Interview with Burton H. Bouwkamp, Chrysler Corporation Product Planner

Burton Bouwkamp was Dodge chief engineer (1964-68), Director of Product Planning (1968-75), Chrysler Europe product leader (1975-79), Director of Body Engineering (1979-83), and a member of Mitsubishi’s board (1983-87).

Bill and Burton Bouwkamp

Can you recall the most notable people you worked with at Dodge?

Two people - Byron Nichols, VP and General Manager of Dodge and Bob McCurry, General Sales Manager.

Byron was capable and personable and well liked and respected by employees. He had long sales experience in the auto field and one of his greatest skills was in handling people both above and below him. He had been Ford’s area sales manager in Atlanta when he came to Chrysler. He was smooth, polished, personable, experienced.

Bob McCurry was capable but completely different. He was gruff, direct and demanding - but fair. The people working for him called him "Captain Crunch" - and most of them were scared of him.

Bill Brownlie and Burt Bouwkamp

[Written later] My favorite Bob McCurry story happened when Bob was promoted from Dodge General Sales Manger to be head of the Chrysler Marine Division. We called it the “boat division.” It was failing, so Lynn Townsend (President) sent Bob in to rescue it.

At one of the first Dodge staff meetings after Bob left on his new assignment, Joe Knauss (Dodge's Business Management Manager) complained to Byron Nichols (Dodge VP and General Manager) that McCurry was signing up Dodge dealers as Chrysler boat dealers. Byron's answer was that Lynn Townsend had given Bob a tough assignment and he wasn't going to get in Bob's way - so he was not going to complain about boats being sold out of Dodge showrooms. 

hydrovee hull

Two to three years later Bob returned to the Dodge Division, succeeding Byron Nichols as VP and General Manager. At Bob's first staff meeting he told Joe Knauss (still there in the same job) to “get the blankety-blank boats out of the car showrooms!”

I was at both of these meetings.

Do you have any impressions of Newberg, Iaccoca, Bill Brownlie, or Riccardo?

Newberg was like Iacocca, “my way or the highway.”

burton bouwkampIacocca was a capable dictator who provided good direction to his subordinates but was only interested in their opinions when he asked for them.

Riccardo was an intelligent concientious leader who lost day-to-day communication with his subordinates because of his fiery temper. (One time I made a product proposal that cost money and John stopped my presentation and said, "anyone that would make a stupid G--- d---- proposal like that is not qualified to be Director of Product Planning of this corporation." That was the end of the proposal to make the 360 cu. in. engine standard equipment in the Fury III and Sport Fury.)

Bill Brownlie was a great designer of sporty cars. He resisted working with our sedan and station wagon headroom, seat height, and rear leg room dimensional specifications. Bill usually tried to get us to reduce headroom and rear seat leg room so he had more design freedom for the roof line. I worked well with Bill but we “tangled” sometimes - usually over interior dimensions.

Chrysler Europe

I understand that Chrysler did minimal “Americanization” of European imports before the Horizon; after the Horizon was a success, why did they switch to Mitsubishi?

The plan was to sell Mitsubishi products through Dodge dealers and sell European products (Rootes and Simca) through Plymouth dealers; and to sell the cars as engineered for Europe with modifications only for USA emissions, safety and marketing requirements, such as air conditioning.

Burton H. Bouwkamp’s Job Responsibilities:
1949-51, MS-Engineering from Chrysler Institute
1951-52, Coordinating Engineer, Dodge “Red Ram” V8
1952-54, Resident Engineer, DeSoto V8 engine plant
1954-60, Resident Engineer, Jefferson Avenue plant
1960-62, Product Planning Manager, Chrysler
1962-64, Chief Engineer — Vehicle Planning
1964-68, Chief Engineer — Dodge cars
1968-75, Director — Product Planning
1975-79, Director — European Product Development
1979-84, Director — Body and Chassis Engineering
1984-87, Managing Director — Japan Operations

The European products turned out to be unsatisfactory for the US market and were replaced with Mitsubishi cars. The main problems were Rootes quality and reliability, and Simca style and lack of an automatic transmission. Consequently, European products were dropped in the USA and Mitsubishi products were sold through both Plymouth and Dodge dealers.

That might have worked, but in the late 1970s, Mitsubishi was concerned that Chrysler was going out of the automobile business so they negotiated the rights to set up their own distribution system in the USA. That put Plymouth, Dodge, and Mitsubishi dealers in competition selling the same products. That meant that business partners who were never very friendly, became unfriendly competitors. In my opinion this was the first step down a path which led to a Chrysler - Mitsubishi divorce.

The Horizon/Omni was seen as being a step above the Dodge Colt - bigger in overall size with a bigger (2.2 litre) engine. In my opinion, there were opportunities for both vehicles in the market place. The Horizon was discontinued in 1989 because the design was 12 years old and Chrysler management decided that they did not need to spend the financial and technical resources to stay in that (low profit) market segment.

Did the purchase of Rootes hasten Chrysler's financial problems?

Plymouth CricketYes. We borrowed money from the British Goverment to stay in business in the UK. But funds for Chrysler France and Chrysler Spain came from either Chrysler Europe or Chrysler USA.

Were there plans to boost Rootes reliability to American levels?

Yes. For example, the first Cricket/Avenger plastic instrument panel pads cracked in Minnesota and warped/shrunk in Arizona. We fixed this problem with USA material specifications but we didn't move fast enough and the Cricket was withdrawn from the American market because of many other quality and reliability problems.

What was the relationship of Chrysler International in comparison to Chrysler France or Chrysler South Africa, Chrysler Australia, etc?

All of these companies were subsidiary companies to C.I.S.A. (Chrysler International S.A.). C.I.S.A. was headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. I was a C.I.S.A. Vice President when I was Managing Director of Chrysler Japan (1983-1987).

What kind of technological interchange went on with Chrysler Europe to and from the US? I'm aware of the electronic ignition and the trip computer from Huntsville.

horizon spread in magazineThere was very good technical interchange because our European styling and engineering departments were all run by Chrysler executives. Chrysler Europe examples are Joe Farnham (Technical Director of Chrysler France), Dave Logan (Director of Body Engineering for Chrysler France), Art Blakesleee (Director of Chrysler Europe Styling), and me.

When Chrysler USA and Chrysler Europe jointly did the C2 (Horizon/Omni) the technical interchange got even better, although we did choose to go our separate directions in a number of product areas for product cost reasons. While I was European Director of Product Development in 1975 I arranged for Roy Axe (Director of Chrysler Europe Styling) to be transferred to Highland Park to become Director of the Chrysler USA Design Office.


When Chrysler chose to work with Mitsubishi, why did they chose Mitsubishi over, say, Toyota, Honda, Suzuki, Mazda, or Nissan.?

Both Mitsubishi and Chrysler were looking for partners and found each other. Lynn Townsend (Chrysler VP of International and later President) wanted Chrysler to be a worldwide company and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) wanted someone to teach its automotive subsidiary, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (MMC), how to make money in the car business. MMC was a wholly owned subsidiary of MHI and had seldom, if ever, returned a profit to the parent company.

Chrysler became a worldwide company by buying part of Mitsubishi and all of Rootes (UK), Simca (France) and Barrieros (Spain). All four companies were weak financially, which became a large additional burden for Chrysler, which was already struggling to maintain sales penetration in its home market.

Was there any Australian connection with Mitsubishi (given that they had purchased the plant) in your normal workings?

No. Chrysler Australia became a subsidiary company of MMC and after the transition period, Chrysler was not involved.

Was there any Chrysler engineering involvement in the DSM and various Japanese-made Mitsubishi imports?

Chrysler was involved in the styling of the products built for Chrysler at Diamond Star Motors but we were not involved in either product engineering or manufacturing engineering of the products.

What did you end up teaching MMC?

Not much. We helped them with styling of cars for the American market and we showed them the minivan design and the club cab pickup design. Aside from that I can't remember anything that we gave/taught them.

Chrysler product planner Burton Bouwkamp in 1964Styling and Product Planning had ongoing relationships but there was very little day-to-day contact between MMC Engineering and Chrysler Engineering. For years we tried to get MMC to change to a conventional East-West FWD configuration from a West-East FWD configuration but they never agreed. Consequently we could never share power trains (engine/transmission) in FWD vehicles.

Were there any plans for a reverse flow of engineering or vehicles or components back to Mitsu?

MMC and Chrysler Styling Departments worked together on a number of products but the Engineering Departments did not work together.

Did Chrysler work with their production people at all?

Unfortunately, no, but they should have, because MMC manufacturing quality was much better than Chrysler. We could have learned a lot from MMC.

In 1977, I led a trip of twelve MMC manufacturing engineers to tour the Belvidere Assembly Plant. We were there three days. They told me that the sheet metal and the body fits that they observed at Belvidere were not good enough for a Mitsubishi product.

What was it like to work with Mitsubishi?

My office was across the street from MMC and I was on their Board of Directors. I saw MMC personnel nearly every day and our relations were very good but I never felt that I really knew what was going on. For example, I had no real visibility of their product costs - neither tooling cost or part cost. I was an observer and the picture was fuzzy.

burton bouwkamp and other product planners

MMC personnel were always very polite to me, and responsive, although I did not get the level of detail that I wanted. Language was obviously part of the problem. Another part was cultural; Japanese are taught to only answer the question asked and not to volunteer information broader than the specific question.

Other questions

What was the rationale behind the name change from Dart to Aspen?

Plymouth Volare DusterFirst: To communicate an all-new car to the customer.

Second: To try to appeal to younger buyers (the median age of Dart buyers was over 50 years old.)

When the company eliminated its C bodies, why did they transfer some of the names onto B-bodies, eliminating the B-body names, instead of eliminating the C-body names?

Fury was judged to be a better product name than Belvedere or Satellite.

Product Planning and Sales Management decided on car names. Sometimes the choices were backed up by market research but frequently they were not.

Sometimes the new name was a problem. The Dodge Demon (Dodge version of the Plymouth) was named by the Dodge sales department because they envisioned an ad that said “Come in for a Demon-stration.” The Demon name didn’t last because some religious groups formally objected to the Demon name.

1971 dodge demonWhy do you think the Dusters sold so well compared with the Swingers and Darts?

Price and style. Also, the Dodge nameplate appealed to older owners. Until the Charger, Dodge had an owner body with a median age of over 50 years old. (In 1965 we brought out a new expensive Dodge line called “Monaco.” I did not put the Dodge nameplate on the car because I said “Dodge is a truck - Monaco is a car.” That only lasted part of the model year - when Lynn Townsend noticed that “Dodge” was not on the car - front or rear!)

Were any cars/trucks produced in the Middle East?

No. Chrysler UK supplied the Hillman Arrow power train (1725 cc) to Iran National for building into the Iran "Paykan" (Iranian for “Arrow”). They built the Hillman Arrow body in Tehran and assembled almost 100,000 vehicles a year. Chrysler provided technical assistance to Iran National in building the assembly plant and paint shop and we had people stationed in Iran to provide assistance in building the vehicles. Chrysler people left the country when the Shah was overthrown in 1979. The Hyami brothers, who owned Iran National, left Iran just in the nick of time. The last I heard was that they became a Mercedes dealer in Irwin, California.

Did you deal at all with the various joint ventures such as local Turkish manufacture of Fargo trucks, etc?

car of the yearI did not. We had a man (John Hummon) stationed in Turkey but I don't know what he did.

What would you say your greatest contributions to Chrysler were?

Five things:

a. In charge of planning, styling, and engineering the European Chrysler Horizon which won European Car of the Year in 1978.

b. Leading the team that planned the 1966 and 1968 Dodge Charger.

c. Leading the small team that planned, prepared, arranged, and supervised the 1960 Chrysler 300F speed and acceleration runs on the beach at Daytona. We entered six 300Fs and they finished in positions #1 through #6 and set a two way speed record of 144.9 MPH. (The slowest 300F at 142.5 MPH beat the old record of 139.4 MPH set by Tim Flock in a Carl Kiekhaefer prepared Chrysler 300B in 1956.)

d. Leading the Chrysler team that worked with MMC (Mitsubishi Motors) and MHI to increase Chrysler's equity in MMC from 15% to 24%.

e. Leading the Chrysler team that worked with MMC to show that joint venture manufacture of MMC vehicles in the USA was feasible.

What do you remember about the 1963 models? (From later correspondence)

Bill Newberg (President) told Styling and Engineering to design the all new 1962 Plymouths and Dodges smaller because Chevrolet was making their car smaller. It turned out that the smaller Chevrolet that Bill heard about at Bloomfield Hills Country Club was the "Chevelle" - an intermediate sized product addition to the Chevrolet line - not a replacement. We ended up with non-competitive Plymouth and Dodge products in 1962 -3 -4.

Cliff Voss designed the 1963 Chrysler. A great design on too narrow a rear track because we couldn't get the management to spend the money for a new rear axle housing. Also, we did not put enough money in appointments - I cringe when I think/see the stamped grille that we put in the 1963 Chrysler Newport. (I was the product planning manager on the Chrysler car line at that time.)

I can't even remember what the 1963 Imperial looked like. Marc Prass was the product planning manager on the Imperial.

Brock Yates and Daytona Beach

I met Brock Yates in February 1957, when we were both working out of Brewster Shaw’s San Juan Motors (a Chrysler dealer) in Daytona Beach. I was there to help Chrysler 300 owners run fast on the beach; a stock Chrysler 300C turned 134.1 MPH.

Brock was there with a supercharged 1957 Plymouth Fury to set a flying mile record in the experimental class. They did — at 159 MPH. Their car (named “Suddenly,” I think) was sponsored by Hot Rod and was driven by Wally Parks. Brock was only about 26 years old then; I was 33.

Ed Mason (Chief Engineer of Research) and Bob Graham (research engineer) were also at Daytona Beach in 1957 to run an experimental Chrysler 300. I arranged for their driver; it was first Buck Baker, but when he “stood us up” on the day of the run, I hired Vicky Woods. She didn’t even finish the first North-South run because the clutch disk failed because of a centrifugal force failure. Warner Clutch said the clutch had to have turned 10,000 RPM to have failed that way. We never blamed Vicky.

Ed and Bob’s expectation was a two way average of 150 MPH – but that would still have been 9 MPH short of “Suddenly.”

Biography: Burton Bouwkamp

Burton Bouwkamp was born in December 1926 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he lived until attending the University of Illinois. He graduated in 1947, with a BS in naval science; the following year, he attained a BS in mechanical engineering. From there, he went to the Chrysler Institute of Engineering, gaining a master's degree in automotive engineering in 1951; he was then promoted to laboratory engineer in 1951.

Burton Bouwkamp was appointed Chief Engineer of Vehicle Planning in 1962, responsible for advance planning and programming. He was promoted to Dodge chief engineer and manager of product planning from 1964 to 1968; then was Director of Chrysler Corporation Product Planning from 1968 to 1975, the product leader of Chrysler Europe from 1975 to 1979, Director of Body Engineering from 1979 to 1983, and a member of Mitsubishi's Board from 1983 to 1987.

Burton Bouwkamp became resident engineer at the DeSoto plant in 1952. In 1959, he was made resident engineer at the Jefferson Avenue plant, and in 1960, manager of Chrysler product planning. In 1964, a Chrysler press release noted that he was a member of the S.A.E., Pontiac Yacht Club, and Bloomfield Surf Club, and gave his address as being in Bloomfield Hills.

He is currently in retirement, but has been instrumental in arranging for Allpar to get more information on a number of vehicles from the people who engineered them.

Other contributions by Burton Bouwkamp: