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Home > Featured Auto Makes > Chrysler - Maxwell  (Part  1 2)

Chrysler - Maxwell   Part 2: 1916-1925

By John Bentley

Revised by Jeremy Wilson

The car that led the field in publicity and advertising stunts gave way to the Chrysler.

Though the decade 1915-1925 was to be the last in the long and colorful 20-year period of Maxwell manufacturing, this firm continued to do good business and remained the champion of an aggressive form of advertising found nowhere else in the automobile industry.

By 1916, the company had manufacturing plants in Newcastle, Indiana, and Dayton, Ohio, as well as the Detroit factory leased from the defunct Chalmers Company. One of the Maxwell’s strongest selling points was its economy of running. So pleased, for example, was a Maxwell owner named W. H. Whipple, that he wrote as follows: “Total operating expenses on my Maxwell touring car for a period of 8,000 miles, including gas, oil, repairs, an extra tire and an occasional wash have been but $73.84. This is less than a quarter of a cent per mile per passenger.”

That year, too, a Maxwell beat 40 other cars in a gas consumption test held by Yale University’s Sheffield Scientific School. It averaged 33.2 mpg at a speed of 19.8 mph. The result of all this was that during the summer of 1916, Maxwell dealers reported big sales increases, vary­ing from 233 to as high as 800 per cent over previous year.

The 1916 Maxwell range featured five body styles on a common chassis with a 103-inch wheelbase and a tough, four-cylinder L-head engine. Of relatively light weight (1,960 pounds and up), the Maxwell was a high-geared automobile with a speed of 25 mph at only 1,000 engine rpm. The power unit would run up to 2,000 rpm, this range being known as the “utility point.” Low gas consumption was thus not difficult to explain.

At this time, too, when more and more assembled automobiles were appearing on the market, Maxwell made capital of the fact that its product was built from end to end under one roof. Typical of the company was this statement: “It is the veriest soph­istry to argue that a car made from parts manufactured by several makers, located in as many different places, all of whom must have a profit, can by any possibility be as good a car as a manufactured car. Or that the buyer can hope to obtain as much car value for his money. It isn’t possible.” Mak­ing its position even clearer, the company adopted the slogan: “From the Raw Ma­terial to the Finished Car,” and this, also, was a sales-getter, considering that Max­well sold for as low as $655.

The biggest Maxwell stunt of the time was a non-stop engine run during which a stock Maxwell covered 22,022 miles under AAA observation without a single motor stop, setting up a new world’s record. Started November 23, 1916, the run ended January 5, 1917, with the car covering 500.6 miles daily during this period. It also set a gas mileage record of 21.9 mpg and showed an average tire life of 9,871 miles.

The Maxwell output for 1917 was 100,000 chassis, including a new line of delivery cars for laundries, groceries, department stores and the like. The delivery car chassis was identical with the one that had set-up the world’s non-stop record. Prices ran from only $615 with a panel body and sales through some 3,000 Maxwell dealers hit a new high for this type vehicle. The chassis alone sold for $545. In addition, Maxwell entered the commercial field with a line of solid-tire one-ton trucks featuring worm drive. These had a 124-inch wheelbase and a chassis weight of 2,400 pounds. With a heavy duty panel body, the price tag was only $900, the same engine being used as on all other Maxwells.

The following year, Maxwell closed cars came in for a lot of publicity and sales plug­ging, being described as “Once a Luxury--Now a Utility and Economy.” The 1918 chassis wheelbase was lengthened by five inches to 108 inches, and the four-cylinder, L-head engine developed 25 hp. The Model 25 came in five body styles and spares were both plentiful and cheap. You could buy a front spring shackle (Code word “Fusnu”) for 35c and a complete axle shaft (Code word “Hedid”) for only $17.

Another economy test performed by Pro­fessor D. L. Gallup with a stock 1918 Max­well resulted in 33.7 mpg at 10 mph and 23 mpg at 35 mph. The company also offered an All-Weather rigid top for its touring cars, priced at $110, “for those who pre­ferred sedan comfort at a touring car price.”

The stunt to end them all was probably the 1919 San Francisco-New York record run by a Maxwell truck which carried 2,200 pounds of military supplies from Australia, destined for France. This 3,428 mile run “in all kinds of weather and over all kinds of roads” took 17 days, 8 hours 20 minutes--an average speed of 16.54 mph. The driver, Ray McNamara (a Maxwell road engineer), computed as follows: the engine turned over 17,000,000 revolutions at an average of 1,381 rpm; the plugs sparked 34,360,459 times at a rate of 2,762.6 sparks per minute; the road wheels revolved 2.000,000 times and the carburetor sucked in 919,659 cubic feet of air. Gasoline, by the way, then cost 45 cents a gallon in remote spots like Sand Springs, Nevada.

The 1920 range carried the same specifi­cations as the year before, but a three-passenger taxicab was added, which cost $1,520 and weighed 2,225 pounds. The standard 108-inch wheelbase was retained on all models.

The following year, a beefed-up version of the Maxwell engine was offered as an alternative to the time-tried power unit. It developed 32 hp (seven hp more) and propelled a 109-inch wheelbase chassis. There were five body styles with a price range of $885 to $1,335 and these cars were known as “The Good Maxwell.” The company also introduced a new series sports roadster and touring car of jauntier appearance but with the same specifications. Service after sales was given stronger emphasis than ever and Maxwell’s ideas of public relations were pretty sound. “A visit to the Maxwell factories is urged upon the prospective buyer of a motor car, that he may see for himself the wonders that time and science have worked in the production of Maxwell pleasure cars.”

Praising its 12-model range for 1923, Maxwell boomed: “No motor car has ever won so high a place in public regard in such a short time as has been accorded the Good Maxwell since the new series was intro­duced.”

A year later, however, though the Max­well’s power output was hiked to 38 hp and the 12-body-style range of the Model 25-C continued as before, the dynamic shadow of Walter P. Chrysler was suddenly pro­jected into the picture. Chrysler, a brilliant engineering mind and an old hand at the game, took over Maxwell with a definite ideal in view. That ideal was to build a truly modern car which would bear his name and would admit of no compromise whatever with quality. He came well prepared-- backed by a unique team of three of the topmost automotive engineers and de­signers in the business--Fred M. Zeder, O. R. Skelton and Carl Breer, whose ex­perimental steam car had caused much comment back in 1900.

Said Chrysler: “My conception of an ideal quality light car was that of scores of thousands whose requirements are prac­tical, not visionary. For them I saw a car with the power of a super-dreadnaught, but with the endurance and speed of a fleet scout cruiser. . .”

Chrysler’s dream, swiftly transformed into efficient reality, burst upon the motor­ing world at the end of 1924 and sent the public into ecstasies. Its six-cylinder, vibrationless engine was the first of its size with a seven-bearing crankshaft. This neat, com­pact L-head wonder of 201.45 cubic inches drove the car through a clutch with 148 square inches of lining surface. The road springs were mounted parallel with the wheels to eliminate side sway; the power output was 70 brake horsepower and the road speed over 70 mph, without fuss or noise. Handling qualities were superlative and Lockheed hydraulic four-wheel brakes provided ample stopping power. Gas consumption bettered 20 mpg while the comfort achieved on the Chrysler’s 112-inch wheelbase had never before been equaled.

Starting with a beautiful phaeton finished in chrome blue with pin morocco grain upholstery, the Chrysler range was ex­tended to 11 models for 1925, and the modest $1,395 starting price for this super­lative automobile guaranteed its instant success. The varnished wood-spoked wheels, nickel trim, barrel-type headlamps and neat, attractive instrument panel of the Chrysler all conspired to produce an effect of elegant, classical dignity that was fitting complement to the high mechanical ideals of its creator.

Though the Maxwell lingered through 1925 and the touring version of Model 25-C bore a remarkable similarity of outline to the sparkling new Chrysler, that was the year of Maxwell’s swansong. Eclipsed, out­sold and no longer economically feasible, this worthy veteran of the industry with a bright and nostalgic past faded from the public eye. That the Chrysler was destined to assume a leading role among automobile manufacturers was never in doubt from the day the first model came off the line.

Chrysler Model 70 sedan had Fisher Body, 4-wheel brakes, 112%-inch wheelbase and balloon tires. One of 9 models, its total weight was 3,150 pounds.
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