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Chrysler has an exciting history as a vehicle manufacturer. As one of the “Big Three” automobile manufacturer’s in the United States, it started as the United States Motor Company in 1908. But did you know it also made a V8 engine that powered air raid sirens back during the Cold War? The government created the Chrysler Air Raid Siren out of necessity and used a V8 at first before Chrysler upgraded to a Hemi engine.

The history of the Chrysler Air Raid Siren during the Cold War

The Chrysler Air Raid Siren
Testing of the Chrysler Air Raid Siren in New York in 1952 | Bettmann/Getty Images

According to Autoweek, the need for an air raid siren was necessary back during the Cold War. The government needed a solution to warn the general population that a nuclear threat was imminent. An air raid siren was the solution, but who else could provide the engine needed to power such an air raid siren? An American automobile manufacturer, of course.

It wasn’t necessarily supposed to be peak manufacturing, but it needed to be fast. The Office of Civil Defense decided to bring automotive manufacturer Chrysler together with Bell Labs. Bell Labs was an American industrial research and scientific development company operating at the time. Chrysler was busy making cars, so the partnership made sense to fast-track this necessity.

One of the problems was that the government wanted quality over quantity. Making too many of these would take too much time, so having a larger-scale operation made sense. An air-raid siren of this size could alert an entire city instead of just a small area.

How loud was the Chrysler Air Raid Siren?

Thus, the Chrysler-Bell Victory Siren was born. It used the Chrysler V8 engine that whipped up 140 hp. The inline eight-cylinder engine had a two-stage air compressor that assisted in the design. Chrysler also equipped it with a relating slotted disc rotary chopper that uses pulses to create sound. That was then directed through six horns that made an output noise of 137 dB at 100 feet. According to the Temple University Department of Civil/Environmental Engineering, an aircraft carrier deck has a level of 140 dB. The loudest noise is a jet taking off at 25 meters, a level of 150 dB, and can cause eardrum rupture. 120 dB is noted to be painful.

The Chrysler-Bell Victory Siren used a gear reduction system and a chain-driven turntable to make the air raid siren sound travel as far as possible. “With the engine at its approximately 3,200-rpm operating speed, the siren rotated at 2 rpm,” Autoweek said.

While this was a huge feat and a significant advancement in technology at the time, the rest of the siren was pretty basic. The Chrysler-Bell Victory Siren required manual labor to get it moving. One person had to sit in a seat and rotate the engine until whenever it was no longer necessary.

This version used a 180 hp Chrysler Hemi engine

A new design came not long after that, in 1952, called the Chrysler Air Raid Siren. This one used a 180 hp Chrysler Hemi engine and a compressor to improve the output. The seat was removed and replaced by a control panel. Dedicated phone lines could now activate the siren from a different location. And if it was not loud enough, the Chrysler Air Raid Siren was now 138 dB at 100 feet.

To this day, it is still the loudest siren ever made. The Chrysler Air Raid Siren could cover 16 square miles. Even today, tornado and tsunami alarms cover about four square miles. Chrysler only made 350 of these sirens before moving away from the design. Nowadays, there are still some in place in a variety of locations. It was more expensive to remove the sirens than to remove the ones left. Some live in museums; some are in the hands of collectors.

If you want to see one in action, one Chrysler Air Raid Siren is in operation in LA. The local government operates it once a year to honor the Battle of Los Angeles. Seattle, Washington still has two that are non-operational. Otherwise, this loud piece of history quietly went into the night, which is a shame given how loud it arrived on the scene.


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