Chrysler Corporation

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(established 1925)

After a background in the railway and motor industries Walter P. Chrysler (1875–1940) founded the Chrysler Motor Corporation in 1925 as president and chairman of the board. Later becoming one of the big three American automobile manufacturers (with General Motors and the Ford Motor Corporation) Chrysler was to embrace a number of leading brands including Plymouth and DeSoto Motor Corporations, which were founded in 1928, the same year in which Chrysler bought Dodge Brothers. Important early figures included Oliver Clark, director of the company's coachworks, who established the Art & Colour Section in 1928, and Carl Breer, who was technical director from 1925 to 1949. A widely known automobile design was the striking Airflow of 1934, the publicity campaign for which involved the industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes, who was also consulted by the company on body styling. The Airflow was developed by three influential engineers, Carl Breer, Fred Zeder, and Owen Skelton and was known as America's ‘first streamlined car’. It also did much to improve passenger comfort and one model, the Chrysler Custom Imperial Airflow CW limousine was the first American car to have a single‐piece, curved windscreen. Partly as a result of a number of teething problems and the reluctance of the public to embrace such a radical design, the Airflow failed to capture the public imagination. Subsequently Ray Dietrich, Head of the Art & Colour Department from 1933 to 1938, was charged with ironing out some of the difficulties and developing new models, a policy largely followed by Henry King from 1938 to 1953. Nonetheless, the Airflow helped to establish Chrysler as a design innovator, an association developed dramatically after the Second World War in the innovative concepts of Virgil Exner in the 1950s. In 1937 the Chrysler Corporation built more than a million cars in a single year and, by the following year, produced 25 per cent of all the cars produced in the USA. After the Second World War, like its major competitors, Chrysler began to market a number of technical innovations with evocative names such as the Gyromatic transmission of 1949, Hydroglide power steering in 1950, Power‐Flite transmission in 1953, and Hy‐Drive, PowerGlide, and TorqueFlite systems in 1954. However, one of the most significant stimuli to the evocative ‘space age’ styling of the 1950s was Exner, who had joined Chrysler from the Studebaker Corporation in 1949, becoming director of styling from 1953 to 1961. Endorsing the influential corporate role that Exner played at Chrysler was his appointment as vice‐president in 1957. In design terms Exner was very much concerned with the dramatic styling of tailfins as seen in his 1955 designs for the Flight Sweep I and Flight Sweep II cars, ideas that were put into production in the company's 1957 models. Amongst the production models on which Exner's reputation was built was the Imperial of 1957, the first American car with curved side glass. Elwood Engel became head of design from 1961 to 1974, coming from the Ford Motor Corporation, where he had been responsible for the 1961 Lincoln. He also presided over the end of the tailfin styling era in 1962, the introduction of the column gear shift, and was in charge of the development of the Plymouth Barracuda (1964), the Dodge Charger (1968), and the Dodge Challenger (1970). From the 1980s, under Tom Gale, the vice‐president of design, Chrysler again became an innovative force in automobile design with models such as the Viper, the Prowler, the Neon, and the PT Cruiser.


Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.

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