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Noteworthy Chryslers in the brand’s 90 years

Larry Printz
Tribune News Service

It’s been 90 years since Walter Chrysler, chairman of Maxwell Motors, introduced the Chrysler Six. In the decades since, the company that bares his name has turned out a number of noteworthy cars. Let’s go for a ride.

1934 Chrysler Airflow

1934 Chrysler Airflow: Upon discovering their cars were more aerodynamic when backing up, Chrysler engineers, at the advice of Orville Wright, used a wind tunnel to develop their new car. Its steel frame — near 50-50 front-rear weight distribution and lightweight — were technical triumphs. Sadly, its streamlined styling was too advanced for American tastes, although it proved hugely influential in Europe.

1946 Chrysler Town and Country: While wood had been used to build cars for decades, the last gasp came in the form of the Chrysler Town and Country, which used timber as a structural element. Other automakers offered woodies, but none had the elegance and style of Chrysler, which offered the Town and Country as a sedan or convertible coupe, powered by an eight-cylinder engine and semi-automatic transmission.

1951 Chrysler Hemi V-8: The hemispheric-head V-8 engine, otherwise known as the hemi V-8, was introduced in the Chrysler Saratoga, New Yorker and Imperial. The engine’s combustion chamber had a dome-shaped roof, letting the engine produce more power than others of the same size. The first 5.4-liter hemi produced 170 horsepower, 10 more than Cadillac’s new V-8 of the same size.

1955 Chrysler 300: A specialty car for Chrysler’s new hemi V-8, the 300 wore a New Yorker hardtop two-door bodyshell, an Imperial front end and the Windsor model’s rear quarter panels. With 300 horsepower on tap, this was one of the most powerful cars of its time, able to reach 60 mph in less than 10 seconds. This formidable machine found a mere 1,725 buyers thanks to its $4,109 price. That’s $36,538 today.

1957 Chrysler line: This is the car that caught Chrysler’s competitors flatfooted. The 1957 models boasted outrageous tail fins, and had the automaker’s first torsion bar suspension, which gave the cars a very comfortable ride. Marketed under the slogan, “Suddenly, it’s 1960,” these cars caused GM to remake its already-planned 1959 line at great cost and led to design chief Harley Earl’s retirement.

■1964 Chrysler Turbine: For a quarter century, Chrysler experimented with jet turbine power, and briefly launched consumer tests using 50 specially built cars. The Ghia-built body housed an engine rated at 130 horsepower and 425 foot-pounds of torque. Although the engine was smooth and powerful, issues with throttle lag, braking, fuel economy and high nitric oxide emissions ultimately killed the program by 1980.

1975 Chrysler Cordoba

■1975 Chrysler Cordoba: If any car represented Chrysler’s march down market, it’s the Cordoba, a personal luxury car famously marketed on television by Ricardo Montalban. Despite its 215-inch length, this was considered the marque’s first midsize car. Chrysler’s luxury cache rubbed off on the new model, accounting for 60 percent of the brand’s sales in 1976. With 170 horsepower on tap, it’s no speed demon. But it is a ’70s icon nonetheless.

1982 Chrysler LeBaron: While poor build quality and near-bankruptcy blemished Chrysler’s luxury image, its revival came at the hands of the K-Car, the line of compact, front-wheel drive sedans, coupes and convertibles. LeBaron was the ritziest of the K-Cars, with some models boasting fake wood siding that evoked the earlier Town and Country models.

2004 Chrysler 300 (2005): While the 300 name would return in 1999 on a large front-wheel-drive model, it’s the 2004 300 that truly marks its return. Using a rear-wheel-drive platform developed for the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the aggressively styled full-sized car had a hoodlum attitude and a Hemi 5.7-liter V-8. With a couple of minor styling updates, the 10th generation of this car remains in production.