Chrysler Begins Designing Cars
By 1916, Walter Chrysler was president of Buick, at a salary of half a million dollars a year. Three years later he was appointed vice-president of General Motors, in charge of operations. But GM president "Billy" Durant was a mercurial character, quite impossible to work for, at least from Chrysler's point of view. He quit. Just 45 years old, he had plenty of money, and no plans. He told his wife he was going to retire, though it's doubtful that she believed him.
Walter's "retirement" was brief.
In January 1920, at the behest of the bankers, he took over Willys-Overland, charged with straightening out that company's tangled affairs. His salary was a million dollars a year. Two years later, having set Willys-Overland on the road to recovery, he accepted a similar assignment at Maxwell-Chalmers, taking his pay this time in stock options.
It happened that during his two years with Willys-Overland, Chrysler had become acquainted with a team of three young engineers: Fred Zeder, Owen Skelton, and Carl Breer. This group -- Chrysler called them his "Three Musketeers" -- had developed a car that ultimately became the basis for Billy Durant's new Flint automobile (that's a story in itself).
But by the time Chrysler took the helm at Maxwell, the three men had established an independent consulting firm. Chrysler hired them at his own expense, charging them with the design of a new six-cylinder car to be built by Maxwell. Only this one wasn't to be a Maxwell. It would be a Chrysler!
The prototypes were ready by January 1924, just in time for the New York Automobile Show. But the new Chryslers were barred from being displayed there because they weren't yet in production. Learning that the Hotel Commodore would serve as headquarters for the show, Chrysler turned around and rented the Commodore's lobby, displaying his automobiles where nobody could possibly miss seeing them.
On the next page, learn how the 1924 Chrysler Model B-70 became a hit.