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1941-1984 Chrysler Town & Country

Chrysler Town & Country Story
The Chrysler Town & Country's 'clamshell' rear doors set it apart from contemporary wagons.
The Chrysler Town & Country's 'clamshell' rear doors set it apart from contemporary wagons.

The Town & Country story is familiar enough, having been chronicled over the years in just about every car publication and a half-dozen books. Most of the research avenues have long since been explored, so we can capsulize its history with authority.

The idea began in 1941, not with a flashy convertible or lavish sedan, but with a station wagon conceived by the then general manager of Chrysler Division, Dave Wallace. Chrysler had never had a wagon, and in the late 1930s, Wallace decided it needed one.

But not the clumsy, boxy creations then being ladled on various chassis by traditional bodybuilders like Cantrell, Baker Raulang, Hercules, Mifflinburg and the rest. Wallace wanted a tight, streamlined wagon that looked more like a sedan.

Because these suppliers of woody wagon bodywork looked on such an idea with bewilderment, Wallace turned to his own engineers, among the most formidably competent in the industry. He told them what he wanted, and he got it.

Wallace was ahead of his time with this concept, although he was not quite alone. Industrial designer Brooks Stevens had conjured up a rakish semi-wood body with a double hatchback for a 1938 Packard One Twenty, but that was strictly a custom order.

Wallace was the first to bring a sedan-like wagon to mass production -- if you'll concede that the thousand-odd T&Cs built each year in 1941-1942 constitutes "mass production." In so doing, he anticipated the sedan-based wagon, that darling of suburbia in the 1950s and 1960s, by a good 10 to 15 years.

Wallace's body engineers succeeded brilliantly. In place of the typical, rattling, awkward-looking wood structure with separate liftgate and tailgate, they conjured up a smooth, fastback-style four-door featuring double "clamshell" doors hinged at the sides.

These opened to expose an enormous cargo bay and didn't prang anybody's knees in the process. The interior held two or three large bench seats, thus offering six- or nine-passenger capacity. The body was placed on the 121.5-inch-wheelbase C-28W Windsor chassis with the 112-horsepower L-head six and standard Fluid Drive and "Vacumatic" transmission.

T&C historian Don Narus has pointed out that Chrysler had to "learn" to build the T&C, largely because Briggs, the firm's regular body supplier, had no such experience. Briggs was primarily a metal-working company and did produce the T&C's cowl and floorpan, front end, and steel roof. But the rest was Chrysler's.

Wallace had picked an outside firm, Pekin Wood Products of Helena, Arkansas, to supply the white ash body framing. (Conjecture has it that Wallace, who also happened to be Pekin's president, devised the T&C just to help keep that company in business.)

The inner panels were initially made of Honduran mahogany. In 1947, Chrysler switched to Di-Noc decals for the inserts as an economy move, though we should note these were so realistic that it was nearly impossible to distinguish them from real mahogany.

Wraparound grille bars marked the 1942 T&C, here with accessory spotlight and roof rack.
Wraparound grille bars marked the 1942 T&C, here with accessory spotlight and roof rack.

Wallace earmarked a section of Chrysler's Jefferson Avenue plant in Detroit for T&C assembly. Required jigs and fixtures were installed and a small force of craftspeople was trained to build the body, weld the steel roof to the steel cowl, and mate wood to metal with angle irons and steel butt plates.

Production was 997 units for 1941, all but 200 being nine-passenger models, followed by 999 of the 1942s. During this period there were also two eight-cylinder T&C prototypes built on the 127.5-inch-wheelbase New Yorker chassis.

The only major changes for 1942 involved hidden running boards (via extended lower door panels) and a front-end facelift with the grillework extended around to the edges of the front fenders.

Because of its late introduction, the Town & Country was one of the few 1942 models produced in higher quantity than in 1941 despite the early shutdown of all car production in February 1942 because of the war effort.

Check out the next page to learn about the 1946 Town & Country product line.

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