History of Chrysler: from Plymouth to Dodge and Jeep

The Chrysler Corporation was founded on June 6th, 1925 by Walter P. Chrysler, and right from its beginnings the company was famous for its innovations. Chryslers featured unique technologies not yet available on many vehicles, and also targeted many different demographics and price-points with its many different brands, like Plymouth and Dodge. However by the time the oil crisis hit in 1973, Chrysler was struggling to survive. Lee Iacocca was brought on as CEO and he managed a dramatic turnaround for the company. He also helped invent the modern minivan. Since then, the company has continued to struggle, but remains a pillar of the American auto scene. In this video, WatchMojo.com learns more about the history of Chrysler.

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The History of Chrysler

Founded on June 6th, 1925 by Walter P. Chrysler, this automaker traces its origins to the Maxwell Motor Company. The Chrysler Corporation entered the market as innovators, and early cars included features not yet available on many brands. The company is also credited with releasing the first four-wheel hydraulic brake system in mass-produced cars, along with other safety features that were eventually embraced by the entire auto industry.

Plymouth, Dodge and MoPar

1928 saw Chrysler introduce new brands. Plymouth is one example, and it fit in to the low-priced segment. Chrysler also bought the existing Dodge car and truck company and launched a truck line. Soon after, the company created a parts and service division called MoPar. These moves helped make the company a mainstay on the American auto scene by the 1930s.

World War II

During World War II, the American Big Three automakers were instrumental in helping the U.S. military, and Chrysler took on a number of defense contracts during that time.

Progress Through the 1950s-60s

Following that was a period of progress at Chrysler in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Along with their 300 coupes, Chrysler produced a number of other high-performance cars, including the Imperial LeBaron and the Dodge Charger.

Imperial and Valiant

Chrysler continued to splinter the brand and in 1955 they introduced the Imperial marque to cater to the luxury division. Five years later, Valiant was made a separate label to accommodate lower-priced cars, and it remained distinct until 1976. One famous Valiant model was the Plymouth Barracuda pony car that was first released in 1964.

Lee Iacocca

In 1973, the oil crisis hit and greatly affected American automakers. By the late ‘70s, Chrysler still did not feature competitive compact or fuel efficient cars in the lineup, and was hemorrhaging money due to a number of recalls. The company was close to failure when it was decided that recently fired Ford President Lee Iacocca would join as CEO.

Iacocca's Turnaround

By 1979, Iacocca realized the company would fail if it did not receive a large influx of funds. After reducing his own salary to $1, he approached the United States Congress to ask for a $1.5 billion bailout. It was signed into law on January 7th, 1980, and Chrysler gradually recovered. The company repaid the loan with interest by 1983, but not before it introduced such enduring models as the K-car line, Dodge Aries, Plymouth Reliant and the Dodge Ram in 1981.

The Minivan

Iacocca’s next triumph came in 1983 when he helped create the modern minivan by introducing the Plymouth Voyager and the Dodge Caravan. He had also become the face of the company after appearing in a number of ads where he promoted Chrysler’s American-made cars.

Jeep, Lamborghini and Diamond Star

In 1987, Chrysler took over the Jeep brand when they bought the American Motors Corporation. The company also acquired Italian automaker Lamborghini that year, although it was sold in 1994. It was around this time that Chrysler partnered with Mitsubishi to create Diamond Star Motors. While the Japanese automaker bought out Chrysler’s stake in ‘91, Diamond Star did help Chrysler move into the subcompact market. With Iacocca’s turnaround of the company complete, he retired in 1992.

Changes in Ownership

In ‘98, Chrysler merged with Daimler-Benz to form Daimler-Chrysler. The company struggled for a few years, and was even forced to shut down the Plymouth brand. By 2001, things were improving on the strength of models like the Dodge Magnum. However, that turnaround was short-lived and by 2007 Chrysler was sold to private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management.

Recent Struggles

Things continued to spiral downward. By the end of 2008, the U.S. government was forced again to loan funds to Chrysler to keep the company afloat. Chrysler filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April the next year. Shortly after, Italian automaker Fiat took over a significant stake in the company. A sales increase followed, and Chrysler’s lineup went through a complete overhaul leading up to 2012. With this initiative in mind, Chrysler lived up to its reputation as a pillar of the automotive industry.

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