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Chronological History of Chrysler, 1950-63: The Virgil Exner Years

by Bill Watson

1940-49 1950-63 1964-19711972-801981-92 • 1993-97
History By Year • Coming: 1998-2007 (Daimler disaster) • 2007-09 (Cerberus) • 2008-2015 (FCA)

The story so far. Walter P. Chrysler, after rising in the railroads as an engineer, turned around faltering Buick, then left to head Willys, and started working with Zeder-Skelton-Breer Engineering on the most advanced car ever produced. Maxwell-Chalmers runs into trouble after trying to blend together numerous companies as U.S. Motor Car Company, and hires Walter Chrysler; he rescues and takes over the company, putting it into a new shell called Chrysler Corporation. Plymouth, Fargo, and DeSoto are started and Dodge Brothers is purchased.

1950 - Keller and Colbert; Familiar car names debut; Newark announced
  • Forehead White-collar worker Businessperson Suit Spokesperson
    K.T. Keller becomes chairman of the board and L.L. Colbert becomes president.
  • Two door hardtops introduced - Dodge Coronet (Diplomat), DeSoto Custom (Sportsman) and Chrysler Windsor, New Yorker and Town & Country (Newport).
  • DeSoto Body Plant opens on Warren Avenue (former Graham plant)
  • New tank plants announced for New Orleans, LA, and Newark, DE.
  • 6 millionth Plymouth
  • 2 milllionth Chrysler
  • Read more: Plymouths of 1949-1952

    Chrysler 1949-52Plymouth 1950
1951: Proving ground purchased; new 331 Hemi; Fluid Torque Drive
  • Purchases land in Chelsea, MI for proving grounds.
  • DeSoto expands Warren Avenue plant to include engine production.
  • Chrysler Saratoga, New Yorker, Imperial and Crown Imperial get the new 331-cid hemi V8, dropping their straight-eights.
  • Fluid Torque Drive introduced - uses torque converter instead of fluid coupling.
  • White-collar worker
    Two door hardtop introduced in Plymouth Cranbrook series - Belvedere. Similar hardtop model, known only as "special club coupe", introduced in export-market Dodge Kingsway Custom and DeSoto Diplomat Custom series.
  • February 25 - Fred M. Zeder dies.
  • William C. Newberg named president of Dodge Division.
  • L.Irving "Irv" Woolson named president of DeSoto Division.
  • New idea cars - Chrysler K-310, Plymouth XX-500..
  • 7 millionth Plymouth
  • See Plymouths of 1951
1952: Trenton plant; FireDome
  • New engine plant in Trenton, MI opened.
  • Last year for the Dodge 7-passenger extended-wheelbase sedan.
  • John P. Mansfield named president of Plymouth Division.
  • New 276-cid hemi V8 introduced for DeSoto - FireDome.
  • Three parade cars built on the Chrysler Crown Imperial chassis, one each for Los Angeles, Detroit and New York.
  • New idea cars - Chrysler C-200 convertible and Special coupe.
  • 6 millionth Dodge car
  • Read more: Plymouths of 1949-1952
1953: Dodge shares Plymouth body; Red Ram; Powerflite
  • Last year Plymouth assembled at San Leandro, CA
  • New downsized Plymouth and Dodge. Dodge uses Plymouth body for the two door convertible, hardtop and wagon models.
  • An extended wheelbase (five inches) of the Plymouth body is used for Dodge club coupes and four door sedans.
  • Dodge Coronet offers new 241-cid hemi Red Ram V8.
  • Fresh air automobile air conditioning introduced.
  • Briggs Manufacturing Company automotive facilities in the U.S. purchased for $35,000,000. Chrysler builds bodies for Packard to the end of the 1954 model year.
  • DeSoto moves 6-cylinder production to Trenton Engine plant.
  • Body building facilities opened at Los Angeles, CA plant.
  • New plant opened in Indianapolis, IN to produce Powerflite.
  • Chrysler Custom Imperial and Crown Imperial offer Powerflite.
  • Plymouth introduces Hy-Drive, which couples a torque converter to the manual transmission to create a semi-automatic transmission (as a stopgap for the Powerflite).
  • Last year for semi-automatic in Dodge, DeSoto and Chrysler.
  • E.C. Quinn named president of Chrysler Division.
  • New idea cars - Chrysler D'Elegance, DeSoto Adventurer, Dodge Firearrow, Chrysler GS-1.
  • 8 millionth Plymouth
  • See related article: Plymouths of 1953-1954Chrysler 1953-54
1954: Turbine, Belmont, more
1955: Imperial on its own; dealer-installed A/C; HyFire.
1956: TorqueFlite debuts with push-button drive; Keller retires; transistor radio
1957: "Dodge DeSoto"; B engines; New Process Gear

1958: Chrysler buys part of Simca.

  • DeSoto production moves from the Wyoming plant to Chrysler's Jefferson Avenue plant for 1959 model year.
  • Beginning with the 1959 models, Imperial production begins at the old Graham/DeSoto plant on Warren Avenue.
  • McGraw Avenue plant of former DeSoto complex is converted to glass production.
  • The main assembly building on Wyoming Avenue becomes the center of Chrysler export operations in the 1960s.
  • Chrysler Corporation purchases Ford's 25% interest in Simca (Societe Industrielle de Mechanique et Carosserie Automobile) and begins importing Simca cars, including Vedette Beaulieu model, with Ford flathead V-8.
  • Chrysler International S.A., headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, is formed and succeeds the former Chrysler Export Corporation.
  • New Electrical Division begins operations in Indianapolis, IN..
  • Auto-Pilot speed-control introduced on Imperial.
  • America's first successful satellite, Explorer I, launched with Chrysler-built Jupiter-C missile.
  • Christine is made (in fiction)
  • Chrysler launches the world's first electronic fuel injection system, made by Bendix, which looks remarkably similar to modern units; it is an abysmal failure, with materials unable to withstand automotive conditions. Bosch would buy the rights to it, and hold onto them until materials technology advanced enough to support the system.
  • The heads of the divisions are "downgraded," from president to general manager - Harry E. Cheseborough - Plymouth Division; M.C.Patterson - Dodge Division; J.B.Wagstaff - DeSoto Division; Clare E. Briggs -Chrysler Division and Imperial Division.
  • New idea cars - Imperial D'Elegance, Plymouth Cabana
  • 11 millionth Plymouth
  • Also see: Chrysler Corporation, 1958Plymouth 1958Inside Chrysler, 1958
  • Evansville, IN plant closed. New plant in St. Louis, MO opens for 1960 production.
  • Chrysler Corporation introduces swivel seats and automatic dimming electronic rear view mirror.
  • Chrysler acquires minority interest in Chrysler of Mexico and complete ownership of Chrysler South Africa Ltd.
  • SIMCA purchases Talbot-Lago, descendant of French arm of Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq.
  • June - Harry E. Cheseborough named general manager of new Plymouth-Desoto Division
  • June - Clare E. Briggs named general manager of Chrysler-Imperial Division.
  • October - Harry E. Cheseborough named general manager of Plymouth-DeSoto-Valiant Division
  • Also see: Plymouth 1959
1960: Dart replaces Plymouths at Dodge dealers; Valiant appears; Colbert chair, president
  • Unit body construction introduced for all cars, except Imperial, and is first use of computers in body engineering
  • The alternator is introduced as standard equipment on the Valiant and optional on all other cars.
  • New Plymouth-based Dodge Dart introduced and replaces Plymouth at Dodge dealers in U.S.
  • Export Dodge Kingsway replaced by Dodge Dart for 1960; export DeSoto Diplomat based on Dodge Dart.
  • DeSoto line reduced to Fireflite and Adventurer - all on 122" wheelbase.
  • New compact Valiant introduced for 1960.
  • Dodge Hamtramck renovated - two assembly lines, one for Valiant and the other for Dodge.
  • McGraw Glass Plant begins production.
  • April 28 - William C. Newberg president of Chrysler Corporation
  • April 28 - L.L.Colbert named chairman of the board. On June 30, L.L.Colbert replaces William C. Newberg as president of Chrysler Corporation.
  • November - Harry E. Cheseborough named general manager of Plymouth Division as DeSoto is dropped.
  • Byron J. Nichols named general manager of Dodge Division.
  • Societe Industrielle de Mechanique et Carosserie Automobile split into two companies - Simca Automobiles S.A. (for automotive products) and Simca Industries S.A. (for non-automotive products).
  • New idea car - Plymouth XNR
  • 12 millionth Plymouth
  • 8 millionth Dodge car
  • 2 millionth DeSoto
  • Also see: Jeep 1958-61Dodge cars of 1960 Dodge trucks of 1960Plymouths of 1960: the Belvedere, Fury, Savoy, and Valiant; unit-body; TorqueFlite; SonoRamic engines; and more
1961: DeSoto ends; Valiant becomes Plymouth; Virgil Exner leaves
  • Imperial production reverts to the Jefferson Avenue plant with the 1962 models. The Graham/DeSoto/Imperial plant is sold.
  • Assembly of big Dodge Polara moved to Jefferson Avenue for 1961 model year.
  • Last year for DeSoto cars, now down to a 2-door and 4-door hardtop, and the export DeSoto Diplomat.
  • DeSoto replaced by Chrysler at Plymouth-DeSoto dealers; new, lower-priced Chrysler Newport moves into old DeSoto market.
  • Dodge Lancer introduced for Dodge dealers as Valiant officially becomes a Plymouth in the U.S.
  • Clare E. Briggs named general manager of new Chrysler-Plymouth Division; Chrysler-Imperial and Plymouth Divisions are merged.
  • George H. Love named chairman of the board,
  • Lynn A. Townsend named president of Chrysler Corporation
  • November - Virgil Exner leaves Chrysler Corporation and Elwood Engle is named head of corporate styling.
  • New idea cars: TurboFlite, Dodge Flitewing
  • Also see: Chrysler Corporation of 1961 (all divisions)
1962: B bodies brought out based on reduced-size Exner theme
  • New "B" body Plymouths and Dodges introduced based on a shrunken version of Virgil Exner's "S" body theme; generally considered a styling disaster, these were a quick "re-do" based on a rumor overheard by the Chrysler Corp president that Chevrolet would be cutting the size of its 1962 cars. In reality, GM was introducing a single smaller car.
  • January - Dodge Custom 880 introduced: a 1961 Dodge Polara body with Chrysler rear quarter panels and taillamps coupled to a 1961 Dodge Polara interior. Assembled at Jefferson Avenue plant. Replaces old Polara series in medium-price range.
  • Also see: Chrysler Corporation of 1962; Plymouth Sport Fury and styling for 1961-1962
1963: Last direct Exner influence; Chrysler controls Simca; Super Stock 426-II

Burton Bouwkamp wrote, when we asked if there were any cars he was particularly proud of other than the Omni/Horizon: "Probably the 1963 Chrysler. It was the first all new car that I
planned as Manager of Chrysler Product Planning. It was styled by Cliff
Voss. It had formal elegant lines which I still admire when I see one at
Chrysler meets. The car had two shortcomings - the rear track was not wide
enough for the body and the stamped grille was cheap looking for a Chrysler.
We tried to sell a wider track axle housing and a cast grille to management
but they were judged to be too expensive."

  • Last Virgil Exner input into styling as Chryslers are styled based on "S" body ideas, but greatly toned down.
  • Dodge Lancer dropped, replaced by Dodge Dart in compact market.
  • January - Chrysler Corporation increased its holdings in Simca to 63%
  • February - Acquires Therm-O-Rite Products Ltd., Toronto, ON, which becomes Chrysler Airtemp Canada Limited.
  • Acquires Chrysler Hella S.A.I, (Greece)
  • Plymouth announces development of the Plymouth Super Stock 426-II engine (June)
  • 273-cid V8 engine unveiled as an option in 1964 Plymouth Valiant and Dodge Dart cars (December)
  • 13 millionth Plymouth
  • 9 millionth Dodge car
  • Note: Plymouth sold 239,327 cars, of which 36,089 were station wagons
  • Also see: Plymouth cars of 1963: Chrysler's ill-timed downsizing and other details, including the Fury Super Sport.

1940-49 1950-63 1964-19711972-801981-92 • 1993-97
History By Year • Coming: 1998-2007 (Daimler disaster) • 2007-09 (Cerberus) • 2008-2015 (FCA)

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