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For five humid May days in 1928 a group of shirtsleeved men stayed in a smoke-fogged suite in Manhattan's Ritz-Carlton Hotel, bargaining, eating, occasionally sleeping. Clarence Dillon wanted to sell the automobile company bought four years before by Dillon, Read & Co. from the widows of Motormakers John and Horace Dodge. Walter P. Chrysler, as expert a machinist as ever stood at a lathe, as smart a trader as ever swapped a horse, wanted to buy it.

By the end of the fifth day the fat was in the fire. Onetime roundhouse...

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