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Restoring Della Chrysler’s Special One-Off LeBaron Car

Written with photos and information from Dave Czirr of the Restored Rusty Relics

In the 1930s, it was still quite possible to create a one-off car for driving on city streets. Two of the priciest and most unique custom-built Chrysler cars from the prewar era survive—the Imperial limousine for radio star Major Edward Bowes, and the LeBaron town car that Walter Chrysler ordered for his wife, Della.

Della Chrysler car

The car was likely far pricier for Walter to buy than it would have been if his company owned LeBaron, the body maker; but LeBaron was then part of Briggs Body, an independent concern. LeBaron hand-made luxurious bodies for a variety of automakers, while Briggs Body produced, among other things, many Chrysler Corporation bodies (Chrysler did eventually buy Briggs)—as well as those of Pierce-Arrow, Dusenberg, Packard, and such. Walter had bought two other customs from LeBaron back in 1932—a sedan for himself, and a speedster for his son.

One unique feature, according to AutoWeek, was a semi-automatic window closing device. In the years before power windows, some engineer decided to set up the rear window so Della you rolled it down, she was actually winding up a spring; at a moment’s notice, a quick twist of the outside handle would snap the window closed. (They have a video.) It was meant for security—in case someone approached the window as the chauffeur was opening or closing the door.

at Automotive Restorations

The Chrysler car has been shown in New York and New Jersey fairly frequently by its owner. Recently, the LeBaron went into Automotive Restorations in Lebanon, New Jersey for a great deal of skilled work; Dave Czirr took these photos of it while it was being restored.

Della Viola Forker Chrysler was born in 1876 and died in 1938 at the young age of 58. She had four children with Walter, two girls and two boys. Della Forker and Walter Chrysler knew each other when they were young; their engagement began in 1896, long before Walter Chrysler’s career was clearly going to be spectacular. His work moved him from place to place quite often then, as he was repeatedly promoted through the Denver and Rio Grande Railway management, rising from a position as an engineer. His first executive role was running the American Locomotive Company’s assembly plant; in 1911, Billy Durant (Buick and then General Motors president) hired him away to be head of the Buick plant, starting his meteoric rise 11-year rise in the auto industry.

della chrysler car in restoration (1937 LeBaron)

Della’s 1937 LeBaron town car has a rather unusual style, with curves no doubt inspired by Airflow experimentation—and a place for the driver or chauffeur out in the elements, as in the horse-and-buggy days (though it had soft and hard tops for the driver’s comfort). When Della’s daughter, Bernice Chrysler Garbisch, inherited the car, she added her initials to the rear doors but rarely used it.

When collector Harry Gilbert bought the car in the 1950s; in 1959, he donated it to the Vanderbilt Museum with roughly 25,000 miles on the clock. Howard Kroplick, who had written books on the Vanderbilt Cup Races and Motor Parkway, first saw the car, in poor shape, in 2011 at the museum; when he was able to acquire it, he brought it to Automotive Restorations, a well known shop of quite high quality, to bring it back to its original sheen. These photos were taken in 2014, during its restoration; later that year it won the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

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