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Plymouth

Patrick (Unfettered) Kozicki

 

 

Walter P. Chrysler founded Plymouth Motor Corporation in 1928. The first car was the Q model, which first sold as a 1929 model. It was built in the Highland Park facility, which Chrysler received from the purchase of the Dodge Brothers earlier that year. Plymouths were designed to be an entry-level automobile, competing primarily with Ford and Chevrolet.

 

The Q model was the first in its class to offer hydraulic brakes as standard equipment along with a 45 horsepower 4-cylinder engine. The bodies were also mounted on rubber mounts to help eliminate vibration.

 

Plymouth franchises were originally available to Chrysler dealerships exclusively, but in 1930, became available to Dodge and DeSoto dealers as well. This expanded the Plymouth franchise to well over 10,000 outlets. Walter P. Chrysler turned the presidency of the Plymouth Motor Corporation over to F.L. Rockelman, while maintaining his chairmanship of the Chrysler Corporation.

 

In 1931, Plymouth introduces “Floating Power”.  Using flexible rubber mounts in a 2-point engine mounting system; the vibrations from the top-heavy four-cylinder engine are kept from being felt in the frame and body. The slogan “Smoothness of an Eight, the Economy of a Four” was used to tout this development.

 

1932 brought the 6-cylinder to the Plymouth line for the 1933 model year. Walter Chrysler believed that a 4-cylinder engine was the answer for a low priced car, but having a 6-cylinder meant prestige to car buyers, so Chrysler gave them what they wanted. This development put Chrysler in Second place for vehicle production for the first time, right behind Ford. Plymouth was the only automaker in the year to show a sales increase over the previous year. This 6-cylinder was to remain in production form October 1932 until the end of production of the 1959 model year cars. Plymouth introduced the longer wheelbase PD and PCXX.

 

 

In 1934 the one millionth Plymouth was sold. All the separate corporations, Dodge Brothers Corporation, DeSoto Motor Corporation, Plymouth Motor Corporation and Chrysler Motor Corporation, became division of Chrysler Corporation in 1935. This move allowed Chrysler to streamline production of the various lines, and allow for it to sell rebadged Plymouths as other Chrysler products to overseas markets.

 

1937 brought the production of the two millionth Plymouth and introduction of the Plymouth Truck. This truck was based on the Dodge chassis. Competition in the truck market was intense, including from Dodge, and the line was discontinued after the 1941 model year.

 

 

1939 brought the production of the three millionth Plymouth. Plymouth was also first in this year to introduce a vacuum powered convertible top. 1941 brought to an end the 7-passenger sedan, and was the year the 4 millionth Plymouth was produced.

 

 

The 1942 models were discontinued due to the war with production plants being used to turnout war goods. Plymouth dealers were asked to sell accessories like radios to people who had purchased cars without them. The news from the war was in much demand.

 

 

Car production resumed in 1946, with warmed over models from the 1942 model year. However, Chrysler executives chose to move the company to production of military electronics after the war and left the automotive divisions on their own. This chaos left the divisions to compete, no only with Ford, Chevrolet, Pontiac, etc, but also amongst themselves. Plymouth survived the post-war period to about 1950 solely on war-starved demand and the brisk post war economy. 1948 produced the five millionth Plymouth and the sixth millionth Plymouth crossed the doors of the assembly plant in 1950. During this post-war period, people began to move away from the stogy solid reliability of the anvil shaped car to more racy stylish cars. People also wanted options, such as power steering, power brakes, power windows, automatic transmissions and more powerful engines.

 

In 1951, material shortages due to the Korean Conflict, caused Plymouth, as well as most automobile manufacturers, to reduce the amount of steel used in automobiles. Sheet metal was thinner, braces removed, and fasteners were fewer and further apart. The Chrysler board decided that if production were to be curtailed that Plymouth would get axed, even though Plymouth was the third largest automaker. Plymouth marked the building of its seven millionth automobile in 1951. Plymouth during this wartime started falling back, becoming the little brother to the other divisions. Being considered a low cost auto, it failed to receive the promised new engines, transmissions and other upgrades that they were scheduled to get during this period.

 

 

With the end of the Korean War, 1953 brought some restyling and downsizing to Plymouth. Bodies were shared with Dodge, beginning the trend of Plymouths becoming “stripped” down Dodge automobiles. In the summer of 1953, Ford and Chevy started a sales blitz, pushing cars out as fast as they could be produced. Plymouth tried to keep up, but got no production help from the other divisions. Plymouth barely kept its third place position. The eight millionth Plymouth was produced in the 1953 model year as well.

 

The 1954 models were a disaster for Plymouth. Being short of options, and not having a v8, Plymouth sales fell. The semi-automatic transmission was carried over from the 1953 model year, and its reliability was questionable. Power steering was added 3 weeks after the model year started. The production slide did not go unnoticed, and late in the production year, Plymouth management made available the first fully automatic transmission in a Plymouth. As the traditional spring car-buying season approached, Plymouth was dealt another blow by a wildcat strike by the United Auto workers at the Mack Avenue plant that idled production for a week. No sooner was this strike settled, when another wildcat strike shut down the Lynch Road facility, cutting production again. The 1954 model year was so bad; that Plymouth fell into fifth place in auto production, behind the likes of Buick and Oldsmobile. Also, 1954 Plymouths were used to demonstrate a new turbine engine technology, as a 1954 Plymouth Belvedere became the automobile with this technology.

 

 

1955 brought totally redesigned models to Plymouth and the production of the nine millionth Plymouth. There were the beginnings of talk to spin off into a stand-alone franchise, as the Plymouth management felt it was losing sales to the other divisions. Plymouth introduced the Fury as a 1956 model. This car almost spelled disaster for Plymouth, as it was a Chrysler killer. Plymouth designed this car to compete, not only against Ford and GM, but the other divisions as well. At the 1956 Daytona NASCAR trials, all the divisions were basically told to let the Chrysler 300 win. But the Plymouth engineers, tired of taking a back seat to bigger brothers, unleashed the Fury. But a faulty fuel cap kept the Fury from besting the Chrysler. The Fury’s official speed was 3.016 miles per hour slower than the Chrysler 300, and in the unofficial trials held the next day; the Fury exceeded the top speed of the 300 by nearly nine miles per hour.

 

Plymouth in 1955 took fourth place sales spot, and maintained fourth through the 1956 model years as well. 1957 saw the production of the ten millionth and the beginnings of quality control issues that would plague Chrysler. Fleet sales started getting big for Plymouth in 1957, especially in the police car side. Plymouth’s became so popular with police departments starting in this year and remained the dominant police fleet car until the demise of the rear wheel drive cars in 1989.  Using inexpensive Japanese steel, the 1957 and 1958 models tend to rust badly, due to high iron content. The steel was purchased at the request of the US Government to help bolster the weak Japanese economy. Plymouth also produced its 11 millionth car in 1958. The Dodge division was allowed to become a stand-alone franchise instead of Plymouth during this year, mostly due the politics on the Chrysler board of directors Plymouth was merged with the DeSoto division in 1959, becoming the Plymouth DeSoto division. The 12 millionth Plymouth was manufactured during this model year. Chrysler also announced the start up of the new Valiant to be added to the Plymouth DeSoto Division to manufacture Valiant cars beginning with the 1960 model year. The new division was to be known as the Plymouth\DeSoto\Valiant Division.

 

 

The Plymouth based Dodge Dart was introduced in 1960, as a vehicle to replace the Plymouth line at Dodge dealerships. The DeSoto name was removed from the Division name in 1960 as a prelude to the demise of DeSoto as a carline. The new Division becomes the Plymouth\Valiant Division. The Valiant name would stand separate for only it’s first year as in 1961 the Valiant line is merged and rebranded as a Plymouth. Chrysler vehicles take the place of DeSoto’s at DeSoto\Plymouth Dealers, making most Chrysler\Plymouth dealers. Chaos at Chrysler corporate had gotten the divisions trying to usurp each other for dominance. Plymouth had gotten the short shrift once again and ended up having cars identical to Dodge, without some of the options and at about the same price. The 1961 models are the first to be unitized construction or uni-bodied.

 

 

With Dodge and Plymouth having no appreciable differences in their car lines, Plymouth sales suffer. While Dodge and Chrysler have bigger vehicles to sell, Plymouth will never get one. 1961 and 1962 sales have fallen off, mostly due the indifference by the board of directors, and the lack of originality between the Plymouth and Dodge lines.

 

 The 1963 models were restyled and better received by the buying public. With new engines and a 5-year\50,000 warranty, Plymouths were better sellers. The 13 millionth Plymouth was produced this year. Plymouth also helps to develop the 426-Stage III engine in 1963, the beginnings of the mighty 426 Hemi.

 

 

The 1964 model year was actually the last for Plymouth as a stand-alone entity, as the Plymouth division was merged into the Chrysler Division, becoming the Chrysler\Plymouth Division. It was this merger that actually killed off Plymouth as a separate division and car line. Plymouth became the low-price side for Chrysler dealers. Cars produced for the name line Plymouth were from this point forward, restyled Chryslers and Dodges.

 

 

Also in 1964, Plymouth introduced the Barracuda. This was Plymouth’s first entry into the soon to be Muscle car era. The Barracuda was debuted a full 2 weeks before Ford announced it was making the Mustang, the namesake for the “pony” class car. Chrysler felt that Plymouth, being the lower line, would do well in the new lineup of fast, inexpensive automobiles. And in fact, Plymouth did very well through the period of the late 60’s to the early 70’s in the muscle car class. Plymouth’s were often first in races throughout the period, and were often less expensive to equip for racing as Plymouth’s were ready from the factory, where the GM and Ford competitors weren’t. The muscle car era ended with the Oil Embargo of 1973, and the gasoline shortages that followed.

 

Throughout the rest of the 70’s through the mid 90’s, Plymouth remained the step-child of the Chrysler Corporation, having no unique vehicles of it’s own. Pricing of Chrysler and Dodge vehicles became very competitive. For a few hundred dollars more, or sometimes for the same money, you could drive a Dodge or Chrysler with more options. The line was almost killed off completely again in the late 70’s as Chrysler was dealing with financial problems.

 

 

In the mid-90’s, some forward thinking engineers, tried too resurrect the uniqueness that Plymouth once had held with auto enthusiasts. The introduction of the concept Plymouth Prowler was so widely admired by the public in late 1995 that it became the first unique Plymouth to be sold in over 30 years. The Prowler, the first production Hot-Rod, became available to the public in the 1997 model year. This stemmed the imagination to concept another vehicle the PT (Plymouth Truck) Cruiser. This vehicle would add to the unique Plymouth brand if produced. However, 1998 brought the “merger of equals” between the Chrysler Corporation and Daimler-Benz. This put much on hold, including the introduction of another Plymouth. The PT Cruiser was delegated to Chrysler, as Plymouth was to get the axe at the end of the 2001 model year. 

 

 

On June 28th, 2001, the last Plymouth, a silver Neon, left the plant without fanfare or recognition. Plymouth existed for 73 years, built over 20 million automobiles and was once one of the top three automakers in the world. Competition from within Chrysler, not having unique automobiles, and pricing structures that gave no real advantage to Plymouth are among the reasons Plymouth died.

 

Plymouths still hold places in the hearts of auto enthusiasts everywhere, from the 1955 Fury to the Barracuda, the Road Runner, the Plymouth Superbird, the Police packaged Gran Fury, to finally the Prowler. These cars enlightened the public that design innovation didn’t have to be the exclusive realm of the High Dollar, top line automakers.

 

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