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    Apr 2003
    Wichita, Kansas USA

    Chrysler Six B-70 1924-1925

    80 years of Chrysler automobiles
    • Chrysler Six of 1924 – the first car of the Chrysler brand
    • Trendsetter and the best car in its class
    Auburn Hills, Feb 10, 2004
    When Walter P. Chrysler presented the first car bearing his name as a trademark to the public at the New York Motor Show on January 5, 1924, he had pulled off a major coup: his Chrysler Six, marketed with the model designation B-70 because of its top speed of 70 mph (approx. 110 km/h), set new standards in the category of mid-sized US cars. What's more, the first Chrysler became a bestseller – and the foundation stone for Chrysler Corporation.

    Over and above this, Walter P. Chrysler reached one of his great personal aims with this car an aim he had been pursuing since 1908. In that year, he bought his first car, a Locomobile, while still working as one of the youngest top managers in the American railway industry. He disassembled his new acquisition in order to analyze its engineering. According to Chrysler’s biographer, it had been his dream to become active in automotive production from the moment he began disassembling the Locomobile. He decided to turn his back on railway management and to become a motor manufacturer. (Vincent Curcio, "Chrysler – The Life and Times of an Automotive Genius", 700 pages.)
    He pursued his aims with single minded determination, thereby creating the conditions for the assembly of the first Chrysler cars in the Chalmers plant on Jefferson Avenue in Detroit on brand-new production facilities on December 20, 1923. Even before the public launch at the New York Motor Show, Chrysler was thus able to present the new creation of his team of engineers, Fred Zeder, Owen Skelton and Carl Breer, to a select circle of bankers, suppliers, car dealers and important automotive experts at a trialdriving event.
    The new Chrysler Six met with spontaneous enthusiasm. The few skeptics were impressed, at the very latest, after the first trial driving. One dealer, for instance, expressed his doubts about the car's alleged top speed of 70 miles per hour. But when Chrysler's marketing manager Tobe Couture accelerated the test car to 70 mph on a wet road, with the skeptic in the passenger's seat, then took his hands off the steering wheel and slammed on the brakes to demonstrate the car's track-holding stability, this dealer was convinced, too. His signature under the purchase contract is said to have been a bit of a scrawl, however; the man was still shaking.

    A top speed of 110 km/h may be ridiculous by today's standards – but it was breathtaking for drivers back in the 1920s. The Chrysler was only insignificantly slower than straightforward luxury cars like the Packard Eight which sold at twice the Chrysler's price. The Chrysler Six also proved to be highly superior to the competitors in its class in terms of its other design features and qualities, so it assumed the position of "best in class" immediately. In his article entitled "The Chrysler Six – America’s First Modern Automobile", which appeared in the January 1972 edition of the Antique Automobile maga-zine, automotive historian Mark Howell wrote that its influence on motor history only compared with that of the Ford Model T, and that this car clearly defined the parting line between 'old' and 'new' cars in automotive history.

    The exhibits in the Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills, Michigan, impressively demonstrate how distinctively this parting line had been drawn. A Chrysler B-70 from the museum fleet, a 1924 Chrysler Six sedan in an elegant three-shade livery of light brown, dark brown and black, had been owned by the descendants of the car's co-creator, Fred Zeder, for many years. In the past 80 years, the historical jewel has never been completely restored but was merely serviced and repaired before it was acquired by the Chrysler Museum in the 1990s.

    Despite its advanced age, the 3.3 liter six cylinder in-line engine starts readily after just a few revolutions of its starter motor, and intrigues people with its silky smooth running characteristics. "Different and Finer Results from Different, Finer Engineering" – that's what Chrysler claimed in advertisements for the launch of the completely new car, testifying to the fact that advertising is not always equivalent to exaggeration. Compared to other American mid sized cars in its day and age, the Chrysler Six was better in many respects: the low-vibration six-cylinder in-line engine reacted highly spontaneously to accelerator pedal movements, for instance, and revved up readily where contemporary engines were rather sluggish.

    The extremely high compression ratio of 4.7:1 (at a time 4.0:1 was the standard in the US motor in-dustry), the finely balanced crankshaft running in seven bearings (vs. three in other cars), the alumi-num pistons, pressure lubrication and oil filter in the main stream were not completely new – but highly refined – engineering features in those days. And they had never before been incorporated in these numbers in a mid-sized car. The ZSB team of engineers had carefully combined technical features to create a 68 hp machine which was a match for the six-cylinder powering the greatest competitor, Buick, in terms of its nominal output. But the Chrysler developed this output from a displacement of just 3.3 liters whereas the Buick required 4.2 liters. The efficiency of the Chrysler machine is also demonstrated in a comparison with the best and most luxurious American car available at the time, the Duesenberg Model A, to be had at five times the price of the Chrysler: the power-to-swept-volume ratio of the two cars was almost the same. In the Duesenberg, a 4.2 liter V8 with overhead camshaft developed some 80 hp – roughly 19 hp per liter of displacement. The Chrysler's output of 68 hp breaks down into some 21 hp per liter of displacement.

    The efficiency of the engine set an example for the entire car. The Chrysler had an unladen weight of just under 1,300 kilograms, not an ounce more than was actually required. The result was an extremely lively temperament. Compared to its contemporaries, it accelerated briskly, without the slightest traces of roughness.
    Chrysler knew that he had to give his car at least one extraordinary quality to ensure that it distin-guished itself from its competitors. He also knew that good performance ranked among the most im-portant buying criteria at the time. Historian Howell wrote that it was not just the measurable power, speed and acceleration that counted but also the quality of performance. This included easy operation, among other things. With a host of detail features, the Six in the Walter P. Chrysler Museum proves that engineers Zeder, Skelton and Breer had solved their task brilliantly.

    While drivers of conventional US cars had to pull at the steering wheel energetically to force the car into bends in the 1920s, steering the Chrysler was comparatively easy. While it is true that the Six requires more steering effort for cornering than modern cars, even the narrow bends of the Chrysler test track in the immediate vicinity of the museum can be negotiated with moderate effort. The most gratifying feature is the brake system: Chrysler had decided against mechanical brakes with cables or linkages customary in mid sized cars at the time and instead opted for progressive, hydraulically operated drum brakes on all four wheels. This, too, was still far from being state of the art in those days. Many cars featured drum brakes merely on the rear wheels plus a shoe brake acting on the propeller shaft, decelerating them after a fashion. With the advent of the hydraulic brake, brakes which pulled to one side, which had to be adjusted at relatively short intervals and reacted sluggishly even when the driver slammed them on were a thing of the past. By the standards of the 1920s, the B-70 decelerated impressively spontaneously and powerfully, while being well behaved in that it remained on course and did not pull to one side.

    The interior of the Chrysler Six is fully in keeping with the comfortable as well as lively handling of the car: wide seats with velour covers and a generously dimensioned rear compartment provide for enjoy-able motoring, for drivers as well as passengers. Even the small features of Walter P. Chrysler's first convey the feeling of a host of well-thought-out design ideas. One example is the fully glazed instru-ment panel instead of the individual circular gauges with glass covers – the conventional design in the mid-sized class at the time. Chrysler encouraged his three engineers, who went down in automotive history as The Three Musketeers at a later stage, to come up with intelligent technical solutions for a compact design, a low weight and low production costs. In the upshot, this allowed him to incorporate several conspicuous luxury attributes – among them the glazed instrument panel which was a first in the US category of cars costing below 3,000 dollars.
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