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January 5, 1924 – The first Chrysler car debuts

Visitors to the lobby of the Commodore Hotel in New York City on this day in automotive history in 1924 may have been treated to the public unveiling of the first Chrysler car to use the trademarked name. Released under Maxwell as the Chrysler Six during the New York Motor Show, the car had only began rolling off the assembly line on December 20, a few weeks prior. Getting to this point was no easy task for proprietor Walter Chrysler.

Maxwell-Chalmers hired Chrysler to head the ailing automobile brand just a year before. They had high hopes that Chrysler could save the company, as he had recent success revitalizing Willys-Overland. Among the first steps Chrysler took to get MC out of the hole: shutting down production of Chalmers in 1923. This left Maxwell on its own. To give the company a fighting chance, Chrysler decided to engineer a brand new, highly sophisticated automobile. He may have outdone himself, completely changing the course of automotive history forever.

The 1924 Chrysler Six

The Chrysler Six was the final result of his efforts. The six-cylinder car included features such as a high compression engine and a replaceable oil filter, both rare components at the time. The Six also featured the first practical, mass produced four wheel hydraulic brake system, massively increasing safety. The car became so successful that on June 6, 1925 Chrysler reorganized Maxwell to become Chrysler Corporation. The Maxwell name disappeared from the market.

maxwell car badge
Maxwell reorganized to become the Chrysler Corporation

Though the name died, Maxwell car’s didn’t. At least, not under the marque. Chrysler introduced a four cylinder car for 1926, but to Maxwell folks it sure looked familiar. Badge engineering wouldn’t last under Walter Chrysler. In the coming years, the corporation aimed to compete at all budget levels. To do so, Chrysler introduced Plymouth in 1928 as their introductory level vehicle, and DeSoto as its mid-level vehicle, leaving Chrysler at the top of the food chain. However, that same year, Chrysler Corp. purchased Dodge Brothers, giving Chrysler two mid-priced automobile lines. Dodge and DeSoto would flip flop pricing positions for the next few decades until the latter got the chop in 1960. Backing up, the engineering advancements that propelled the original success of Chrysler pushed the brand to become the second best selling automaker in America from 1936 to 1949. 

Chrysler in the 1970s & beyond

Following horsepower related successes during muscle car era, a rough economy, increasing government restrictions and a fuel shortage in the late 1970s began to pinch Chrysler. With sales plummeting, the company brought on Lee Iacocca, former Ford president, to save the company. Unlike Walter Chrysler, Iacocca never put his own name on a car, but he still managed to keep the boat afloat. Among other feats, he landed a government bail out and introduced the minivan, two major successes that saved the company from an almost certain death.

chrysler cordoba
1978 Chrysler Cordoba

Chrysler has faced various financial challenges in the last three decades, resulting in numerous partnerships and buyouts. Today the company is officially named Stellantis, but is still headquartered in Michigan, just outside Detroit.

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