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Good cars and hard times: The Chrysler Canada Story, Chapter 5

Reprinted with permission from The Chrysler Canada Story, copyright © 2001 James Mays

In the midst of the worst business depression the modern world has ever seen, Chrysler celebrated its tenth anniversary. The company made big news for the 1934 model year with the exotic new Airflow models for the Imperial, Chrysler and DeSoto Corporations.

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Their design was a radical departure from the boxy, upright cars seen on the nation's roads. Engineer Carl Breer had incorporated the latest technology from both the automobile and aviation industries into his sleek creation.

Though the result was a very speedy, futuristic-looking envelope, few people were feeling bullish on the future. Only 29,000 Airflows were sold in Canada during its entire four-year lifespan. Little wonder, a Chrysler Airflow cost a cool $715 more than the more conventional Chrysler Airstream and a DeSoto Airflow was $500 more than the DeSoto Airstream. One could buy a new Plymouth just with the difference.

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Walter Chrysler astutely kept the less exotic looking lines in production alongside the Airflows as Airstream models. They sold much better than the Airflow, which some people actually believed would leave the ground at high speed. One unique-to-Canada Chrysler model was an economical six-cylinder Chrysler Airflow CY. It would not be back for the 1935 season.

The price-leading Plymouth and higher-priced Dodge Brothers Corporations didn't receive the advanced Airflow body. They soldiered on with traditional looks, which suited the buying public just fine. Plymouth had an extra reason to celebrate in the midst of all the economic bleakness: the one-millionth Plymouth was built in the US in August of 1934.

At the Dodge Brothers Corporation of Chrysler Canada, the American DR and DS models were assembled in Windsor. There were two additional Canada-only lines to fill out the range. The DQ and DT models were derived from sister Plymouth. While they rode smaller wheelbases and used Plymouth engines, they carried all the ritzy styling cues of the higher-priced marque. Figures for Chrysler Canada are not available but production for Dodge Brothers was 6,108 passenger cars and 932 trucks. Records show that one Dodge Brothers truck was exported and that Chrysler turned a profit.

In 1935 manufacturers agreed to shift new car introductions to the fall, to stimulate the economy. When production lines shut down for model changeovers, workers would be off work for two weeks in the summer rather than at Christmas. Being off in the summer was not as difficult as being idled in the winter. The idea worked beautifully. Ford of Canada would record 80,164 vehicles built that year and claim 46.4% of the Canadian market.

Chrysler Canada turned the Plymouth, Dodge Brothers and DeSoto Corporations into divisions. Aside from the Dodge Brothers DU model that was also sold in the States, Canadians once again got unique Dodge Brothers cars. The DV and DV Deluxe were again sourced from Plymouth. For the Dodge Brothers division, production rose to 6,738 units in 1935.

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The new (for Canada) Fargo brand of trucks began rolling off the line at the Tecumseh Road facility in the fall of 1935 as 1936 models. Fargos were essentially Dodge Brothers trucks with new badging, to be sold at Plymouth dealers; through the year, 846 Fargos were shipped to Plymouth dealers in all nine provinces.

Chrysler Canada had a banner year in 1936, turning out a whopping 30,000 vehicles. The Dodge Brothers division accounted for 10,029 of those sales, including the D3 and D4 models - Plymouths wearing upscale Dodge Brothers finery.

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The Federal government changed the tariffs governing imported cars and domestic content laws in 1936. The tax was now fixed at 17.5%, too low to warrant local production for some manufacturers. Smaller producers like Studebaker, Hudson, and Packard pulled out of Canadian production; they would make more money exporting cars to Canada from the US.

Those losses were offset by the $14 million was spent by companies to build plants and buy machinery to manufacture automobile parts. Things began to brighten a little, and Ford opened a $6 million foundry in Windsor in 1935. While the home market was small, exports of automobiles from Canada to the rest of the world accounted for 34% of all production between 1934 and 1938. Those two factors translated into 2,837 new jobs for Canadians.

In 1937 labour unrest swept the industry. Workers in Oshawa, Ontario shut down GM Canada's production with a new tactic, the sit-down strike. They refused to leave the plant and demanded the right to organize into a union. Ontario Premier Mitchell Hepburn first threatened to send in the army then got personally involved in talks that ended the strike and brought sweeping changes to the industry (similar events, starting in Flint, Michigan, took place in the United States).

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Dodge Brothers built 16,819 units during the model year. The last eight-cylinder car to come from Chrysler Canada during this era was the 1937 Imperial. The company would sell its products throughout the Dominion with six-cylinder power plants.

1938 was a poor year for the entire industry as a second wave of depression shook the economy yet again. The Dodge Brothers division of Chrysler Canada took a nosedive of more than 3,000 units. Walter P. Chrysler, the company's founder and board chairman, became too ill to be involved in day-to-day activities.

In the US, Chrysler had begun to downplay the "Brothers" part of the Dodge brand. The familiar Star of David logo was dropped, and the car lines were known as simply Dodge, though the cars would still be commonly called Dodge Brothers for a generation to come. In Canada, the Dodge Brothers name would linger officially through 1948.

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A special Chrysler confection was crafted in Windsor in 1939 for the month-long royal visit of King George VI and Queen Mary. It was a magnificent car for a truly historic event-it was the first time that a reigning monarch had ever touched Canadian soil. Workers outdid themselves by creating a Chrysler Custom Town Convertible on a 136-inch Royal chassis. The body had started life as a seven-passenger sedan. The conversion was beautiful with its maroon exterior and rich, royal blue broadcloth upholstery. Special installations included hand mirrors, a vanity case, a pad with pencil, an eight-day clock and two footstools. Typically Canadian in frugality, the engine in Their Royal Majesties' Chrysler was a six-cylinder, though the thrifty six received special paint and many of its engine parts were chromed.

Chrysler opened a new parts plant in Chatham, Ontario in 1939. The new Fluid Drive semi-automatic transmission was introduced in the higher-priced divisions. Production at the Dodge Brothers division was 13,541 units for the year.

Rumours of war rumbled throughout Europe. Hitler's Germany had marched into Rhineland, taken the Sudetenland part of Czechoslovakia and annexed Austria. In September of 1939, Germany invaded Poland by land, sea, and air. An outraged Britain honoured its treaty to protect Poland in the event of attack. On September 10th, 1939 at exactly six o'clock, the Parliament of Canada voted to go to war at Britain's side. Chrysler Canada would enlist, too.

James C. Mays' writing can also be seen on the OldCarsCanada site. Also see: Chrysler Canada summaryCanada at Valiant.orgFargo Trucks

James Mays' full book, The Chrysler Canada Story:

Chrysler 1904-2018

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