Establishment of Chrysler Australia
Chrysler Australia Ltd was established in June 1951 when the Chrysler Corporation acquired Chrysler Dodge Desoto Distributors (Australia), a company which had been formed in 1935 by 18 independent distributors.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Chrysler made a substantial investment in Australian manufacturing facilities, including opening a new assembly plant at Clovelly Park in 1964 and an engine foundry at Lonsdale in 1968. During this time, Chrysler Australia established its position as the third of the "Big 3" Australian motor manufacturers behind General Motors-Holden's and Ford Australia.
Initially, Chrysler Australia assembled North American Chrysler passenger cars and trucks. Their most popular car in the 1950s was the US sourced badge engineered trio: Plymouth Cranbrook, Dodge Kingsway and De Soto Diplomat, each based on the 1954 US Plymouth. A coupe utility variant was also developed by Chrysler Australia and this was marketed in nine different versions; the Plymouth Cranbrook, Savoy & Belvedere, the Dodge Kingsway Custom, Kingsway Crusader & Kingsway Coronet and the De Soto Diplomat Custom, Diplomat Regent & Diplomat Plaza. The Plymouth sedan was a popular choice for taxicab usage however the rise in popularity of the Holden during this decade led to the decline of this range of cars.
In 1957, Chrysler Australia consolidated each of the badge-engineered marques in one car—the Chrysler Royal. This was a facelifted version of the 1954 Plymouth, and it was to continue in production until 1963. The Royal was an automotive curiosity. Starting life as a side-valve 6-cylinder manual, with 3-speed manual column gearchange, it was progressively modified, with the addition of US sourced engineering features such as power steering, the push button "Powerflite" automatic gearbox and an OHV V8. On the styling front US "Forward Look" style tailfins were grafted on the rear of the car, while the front end gained dual (vertically stacked) headlights. These changes failed to arrest the slide in sales, as General Motors-Holden came to dominate the Australian market, and the Royal was viewed as being outmoded and expensive. Production ceased in 1963.
The saving grace for Chrysler at this time was the French Simca Aronde—a popular 4-cylinder compact car which Chrysler Australia assembled from CKD kits at their Keswick factory. Local engineers developed an Aronde station wagon unique to Australia, with a then-novel wind-down rear window and tailgate. (Chrysler USA had acquired an interest in Simca in 1958, the basis for sourcing of this car). The assembly and marketing of Simca Aronde and Vedette models by Chrysler Australia was announced on 1 July 1959.
In both 1958 and 1959 Chrysler Australia released Plymouth Belvedere, Dodge Custom Royal and DeSoto Firesweep models which were imported from the US in CKD form and assembled at Chrysler’s Adelaide facilities. The Plymouth was fitted with a 318-cubic-inch V8 engine and the Dodge and de Soto models featured a 361-cubic-inch V8. Assembly of the three models was discontinued in 1960 and they were replaced by a single model, the Dodge Phoenix, which was produced by Chrysler Australia through to 1973.
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