There are many examples of American automakers that have risen to greatness, only to eventually fail and disappear, like Duesenburg, Packard, Studebaker, Pierce Arrow, DeLorean, and Hudson. However, some car companies, such as Chrysler, have managed to weather the ups and downs of the automobile industry, and in so doing, have provided us with many enduring classics. Here are some of the more interesting models that chronicle the legacy of the Chrysler Corporation.
Chrysler in the Early Years
In 1934, Chrysler Corporation introduced a radical new car design, called the Airflow, to its Desoto and Chrysler models. At the time, the Airflow was on the cutting edge of technology, it employed innovative handling features, and there were significant enhancements to passenger comfort. However, Chrysler’s streamlined exterior design was too different for the general buying public to accept. Nevertheless, these cars are highly respected by classic car collectors today for their wind-cheating design.
Chrysler in the Late ’50s and Early ’60s – When Fins Were In
Although the 1957 Chevy, or perhaps the 1959 Cadillac, may be the most recognized finned cars of the era, Chrysler Corporation’s models were every bit as large and arguably more flamboyant. In fact, the only real contest for most elaborate fins of the period were between Chrysler’s Desoto and Imperial models. Not only were the fins large on these models, but they were also highly stylized, with decorative chrome surrounding the sculptured taillight lenses. These upscale models are a rare find today, and they are always a crowd favorite.
Hemi engines are synonymous with performance. When they were first introduced, they powered Chrysler 300s, which dominated the 1955 NASCAR season. Although these cars predate the muscle car era, Hemis set the stage for the performance wars in the following decade.
A second generation motor, best known as the 426 Hemi, was used in the 1963 NASCAR races, and again became the engine to beat, both on and off the track. This motor was an option for practically all Chrysler models, and those fortunate enough to have a model with a factory-installed Hemi, own one of the most prized collector cars in existence.
Chrysler Cartoon Cars
The Hemi was Chrysler’s big gun in the muscle car wars of the ’60s and early ’70s. However, the automaker also used an unlikely source to gain the buyer’s attention – cartoon-themed cars. The Road Runner, with its unique graphics and “Beep, Beep” horn may be the most well-known of these special models, but they also offered the Duster, Demon, and Super Bee. Adding icing to the cake, Chrysler painted these cars in some very whimsical colors, like Plum Crazy Purple, Top Banana Yellow, Panther Pink, Sassy Grass Green, and Hi-C Orange. The marketing strategy worked, and in the process, some very memorable cars were created.
Chrysler Modern Classics
In 1997, Chrysler introduced the Prowler. This two-seater sports car was designed to look like a custom hot rod, and it may very well be one of the wildest factory-produced cars of all time. Although it was only offered for five years, because of its uniqueness, it has become a welcome addition to the collector car market.
In the early ’90s, Chrysler developed an all-out supercar to compete with the high-end exotics — the Dodge Viper. This sporty car, with its powerful V10 engine, is still being produced today, and is a halo vehicle for the Chrysler marque.
In an attempt to tap into the nostalgic models of the past, Chrysler has reintroduced the Charger and Challenger muscle car models, which were last seen in the ’70s. And, just like their predecessors, these later generation muscle cars are already appearing at major classic car events.
Chrysler Future Classics
In early 2014, the Italian automaker, Fiat, completed acquisition of the Chrysler Corporation. It remains to be seen what direction Fiat will take the Mopar brand, and if creating new classics will be in Chrysler’s future.