Considering how bleak the 1930s were due to the Great Depression, the progress made by the automobile industry during that decade is remarkable. To be sure, many auto companies didn’t survive, but those that did had made significant improvements in internal combustion engines, developed automatic transmissions and independent front suspension, integrated fenders into the body and eliminated running boards, stowed the spare tire in a built-in trunk, hid radiators behind stylish grille work and many more advancements.
For 1940, Chrysler Corp. debuted entirely new designs throughout the four brands in its line for the second time in two years. Not considered particularly exciting, their round styling was pleasant with circular sealed-beam headlamps integrated into the front fenders, and front grilles and rear tail lamps individually designed for each of the makes.
The cars’ interiors had not evolved during the 1930s as much as other facets, still being rather drab brown or gray broadcloth, plain or with stripes. Leather or imitation leather fabrics added some interest to open cars and sometimes in others at extra cost.
Someone in the Chrysler Division figured that it was time that interiors be brightened up and modernized, so mid-year in the 1940 model run, the Highlander option featuring tartan plaid upholstery fabric was announced.
With a picture of a Scottie dog (in a plaid “jacket”), a full-page magazine ad announced, “Swagger as a champion Scottie, the new Highlander is the latest member of the distinguished family of Beautiful Chryslers for 1940.” At least two full-page color ads were produced promoting the Highlander using two different 1940 convertibles with plaid upholstery completely covering the front surfaces of both front and rear seats as well as the convertible top boot. Another promotional piece implored, “Ask for the Highlander and be first in the fashion parade this season! You’ll take the high road but you’ll have to move fast or somebody will be ‘afore ye,’” picking up lyrics of the Scottish song “Loch Lomond.”
Speaking of Scottish music, the Highlander theme was expanded in 1941 to include an optional set of horns that played the Scottish tune “The Campbells Are Coming, Oho! Oho!” The four-tone Highlander horn assembly, part #863127, was listed in the 1942 MoPar parts catalog as available for all 1941 and ’42 Windsor and New Yorker Highlander models for $15 extra. The Highlander plaid upholstery cost $25.
Don Narus, who has published several books on the Town and Country models and other Chryslers of the ’40s and ’50s, said he’s not sure how the Scottish theme originated, but “more than likely it was from David Wallace, president of the Chrysler Division from 1937 until his retirement in 1953. He was of Scottish ancestry.”
It may or may not have been coincidence that Chrysler Corp. was founded in 1925 in Highland Park, Mich., where the company’s headquarters remained until moving to Auburn Hills during the 1990s. Located six miles north of downtown Detroit, Highland Park remains an independent community although totally surrounded by the city of Detroit.
“The red plaid used in 1940-’42 was the so-called Scotch plaid,” Narus said. “Postwar it was McPhergus for red, Black Watch for green (woven with stripes of green, dark blue and black wool), and was referred to as ‘Highlander Plaid.’”
It might be assumed that these vibrant interiors were meant to further enhance the image of the wood-bodied Town and Country models that became Chrysler’s prestige cars during the same time period, but that was not the case.
“I, personally, have always understood that no T&Cs were originally ordered or built with a Highlander interior,” said long-time Town and Country owner Terry Hoeman, who shared original Chrysler literature on upholstery options for this article. “I know many now have those interiors.”
Harold Mermel, who has owned several Town and Countrys, agreed. “I have never seen a 1941 or 1942 Town and Country barrelback that was originally fitted with the Highlander upholstery,” he said. “According to research done years ago, perhaps a handful of 1946 to early 1949 (first-series) T&C cars were ordered with a Highlander interior and Highlander horns.
“Obviously, since they were Chrysler options, any dealer could order the plaid material and the horns through the MoPar Parts division and convert a T&C into a Highlander woodie car,” Mermel continued. “On that basis, several T&C cars have had Highlander interiors and horns installed during restoration.”
Dennis and Kathy Bickford have installed Highlander interiors in several Town and Countrys and other Chryslers they have restored and upholstered. The late Lloyd Mayes, who collected several Town and Countrys, wanted Highlander upholstery in all those he restored, Bickford noted, so he had batches of both the red and blue-green plaid fabric reproduced by the same mill in Scotland that had made the original material. “The weave was correct,” he said, “and the chemically produced colors were very bright. Colors were more muted in the original material that was made with vegetable dyes.”
Bickford doesn’t know where Highlander plaid material is currently available. He said one-time Chrysler parts supplier Morris Sarnoff had reproduced the material years ago, but had sold all of it before he passed away. Some Highlander plaid fabric had been stocked by the LeBaron Bonney Co., which went out of business a few years ago.
Highlander is shown as a sub-series of both the 1940 Windsor (Series C-25) and New Yorker (Series C-26) — consisting of a club coupe, convertible coupe and four-door sedan in each series — in the “Standard Catalog of Chrysler — 1914-2000” (Krause Publications). Prices for the Highlander models were $25 more than the comparable Windsor or New Yorker models. Highlander production numbers are not broken down with totals for each body type.
For 1941, the Highlander option was extended to all of the body styles in each series, now including a new four-door Town Sedan with rear-opening rear doors, and the Luxury Brougham two-door sedan and three-passenger coupe. The Highlander option is also mentioned for the two Windsor long-wheelbase models (eight-passenger sedan and eight-passenger limousine), but not for the 1941 Town and Country station wagon. Cost of the Highlander option in 1941 was $20 for all models.
Highlander was not listed as a sub-series in the 1942 model line-up, but Highlander plaid interiors were optional on all Windsor and New Yorker models for the same $20 premium.
After World War II, styling and trim changes were minor on 1946 through first-series 1949 Chryslers. The Highlander upholstery of red plaid with red leather was optional at extra cost on all Windsors and New Yorkers except the long-wheelbase models. Cars with that option had Highlander identification along with the Windsor or New Yorker die-cast script toward the rear of the hood sides and on the dashboard below the radio speaker grille.
A factory specification sheet covering those years does not list the Highlander option explicitly for Town and Country models. However, that Town and Countrys were considered an integral part of the Windsor and New Yorker series implies that Highlander upholstery would have been available on them, also.
Highlander plaid upholstery continued to be an option on the totally restyled 1949 Windsor and New Yorker series, but as a listed option, it could probably also be ordered on Royal or Saratoga models. The “Standard Catalog” does not list the Highlander option for the 1950-’53 model years, but it shows up again as a $63 option on the 1954 line. In addition, a 1952 Windsor convertible with its original interior and a “Highlander” trunk script has been spotted, as has a restored ’53 New Yorker convertible with Highlander plaid upholstery. Therefore, it stands to reason that Highlander plaid upholstery is authentic for at least some Chrysler models built from 1940-1954.
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