Chrysler in New Zealand

Plenty of information is already available about the history of the American Chrysler Corporation and Chrysler manufacture in Australia, however very little comprehensive information existed on the history of the New Zealand assembly industry until the recent publication of "Assembly - NZ Car Production 1921-1998", by Mark Webster.

During the period 1921 to 1998 successive New Zealand governments protected the countries fragile balance of trade by restricting the importation of completely built up (CBU) automobiles and providing incentives to an artificial local industry assembling Completely Knocked Down (CKD) packs from Europe, America and Australia. This had the effect of generating huge employment benefits for the country and due to local content regulations also gives us a rich history of models and specifications unique to New Zealand.

Todd Motors

The Todd Motor Company was formed in Christchurch in 1923 to import the "Gray" motor vehicle, but by 1925 had moved its head quarters to Wellington. This was the same year the Chrysler Corporation was formed and Todd's were appointed NZ distributors. In 1935 the Todd Motor Industries plant at Petone was completed and the first local Chrysler assembly began. The first cars off the line were American Plymouths.

The Todd records for assembly of American origin Chryslers are at times only estimates and frequently not model specific.

Chrysler Corporation Vehicles Assembled by Todd Motors (NZ)

1935-38Chrysler, Plymouth, Desoto3,540
1939-53Chrysler, Plymouth, Desoto, Dodge   2,368 
1958-60Chrysler, Plymouth, Desoto, Dodge1,044
1964-67Chrysler, Plymouth, Desoto, Dodge10,749 
1963-79Australian Chryslers AP5-CL NZ assembly44,760

The New Zealand/Australian Valiant

The Valiant was introduced to New Zealand in limited numbers in 1963 with the "S" series, a minor facelift of the "R" series launched in Australia a year earlier. It wasn't until the 1964 release of the all new AP5 that NZ Valiant assembly began. Production increased with each subsequent model up through the AP6, VC, VE, VF and VG ranges.

It is these early generation NZ assembled Valiants that hold a dear place in the hearts of many Kiwi's who spent their child hood sliding around on hot vinyl bench seats, learnt to drive, and gained their first experience of the superior performance delivered by the Chrysler marque.

New Zealand production for the Valiant range was always limited to the top selling four door sedans and some utilities. The station wagons, luxury CH-K sedans and hard top coupes (with the exception of the Charger 770) were all imported CBU from Tonsley Park, Adelaide.

By the time production of the Australian designed VH range began in 1971, Todd Industries Petone plant was inadequate and a new facility was under construction at Porirua, North of Wellington. The significantly better new assembly facility was fully operational by November 1974 (although not officially opened until 1975). The first vehicles off the Porirua assembly line were Valiant Utilities.

The NZ Charger 770

Chrysler Australia's reputation for performance vehicles began in 1965 when the first 273 cu-in V8 was slotted into an AP6 Valiant, however it is the "Six Pack" Pacers and Chargers from the VF-VH ranges that consolidated this.

Though the Pacers and Six Pack Chargers were only ever brought into NZ CBU, Todd Motors did assemble the VH and VJ series Charger 770 locally between 1971 and 1976 (VH 1344 and VJ 864). At its peak the VH Charger accounted for 1 in 3 of the approximately 7000 Valiants per annum sold in NZ. By NZ standards this made the Charger 770 a hugely successful model and there are still many in daily use on NZ roads.

The NZ model was only available with the 203 bhp 265cu-in Hemi six, automatic transmission, limited slip diff, non-reclining locally made seats and no rear bumper overriders. The "luxury" sports wheel came as standard, sound deadening and undersealing were also superior on the NZ Charger. The VJ series featured the "fish scale" dash and centre console from the Australian E55 only options.

Production of the Charger bodies actually ceased in NZ when the Todd plant moved to Porirua in 1974. The accumulated stock pile was then put on the Valiant sedan line for final assembly during 1975 at the new plant. Even though the VK series had been released in Australia by this time, it was these last few VJ's that trickled into NZ show rooms over 1975 (and even a few into 1976) that marked the end of local assembly of the Charger and in fact any significant Valiant sales volumes.

Todd Motors also imported CBU 51 Charger R/T's and a staggering 417 VH Pacer four doors.

The end of an era

As early as 1973 production at Todd Motor Industries plant was beginning to change dramatically with the assembly of 1302 Mitsubishis that year. Manufacture of the Valiant range continued with facelifted CL and CM ranges, however sales were plummeting (primarily because of the fuel crisis) by this stage and plans for an all new replacement Valiant model were dropped in Australia.

The last CL series Chargers were produced in 1978 and were only available CBU from Tonsley Park. According to Mitsubishi Motors NZ records only 8 of the final CL model Charger were sold in NZ. The sedan struggled on through another minor facelift to become the CM series which ceased production altogether in 1981.