If you ask the average Chrysler fan about the history of Mopar, they might tell you about the NASCAR career of the Chrysler FirePower and 426 Hemi V-8s, the fearsome Max Wedge 413, or the dragstrip exploits of the legendary Ramchargers. However, the Mopar trade name goes back much further than that — its roots stretch all the way back to the early years of the Chrysler Corporation.
This article is written by automotive historian Aaron Severson. Aaron is a recognized historical expert and an E.P. Ingersoll Award winner. You can read more of Aaron’s work on his site AteUpWithMotor.com.
Motor Parts Division
What is now called Mopar began in 1929 as the Chrysler Corporation’s parts division: the Chrysler Motor Parts Corporation, a subsidiary responsible for manufacturing, stocking and distributing replacement parts for all of Chrysler’s divisions.
In the early days, Motor Parts focused on dealers, not individual owners, and its packaging and marketing were nothing special. In the mid-thirties, the division’s emblem was a simple circle with the stylized initials of Chrysler’s four brands (Chrysler, Plymouth, DeSoto and Dodge) in dark blue text on a white background.
In 1937, Motor Parts decided to introduce a new line of antifreeze products. While model-specific replacement parts didn’t necessarily require aggressive marketing, products like coolant or spark plugs were another matter; even in the ’30s, the auto parts business was already dominated by many well-established names. To complete in that arena, Chrysler needed a more distinctive brand.
An executive named Nelson I. Farley, then Motor Parts’ sales promotion manager, organized an “Activities Council” to come up with new marketing and merchandising ideas. The Activities Council considered the branding issue and came up with an appealingly simple idea: MoPar, an abbreviation of the division’s name.
The new trade name made its public debut that June on a Motor Parts-created parade float for the 1937 Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (Shriners) national convention in Detroit. By the late ’40s, the MoPar name had become so familiar that it was often used interchangeably with the name of the Chrysler Motor Parts Division itself, even in industry trade publications.
By the mid-60s, Mopar had become the division’s formal name. The “Mopar” spelling was adopted in 1964, at about the same time Chrysler introduced the now-familiar “rolling M” emblem, created by then marketing manager George Robinson, a skilled industrial designer.
Performance for the aftermarket
In the early ’60s, Chrysler decided to get into the lucrative aftermarket parts business, for a time offering parts for a variety of cars, not just Chrysler products. The move was prompted by the late-50s recession, which forced dealers to look for other sources of revenue beyond new car sales. GM was going a similar route with its Delco brand and Ford had bought Autolite in 1961 for the same reason.
Image copyright Michael Barera
Chrysler also moved into the burgeoning performance field. The corporation had supported racing for years — Carl Kiekhaefer’s Mercury Outboard team had dominated NASCAR in the mid-50s — but by the early ’60s, teenage Baby Boomers were putting a new emphasis on street performance. The obvious next step was to create a way for horsepower-happy private owners to get their hands on Chrysler’s hottest hardware.
In 1962, Chrysler’s Marine and Industrial Engine Division (which among other things assembled racing engines) released a slim mail-order catalog entitled Chrysler Maximum Performance Packages. This was followed in 1964 by the establishment of Special Parts Services (a.k.a. Chrysler Performance Parts Service), run by a group of enthusiastic young engineers with a more-than-passing familiarity with the street racing scene on Detroit’s famous Woodward Avenue. Thanks in part to their efforts, “Mopar” soon became a household word on the dragstrip and the NASCAR oval and virtually synonymous with Chrysler itself.
In the early seventies, those engineers established the Direct Connection brand, whose catalogs offered an assortment of factory-developed (and factory-approved) performance and customization gear for Chrysler cars, trucks and even custom vans. In 1987, Direct Connection became Mopar Performance Parts.
Mopar, which remains a registered trademark of the modern Chrysler Group LLC, celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2012. Today, it is still going strong as Chrysler’s parts, service and customer care brand, providing O.E. and performance equipment and accessories for both modern and classic Chrysler vehicles — now including U.S.-market Fiats. Since 2009, Chrysler has also offered a number of limited-edition Mopar-branded vehicles.
Naturally, there is also an assortment of Mopar merchandise for fans looking to show their colors. While there are many well-known parts and accessory brands, few have as rich a heritage or as fiercely loyal a following.