Backward Glances: 1952 Chrysler T53E1- A Lost Branch On The Power Wagon Family TreePosted in Features on July 12, 2017
When you look at the things Chrysler Corporation was working on from the 1930s into the 1960s, you will note they were at the forefront of the technology curve. We could cite many examples in the car world, but the company’s truck developments were equally cutting edge, even if many of them never saw the light of day.
In the mid-1940s, Chrysler was riding high on World War II production and their success as the major supplier of light 4x4 trucks in that conflict gave them a lot of connections in what would become known as the Military Industrial Complex. As the Cold War heated up in the late 1940s and early 1950s, fanned by the Korean conflict, the U.S. Military began a modernization program at all levels. These developments started at the pointy end of the spear, but as that war-fighting hardware evolves, so must the rest of the spear. Military transport exists to carry the war fighters to the front lines and keep them supplied while they fight. If that part of the equation fails, so does the battle.
The Dodge family of light trucks had been a vital component in WWII, but changes in the battlefield and automotive technology had put them behind the current and projected technology curve. Chrysler began work on a replacement for the WWII W-series trucks in July of 1944, by most published reports, with a rig called the T233. The “T” number was Chrysler Truck’s internal nomenclature system, and because it was a military development, it was also given a GI “T” experimental number, in this case T-47. The goal of the project was a modular truck that could be quickly reconfigured for different roles. In just a few minutes it could transition from a ¾-ton cargo truck to a four-seat command and reconnaissance vehicle. Presumably other “presto-chango” roles were envisioned and the chassis was largely the same as what had been used for the W-Series Dodges for the war.
The next development was the T53 (Chrysler T237), which started in 1947. Three were built by 1949 and tested at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, doing extremely well. This rig had moved away from the modular concept, being more or less a cargo/personnel truck, but introduced a high level of technology. Among the highlights were a front mounted Continental air-cooled aircraft engine, a GM/Allison automatic transmission, outboard drum brakes, and independent torsion bar suspension. It was a slow-going project and the Army wanted a replacement for the WWII rigs right away, so from the general layout of the T53 came the M37. Development of the M37 started in 1948 and it was similar in dimension to the T53, but recycled many of the WWII powertrain components, and those used in the recently introduced Power Wagon. It went into production in 1951, but Chrysler continued development of the T53.
As the T53 was being tested, another major adaptation was developed called the T53E1. One of the bugaboos with the T53 was weight—a whopping 8,100 pounds. The T53E1 shared many components and features with the T53, but was mid-engine with a forward control cab. The cab and body were made of aluminum and a fiberglass hardtop was added, though a canvas top could be substituted. The engine devolved from a 402ci, 152 hp Continental AO-402-1 six-cylinder horizontally-opposed, air-cooled engine, to a four-cylinder version of the same engine that displaced 268ci and made 138 hp. With all the changes, the T53E1 dropped to a “mere” 6,350 pounds. The Army tested it starting in 1952 and, again, it won high marks for performance and features.
Like the T53, the T53E1 performed well and proved durable but cheap, it was not. Ultimately, it was found that a lesser rig like the M37 could do 80 percent of what the T53 was capable of and cost half as much. As a result, the T53 projects were discontinued, though many of the developments went on to be featured in other rigs. We all know torsion bar suspension played a big part in Chrysler cars for many years. The independent suspension was recycled to a degree in the 1970s when Chrysler competed for a contract in the development of another new military vehicle type, the HMMWV (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle).
The vehicle shown is the second of the two vehicles built, the first having larger 11.00–20 tires and enlarged fenderwells. The owner, Dan Horenberger, knew all there was to know about it, but sadly and suddenly passed away before all the final interviews had been made. Dan was a foundation stone in the Jeep Forward Control community, and is sadly missed there, but his collection also ran to the more eclectic things like the T53E1. The history of this rig is murky from the end of tests to when Dan purchased it in 2013 out of Colorado. He found it there in non-running condition and showing 2,962 miles.
Probably the best way to look at the T53E1 is as a vehicle that was a little ahead of its time. It embodied all the things that became common in later military vehicles. Look at the ’59-’70 M-151 MUTT, the Humvee, and any number of European military rigs. At the time, despite generally good performance, it was just too complex and expensive for prime time.
The DetailsVehicle: Chrysler T53E1 (prototype)
Owner: Dan Horenberger
Engine: Four-cylinder, air-cooled, horizontally-opposed, Continental AO-268
Power (hp @ rpm): 138 @ 3,000
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm): 230 @ 2,600
Bore & stroke (in): 4.75 x 4.00
Comp. ratio: 6.9:1
Transmission: Three-speed auto, GM/Allison TT-150-2 Torqmatic
Transfer case: Two-speed
Wheelbase (in): 114
GVW (lb): 8,300
Curb weight (lb): 6,350
Fording Depth (in): 67
Ground Clearance (in): 14