you’re right about the polarized light. They… you know, they’re looking for the high stress point, something where they need to smooth it up or beef it up, or both. That, like the chassis mock ups, is something the computer does today.

I used to spend a lot of time in the chassis mockup area, looking at the engines and their environment. A new model would probably have fifteen different chassis mock ups. Unless they had a lot of different engines, then it would be more than fifteen. Now they do it all by computer. Just take a chop anywhere on the underhood, and see if everything fits.

plexiglass body shell model for stress lab

I would love to look over somebody’s shoulder, but I haven’t been invited [laughs]. I wouldn’t know who to ask, so… I’ve been gone so long, I don’t have any contacts any more. All the guys who worked for me are retired.

Well, you probably recognize that, that’s the savior of Chrysler Corporation, number seven or eight, six or… I don’t know, the K car. I guess it was a nice little car. It wasn’t very expensive, it got good fuel economy. It was all right.

Plymouth Reliant cars

And, of course, this was Iacocca’s gift to all those of us that loved convertibles, because if you remember, there weren’t any convertibles for some long period of time in the American auto industry, and our competitors didn’t really rush into it, after we brought this out. They probably thought it wasn’t going to make it, but it did. Yeah. It wasn’t a very good car, but it was a convertible.


Audience: I think it was nice. I’m starting to think it looks nicer now, than it did then.

Well, the same with me and the Airflow and the old, fat New Yorker Convertible. That’s it. Yeah, you know, you get… I hated the Ford Taurus, when it first came out. I thought it was ugly, and they did change the back window from oval to rectangular, you know. But, other than that, I hated it. Now, it’s not only… it looks pretty nice, I think, but it looks a little outdated.

I’m getting awful tired of little cars with four doors, where the belt line goes up about a foot from the headlights to the tail light, like an anteater. Let’s see… oh, they all have Kamm tails, chopped. The tail lights all look the same. The headlights all look the same. You can’t tell the Japanese cars from the rest of us.

1986 turbo 2.2

That’s one which was my baby [2.2 turbo], that was my last big project. We went in, and nobody had any experience. They didn’t hire out anything, we just went to work and learned it. And it was hard work.

Garret made the turbos, at first, then they got aced out by Mitsubishi, who was cheaper, and that was… that was after I had retired. I don’t know how that came out. I guess we went with Mitsubishi. Now, I had two trips to Japan, over it. It wasn’t all bad.

1960 cross ram wedge

I would think that a lot of you guys would know exactly what this one is. Now, the really good one… the walls were ground out for higher speed. The problem with this engine was, the TorqueFlite transmission couldn’t stand the kickdown in the torque range so it just died, you now, leaving pieces all over. So, they had to change the whole shift pattern and everything to make the transmission live, and the answer… and they got to it, but it wasn’t done to save the transmission, it was the race group that started playing with it, just taking more and more wall out, and the power kept going up and up, and I think we actually sold them the last year that way, but I wouldn’t bet more than a dime on it. It was a great engine. But of course, it was only available in the 300 letter series, which was a very expensive car. So, they didn’t make very many of them.

Oh, I had an experience with that one, and it’s too good not to tell. I was in the valve train group, at the time. It was one of these cross ram 413s, I think. Anyway, I was running Valve Dynamics, listening for where the valve flow starts. Well, with all the noise from this baby, the only way you could do it is to practically stand right at the side of the engine.

Pete with Wedge

You know, engines were my friends, I trusted them. I stood here like this, and only when it would not go any faster, and we were just about finished… in fact, we were up to 5600 rpm. It was still hanging together, this great huge thing with the big valves, and, believe it or not, I was standing here like this [right next to the engine]. Maybe I moved a foot away, but… all of a sudden, everything in the room disappeared in smoke, white smoke, it just filled the whole room. I turned around and dashed through the big double door where the engines come and go, and the operator hit the big red panic button on his console, and went out through the little door, and we met in the hall, and after about a minute, Safety was already on their way. I don’t know how they got the word, but later, I went in and looked. The problem was pretty obvious. The cylinder head cover was all discolored, right by the second port, back [number 3 cylinder]… all the paint was gone, and it was all discolored.

Now, we don’t use manifold gaskets on the exhaust manifold. They were just surface on surface and they worked fine. This one must have had a fault. So, exhaust gases burned a ripple in the port face and then it went up and burned through the cork gasket. The next thing you know, all the oil in the area was burning. That’s what the smoke was.

cross ram wedge

A new exhaust manifold like it had to go back in tomorrow or the next day to finish the test. That was probably the most exciting one I was personally involved with.

I have another story. A friend was down in the endurance lab with his boss, and they were both standing between the two engines in the test cell listening for the noise which was reported. And we knew later the flexible exhaust pipe ruptured and fell onto the base plate. Believe me, the noise it made was apocalyptic! Anyway, John and his boss both dashed out and operators that were all swarming to the noise, said that John got out first, even though he was farther into the room, and his boss had a big footprint on his chest. And I don’t think there was any truth to that, but it was fun.

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