7 November 2016

Top 20 Chrysler innovations

Chrysler was once known as the “engineer’s” car manufacturer. While their postwar styling might support that statement, it was Chrysler’s innovation that spawned and maintained it. Following are 20 innovations, in chronological order, that Chrysler developed, which most manufacturers then copied and implemented.

  1. Replaceable element oil filter (1924) – Standard since the 1930s on Chryslers, it took until 1962 to make them standard on all competitor cars (including Chevrolets). Chrysler also developed the full-flow oil filter (1946).
  2. The first mass-produced four-wheel hydraulic brakes (1924) – Engineered and redesigned entirely by Chrysler engineers, Lockheed supplied the components for several decades. It’s so nice being able to stop when you need to… Imagine your brakes being as poor as your current emergency brake (rear wheel, cable operated) and you have some idea of how important four-wheel hydraulic brakes were for safety both then and now.
  3. Rubber engine mounts (1925) – Part of this includes the located center of gravity for the engine, which was “cradled” scientifically in rubber to eliminate or vastly reduce vibration felt by the driver and passengers. Prior to this, engines were simply bolted into car frames.
  4. Power brakes (1932) – This option helped reduce braking effort.
  5. Automatic overdrive (1934) – Developed by Chrysler, it was manufactured for them by Borg-Warner and supplied to competitors. Overdrive improves fuel economy and allows higher road speeds.
  6. Electric windshield wipers (1939) – Do any readers recall how miserable vacuum operated windshield wipers were? When you stepped on the gas to pass, the wipers stopped. Convenient. American Motors continued with the abomination until the early 1970s, and even some GM and Ford cars maintained vacuum-operated wipers until the ‘60s.
  7. Hydraulic four-wheel disc brakes (1949) – Granted: They were not “caliper disc brakes” but more akin to what aircraft used at the time. Still, they were disc brakes. Difficult as it is to envision, these brakes were essentially “inside-out” versions of what came later. The finned discs rotated around a fixed inner disc that held the brake pads. These moved outward to contact the two sides of the rotating disc brake.
  8. Ignition key starting (1949) – Believe it or not, before this, there were various ways to engage the starter. Some makes required you to push a separate button on the instrument panel or on the floor, some required you to push the gas pedal or clutch pedal to the floor, Nash required you to pull up on the automatic transmission lever even into the mid-‘50s.
  9. Resistor spark plugs (1949) – In order to eliminate radio reception interference.
  10. Padded dashboard (1949) – For safety, obviously.
  11. Power steering (1951) – This option was developed as a solution to aide parking with the new (extremely heavy) Hemi V-8 engines introduced that year.
  12. Curved side glass (1957) – Not only a styling advance, this feature allowed a wider interior with a slight curve to the inside of the door, which means more interior room for a given exterior size of car and also less glare for other drivers on the road from straight side glass in certain circumstances.
  13. First use of modern electronic fuel injection (albeit with an analog computer) (1958) – Optional on DeSotos and Chryslers, the Electrojector system was built for Chrysler by Bendix, which supplied fuel injection for some aircraft.
  14. Cruise control, called “Auto Pilot,” (1958) – Who else remembers long, exhausting drives during the 55 mile per hour speed limit era? Can you imagine how much worse they’d have been without the option of cruise control?
  15. Alternators instead of generators standard on some cars (Valiant, 1960), all U.S. cars (1961) – Generators didn’t do a sufficient job in slow traffic or idle and modern cars’ electrical demands began requiring sufficient electrical generation, which only the alternator could provide.
  16. First mass-produced car equipped with four-wheel antilock disc brakes (Imperial, 1971) – The 1966 British Jensen FF had this, but only a few hundred were built over several years at astronomical cost.
  17. Electronic ignition on all cars (1973) – This helped reduce emissions and also eliminated much of the old “tune up” periodic services every few thousand miles, reducing owner expense and also saving time.
  18. Onboard car computer (analog) to control the carburetor mixture and electronic ignition (1976) – This system was called “Lean Burn” and it aided fuel economy and reduced emissions.
  19. Electronic voice alert (1983) – Yes, your car spoke reminders and warnings to you. In addition, it was a fully digitized, recorded human voice, not just a lame record of a voice like a child’s string-pull talking doll of the era (as the Japanese “innovated” in the same era). Chrysler engineers developed EVA in Huntsville, Ala., where they also worked on space and defense programs. One message would cause many a wag to make lame jokes. EVA: “A door is ajar.” Jokester: “No, a door is not a jar!” (Editor’s note: It’s funny when you’re eight years old!)
  20. Modern cup holders (1983) – We mustn’t forget how miserable cup holders were “back in the day”. Essentially, if you had any at all, they were simply depressions on the inside of the glovebox door on which you placed your small Styrofoam coffee cup. While the car was stationary. It was a very shallow depression… (Was this innovation an advance, or retrograde?)

Imagine a car with an oil change interval of about 1000 miles or a car which can’t safely stop from anything over 20 miles per hour and you have some idea of the importance of many Chrysler innovations over the years.

Surely someone else would have eventually invented these convenience and safety features, competitive pressure forces advancement. But Chrysler was first so many times that the company should be known, remembered and celebrated for its collective human ingenuity and executives’ willingness to push boundaries.

15 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Eric E CO November 9, 2016 at 15:53
    My mom had a K wagon with voice alert. I was driving it late one night across the empty eastern Colorado plains when it announced "Your fuel is low!" Absolutely scared the living daylights out of me.
  • 2
    Bruce Georgia November 9, 2016 at 16:30
    I remember my dad(was a mechanic; worked on aircraft during WW2) used to sing their praises; when I was a kid my parents owned a Dodge, a Plymouth station wagon, and later a Chrysler station wagon
  • 3
    Carl Wisconsin November 9, 2016 at 16:59
    Very interesting except item #12. The 1954 Hudson Italia had curved side glass.
  • 4
    Jim Maz So NH November 9, 2016 at 17:47
    I always loved the torsion bar front suspension Chrysler used in their cars and trucks. I also liked the simplicity with which their cars were built. They had a great product with the LH line back in the 90s as well. Long live Chrysler!
  • 5
    Chuck PA November 9, 2016 at 18:37
    You forgot unibody construction in the Airflow in 1934 (maybe because Citroen also came out with it that year).
  • 6
    Chuck PA November 9, 2016 at 18:38
    You forgot unibody construction in the Airflow in 1934 (maybe because Citroen also came out with it that year).
  • 7
    RI Jack So. County November 9, 2016 at 19:14
    Let's not forget left handed threads on left side wheel lugs!! Do you remember if you snapped a lug, ...or got a hernia?
  • 8
    Ken Detroit November 10, 2016 at 07:36
    Yes, I am one of those lucky guys that owns a 1977 New Yorker Brougham 4dr with a 400 CID with the "Lean Burn" onboard computer. The car is nearly 40 years old and the Lean Burn still works for the most part. I had to convert to electronic ignition because whenever the Lean Burn computer got hot (go figure, it IS after all mounted in the engine compartment suspended over the left valve cover/exhaust manifold) the ignition would cut out and the engine would stop.
  • 9
    Milo ND November 10, 2016 at 10:43
    I once had a talking Chrysler Laser that in the cold ND winters it would talk real slooow.
  • 10
    Ol Sarge Ft. Lauderdale, Fl November 10, 2016 at 11:43
    Many of us have known about Chrysler's innovations for years. But, it's nice to see them listed together. As the owner of a 1932 Chevy I must say, though sometimes challenging, I enjoy driving a car with no oil filter, mechanical brakes, manual steering and vacuum wipers occasionally. That is if you're in no hurry to get there.
  • 11
    greg Long Beach, CAl November 11, 2016 at 02:03
    Some VW cars had computer controlled fuel injection back the late 60s. Porsche 914 4 cylinder cars came with computer controlled FI starting in 1970. It was a Bosch system.
  • 12
    Marq Gunderson Vancouver, WA November 12, 2016 at 00:39
    Don't know if this was a Chrysler innovation, but torsion bar front suspension was an improvement. It reduced the space competition between the engine bay and suspension components. It also helped lower the vehicle's center-of-gravity, improving vehicle handling. Another suspension improvement was the use of cam bolts instead of shims and spacers for adjustments during suspension/steering alignment work. Almost all manufacturers, I believe, use cam bolts now - or a variation thereof - for suspension adjustment.
  • 13
    MARTY ROTH Louisiana November 13, 2016 at 21:06
    With respect to windshield wipers, I believe that electric wipers were standard (or factory-available) on the 1929 Buick Model 57
  • 14
    roy richie jefferson texas November 16, 2016 at 12:45
    have owned and enjoyed chrysler products since the 50s, every thing from a super bee to 4cyl econo, still own abaracuda
  • 15
    Joe Elliott Seattle December 8, 2016 at 10:51
    I'm not sure #5 should really count as an innovation--it's a fairly obvious workaround for having a final drive ratio that's lower than optimal. Can anyone shed more light on #7? Is this something they actually produced, or just a random patent application? (Or is the author just confused? Note that aircraft brakes at the time were more akin to drums, albeit with a multitude of pads around their entire circumference.) Rather than pretending that engineering innovations don't count if they're implemented on expensive low-volume cars, #16 could be more honest by just referring to electronic ABS (the Jensen system was based on all-mechanical aircraft technology). And, for what it's worth, the first unibody was the Lancia Lambda, which beat Citroen and Chrysler by more than a decade.

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