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  • Writer's pictureTim Jackson

Walter Chrysler creates leading automaker

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

Walter Chrysler is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in automotive history. Born in Wamego, Kansas, in 1875, Chrysler grew up in a modest family and was forced to leave school at the young age of 17 to support himself. Despite these challenges, Chrysler went on to become one of the most successful entrepreneurs of his time, founding the Chrysler Corporation, and leading it to become one of the Big Three automakers in the United States.

Chrysler began his career as an apprentice in a railroad shop in Ellis, Kansas. He quickly demonstrated a talent for machinery and a strong work ethic and was soon promoted to foreman. In 1901, Chrysler moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and took a job with the American Locomotive Company, where he quickly rose through the ranks to become the company’s youngest ever division superintendent.

In 1911, Chrysler was recruited by David Buick at the Buick Motor Company, a division of General Motors since 1908. He quickly became a key executive at Buick and was credited with developing many of the company’s most successful models, including the Buick Six. However, Chrysler‘s ambition exceeded his role at Buick and he resigned from the company in 1919 to pursue his own business ventures.

In 1925, in Highland Park, Michigan, a Detroit suburb, Walter Chrysler founded in his namesake, the Chrysler Corporation, from the remains of Maxwell Motor Company and quickly became one of the most successful automakers in the United States. Under Chrysler‘s leadership, the Chrysler Corporation grew quickly and significantly and the company introduced a number of groundbreaking automotive innovations. Those include the first practical hydraulic brakes and the first mass produced cars with four-wheel hydraulic brakes. Chrysler also pioneered the use of wind tunnel testing, which allowed the company to design more aerodynamic vehicles and improve fuel efficiency.

By 1928, the Dodge brand was already well-established and had already developed a loyal following. The acquisition of Dodge Brothers allowed Chrysler to expand the company’s offerings and increase market share. The move was a success and Dodge quickly became one of Chrysler Corporation‘s most successful new car brands.

Building The Zeder

The Zeder model was a remarkable piece of engineering designed by key Chrysler engineers in the early 1930s. It was the first car to be fully developed in the company's newly established engineering department, and it served as a prototype for many of the iconic Chrysler vehicles that would follow. The Zeder was a significant achievement for the Chrysler team and a testament to their commitment to innovation and excellence.

The Zeder was designed by three key engineers at Chrysler: Owen Skelton, Carl Breer and Fred Zeder. These three professional engineers were instrumental in establishing the company's engineering department and were committed to creating a car that was both functional and stylish. It was their belief that the future of the automobile industry rested in aerodynamics and lightweighting of materials and they set out to create a car that embodied these principles.

The Zeder was built on a custom-made chassis and featured a streamlined body that was designed to reduce wind resistance and improve fuel efficiency. The Zeder was also considerably lighter than other vehicles of its time, thanks to its extensive use of aluminum and other lightweight materials. The Zeder was powered by a six-cylinder engine that was capable of producing 70 horsepower, which was quite impressive for a car of its size and weight.

One of the most significant features of the Zeder was its front-wheel drive system. This was a revolutionary innovation at the time which allowed the car to be more maneuverable and easier to handle than other vehicles of its era. The front-wheel drive system also contributed to the car's overall weight reduction, as it eliminated the need for a heavy driveshaft and differential.

The Zeder was first unveiled to the public in 1932 and it proved to be an instant sensation. Its sleek, aerodynamic design and advanced engineering features captured the imagination of car enthusiasts and industry experts alike. The car was praised for its performance, handling and fuel efficiency, and it set a new standard for automotive design and engineering.

The Zeder was an important milestone in the history of Chrysler and the automotive industry as a whole. It demonstrated the company's commitment to innovation and excellence, and it set the stage for many of the iconic Chrysler models that would follow. Though it was never mass produced for consumer accessibility, The Zeder was a testament to the talent and dedication of the key Chrysler engineers who designed it, and, to this day, it remains a remarkable automotive achievement.

Beyond The Zeder at Chrysler

Through the 1930s, Chrysler continued to expand the company’s offerings, introducing the Plymouth and Desoto brands to complement the flagship Chrysler brand. During this timeframe, Chrysler also developed a number of new technologies, including the first fully automatic transmission and the first practical air conditioning system for automobiles.

Chrysler adds the Imperial as luxury model

Also in the 1930s, Chrysler began to produce luxury cars under the Chrysler brand. These cars were designed to compete directly with the other notable luxury brands Cadillac and Lincoln, produced by General Motors and Ford respectively, which were the dominant US luxury car brands at the time. The Chrysler Imperial was introduced in 1931 as a top-of-the-line Chrysler model. It was a large, luxurious car that was designed to appeal to the wealthiest buyers.

The Imperial was redesigned in 1934, and the new model was even more luxurious than the previous one. The car was powered by a high performance eight-cylinder engine and included a number of advanced features, such as hydraulic brakes. The Imperial was also one of the first cars to feature air conditioning as standard equipment which was a major selling point for buyers in hot climates.


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