Building Chrysler, Part 1: How Walter P. made cars

Building Chrysler History

Founder Walter P. Chrysler proudly displays the very first Chrysler model, a 2-door Brougham model powered by a 201-CID 6-cylinder. This B Series was available in six body styles in 1925.

Did anyone happen to hear some loud moans or groans – maybe even a howl or two emanating from the cemetery up in Sleepy Hollow, NY on Halloween night?  If so, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised. No, I’m not referring to possible Halloween pranksters dressed up like The Headless Horseman – or perhaps some ghouls warming up their vocal chords.

These sounds might have been heard near the grave of a prominent ex-resident of Sleep Hollow – namely, one Walter P. Chrysler, founder of the Chrysler Corporation.  If you’ve been keeping track you know it was partially adopted by Italy’s Fiat Automobiles, S.p. A. in 2009 as part of the company’s bankruptcy reorganization.  Then the remaining 41 percent owned by other entities, including the United Auto Workers Union was purchased in January 2014, completing the transformation over to FCA — shorthand for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

There are two possible reasons for Chrysler rolling over in his grave and creating a ruckus.  First is the fact that the Walter P. Chrysler Museum located at company headquarters in Auburn Hills, MI was permanently shuttered this week so the space used for other company operations.

Second is the fact that FCA recently announced that in the process of re-shuffling its production of cars, trucks and Jeeps to meet shifts in market and consumer demand, NO CHRYSLER BRAND CARS would be produced at plants located in the United States by the end of 2016.  It seems both of the two entry level cars in the company’s product line – the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200 – will not only cease being produced at the end of 2016, both models will vanish from FCA showrooms entirely if the firm does not find a new “manufacturing partner.”

The other current car models – the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger and Challenger are assembled at one of the company’s Canadian plant, located in Brampton, Ontario.  The smaller vehicles sin the line-up, the Dodge Journey and Fiat 500 are being built in the Toluca Assembly Plant in Toluca, Mexico.

1935 Chrysler Airflow

One of the most innovative and iconic cars of the Art Deco era was the 1935 Chrysler Airflow, assembled at the company’s Windsor Assembly Plant.

This truly marks the end of an era for Chrysler branded cars, which have been rolling off of American assembly lines for over 90 years now – since 1925, in fact.  During that time Chrysler cars – along with the company’s various brands, which have included Dodge, Plymouth, DeSoto, Imperial, Jeep, Eagle and Ram have been assembled at 24 different plants in North America – 19 in the United States, three in Canada and two in Mexico

For those automotive history buffs, or manufacturing and assembly nerds willing to roll down memory lane with me awhile, I’d like to share a few details about Walter P. Chrysler, the man who started the company, and then provide more details about the 24 assembly plants to fly the Chrysler banner over the years – either as Chrysler Corporation, DaimlerChrysler, or FCA.  And where pertinent, we’ll provide details about the key models produced at each plant while in operation.  So for those not especially interested in automotive history … you’re excused to move on to another story.  But if you’re an automotive history buff in particular, with a particular interest in Chrysler, we trust it proves educational – perhaps even enlightening.  But to make the information a bit more digestible, this will be divided into a 3-part history lesson, with a new “episode” posted over the next three weeks, since presenting a single 5,000-word web story would tax the interest of even the most avid history nerd.

Walter P. Chrysler Story

Walter Percy Chrysler was born on April 2, 1875 in Ellis, Kansas, where his father Hank Chrysler was an engineer for Union Pacific Railroad.  Blessed with many of the same mechanical skills as his father, Walter P. gravitated toward the railroad industry in his early career, starting out as an apprentice machinist in the same Union Pacific shop where his father worked in 1893.  But talent and ambition resulted in him moving up the ladder, and landing various engineering and management jobs with other railroad company around the country over the next 15 -18 years .

The pinnacle of his railroading career took him to Pittsburgh, where he became the works manager at the Allegheny locomotive erecting shops for the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) – with a handsome salary (for that day) of $12,000 a year!