Building Chrysler, Part 2: Engineering, Plymouth, War and the Boom

1960’s: Era of Diversification

The 1960’s saw Chrysler add three new assembly plants – two in the United States and the very first facility south of the border, in Toluca, Mexico. It also saw the emergence of new compacts like the Dodge Dart and Plymouth Valiant, as well as the dawn of the muscle car era, with the arrival of the Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Chargers and Challengers, equipped with the famous Chrysler HEMI engines that had been powering the company’s sporty cars for over 10 years.

Plant No. 15) The Belvidere Assembly plant was constructed in 1965 in Belvidere, Ill., 60 miles northwest of Chicago.  First to be assembled there were full-size Chrysler, Plymouth and Dodge cars.  From 1979 until 1988 Chrysler built the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon there, as well as export versions of the cars designated for export, wearing Simca, Talbot and Chrysler badges.  From 1988 to 1993, various K-car models were assembled there. After that, the plant was reconfigured and switched over to producing the Dodge Neon and Chrysler PT Cruiser. That was followed by the Dodge Caliber from 2007 to 2012.  The plant also built the Dodge Dart from 2012 until Oct. 4, 2016.

Last July FCA announced it will be investing roughly $350 million in the plant to produce the Jeep Cherokee, which will move from its current production location in Toledo, Ohio. Approximately 300 new jobs will be created at the Illinois plant. Status:  Active.

Plant No. 16) In 1966 Chrysler added a second assembly plant at its St. Louis manufacturing site – St. Louis North.  It produced a wide variety of Dodge, Plymouth and Chrysler models there until 1983, when it was devoted almost exclusively to Chrysler minivan production.  In 1995 it was revamped to handle Dodge Ram pickups. It was closed during the company’s bankruptcy in 2009.  Status:  Out of service – the plant site razed in 2011.

Plant No. 17) The Toluca Assembly Plant, built in 1968, was constructed in Toluca, Mexico. The plant was used to assemble a variety of compact and small Chrysler, Dodge and Plymouth models there over the years, including the Sundance/Shadow, Neon and PT Cruiser.  It currently assembles the Dodge Journey, Fiat Freemont and Fiat 500.  Production of the all-new Jeep Compass will begin there in the first quarter of 2017. Status: Active

The third and final installment of this Chrysler assembly plant history will detail the creation and uses of plants No. 18 to 23 built in North America from the 1970’s to the present day. Without question, the past 46 years have proven to be period of tremendous change and upheaval throughout the industry thanks to the universal advent of such things as computerization, industrial robots, the arrival of electric and hybrid vehicles, as well as consolidation and globalization.

But thanks to strong leadership and diversified product offerings and the addition of the iconic Jeep brand while Lee Iacocca was at the help, Chrysler has maintained its position as one of Detroit’s Big Three automakers.  However, not without a bit of foreign “intervention,” as executives from first Germany’s Daimler-Benz and now Italy’s Fiat have taken turns making decisions about what plants are renovated and survive — and which ones fall by the wayside.

Photo Credit:  Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University