The Chrysler Six, the first car to bear Walter Chrysler’s name, debuts at the New York Automobile Show.
When Walter P. Chrysler presented the first car bearing his name as a trademark to the public at the New York Motor Show on January 5, 1924, he had pulled off a major coup: his Chrysler Six, marketed with the model designation B-70 because of its top speed of 70 mph, set new standards in the category of mid-sized US cars. What’s more, the first Chrysler became a bestseller – and the foundation stone for Chrysler Corporation.
Over and above this, Walter P. Chrysler reached one of his great personal aims with this car – an aim he had been pursuing since 1908. In that year, he bought his first car, a Locomobile, while still working as one of the youngest top managers in the American railway industry. He disassembled his new acquisition in order to analyze its engineering. According to Chrysler’s biographer, it had been his dream to become active in automotive production from the moment he began disassembling the Locomobile. He decided to turn his back on railway management and to become a motor manufacturer. (Vincent Curcio, “Chrysler – The Life and Times of an Automotive Genius”, 700 pages.)
He pursued his aims with single-minded determination, thereby creating the conditions for the assembly of the first Chrysler cars in the Chalmers plant on Jefferson Avenue in Detroit on brand-new production facilities on December 20, 1923. Even before the public launch at the New York Motor Show, Chrysler was thus able to present the new creation of his team of engineers, Fred Zeder, Owen Skelton and Carl Breer, to a select circle of bankers, suppliers, car dealers and important automotive experts at a trial-driving event.
The new Chrysler Six met with spontaneous enthusiasm. The few skeptics were impressed, at the very latest, after the first trial-driving. One dealer, for instance, expressed his doubts about the car’s alleged top speed of 70 miles per hour. But when Chrysler’s marketing manager Tobe Couture accelerated the test car to 70 mph on a wet road, with the skeptic in the passenger’s seat, then took his hands off the steering wheel and slammed on the brakes to demonstrate the car’s track-holding stability, this dealer was convinced, too. His signature under the purchase contract is said to have been a bit of a scrawl, however; the man was still shaking.
A top speed of 110 km/h may be ridiculous by today’s standards – but it was breathtaking for drivers back in the 1920s. The Chrysler was only insignificantly slower than straightforward luxury cars like the Packard Eight which sold at twice the Chrysler’s price. The Chrysler Six also proved to be highly superior to the competitors in its class in terms of its other design features and qualities, so it assumed the position of “best in class” immediately. In his article entitled “The Chrysler Six – America’s First Modern Automobile”, which appeared in the January 1972 edition of the Antique Automobile magazine, automotive historian Mark Howell wrote that its influence on motor history only compared with that of the Ford Model T, and that this car clearly defined the parting line between ‘old’ and ‘new’ cars in automotive history.
The exhibits in the Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills, Michigan, impressively demonstrate how distinctively this parting line had been drawn. A Chrysler B-70 from the museum fleet, a 1924 Chrysler Six sedan in an elegant three-shade livery of light brown, dark brown and black, had been owned by the descendants of the car’s co-creator, Fred Zeder, for many years. In the past 80 years, the historical jewel has never been completely restored but was merely serviced and repaired before it was acquired by the Chrysler Museum in the 1990s.
Michigan History, January/February 2013.
Also see Chrysler : the life and times of an automotive genius / Vincent Curcio. Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2000. Here is a richly detailed account of one of the most important men in American automotive history, based on full access to both Chrysler Corporation and Chrysler family historical records. Chrysler emerges as a man who loved machines, an accomplished mechanic who also had highly developed managerial skills derived from half a lifetime on the railroads, a man whose success came from his deep understanding of engineering and his total commitment to the quality of his vehicles. Vincent Curcio traces Chrysler’s rise from a locomotive wiper in a Kansas roundhouse to the head of the Buick Division of General Motors, to his rescue of the Maxwell-Chalmers car company, which led to the successful development of the 1924 Chrysler–the world’s first modern car–and the formation of Chrysler Corporation in 1925. Chrysler was quite different from the other auto giants–a colorful and expansive man, deeply involved in the design of his cars, a maverick in establishing his headquarters in New York City, in the world’s most famous art deco structure, the fabled Chrysler Building, which he built and helped to design. Because of his emphasis on quality at popular prices, the company weathered the Great Depression with flying colors–losing money only in the rock-bottom year of 1932–and despite the market fiasco of the Chrysler Airflow (which was years ahead of its time), the company grew and remained profitable right up to Chrysler’s death in 1940. The definitive portrait, Walter P. Chrysler is must reading for all car enthusiasts and for everyone interested in the story of a giant of industry.