Walter Chrysler died in August 1940 after turning over the presidency to his chosen successor, K.T. Keller, in 1935. But engineers continued running Chrysler with Keller's wholehearted support. Styling remained conservative, construction sound, value good.
Chrysler Division fared well in the immediate prewar years, rising to 10th place on over 92,000 units for 1940, then to 8th for '41 with nearly 162,000. Much of this was owed to a now very broad range of models and prices. The 1940 line, for instance, ranged from an $895 Royal Six coupe to a $2445 eight-passenger Crown Imperial limo.
Longer wheelbases accompanied new 1940 Chrysler bodies with notchback profiles, separate fenders, and smooth lines. The result, as one wag said, "wouldn't knock your eyes out, but wouldn't knock your hat off either." Models again grouped into six- and eight-cylinder ranks. Royal and Windsor Sixes rode a 122.5-inch chassis (139.5 for eight-seat sedans and limos).
Eights began with the new Traveler, New Yorker, and Saratoga on a 128.5-inch span (the last two also offered formal sedans). A 145.5-inch chassis carried Crown Imperial sedans and limousine. The eight now delivered 135-143 bhp, the six produced 108 or 112 bhp.
Two striking show cars from LeBaron (by then owned by Briggs Manufacturing, Chrysler's longtime body supplier) appeared during 1940; six of each were built. The Newport, designed by Ralph Roberts, was an Imperial-based dual-cowl phaeton with "melted-butter" streamlining. It paced the 1941 Indianapolis 500. The Thunderbolt, penned by Briggs' Alex Tremulis and built on the New Yorker chassis, had even sleeker flush-fender styling, plus a three-person bench seat and a novel, fully retracting hard top. Both cars hid their headlamps behind metal doors, a preview of 1942 DeSotos.
The most-interesting 1941 Chrysler was Dave Wallace's unique Town & Country, the make's first station wagon. Unlike other period "woodies," this one was fairly graceful -- and functional, with "clamshell" center-opening rear doors. Riding the Royal chassis, the T&C offered six- or nine-passenger seating for a remarkably low $1412/$1492. Still, only 997 were built for the model year, mostly the nine-seat type. A new variation on the familiar four-door was the attractive 1941 Town Sedan. Available in each series, it bore rear-roof quarters sans side windows, plus front- instead of rear-hinged back doors.
Wheelbases were trimmed an inch for all '41 Chryslers save Crown Imperials. Grilles became simpler, taillamps more ornate. The Traveler departed, but Saratogas expanded to include club and business coupes, two- and four-door sedans, and Town Sedan.
Several interesting new upholstery choices arrived: Highlander, a striking combination of Scots plaid and leatherette; Saran, a woven plastic and leatherette created for certain open models; and Navajo, a pattern resembling the blankets of those Southwest Indians. The year's main new technical gimmick was optional "Vacamatic" transmission, a semiautomatic with two Low and two High gears; you shifted only to go between the ranges. Vacamatic was combined with Fluid Drive (introduced in '39), which allowed the driver to start and stop without using the clutch.
A major facelift achieved a smoother look for '42 by wrapping the horizontal grille bars right around to the front fenders. A sleeker hood opened from the front instead of the sides, and running boards were newly hidden beneath flared door bottoms. Highlander Plaid returned along with a new upholstery option called Thunderbird, also inspired by Indian motifs. Town & Country was upgraded to the Windsor chassis. Increased bore brought the six to 250.6 cid and 120 bhp; the eight cylinder was offered only in a 140-bhp version.
Like other Detroit cars, Chryslers built after January 1, 1942 used painted metal instead of chrome trim per government order. For the same reason, Chrysler ended civilian production in early February 1942 for the duration of World War II. The division built only 5292 cars that calendar year and close to 36,000 for the model year. It then turned out anti-aircraft guns, Wright Cyclone aero engines, land-mine detectors, radar units, marine engines, and "Sea Mule" harbor tugs; tanks were its most famous wartime product.
When they could during the war, small teams of designers and engineers would work on ideas for postwar Chryslers -- largely smoother versions of the 1940-42 models with fully wrapped bumpers and grilles, thinner A- and B-pillars, and skirted rear fenders. But like most every other Detroit producer, Chrysler needed only warmed-over '42s to satisfy the huge seller's market that developed postwar, and that's what it offered through early 1949.
These cars wore less fender brightwork but a new eggcrate grille -- one of Detroit's shiniest faces. All prewar offerings returned save Crown Imperial sedans, and engines were slightly detuned.
A more significant change involved the Town & Country, which was no longer a wagon but a separate series of six- and eight-cylinder sedans and convertibles. Chrysler had promised a full line of nonwagon T&Cs, including a two-door brougham sedan and even a true roadster and a hardtop coupe. But only a handful of each were built, all basically prototypes. Hardtops, numbering just seven, were created by grafting an elongated coupe roof onto the T&C convertible. All were built in 1946, a good three years before General Motors began making sales hay with "hardtop convertibles." The eight-cylinder T&C sedan was dropped after '46 and just 100 copies.
For more on the amazing Chrysler, old and new, see:
- Chrysler New Car Reviews and Prices
- Chrysler Used Car Reviews and Prices