1928-1930 Plymouth Cars: Model Q and U
In 1927, Chevrolet and Ford were the giants of the low priced cars, but the Willys Whippet showed there was room for competition. Still, when Henry Ford heard that Walter Chrysler was planning an entry in the class, he reportedly said, "Walter, you'll go broke. Chevrolet and I have that market all sewed up."
Chrysler was not deterred, and his new low priced car was unveiled on July 7, 1928. The press release claimed:
We have named it the Plymouth because this new product of Chrysler engineering and craftsmanship so accurately typifies the endurance and strength, the rugged honesty, the enterprise, the determination of achievement and the freedom from old limitations of that Pilgrim band who were the first American colonists.
Another influence on the name, originally suggested by Joseph W. Frazer, was the Plymouth Twine Company, well-known and trusted by farmers. Some of the trust in that name would presumably transfer to the new car.
The new car (officially the 1929 Model Q) was originally called the “Chrysler-Plymouth,” and was styled to look like the Chryslers above it; its 109 inch wheelbase was similar to the Chrysler 50 and 52 that it replaced. It cost considerably more than the Ford or Chevrolet (for the sedan, $725 vs $585 and $495 respectively), but buyers got much, much more than they could from the market leaders.
The car’s body was wood over metal, like most other cars of the time, for the first two model years. In an industry first for low-price cars, four-wheel hydraulic brakes were standard, as they had been on some Chrysler models for years. This system was developed by Chrysler Engineering under Carl Breer, with patents assigned by the corporation to Lockheed to encourage widespread adoption. It would take Ford many years to move to the more reliable hydraulic system.
The basic car itself was descended from a Maxwell model sold when Chrysler had taken over Maxwell-Chalmers around five years earlier. It had been sold as the Chrysler Four, but without the hydraulic brakes and other modifications.
The "Silver Dome" engine had 45 horsepower, more than Whippet or Ford, and allowed for speeds of 60 mph (without overdrive). Unlike the earlier Chrysler-Maxwell engine, it had full force-feed lubrication (also featured by Willys, but not Ford), a revised manifold, larger chrome-nickel intake valves, crankcase ventilation, silchrome steel exhaust valves, vibration dampening, and an oil filter and air cleaner.
Jim Benjaminson, in writing The Mystery of Ethel Miller, found that Ethel Miller of Turlock, California claimed to be the purchaser of the first Plymouth car ever sold. She also bought the one millionth and two millionth cars. Her first Plymouth carried license plate 1L 16 96. Chrysler refused to sell her the three millionth car, and in a fit of pique, she bought a Pontiac instead; the first Plymouth must have been disposed of somehow, but it seems unlikely that Chrysler was able to buy it from her.
Model Q production continued until February 4, 1929, when it was replaced by the Model U. In the United States, Chrysler had made 60,270 U.S. cars; in Windsor, Ontario, another 5,827 cars were made. While not quite up to Willys Whippet standards (Whippet was #3 in sales, Plymouth #15), it was a respectable first year, and the Model U would build on the original.
The Model U had rounded bumpers, dropping the horizontal grooves of the flat Q bumpers; headlamps were switched from Depress Beam to Twolite, and “Chrysler” was dropped from the name plate. The tire size was unchanged, though 19 inch wheels would later replace the Model Q’s 20 inch wheels, and the hubcaps were changed. Wood wheels were standard, with wire wheels optional.
The Model U’s engine was changed, with bigger bearings, a quarter-inch longer stroke, angled distributor drive housing, and exhaust pipe on the front of the engine rather than the rear — but the horsepower rating was unchanged. Rubber engine mountings pioneered on the 1926 Chrysler were offered on a low-priced car for the first time. Prices were dropped for most bodies.
In addition to its successor, the Model U, the Plymouth Model Q spawned the Fargo Packet, a commercial truck that used a mixture of Plymouth, DeSoto, and Chrysler parts.
Plymouth’s success resulted in the building of a new plant, at Lynch Road and Mount Elliott Avenue, at the time the largest car plant in the world with nearly 23 acres of floor space. For 1930, Plymouth moved up to #10; it would continue to climb.
The Model Q had contributed to the low priced field — to quote from the brochure:
"An absolutely new development in motor car style ... New slender profile chromium-plated radiator... Long low bodies ... New type beaded crown fenders... Molded edge running boards ... Generous room for 2 to 5 passengers' according to body model ... Luxurious deep upholstery and appointment detail such as you expect only in cars of far higher price ... Beautiful bowl-type head lamps ... New "Silver Dome" high -compression engine, for use with any gasoline ... Smooth speed up to 60 and more miles anhour ... Characteristic Chrysler acceleration ... Unbelievable smoothness of operation--at all driving speeds ... New type Velvet - Power engine mountings ... Body impulse neutralizer ... New type shock-absorbing spring compensators give exceptional riding comfort. .. New type spring shackles--reduce noise, wear, attention ... Chrysler light-action internal expanding hydraulic four-wheel brakes--no other car of this price possesses this feature."