Classic Chrysler Town & Country

Chrysler Town & Country: What Luxury Once Was

Watching TV commercials for today’s luxury cars, you might begin to wonder, “What’s luxurious about a car doing power-slides over desert trails?” In car enthusiast vernacular, it’s called “hooning.” Somehow, that’s supposed to evoke a luxury lifestyle?

In stark contrast, ads for the 1940s Chrysler Town & Country depict luxury as enjoying leisure time in a distinctive, comfortable car. The destination was more critical than the method of getting there, but the method of getting there was part of the luxurious life. That’s what the Town & Country was all about.

Many today know the Town & Country name from Chrysler minivans and, until 30 years ago, station wagons, too. To the vintage car enthusiast, however, Town & Country means Chrysler’s wood-body cars offered in 1941-1942 and 1946-1950.

The Original Crossover?

Some of today’s SUVs and crossovers might have you wondering, is that a station wagon? A hatchback? In fact, it’s not a new idea. For 1941, Chrysler’s first wagon was a forward-thinking idea, because it was what marketers today would call a “lifestyle vehicle.”

Pre-war station wagons, which were generally low-volume models, used wood for many body elements, a trend that, in later decades, would make them attractive to both surfers and collectors. With the wood, these high-bodied, boxy vehicles looked less utilitarian.

Chrysler wanted an even sleeker look, though, and so its first Town & Country looked like a cross between wagon and streamlined sedan. Built on the Chrysler Windsor chassis, with a 121-inch wheelbase, the first Town & Country used wood for the doors and rear quarters above the fenders. Body construction was mainly by hand in a special section of the carmakers Jefferson Avenue plant in Detroit. It was essentially an in-house coachbuilt custom.

The unique model offered full wagon versatility with six or nine-passenger seating. The dual clamshell-style tailgate doors opened to the sides and accessed a large cargo area. Of the 997 made, 200 were the six-seat variety.

The L-head inline six-cylinder engine and Fluid Drive with Vacamatic or Prestomatic semi-automatic transmission made for leisurely cruising, which was, of course, the point. Just a few more were made for 1942 before civilian automobile production was halted for WWII.

Town & Country, Phase Two

When production resumed for 1946, carmakers had no trouble selling to pent-up demand. They did, however, need to spiff up pre-war designs to maintain appeal until their new postwar cars were ready.

Chrysler had planned to offer a line of Town & Country models in sedan, coupe and convertible body styles. The coupe would have been the first true hardtop, three years before General Motors brands introduced the style. Only the four-door sedan and two-door convertible materialized in production for 1946-1948, however.

The 1946 Town & Country looked pretty much like the 1942, but now the six-cylinder Windsor version was accompanied by top offerings built on the longer New Yorker chassis with the 323 cu. in. straight-eight engine.

The flagship model was the convertible, which at about $3,400 was $600 more than the all-steel New Yorker version and just $100 less than the Cadillac Series 62 convertible. The wood Chryslers were seen as premium automobiles; Hollywood star Tyrone Power drove one. Even lower-cost brands saw the value in offering a wood model as a halo car, such as Ford’s Sportsman models.

Chrysler built about 8,300 New Yorker-based 1946-1948 Town & Country models and 3,950 six-cylinder Windsor versions. There were also 100 eight-cylinder Windsor-based sedans for 1946.

The Last Hurrah

Chrysler introduced its first new postwar designs for 1949, and the Town & Country convertible came along. Riding on a big 131.5-inch wheelbase, it was the largest, heaviest Town & Country yet. While the white ash framing on the doors was real, it was not structural, and the main panels were now Di-Noc decal inserts. Only the trunk perimeter wood was structural. Chrysler built 993 as demand for wood models was waning.

For 1950, the Town & Country convertible was gone, but the name continued on a hardtop coupe in the New Yorker Newport series and also went on a wood-look Royal wagon. There were 700 coupes and just under 600 wagons made.

The Town & Country name lived past 1950, but the grandeur of the wood Chryslers was gone forever.

Why you’d want a Chrysler Town & Country

This is what 1940s luxury looked like.

A crowd pleaser at any car show.

Makes you want to sow down and go on a picnic.

One of the period’s most distinctive cars.

 

 

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