Vintage vehicles, Automotive history and stories from motoring's past. 

1949 Chrysler New Yorker convertible

The 1949 Chrysler New Yorker convertible

American car companies were experiencing a gold rush after World War II and while they could sell anything they could screw together, there was a simultaneous rush to bring out new vehicles as they were basically selling warmed-over pre-war vehicles. While many car makers had already come out with heavily freshened - if not totally new - models, Chrysler was way behind having done absolutely nothing to their vehicle line after the war. That was, until our featured car came out in 1949. 

First, Chrysler lengthened the wheelbase of all but its largest cars by four inches, while the overall lengths of the cars hardly changed at all. Some describe the look of these cars as stubby, but the overhang reduction gave the cars a simpler and bolder look than their predecessors.

Passenger dimensions swelled, especially in height, a change that everybody continues to attribute to Chrysler president K.T. Keller's undying allegiance to the fashion of hat wearing. Keller's ideology certainly made for a roomy interior, on par with many luxury cars and limousines. An all-new padded dashboard with revised instrument cluster was a styling wonder that is eye-popping to this day.

Chrysler seemed to want to corner the market on chrome with the grille having more than many other cars on the road. Much more. It still placed the turn signals far outboard and high enough to accommodate as many auxiliary lamps and bumper guards as you could get from the J.C. Whitney catalog. But thicker grille bars and stylized curves substantially separated this grille from those used in years past.

While the chrome announced the Chrysler’s coming, the taillights stole the show. Atop each removable rear fender stood a red plastic lens on a long chrome base, viewable from three directions. They appeared quite like the tailfin lamps that debuted on the 1948 Cadillac, and perhaps because of the close similarity, Chrysler kept them around only for one year, reverting to a basic rectangular taillamp in 1950. As if the tall three-way taillamps didn't offer enough visibility, Chrysler mounted additional stoplamps in the center of the trunk lid, about 40 years before the federal government mandated high center-mount third brake lamps.

The wheelbase change constituted the most radical alteration under the new Chrysler's skirts. Aside from a bump in compression ratios for both the flathead straight-six and flathead straight-eight--from 6.6 to 7.0 and from 6.7 to 7.25, respectively--the two engines remained almost exactly the same as the 1948 versions and almost indistinguishable from the sixes and eights that Chrysler introduced back in the early 1930s for use in the Airflows.

While the engineers were busy with the body and chassis of the car the admen of the day were having an absolute field day with monikers and descriptions. This car had Chrysler’s “Spitfire” straight eight engine and the “Fluid Drive” which still required shifting as a manual transmission but allowed the driver to come to a stop without putting in the clutch pedal and take off from any gear. 

First off, the Fluid Drive and the Presto-matic represented two completely different units that together emulated some of the functions of the competition's fully automatic transmissions. Fluid Drive basically replaced the flywheel of a standard transmission setup with two vaned, fluid-filled drums, eliminating the metal-to-metal contact of a conventional clutch. It also provided a smooth transition between the rotation of the crankshaft and the rotation of the transmission, which allowed a driver to forego the clutch pedal when accelerating from or decelerating to a dead stop. However, the existence of a clutch pedal on the floorboard put the "semi-" in "semi-automatic:" the driver still needed to use the clutch, sandwiched between the Fluid Drive unit and the transmission, to start the car, to shift into reverse and to shift between Low and High gears.

The Prestomatic actually operated like two different two-speed transmissions combined into one unit. Chrysler recommended the High gear, with its two ranges, for regular operation. The driver would only have to place the transmission in High gear before releasing the clutch pedal, and the transmission would upshift from low range to high range at a certain speed--anywhere from 11 to 14 mph--and downshift back to low range when the driver floored the accelerator under 45 mph. Low gear operated similarly, but at lower speeds, and Chrysler recommended Low only for situations requiring additional power.

As in previous years, in 1949 Chrysler divided its lineup into four series: the six-cylinder Royal and Windsor and the eight-cylinder Saratoga and New Yorker. Even with complaints about styling, the company being late to market and the lack of a fully automatic transmission the Chrysler division still built 124,076 cars in its silver anniversary year of 1949. This contributed to a total 1,330,938 cars from all Chrysler divisions, then a company record and enough to keep Chrysler in second place behind General Motors (and ahead of Ford) in the sales race.

While this car is a great example of a survivor car it’s also fairly rough around the edges. The bright yellow paint appears to have been put on by someone from the Earl Scheib school of painting and the car itself shows years of care, but not restoration. But who cares? What a great thing to see a ’49 Chrysler New Yorker convertible at a car show that had come under its original “Spitfire” power and being fully intact.

From the art deco looking details on the door, including the manual window cranks, to the padded dash to all that chrome it was great to see this old girl completely intact. This is why I go to car shows.