By Michael Dudley:
The Chrysler Six was unveiled at the New York Automobile Show in January of 1924. It was produced by Maxwell and had been developed by the legendary team of Fred Zeder, Owen Skelton, and Carl Breer (ZSB). The car incorporated an improved Lockheed four-wheel hydraulic brake system; the first on a moderately priced production vehicle. The engine that ZSB designed resulted in a 201 cubic inch, high compression, L-head, six cylinder engine that was successfully tested to perform at 3,000 rpm for fifty hours. It produced 68 horsepower and was capable of powering the automobile at 75 mph.
- The engine as seen above and full details below of the new Chrysler in the “Automotive Industries”, December 27, 1923 issue.
Walter P. Chrysler had sought the services of ZSB when he was asked to rescue the Willys Corporation from bankruptcy in February of 1920. While at Willys, the team worked on developing a car that would have been named Chysler and manufactured by Willys and introduced in 1922. When the Willys Corporation was ultimately thrust into bankruptcy on November 30th, 1921, the team of three men were hired by Billy Durant when he formed Durant Motors.
- Chrysler four-door sedan bodies, photo courtesy of Chrysler Heritage
Because Durant had bought the Willys plant in Elizabeth, New Jersey where ZSB had been working on the Chrysler prototype, they were able to continue to build and test prototype engines there. It was in November of 1922 that Chrysler saw the results of the final testing of the L-head engine and gave ZSB the go ahead to build a prototype car for Maxwell-Chalmers, who Chrysler he had been with since August 1920. In April 1923 he approved the prototype and requested that five automobiles be completed for the New York Automobile Show.
The early years of Chrysler were promising, starting with 50,622 cars sold in 1924. The early success of the new car propelled Walter P. Chrysler to form the Chrysler Corporation on June 6th, 1925. By the end of 1926 the Corporation was producing up to 750 cars a day and for 1927 the goal was to roll 200,000 off the assembly line. While they didn’t reach 200,000, they were close with 192,083 – a number that wouldn’t be surpassed until 1965. With the introduction of the Plymouth (to compete in the low price market with Ford) and DeSoto (designed to fill the gap between the Plymouth and Chrysler) in 1928 along with the purchase of Dodge Brothers Company, Chrysler emerged as one of the Big Three in 1929 along with Ford and General Motors.
- An example of the innovate engineering in the new Chrysler. The tubular front axle only weighed in at 27 pounds and worked well with the front-wheel brakes. It soon became popular for use on racing cars.
Photo at the top of the post from the Walter P. Chrysler Boyhood Home and Museum shows him standing with one of his early personal cars. It’s interesting to note the “F.D.N.Y” plate in front of the radiator; letters that all Americans have connected with for the past dozen years but were also important to Chrysler.
Editors Note: We are happy to have Michael Dudley join us here on T.O.M. for occasional articles. Mike is a McPherson College Auto Restoration program graduate and has started his own shop, Flatwater Restorations.