Photos by Richard Lentinello.
Rarely do you see any prewar Chryslers at car shows today. Lots of Fords, of course, and some GM cars, a Nash or two, but not often any Chryslers. So, it was with great enthusiasm that we came across this 1927 Chrysler Model 60 coupe at the AACA’s Winter Meet last year in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The interest surrounding the car throughout the weekend warranted a closer look.
Walter P. Chrysler’s eponymous company started with the 1924 introduction of a six-cylinder-powered automobile bearing his name. This revolutionary car with its high-compression L-head engine also included several other features never before seen on a car that would reach such high production: four-wheel hydraulic brakes, aluminum pistons, full-pressure oil system with a replaceable oil filter, a tubular front axle, and a model name–the B-70–that reflected the powerful car’s top speed.
Born from the remnants of the Maxwell and Chalmers companies, Chrysler Corporation’s start has been well documented (See our profile in HCC #128). Armed with Walter Chrysler’s skills as a manager and the advanced engineering of the B-70, Chrysler started with a bang, vaulting into seventh place on the sales charts by 1927, moving some 182,195 cars that year, a figure Chrysler would not eclipse until 1965. Of course, by 1927, Chrysler had expanded its lineup to four distinct ranges.
The entry-level Series–or “Model”–50 featured a 109-inch wheelbase with four-cylinder power. The Series 50 was essentially a continuation of the Maxwell line, albeit with Chrysler touches throughout the design and details. All-new for the 1927 model year, the Series 60 sported six-cylinder power, but still rode on that same 109-inch wheelbase inherited from the Maxwell. The Series 70, with a straight-six, used a chassis with a 112.75-inch wheelbase and the Series 80 featured 120-, 127- and even 133-inch wheelbases as it was the Imperial line, the highest-spec Chryslers designed to compete with the likes of Lincoln, Cadillac and Packard.
Underneath the Model 60’s taut and handsome bodywork lay all the Chrysler innovations that drew people to its cars in the first place. In detail, the L-head straight-six displaces 180.2 cubic inches from a three-inch bore riding on a long 4.25-inch stroke. Breathing through a single Stromberg carburetor and sparked by Remy ignition, the engine was rated at 54 horsepower when new, which was ample enough to take the 2,780-pound car to a healthy top speed exceeding its 60 MPH rating from Chrysler, hence the Model 60 name.
In 1927, Chrysler sold the Model 60 with 28 x 5.25-inch tires, slightly smaller than the original 30-inch tires offered when the model debuted in 1926. Likewise, wood artillery wheels were standard, but in 1927, during the middle of the model year, Chrysler made steel disc wheels available. The white, backlit instrument panel of our feature car also marks this model as being later in the Model 60’s production run for 1927.
At $1,195, the Model 60 was fairly priced, perhaps double that of an equivalent Model T, but competitive for a six-cylinder automobile. For the cost of the Buick of its day, and offering its own form of luxury and sophistication, the Model 60 helped cement Chrysler’s reputation for bold engineering that would last for generations. If the Chrysler Corporation was always seen as going its own way, then it did so from its beginnings.
The Model 60 two-door Coupe featured here was just one of eight body styles Chrysler offered the model in for 1927. And, from what the car’s owner, Pedro Aquilera, has been able to find out, one of the rarest. “It’s very, very rare,” says Pedro. “I have been able to find one four-door model, restored, in good condition. But I have never seen another two-door model like this one here.”
Pedro owns no other collector cars, but, with an eye on acquiring something from the late Twenties, likely a Chevrolet or Ford in his mind, he came across this lovely prewar Chrysler while attending a car show in his hometown of Port St. Lucie, Florida, a few years ago. The only problem was that it was not for sale. Searching far and wide, Pedro was unable to find another one like it. In addition to seeking an equivalent car, Pedro started working on the Model 60’s owners, who had possessed the car for quite some time. He wore them down until they could work out a deal that kept both parties happy.
For his effort, Pedro considers it his good fortune to be able to call this Model 60 his own, telling Hemmings Classic Car, “Because of pure luck, I got a very rare car. I think this is the only one known that is in this condition. It took me about eight months to convince the people to sell it to me at a price I could afford.”
But the Chrysler was not perfect when he got it. “They had it for more than 30 years,” Pedro says. “It was a handout–a present–of her uncle, and the uncle was the one that restored the car about 35 years ago. When I got it, it was fairly good. The paint was cracking and the interior, which was original, with the original material, needed replacement. And that’s all I have done to the car, actually. It’s repainted, in the same color as original.”
Pedro turned to a couple of friends in the business to refinish the car inside and out. The body shop handled the refinishing, opting to follow Pedro’s wish for originality, using a single-stage lacquer for the top coat. “The original interior was a brownish color,” Pedro recalls, “but it was faded and in poor condition.” For this, Pedro went to another friend who does interior work for private aircraft. Opting for something more practical and usable than the original mohair, Pedro had his friend install vinyl seat covers, blue on the surfaces and black on the sides, mirroring the exterior of the car. While it may not be original, it certainly brightens up the cabin.
After purchasing the Chrysler, Pedro joined the Treasure Coast Vintage Car Club, the local AACA-affiliated club, along with his wife, Trini. The couple puts only a few hundred miles a year on their vintage Chrysler, but they enjoy taking it to shows and sharing their car. He admits that learning to drive with the three-speed transmission takes some time. “You really have to learn how to drive this car,” he says. “When I first got it, I spent about three or four days grinding gears all the time. But now, I got to know the car better and I can drive it without grinding. You have to concentrate on what you are doing. It is not easy. It is something that you have to get used to.” As for double-clutching, which Pedro does not do, “It would help, but I think that in order to shift it, you really have to hear the engine and give it enough time so the gear will engage the transmission.”
But once you get going and get used to the car’s operation, Pedro implores, it’s really pretty easy to drive. “It has a very low first gear because you cannot go more than 5 MPH, and it’s immediately looking for the second gear. And then you take it to about 10 to 12 MPH and it’s definitely looking for the third gear. And that’s it! Once you shift into third, it’s like an automatic car. Even when you drive into the corners, it will turn and it still has enough power to keep going. You don’t have to downshift.
“I like the car the way it is, even without power steering,” Pedro adds. “It’s a Model 60 because it’s supposed to run 60 MPH, but the most that I dare to push it is 45 MPH. And it runs very smooth, very straight; it doesn’t pull to either side. It’s nice! Once you get it rolling, it’s amazing the suspension it has. It’s very, very nice. You can take a bump and it’s very smooth. It rides very well.”
Even now, Pedro still hasn’t seen another 1927 Chrysler Model 60 coupe in the same condition. He plans to keep it in the family, but if none of his children want it, then he is prepared to have it end up in a museum rather than hot-rodded out. With a car that is seemingly more unique with each passing day, we can’t say we blame him, even though we love to see these cars driven, as Pedro and Trini do now.
This article originally appeared in the November, 2015 issue of Hemmings Classic Car.