Words: Mike Ryan
Photos: Love & Lace Photography
The ‘Chrysler by Chrysler’ never made a huge impression on the Aussie market when new, but for one Queensland-based enthusiast, Chrysler’s luxury sedan has a family connection that’s very special.
We all know the Australian-made Fairlane and Statesman, but back when our new car market was dominated by 'The Big Three,' what was Chrysler's contender in the luxury segment?
Ask that question today and you’ll probably get some blank looks from more than a few car enthusiasts. Not so with the Mopar fraternity. They’ll be able to tell you that Chrysler Australia’s pitch for the top end of the local market started with the VE Valiant-based ‘VIP’ in 1967, followed by the smoothly-styled - and confusingly-named - 'Chrysler by Chrysler’ in 1971.
Where the VE VIP was essentially a Valiant Regal sedan loaded with extras and luxury trim, Chrysler no doubt saw Holden’s mistake with the HK-based ‘long tail’ Brougham and stretched the wheelbase of the VF and VG versions of the VIP that followed.
Holden learnt from their mistake, too, and offered a “proper” luxury sedan with the 1971 HQ Statesman. By this stage, Chrysler had progressed from the VIP to the ‘Chrysler by Chrysler’, which was essentially the same concept, but with a new name and based on the new VH platform.
Like Ford and Holden, Chrysler’s luxo offering came in two- and four-door form. However, unlike their rivals from Broadmeadows and Fishermans Bend, the ‘premium’ two door from Tonsley Park was not based on the sporty Charger coupe, but instead on a weirdly modified version of the same sedan base.
While performance coupes like the Monaro and Falcon hardtop are a collector’s favourite now, they had a limited market when new. The market was even more limited when it came to luxury two-doors.
We can blame – or thank – the succession of American managers at our major carmakers in the 1960s and ‘70s for the addition of a “personal luxury” two-door hardtop to the local range.
The personal luxury coupe was a major part of the American market, but Australians wanted a big, family-sized sedan or wagon. This was back when a two-car household was still a rarity, so the idea of a two-door car with limited practicality and usually priced higher than even a well-equipped sedan simply didn’t resonate with Australian buyers. As such, models like the Ford Landau and Holden Monaro LE were poor sellers.
Chrysler’s effort would be even rarer, with only around 500 of the Chrysler by Chrysler hardtops built before that variant was discontinued.
The Chrysler by Chrysler sedan fared better, but still struggled against the Statesman and Fairlane. Slightly less than 10,000 were built across a five-year period before the model was discontinued in 1976. To put that into perspective, more than 200,000 VH/VJ/VK Valiants were built over the same timeframe.
A Lot for Your Money
When it was new, the Chrysler by Chrysler offered plenty, with many luxury features as standard and a long options list, too.
In their brochure for the first Chrysler by Chrysler, the CH model released in 1971, Chrysler boldly claimed that it was “the ultimate driver’s car” – a label more often associated with the likes of Porsche or other European exotica, even back then.
Defined against the regular Valiant by its quad headlamps – seemingly the mark of a luxury car in the early 1970s, as the Fairlane and Statesman ran the same set-up – the Chrysler by Chrysler rolled on a longer 115-inch (2,9211mm) wheelbase and measured a full 196.6 inches (4,994mm) from nose to tail. Chrysler called it “full limousine size”.
Enhancing the new VH-based body were hand-painted coachlines, a loop-style front bumper, chromed trim on the front guards (that incorporated “personal” turning indicators facing toward the driver), full-width hubcaps and the option of a vinyl roof covering.
Inside, Chrysler boasted of the Chrysler by Chrysler’s interior space, which was admittedly impressive, with abundant head, shoulder and leg room. The seats were trimmed in a woven nylon 'brocade' that claimed to offer more comfort than regular vinyl. It looks gaudy today but brocade was on point for the period.
Front seats were of a 50:50 split type, meaning they could be used as broad buckets for two with individual adjustment and fold-down armrests, or as a full-width bench for three. This was apparently a first for an Australian-made Chrysler. The rear bench seat featured a single fold-down centre armrest.
The front seat configuration reflected the fact that the Chrysler by Chrysler was fitted with a three-speed column-shift automatic transmission as standard. No floor shift or manual transmission was offered from the factory, but more than a few such conversions have been made since, as demonstrated in the feature car.
Being introduced in 1971, the Chrysler by Chrysler also featured seat belts for all occupants that became mandatory in Australia that year.
Other standard interior features included wall-to-wall carpets, a dash covered in faux ‘Carpathian Elm’ woodgrain (that also extended to the two-spoke steering wheel), a heater/demister, lockable glovebox and an abundance of lights – including adjustable reading lamps for the rear seats, an ignition key light and even an illuminated ashtray!
Extra Features, Extra Time
While well-equipped as standard, the Chrysler by Chrysler offered a range of options, too. The well-heeled customers this model was aimed at tended to tick most of the options boxes, so surviving cars usually have Airtemp air conditioning, power windows, power driver’s seat and a stereo cassette deck with power antenna, to name a few.
Under the bonnet, the Chrysler by Chrysler could be had with either the Aussie 265ci Hemi six or the newly-introduced 360ci V8. The former produced a claimed 203hp (151kW) at 4800rpm, while the latter peaked at 255hp (190kW) at 4400rpm.
As mentioned, a three-speed automatic was the only transmission available, but was appropriate for the market that the Chrysler by Chrysler was pitched at.
Suspension was typical Chrysler, with torsion bars up front, plus a sway bar, and leaf springs at the rear.
Brakes consisted of power-assisted 11-inch front discs and 9x2-inch rear drums, which was only adequate for a car with a starting weight of 1,528kg (more with the V8 and air con). That weight made power steering a popular option.
Less obvious features on the Chrysler by Chrysler included additional sound deadening and two coats of underbody primer to reduce rust.
More tellingly, both the sedan and hardtop were subject to additional quality controls not afforded regular Valiants.
Apparently, each unit went down the line with more attention devoted to things like the finish of the panels and fit of components. Paint was hand-buffed and each car’s engine hot-run tested on a dyno before fitting.
Further quality controls, in a separate section of Tonsley Park, saw an additional eleven inspectors go over each car with a fine-tooth comb, concluding with a short on-road test to identify any problems.
This careful approach continued with the CJ (1973-75) and CK (1975-76) Series Chrysler by Chrysler that followed the original CH Series.
While the Chrysler by Chrysler was a mature car for the mature motorist, it wasn’t immune to the wacky colour fads of the 1970s and their equally wacky names.
The initial offerings were a fairly sober mix of metallic blues, browns and greens, as well as staples like black, white, maroon and silver. But, by 1974, you could potentially have your luxury sedan finished in the same ‘Ginger Bread,’ ‘Green Go’ and ‘Plum Crazy’ colours as the youth-oriented Charger – part of a colour palette that stretched to a dozen options that year.
While most Chrysler by Chrysler sedans and hardtops received what could be called ‘mature’ colours from the factory, it’s possible that a few received some of the wilder options from the available palette.
One for Mum
The owner of the car featured, Robert Andric, developed an affection for the Chrysler by Chrysler when riding around in one as a kid.
“My family owned a CJ in the ’80s and I absolutely fell in love with the car and shape,” Rob explained.
As with many other cases of childhood auto infatuation, Rob followed different paths once he gained his licence, with a long list of Japanese cars in his early driving years, starting with a Datsun 720 king cab ute and including an R32 Skyline GTR and GTS-T, an R33 Skyline GTS-T, RX-7 Series IV and Silvia S13, but the desire for Chrysler by Chrysler remained.
Rob likes his cars modified, so all his rides were upgraded and customised to varying degrees.
Through all this, Rob continued looking for a Chrysler by Chrysler like the one from his youth.
It was no easy task, not least for the fact these cars were rare when new and have only become rarer since. Some good cars were found, but were mostly out of the Queenslander’s price range, while affordable cars needed so much work that it cancelled out their affordability.
Rob remained determined though, and what would be a 25-year search finally came to fruition in 2019, when he spotted a 1974 CJ-Series Chrysler by Chrysler advertised online.
Located in Brisbane, the car appeared to be a well-cared for, three-owner unit, complete and in good condition overall, with a rust-free body, very good interior and a drivetrain tuned for performance.
What sealed the deal, though, was the car’s vibrant Plum Crazy metallic paint, which the seller had applied to what was originally a white car.
“It was the correct colour to pay tribute to my mother, Ljubica, who passed away from ovarian cancer in 2003,” Rob explained. “As well as ‘love’ Ljubica also means ‘violet’ in the Serbo-Croatian language, so it was doubly appropriate.”
As purchased, the Chrysler was running a 360 V8 stroked to 408ci and fitted with Hi-comp pistons, Edelbrock alloy heads (flowed and ported by Headsense in Brisbane), larger valve springs, Hughes Engines roller rockers and a Milodon sump.
Upgraded to fuel injection with a Holley Sniper system, further mods included an Edelbrock Air-Gap inlet manifold and 3-inch Pacemaker Stage 3 ceramic coated headers that run to a dual 3-inch exhaust.
The tried-and-true Torqueflite 727 three-speed auto had been modified with a full reverse manual shift, controlled via a B&M floor shifter. A Converter Shop custom-built 9-inch LSD with 3.23 gears and 32-spline axles completed the driveline.
This package remains cruise-friendly, but can still haul arse when required. Just before this article was completed, Rob said he had the Chrysler on the dyno at Aitkenvale Auto and Dyno in Townsville and it put out 370hp (276kW) and 761Nm.
For the braking, the factory disc front and drum rear combination was retained, but the front end had been upgraded with Wilwood discs and 4-piston calipers.
The suspension was rebuilt and now features Rancho RS5000 shocks all round. The steering box had been rebuilt, too.
Most of this work was already done when Rob bought the car. And while some of it had been done well, a lot of it hadn’t. As such, Rob estimates he spent another $30K having past mistakes rectified, entrusting a couple of Townsville-based businesses to handle the jobs he couldn’t do himself.
Justin from BIPS Auto Service Centre started the work and Ian from Aitkenvale Auto and Dyno finished it. Rob was grateful for the expertise of both and saved particular praise for Ian: “He was very particular with everything, making sure that, if I ever sell the car, the next owner won’t get the same sort of surprises I got.”
The Chrysler now rolls on US Racing 15-inch alloys – 15 x 8 front and 15x 10 rear – in a kidney bean-style that was a factory option for Chargers back in the day. These wheels are currently fitted with BFG Radial T/A tyres. Combined with the suspension mods, this wheel and tyre combo gives the car a suitably tough look.
Inside, the car was mostly stock upon purchase - aside from the floor shifter and controller for the Holley Sniper - and Rob has left it untouched, so the factory air con, radio, power windows and other trimmings are still in place. There is a tribute to Ljubica, though, in the form of a photo on the transmission tunnel.
The interior trim is original and remains in remarkably good condition – even the headlining. In fact, the only evident wear – and minor wear, at that - is on the switchgear, air con vents and driver’s seat.
Looking for a Partner
Rob describes his Chrysler by Chrysler as a bit of a multi-purpose vehicle, being both a sedate cruiser, as well as a straight-line weapon.
It’s that usable performance, along with the nostalgia it generates for his family’s original Chrysler by Chrysler, that makes it so special.
“I love the colour and shape, as well as the sound of the exhaust and motor - either idling, cruising, or giving it the jandle!” Rob laughed.
Considering how much he’s put into it and what it represents, Rob says it’ll be hard to prise this car out of his hands, but there may come a day when he’s willing to let it go.
For now, Rob’s dreaming about a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T. It needs to be finished in Plum Crazy, Rob says, so it can be the ideal garage companion for what he’s already got. Hopefully he doesn’t have to search another 25 years to find that!
Thanks to Motor Book World, VIC, for research material.motorbookworld.com.au