Car History Year 1946
Date: Sunday, September 26 @ 23:44:04 UTC
As they emerged from the war, most manufacturers were only able to offer revamped 1942 models to the eagerly-awaiting public. It didn't matter. As long as it had four wheels and an engine, you could find a buyer willing to exchange their saving for it. This pent-up demand gave false hope to many entrepreneurs to be an very lucrative business-most of these newcomers ended up losing their shirts.
But if cars seemed familiar, much else had changed since Pearl Harbor. Global comflict led to huge advances in technology and America was propelled into the atomic era, with jets, rockets and computers. These space age influences would form themes in every automobile produced in the USA (and beyond) but, for now, a more conservative approach was necessary to get cars to customers as quickly as possible.
There could be few more traditional people in the industry than Chrysler president K.T.Keller (the innitial stood for Kaufman Thuma, but nobody ever dared use those names) who had taken over the reign, from Walter P.Chrysler in 1935. Keller's concept of car design was firmly rooted in the past, as can be judged by part of a talk he gave in 1947:"Automobiles are looked at and admired. The buyer is proud of his car's symphony of line; its coloring and trim express his taste; he welcomes the applause of his friends and neighbors. But he bought the car to ride in, and for his wife, and children, and friends to ride in... Though at times one might wonder, even headroom is important. Many of you Californians may have outgrown of the habit, but there are parts of the country, containing millions of people, where both the men and the ladies are in the habit of getting behind the wheel, or in the back seat, wearing hats."
Engineering took precedence over styling at Chrysler, and maintaining sufficient clearance for headgear obviously restricted the designer's options, resulting in a rather more upright look than most other cars. One commentator described the early 1940s Chrysler body thus: "It won't knock your socks off, but it won't knock your hat off, either."
And it is from this rather staid background that the magnificent Town & Country model was born. As the woodwork suggests, its origins lay with a station wagon, but not the usual rectangular timber box built on the back of a sedan body. It was David A. Wallace, general manager at Chrysler, who decided to add a station wagon to the catalog - a model new to them. However, Wallace specified a wagon with the curved lines of a sedan and this somewhat perplexed the bodybuilders who normally manufactured the "woodies".
Faced with reluctance, Wallace decided to bring the project in house and gave the problem to his own team of engineers. The solution was arrived at after much hard work and, in 1941, the first Town 6; Country station wagons were produced at the Jefferson Avenue plant in Detroit by a group of skilled workers who learned the techniques required for mating metal and wood in such close harmony. About 1,000 cars were made in the first year, followed by a similar number in 1942.
Chrysler's sales team concluded that it wasn't the practical aspect of the wagon that attracted customers, but its unique appearance and the elegant mix of steel, white ash and mahogany. Accordingly, it was decided to create a whole new luxurious selection of Town & County models utilizing the striking wood features. Although several prototypes were built of varying body styles, only two versions were to make it into production - a 4-door sedan and a 2-door convertible.
Mounted on a 127.5 inch wheelbase New Yorker chassis and powered by the 323 cu.in. L-head straight eight coupled to a Fluid-Drive transmission, the handsome Town & Country ragtop established a uniquely American model style. By far the most expensive Chrysler model for 1946, at nearly three thousand dollars, only 1,935 were produced that year.
Chrysler used such words as "thorough-bred" to describe the Town & Country in their advertisements; the car was shown in opulent surroundings as befitted such a model. At the sailing club, driving through big iron gates at the entrance to a colonnaded mansion or on the archery range - these were the settings chosen to add much-needed glamor to an otherwise fairly unremarkable range of cars.
The text accompanying the illustrations could be equally fulsome: "Chrysler's work or play convertible...magnificent in its utterly new styling..." ran an early advert, and later copy was even bolder: "...the industry's most dramatic, most exciting, most daring styling. A classic of the long, low, and lovely - with the most luxurious trim... With beauty that truly reflects the inspired and sound engineering and solid comfort inside."
Stylist Raymond Dietrich was warned about the emphasis placed on the engineering aspect of Chrysler products when he joined in 1932. Although he was to leave Chrysler in 1940, after yet another dispute with head of engineering, Fred Zeder, the foundation of the 1946 Town & Country design seems to have come from Dietrich with the contours of the 1941 models. Robert Cadwallader took over as head of design after Dietrich's departure, with Herb Weissinger and Arnott 'Buzz' Grisinger playing major roles in styling.
Describing the situation following the end of the war, as manufacturers scrambled to resume production, Grisinger recalled in a later interview: "Postwar plans were pretty much a hurry-up thing. There weren't any clay models or production prototypes... We just designed a series of different styles and brushed on wood trim where we thought it looked best. Sales took it from there."
Aside from the "brushed on" wood trim, the most prominent feature of the '46 Chryslers was the "harmonica" grille and the unusual central overrider fitted to the front bumper. A less obvious innovation perhaps, although more significant in styling terms, is the manner in which the line of the front fenders was extended back into the doors, thereby achieving an altogether more updated look for an old body design. In this respect, at least, Chrysler were ahead of most of their rivals.
While the ash framework stayed throughout the Town & Country convertible's early life, the use of genuine mahogany for the insert panels was quickly dropped to save money. In 1947, Chrysler adopted Di-Noc decals but these were such good quality it was hard to distinguish them from the original wooden panels. The convertible Town & Country disappeared with the 1950 model, to be replaced by a hardtop coupe. From then on the name was applied to station wagons, until the idea of a wood-bodied ragtop was resurrected with the 1984 LeBaron Town & Country.
The 1946 Chrysler Town & Country is a prime example of how a truly classic design can evolve, almost by accident. It started out as an idea for a practical wagon with style, and turned into a beautiful car (particularly in open-top form) that was unfortunately short-lived in its original form. Would it have happened that way without the interruption of the Second World War? We will never know.
JEEP STATION WAGON
Cast iron - 4 cylinders in line
134.3 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
No. of seats
OLDSMOBILE CUSTOM CRUISER 98 SERIES
Cast iron - 8 cylinders in line
257.1 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
Club Sedan; Convertible coupe;4 door Sedan
No. of seats
3,680 Ibs - 4.025 Ibs
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