Reprinted with permission from The Chrysler Canada Story,
copyright © 2001 James Mays
By the time World War Two ended in August of 1945, there was a desperate shortage of automobiles and trucks across Canada and the United States. There had been no civilian production of cars since March 1942, other than a few farm trucks built in 1944 because farmers’ needs were so critical. The few new cars that had been built in 1942 had been requisitioned by government and sold as needed to people whose livelihoods were essential to the wartime economy (such as fire departments, policemen, doctors, nurses, and travelling salesmen). Everybody else made do or did without. Manufacturers loaned dealers money to keep them afloat during the years when they had nothing to sell.
As the winter of 1945 came, workers at Chrysler Canada were once again building automobiles. The beginning was modest. The Dodge Division produced twenty-two passenger cars and the Plymouth Division could boast an even dozen. DeSoto and Chrysler production began after the Christmas holidays in January of 1946.
During the war years there had been much speculation by the press about how post-war cars would take on a space age look. When they arrived, the new cars looked a great deal like the 1942 models. That’s because they were the aborted 1942 models, with only the slightest of trim changes. It didn’t matter what the new cars looked like, people snapped them up out of dire need.
Peace brought production problems. New cars were scarcer than hen’s teeth because manufacturers were crippled by material shortages of all kinds. Steel was in short supply. Chromium was virtually impossible to get. Many Canadians took home new cars without bumpers; they drove around with big wooden planks bolted to ends of their vehicles. Months later, the bumpers would belatedly arrive at dealerships.
There were long waiting lists at dealers. People paid list price and often paid a few extra bucks just to get delivery. Labour strikes disrupted production as workers in many sectors demanded that wages, frozen during the war years, catch up to the cost of living.
As manufacturers realized that customers would buy anything on wheels, the Big Three automakers and Nash decided not to introduce new models until the 1949 season. They could make plenty of money selling what they had on hand.
Production for Chrysler Canada got under way for real in 1946. Total output for the Chrysler Division was 1,415 units. Variations of Windsor-made Chryslers were limited to four-door sedans and two-door club coupes in the Windsor and Royal lines. Likewise, DeSoto production was kept to four-door sedans and two-door coupes. Domestic production was only 752 units for DeSoto, though a handful of convertibles and Suburbans were imported. Dodge shipped a total of 9,474 passenger cars and Plymouth topped the 9,000 mark, too.
Windsor got into high gear for 1947. The Chrysler Division made 4,985 cars in the same configurations as the previous year. Choices of imported Chryslers grew more numerous as the Saratoga, New Yorker and the fetching wood-bodied Town & Country models were added to the dealers’ mix. Down the scale a notch, DeSoto finished its run with 2,627 units. A step below DeSoto on the price ladder, Dodge production tallied 18,858 passenger cars. Plymouth figures were not available.
In 1948, the Federal Government drastically curtailed imports of all kinds from the United States. Canadians had been importing far more American goods than domestic industries were selling to our nearest neighbour. Canada’s balance of payments just wasn’t balancing. There were even restrictions on how much US currency Canadian citizens could own. Few cars were imported from the States until the Parliament lifted the ban in 1952. GM’s Buick disappeared completely. To raise revenue, Ottawa hiked the taxes on motor cars significantly.
Carmakers raised prices to cover spiraling production costs. Canadians balked. Chrysler production dropped to 3,600 units in 1948. DeSoto figures were not available, but it was often last on the list of cars built in Canada during its post-war years. Dodge, with whom DeSoto was twinned at dealerships, had an increase in production, finishing the year with 20,416 units. That made it the nation’s third best-selling car. Canadian-built models wore a firewall plate that read, “Dodge Brothers Division of Chrysler Canada Limited” for the very last time.
Chrysler Canada’s administration moved into its beautiful new headquarters, Chrysler Centre, in 1949. There was a great deal to feel good about. The company had finally realized Walter P’s dream, surpassing Ford as the nation’s Number Two automaker. It claimed a full 25% of the market for itself, and set its sights on General Motors in Oshawa.
These were the best of times. Chrysler Canada’s factories pumped out a record high of 64,000 vehicles and 5,600 employees cashed Chrysler cheques every payday.
New automobile designs arrived for the 1949 model season. Styling for the Chrysler family was by far the most conservative of all the new cars in the industry. The public was eager to buy, even as prices were hiked again.
Unfortunately, Canadians weren't interested in Dodge. True, the all-steel Suburban station wagon—an industry first—was a good seller, along with the short-wheelbased, D-31 Canada-only models; but Dodge wasn’t Number Three this year.
By brand name, Chevrolet and Ford took their accustomed first and second places on the sales roster but Dodge was demoted to fifth place, outranked by Pontiac and the stylish new Meteor launched by Ford. Chrysler added a prestigious new seven-passenger limousine in the Royal line for the few customers who required one. Plymouth, like its Dodge kin, boasted an all-steel wagon its lineup.
Both sales and production continued to be strong throughout the 1950 season as well. For the first time since war’s end, customers were able to bargain for cars as the supply began to exceed demand. The five Chrysler Corporation lines were given minor trim changes. Enough Plymouth sales were lost to the ritzy little Nash Rambler that Plymouth dropped its inexpensive Wayfarer model.
The automobile lines were little changed for the 1951 season. The big product news was the June introduction of the fabulous Hemi engine. Available in Canada only on imported Imperial and Chrysler models, they were far and few between.
In February, C. W. Churchill, Chrysler Canada’s president, had a heart attack in his office. Upon the president’s death, Edward Charles Row was elected to replace him. The new president looked into the future and saw a brightly shining pentastar. Chrysler Canada would meet the challenge in a vibrant and confident Canada.
The company pursued an ambitious growth plan. One vital strategy was to speed delivery to dealers across this vast nation. Moving cars and trucks out of plants as quickly as possible meant dealers could speed up the time it took to get cars and trucks into the hands of impatient customers.
To this end, in 1953, Chrysler Canada added a 46,000 square-foot rail loading facility capable of handling up to twenty tri-level rail cars at a time. The next year, they built a similar structure for loading transport trucks.
In 1955, Chrysler opened a drive-away centre for retail purchasers; it was especially popular with prairie farmers, who cashed their grain cheques at harvest time and took the train to Windsor for a shiny new car or truck they could drive home.
Mr. Row wanted the company to stay in the forefront of technology. Chrysler had rightfully earned its reputation as an “engineers’ company” with its advanced features, but they almost always came from the US parent. Now, Chrysler Canada would contribute to the body of knowledge, with an experimental engineering centre opened in 1954.
The engine plant was enlarged in 1955 to the tune of nearly $30 million. Mr. Row’s vision had paid off handsomely; his legacy was fully evident and the City of Windsor gratefully named an expressway in his honour. It was a good time to retire, and he did so in July of 1956.
For the first time in the company’s history, a Canadian was about to head Chrysler Canada.
James C. Mays’ writing can also be seen on the OldCarsCanada site. Also see: Chrysler Canada summary • Canada at Valiant.org • Fargo Trucks
James Mays’ full book, The Chrysler Canada Story:
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