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Chrysler’s 110th… or 90th… or 5th birthday

by David Zatz on

Maxwell to ChryslerHas Chrysler’s centennial year come and gone?

Chrysler Corporation, as it existed until 1998, was created in 1925 — but only as a financial trick: an empty corporation bought the Maxwell Motor Company. It was the second time Chrysler had led a dummy corporation to buy Maxwell, but this time it was renamed afterwards.

The Chrysler brand’s 80th birthday is here, now, in 2014. Still, some would go with the “legal definition,” and claim 2015 for Chrysler as a company. That presents a little problem, because Chrysler Corporation died in 1998; Chrysler Group LLC is just  four years old, despite its century-old brands.

The Chrysler car, incidentally, was originally meant to be made by Willys-Overland, not Maxwell. Had Walter Chrysler’s plans not been derailed by an unexpected Willys-Overland bankruptcy, it would have been built in New Jersey years earlier, and Maxwell would probably have collapsed in the early 1920s. Thanks to events, though, Maxwell ended up as the maker of the Chrysler car.

Created in 1904, Maxwell-Briscoe was America’s third largest automaker in 1909. The Maxwell 25, launched in 1913, would become, after many upgrades, the Chrysler Four and then the first Plymouth.

In 1921, the now-insolvent Maxwell was auctioned off to Walter Chrysler and his backers, who created a new Maxwell Motor Corporation. Thus, the “real Chrysler” could be dated from 1921, if one chose to do that. Or one could follow the thread of engineering, culture, and people which linked the old Maxwell-Briscoe of 1904 to Maxwell Motor Corporation of 1921 and the Chrysler Corporation of 1925.

Similar threads can carry one from 1925’s Chrysler Corporation through the awful DaimlerChrysler years to today’s Chrysler Group, LLC, presenting us with a 110th anniversary.

After all, Walter Chrysler and the Three Musketeers reinvigorated and changed Maxwell… but Francois Castaing and AMC did the same to Chrysler in 1987, and Sergio Marchionne did the same to Chrysler Group in 2009. Is today’s Chrysler Group totally disconnected from 1997’s Chrysler Corporation? Most of the people are different, but many are not; many things have changed, but many have not.

If one really wanted to stretch a point, one could look back to the oldest antecedents of what is now Chrysler — the Columbia Motor Car brand reaches back to 1884, with the creation of Riker Electric Motor Company. A number of local electric-car companies banded together to form the Electric Vehicle Company, which was molded into Columbia Motor Car before joining the Maxwell-dominated United States Motor Company. They were never the core, though; U.S. Motor remained essentially “Maxwell and less successful cars” for a time, until it shed everything but Maxwell. From Maxwell came Chrysler — and, lest we forget, Chrysler made modified Maxwell cars for quite some time.

For more, including a more comprehensive chart showing the AMC/Jeep and Chalmers paths, see our history of Maxwell Motors.

Simplified Chrysler family tree


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