Chrysler departed the Australian car market in 1981 when it sold the remainder of its shareholding in Chrysler Australia Ltd to the Mitsubishi Motor Corporation of Japan. The new owner renamed the company "Mitsubishi Motors Australia Ltd" and this company continues to operate today as an importer of Mitsubishi vehicles. Manufacturing ceased in March 2008.
Chrysler established its presence in Australia in 1951, when it acquired the long established South Australian motor body builder TJ Richards. Richards had built bodies for North American Chrysler chassis for many years in their factory at Keswick in Adelaide. This building still stands today, with faded "Chrysler" signage still visible. (The building is now a furniture retailing warehouse).
During the 1950s and 1960's, Chrysler made a substantial investment in Australian manufacturing facilities, including building a new assembly plant at Tonsley Park in 1966 and an engine foundry in 1967. During this time, Chrysler established its position as the third of the "Big 3" Australian motor manufacturers (the others being General Motors-Holden and Ford).
Initially, Chrysler Australia assembled North American Chrysler passenger cars and trucks. Their most popular car in the 1950s was the US sourced badge engineered trio: Plymouth Cranbrook, Dodge Kingsway and De Soto Diplomat, each based on the 1954 US Plymouth. A coupe utility variant was also developed by Chrysler Australia and this was marketed in nine different versions; the Plymouth Cranbrook, Savoy & Belvedere, the Dodge Kingsway Custom, Kingsway Crusader & Kingsway Cornet and the De Soto Diplomat Custom, Diplomat Regent & Diplomat Plaza. The Plymouth sedan was a popular choice for taxicab usage however the rise in popularity of the Holden during this decade led to the decline of this range of cars.
In 1957, Chrysler Australia consolidated each of the badge engineered marques in one car- the Chrysler Royal. This was a facelifted version of the 1954 Plymouth, and it was to continue in production until 1963. The Royal was an automotive curiosity. Starting life as a side valve 6 cylinder manual, with 3 speed manual column gearchange, it was progressively modified, with the addition of US sourced engineering features such as power steering, the push button "Powerflite" automatic gearbox and an OHV V8. On the styling front US "Forward Look" style tailfins were grafted on the rear of the car, while the front end gained dual (vertically stacked) headlights. These changes failed to arrest the slide in sales, as General Motors-Holden came to dominate the Australian market, and the Royal was viewed as being outmoded and expensive. Production ceased in 1963.
The saving grace for Chrysler at this time was the French Simca Aronde- a popular 4 cylinder compact car which Chrysler Australia assembled from CKD kits at their Keswick factory. Local engineers developed a unique to Australia Aronde station wagon, with a then novel for Australia wind down rear window and tailgate. (Chrysler USA acquired an interest in Simca in 1958, hence providing the basis for sourcing of this car).
Chrysler Australia also produced the American sourced Dodge Phoenix from 1960 to 1973.
Initially, Chrysler assembled the Plymouth Valiant - rebadged "Chrysler", but by 1964, they developed a local version, with distinctive styling, so that the car would have a separate identity from the US Plymouth and Dodge variants. The reason for developing a distinctive car was concern that the local manufacturer could not afford to make substantial styling changes as quickly as in the US. Hence, a modified appearance would minimise the risk of accusations that Australia was sellng "last year's model".
Through the 1960s, Chrysler expanded the Valiant range, with 2 door hardtop, long wheelbase (VIP) and sporty (Pacer) variants.
Also, in 1966, with the Chrysler USA acquisition of the British Rootes Group, Chrysler Australia took over the Rootes Australia as well as the operation of their Port Melbourne factory. The principal Rootes model sold in Australia was the Hillman Hunter and this car became a steady seller for Chrysler until 1973.
In 1970, they introduced the unique to Australia "Hemi" 6 cylinder engine- launched with an endorsement from Stirling Moss. Billed as being "Right- for all the right reasons", this engine went on to become the most powerful 6 cylinder engine produced in Australia (equipped with triple Weber carburettors).
This engine was based on a US engine design for trucks. However, it was never produced in North America.
The Valiant was a good seller, but never quite gained the level of market acceptance as its major competitors- the Holden and the Falcon.
In 1971, Chrysler Australia released what is their most memorable car - the Valiant Charger. This was a short wheelbase (105 inch) two door hardtop version of the standard Valiant. The car had distinctive sporty styling, including an integrated rear spoiler.
The base model Charger was $A2750, and the range extended upwards with high performance and luxury models.
Charger won the "Wheels" magazine Car of the Year award in 1971. It was also a winner in the sales stakes, capturing the imagination of the Australian public in the same way as the Ford Mustang did in the US and the Ford Capri did in the UK.
By the mid 1970's, sales of the Valiant range stalled, as a combination of factors worked against Chrysler Australia:
In 1975, Chrysler introduced the Centura with a choice of a 2 litre 4 cylinder or 3.5 litre or 4.0 litre 6 cylinder engines, and two trim levels- XL and GL.
The Centura was based on the European Chrysler 180 (which had been introduced in Europe in 1970), with facelifted front and rear styling (reputedly based on the intended design for a Sunbeam version of this car, which never reached production).
The launch of Centura was delayed by several years as a result of embargos placed on French imports which impeded the supply of parts (the embargos were due to France conducting Pacific nuclear bomb tests).
By the time the car arrived in Australia, its appearance was dated and as a result, the Centura did not generate significant market interest. It quietly disappeared from the market in 1978.
Chrysler Australia increasingly relied upon Japanese sourced Mitsubishi cars- commencing assembly of the Galant in 1972, then adding the Lancer and commercial vehicles. Interestingly, between 1972-5, the Galant was sold as the "Valiant Galant".
The association with Mitsubishi gave Chrysler Australia another winner- the 1977 Chrysler Sigma. With a range of 4 cylinder "Silent Shaft" engines, competitive pricing, "Japanese" style and the availability of a luxurious "SE" version, with optional leather trim (an innovative sales approach in its era), the Sigma marked Chrysler's sales comeback. Sigma soon became market leader in its class.
At this time, Chrysler US staged its retreat from Australia, progressively selling its interest in Chrysler Australia Ltd to Mitsubishi- and finally departing in 1981.
Chrysler re-entered the Australian marketplace in the early 1990s, initially selling the Jeep Wagoneer, then expanding the range to include the Chrysler Neon (discontinued in 2002) Grand Cherokee, Jeep Commander, PT Cruiser, Crossfire, 300C, Voyager and Dodge Caliber.
Initially, the attraction of the Jeep range was "value for money" although the first cars became known for poor reliability.
The Chrysler 300C has rapidly carved out a successful niche as an alternative to Australian prestige cars (which are extended wheelbase versions of traditional Australian "family" cars) - the Holden Statesman and Ford Fairlane. Indeed, sales of the Fairlane have declined to the stage that Ford Australia have announced that it will be discontinued. In this respect, the 300C can be viewed as a successor to the large cars previously marketed by Chrysler Australia Ltd (Chrysler Royal, Dodge Phoenix, Chrysler Valiant Regal, Chrysler VIP and "Chrysler by Chrysler").
Today the current lineup consists of: