The Three Musketeers (Studebaker engineers)

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Three Musketeers - Chrysler Engineers Carl Breer (right), Fred Zeder (center), and Owen Skelton (left) in 1933.

The Three Musketeers is a nickname given to a team of three famous Studebaker engineers, Frederick Morrell Zeder, Owen Ray Skelton, and Carl Breer. These three men would later become the core engineers that started the Chrysler Corporation.[1] Chrysler surrounded himself with the finest engineers available when he started Chrysler Corporation and the Three Musketeers were such people.[1][2][3]


The nucleus of the team initially formed when Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company selected twenty-five university graduates of mechanical engineering to go through their two-year apprenticeship course. Zeder and Breer were two such students picked in 1909 and became close friends during the course.[4]

Skelton was a design engineer with Packard Motor Car Company as a transmission specialist. Zeder asked Skelton to join him at Studebaker in 1914.[5] Zeder later asked Breer to join the two of them at Studebaker in 1916, which completed the trio.[6] They became the Zeder, Skelton and Breer Engineering (ZSB) group.[7]

In 1919 the three moved to Willys-Overland on the invitation of Walter P. Chrysler (Vice President and general manager).[8] Zeder, Breer, and Skelton were compared to the fictional Three Musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.[9] Chrysler was referred to as d'Artagnan, The Three Musketeers captain and leader.[5] The three engineers went to work on designing a new car with a new engine in 1920 and 1921 in Willys' engineering center in Elizabeth, New Jersey.[10]

Chrysler sign 1920

Chrysler in 1919 was working for Willys-Overland in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He was making a million dollars a year, an astronomical amount in those days. He invited the three engineers, Zeder, Breer and Skelton, to come over to Willys. The ZSB engineering team moved to Willys and their assignment was to fix engineering problems on the existing Willys 6 cylinder engine car in production and to produce a brand new car design from inside out at the same time. The three engineers determined that the 6 cylinder car was a major redo and obsolete compared to the new car they had just designed. The new Willys car to come out in 1920 was to be called a "Chrysler" and a colossal sign of incandescent lights spelling this out was built on top of the Willys plant (see photo to right).[10][11]

These plans were halted when the funds set aside for the Chrysler Motors Division of the Willys Corporation Elizabeth plant were discovered to have been depleted by Willys' Toledo branch. Willys was going bankrupt and heading for receivership. Chrysler himself quit his position at Willys in February 1922 in this turmoil of producing the new "Chrysler Six" automobile. Zeder, Breer and Skelton were embarrassed as they had coaxed a complete skilled team of 15 engineers to Willys with them from Studebaker. Studebaker at that time had a plant in Detroit that was doing financially well. The three men, along with several Willys engineers, set themselves up as a consulting firm in Newark, New Jersey, under the name "Zeder Skelton Breer Engineering Company."[12][13]

The Elizabeth plant and the Chrysler Six prototype were sold to William C. Durant in a bankruptcy sale. The plant then built Durant's low priced Star automobile. The Chrysler Six prototype would be made larger, becoming the 1923 Flint automobile, built in Flint, Michigan.[14][15][16]

1924 Chrysler designed by famed engineers Zeder, Skelton and Breer

Walter Chrysler went to Maxwell automobile, where in 1924 he launched his own version of the Chrysler six-cylinder. The Chrysler car was financially successful and in 1925 the Maxwell car company became the Chrysler Corporation.[1][7][17][18][19]

The "lightning flashes" on the Chrysler logo were actually Zs, a tribute to Fred Zeder.[20] This logo was used on the first Chrysler automobile built in 1924 and, off and on, for years thereafter.

The 1924 Chrysler Six was said to be the first modern automobile. Automobile historian Mark Howell remarks that this car is second only to Ford's Model T Ford for its impact on the automobile industry.[21] He claims this car is the dividing line between the old style car and the "modern" automobile.[22] Mr. Chrysler's first luxury car was priced at an affordable $1,565.[23]


  1. ^ a b c Wright, Kelsey (2001–2012). "Fred Zeder, Vice President in Charge of Engineering". Allpar; Retrieved 13 December 2012. 
  2. ^ Chrysler Institute of Engineering
  3. ^ Curcio 2001, p. 270.
  4. ^ Breer & Yanik 1995, p. 1.
  5. ^ a b Wright, Kelsey (1998–2000). "Owen Skelton, Executive Engineer". Allpar; Retrieved 13 December 2012. 
  6. ^ Zatz, David (1998–2000). "Carl Breer, Executive Engineer". Allpar; Retrieved 13 December 2012. 
  7. ^ a b Zatz, David (2009). "Three Musketeers - ZSB". Walter P. Chrysler Museum. Retrieved 13 December 2012. 
  8. ^ "How Chrysler Works". Auto Editors of Consumer Guide. 2009. Retrieved 13 December 2012. 
  9. ^ Severson, Aaron (2011). "Changing Winds: The 1934-1937 Chrysler and DeSoto Airflows". Retrieved 13 December 2012. 
  10. ^ a b Breer & Yanik 1995, pp. 65,66,67,68,69,70.
  11. ^ Weiss 2003, pp. 119,120,121,122,123,124.
  12. ^ Breer & Yanik 1995, p. 70.
  13. ^ Curcio 2001, pp. 281,282.
  14. ^ Weiss 2003, p. 122.
  15. ^ Breer & Yanik 1995, pp. 71,72.
  16. ^ Kulchycki, T.L. (2000–2007). "The Flint Catalog". Retrieved 13 December 2012. 
  17. ^ Chrysler Corporation 1955, p. 13 These three men were the nucleus around which Chrysler Corporation eventually built its engineering division.
  18. ^ Yanik 2009, pp. 157,158.
  19. ^ "The 1931 Plymouth PA: Walter Chrysler's Fistful of Aces". 2000–2007. Retrieved 13 December 2012. 
  20. ^ Weiss 2003, pp. 125,126.
  21. ^ Curcio 2001, p. 317.
  22. ^ The Beginning of it all: The 1924 Chrysler Six
  23. ^ Chrysler history 1920s


  • Breer, Carl; Yanik, Anthony J (1995), The Birth of Chrysler Corporation and Its Engineering Legacy (illustrated ed.), Warrendale, PA 15096-0001: Society of Automotive Engineers, ISBN 1560915242 
  • Chrysler Corporation, Public Relations (1955), Chrysler Corporation: the story of an American company (Original from the University of Michigan ed.), Dept. of Public Relations, Chrysler Corp 
  • Curcio, Vincent (2001), Chrysler: The Life and Times of an Automotive Genius (illustrated ed.), Oxford University Press, ISBN 0195147057 
  • Weiss, H. Eugene (2003), Chrysler, Ford, Durant, and Sloan: Founding Giants of the American Automotive Industry (illustrated ed.), McFarland, ISBN 0786416114 
  • Yanik, Anthony J. (2009), Maxwell Motor: And the Making of the Chrysler Corporation (illustrated ed.), Wayne State University Press, ISBN 0814334237 

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