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How Chrysler Engineering worked in 1953

Engineering and the organizational charts

by David Zatz

Maxwell/Chrysler was the most engineering-focused of the big American automakers from the launch of the New Maxwells and the first Chrysler right into the postwar period; and it showed in their organizational charts, with Director of Engineering and Research (and Vice President) James C. Zeder having control over the Chrysler Institute of Engineering, Engineering Operations, and the defense group, which included guided missiles.

This is the story of Chrysler Engineering’s official organization as it stood in 1953. Some of the people who had been chosen by Walter P. Chrysler himself were still there, including car and chassis design chief engineer Alan Loofbourrow, who would end up with 14 patents in power steering, automatic transmissions, safety, and the turbine car; Allan B. “Tobe”  Couture, who worked with Walter Chrysler and the “Three Musketeers”  in the Willys plant in New Jersey; and of course James Zeder himself, brother of the famous Fred Zeder. Couture was the executive engineer of executive assembly and testing.

By this time Carl Breer had retired, and was replaced by the famed George Huebner, carrying the title of executive engineer in both research and guided missile development; he would be most remembered as the head of the turbine car project, which ended up powering tanks rather than cars. Harry E. Chesebrough, future head of Plymouth and SIMCA and future SAE president, was the chief engineer of the car body shop.

In June 1954, the organization was changed up a bit, with James Zeder becoming Vice President, Engineering and no longer having research in his title; but the chart didn’t change much.

Each automotive division had its own chief engineer: R.M. “Bob” Rodger at Chrysler, A.E. Kimberly at DeSoto, B.W. Bogan at Dodge, and Rich Anderson at Plymouth. Specialty chief engineers included J.P. Cummings, for export vehicles; E.P. Lamb, for trucks; H.H. Zeder for service parts; and C.H. Morris for marine and industrial engines (made in Trenton).

The various plants were slotted either under the car divisions (e.g. Kercheval, which made bodies for Chrysler, was under Bob Rodger); or were directly under the Product Engineering Committee’s control. Each had a resident engineer who was often a younger person gathering experience while troubleshooting problems.

The section management chart resembles a company of its own...

Car chassis design included special assignments and projects; standard parts; car records; special mechnical and transmission design; engine design; frame and sheet metal design; and transmission and axle design. These were all separate groups. Some of the staff functions were handled by individuals. The heads of various groups were:

The various aspects of car design were highly differentiated, with separate studios for each brand:

Styling, clay modeling, and advance layout was headed by the famed Virgil M. Exner, hired away from Studebaker, and shortly to release the popular Million Dollar Look. This well-planned styling change increased sales without hurting function, unlike the less well tested and rather disastrous 1957 change which, nonetheless, was probably Exner’s main triumph. Exner did double duty as director of styling.

The electrical section had three main parts: design (for electrical parts and accessories); design (for trucks, marine, and industrial electrical parts and accessories); and testing-and-development. The latter included separate labs for starters, ignition, and generators; lighting; low temperature testing; radio; electric motors; wiring and such; heaters and air conditioning; and accessories. There was a separate development lab and development design lab.

The experimental assembly and test section was run separately for cars and trucks; each had an experimental build and garage team, and a records team. The truck test group had a separate section for mountain testing. The marine program was kept under the car group. Testing was headed by “Tobe” Couture, Walter Chrysler’s personal friend.

The staff laboratory section was also split up logically, by function:

One of the problems, incidentally, of these functional splits is that, while they allowed people to get a good deal of in-depth knowledge and expertise, they could also let people fall into a rut, not pursuing disruptive new ideas; and it prevented much cross-functional innovation. A deeper understanding of one particular thing could come at the expense of a good understanding of systems and how things work together (or how they stop each other from working). Figuring out the balance between these issues continues to be an issue, especially since specialization has become more important with more and more complex and highly optimized parts and systems.

Research has a similar separation by field and function. Chrysler, incidentally, had set itself apart in terms of applied research, pioneering sintered metals and other key automotive breakthroughs.

The head of research was, again, George Huebner; physics research was headed by C.R. Lewis.

Engineering control was split by division (Plymouth, Dodge, etc) and truck. On the one hand, this could result in vehicles that were ideally engineered for their audience. On the other, it could result in duplicated effort and a crazy proliferation of parts, which is indeed what occured with the various Hemi V8 engines: while the basic design was the same for Dodge, DeSoto, and Chrysler, and indeed the designer was the same, nearly all the parts were unique to each carline. Sharing engines made life easier for the engineers, buyers, and parts stockers, and arguably gave cars with those shared engines much longer lifespans, helping enthusiasts with decades-later restorations. The difference between a Dodge, DeSoto, and Chrysler buyer was not all that different, either, in this era; arguably, the only car division that really needed to be unique was Plymouth, which had a very different business model (sales were far, far higher than any of the other divisions, so saving labor hours per car was more important than saving on engineering or tooling).

Finally, the technical information section, whose name could be somewhat hard to penetrate, was easier to understand when you saw the divisions within:

Coming eventually: how would Chrysler respond to a consultant’s report claiming their system was antiquated and problematic?

Random: Computerized cars: Lean Burn and beyond


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