1932 Plymouth PB Coupe
Ray Bohadel of East Brunswick, New Jersey, is a serious car buff. We can tell because among the cars Ray has owned at various times, one of the most outstanding has to be his 76-year-old dark blue 1932 Plymouth PB coupe, which he purchased two years ago from a seller in Oklahoma for about $10,000. He drove all the way to Oklahoma to do the deal. Ray also presently owns a 1992 Dodge diesel pickup, a 1969 Dart, and a 1948 Plymouth coupe.
First marketed in 1928, by 1932 Plymouth coupes had become a great success for the Chrysler Corp. With new features like hydraulic brakes on all four wheels, they were competing well against lower priced Ford’s Model A, GM's Chevrolet, and the Willys-Overland Whippet.
The PB model, like Ray Bohadel's, was the first Plymouth to have a model-year designation. Typical list price was $565 and standard weight, 2695 lbs. 11,126 business coupe PB vehicles rolled out of Chrysler's newest Detroit factory in 1932. At the time, the new plant was said to be the largest and most up-to-date automotive production facility in the world.
The PB came with a 4-cylinder engine, in its last year. By the end of 1932, Chrysler's new 6-cylinder engines were powering most P platform cars while an 8-cylinder engine had also been introduced for Plymouth’s more upscale kinfolk.
Back to the year 2008 and the 21st Annual Fall Meet of the New York/New Jersey Slant-Six Club in New Brunswick, NJ (Sunday, Oct. 5th), where Ray B. arrived in his blue coupe too late in the afternoon for judging. However the car drew much attention as soon as it rolled up and Ray treated onlookers to a sample of its antique engine sound at idle.
Ray tells how he bought the car from the daughter of its second owner and flatbedded it from Oklahoma to New Jersey. "The sellers were thinking they had a hundred-thousand dollar car on their hands," he said, "but they finally came around." With the transaction, Ray embarked on a series of experiences probably familiar to a lot of new owners of old cars.
"When I first got the car," he says, "the starter did not work and the engine had to be cranked. It took a few tries to figure out how to do it without it taking my arm off. I still crank it now and then mostly to show people how it works. I like it when kids are around. Chances are they'll never see that happen again in there lives."
With the car finally home in East Brunswick Ray couldn't wait to take it for a spin, even before he had picked up legal license plates. "I took it for a ride around the block," he said, "and got the transmission stuck in two gears at once. I had to remake the bottom for the shifter because it was so worn down."
In 1931, model PB's predecessor Plymouth PA cars came with a new feature called “freewheeling.” The design used a clutch mechanism that automatically disengaged the engine from the transmission when the drive shaft turned faster than the crankshaft. Then the car would coast with the transmission no longer engaged. Freewheeling saved fuel and reduced engine wear, especially going downhill. But it also eliminated engine braking and taxed the brakes (although Chrysler engineers claimed they had compensated for increased brake use). Freewheeling could be disengaged manually at any time.
Ray Bohadel had a bit of a shock discovering the effects of freewheeling in his PB:
The next time I drove it, now with legitimate plates, I took it down a fairly steep hill. I realized the car would not slow by letting off the gas because of the freewheeling option that disengages the transmission when you roll faster than engine speed. I barely stopped at the bottom of the hill. And then I turned a corner and smoke started coming out from under the dash and hood. Original cloth-insulated electrical wires were frayed and began shorting out. So the car has gotten a lot of new electrical wiring since then!
The ride is kind of like you are on a riding mower or a tractor. The car bounces around, probably due to the lever-type shocks. Either they are not hooked up or have no fluid. I keep meaning to fix them.
There is not too much power and it's not really a quiet ride. The transmission is nonsynchronized and has to be double clutched like a big truck. It took some time to get used to how drive it. There are no side mirrors and you sit almost in the center of the cab. If you get two full-size guys in there it gets tight. The seat is only about 4 feet wide. You have to make sure you know your passengers!
I have plans for some repairs to make the car more drivable and safer. I have logged about 300 miles since I got it, mostly within 40 miles of my home. I would like to take it on some longer trips.
As for appearance, Ray concludes,"I don't see myself ever painting it. Maybe I will do some more interior work, but I kind of like the unrestored look."
Required restoration to date included, among other details, work on the car's hydraulic brakes, springs, starter, and carburetor. The starter needed to be rewound, and Ray figures he was lucky to find an 80-year-old retired mechanic who remembered how to do it. He said with a laugh, "shocks are still not in great shape. And the brakes will stop fine the first time. After that they're a little rough!"
The engine (bore and stroke, 3-5/8" x 4-3/4"; 196.1 cu. in. displacement; compression ratio, 4.9:1; brake hp 65 @ 3400 rpm) was rebuilt in 1993. The car is presently capable of moving at 55-60 mph on the highway. When it's time to refuel, Ray mixes in a lead supplement with regular gas.
Some repainting was done to the rear exterior of the car in 1969, and the hood was repainted in 1993. Bench seat upholstery was replaced at some point with a complementary gray wool velour.
The Standard Catalog of Chrysler noted: "Although the model PB saw one of Plymouth's shortest production years, it was without doubt Plymouth's zenith of 4-cylinder car production and is the most 'collectible' of all the 4-cylinder models today."
Another important feature of the Plymouth PB that made it popular with car buyers in 1932 was one called "Floating Power." Introduced in 1931 on the Plymouth PA, it involved a system of rubber mounts that eliminated metal-to-metal contact between the frame and the engine and transmission. This made the car run smoother and quieter than other cars in its class. Rubber engine mounts had been tried and used prior to the introduction of "Floating Power," but the new system was a real advance. The company also introduced Floating Power to the Chrysler, Desoto and Dodge lines in 1932.
On the smoothness or quietness of his 1932 Plymouth, Ray Bohadel can't know how the car performed when it was new. “I don't really know the condition of the rubber. It's 76 years old! I do think the leaf spring to the engine is kind of worn out. If you accelerate real slow from a stop in 1st gear, the engine wants to move side to side a lot, and it makes the gas pedal go up and down at the same time. Most of the time I shift 1st to 2nd real quick to avoid this from happening.”
After two years, Ray continues the work on his Plymouth coupe project. He reports, "I went to the Hershey Swap Meet today [Thursday, Oct. 9th]. I almost bought a new radiator cap but the guy wanted $485 and would not take $450. I had to refuse to pay more for it then I did my whole first car! I did get four new tires and tubes. I was trying to find the original owner's manual. It's more like a service book with wiring diagrams, brake info and what not. I could find PA and PC books but no PB. I guess next time."
Accompanying images include a close-up of the car's ornate "winged" radiator cap (one wing missing), and a picture of the winged gargoyles on the four exterior corners of the 31st floor of the Chrysler Building in New York City. Admirers of Walter P. Chrysler may find it interesting that the Great Man himself called for these gargoyles when the building was being designed. In working with his architects, Chrysler looked for ways to project the themes of his automotive products in the new building.