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.