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Rest In Peace, Plymouth!

Gary Ruggles

Plymouth has always been the affordable performance leader for Chrysler. Dodge division came sucking around and usurped whatever it could trying to beat Plymouth anyway it could. The biggest evidence of that was the 1960 model year, when Dodge snuck into the Plymouth division niche with the Dart line of automobiles. They were the same wheelbase as Plymouth and targeted the same price range. It was a natural culmination for a series of events going back to 1935 when Walter Chrysler appointed KT Keller as the Corporation president. Walter then just stopped having anything to do with the Corporation. Oh, he pooped around as a sort of spokesperson in a few commercials, but that was it. In 1938 Walter lost his wife of many years, and due to a circulatory disease, he became an invalid and a recluse. In August 1940, he was gone, the last successful auto magnate in the United States.

The seeds for Plymouth's demise were sown in 1935 when Keller took over. Keller came from Buick when Chrysler bought Dodge, at the personal behest of Walter. Walter put Keller in charge of Dodge, as President of the Dodge Division in 1928. As such Keller, effectively at that time, really became the CEO. Why? Because Dodge main controlled the assembly line process, such as engine building. Without Keller's approval, no one got anything. Keller put the stamp of Dodge's little brother on Plymouth, right then.

Plymouth had been the apple of Walter Chrysler's eye. He knew, as the marketing maven that he was that he needed an entry level auto to compete at the Ford and General Motors Chevrolet level. As soon as the final papers were signed on the Dodge deal, the very next day, signs went up all over the Dodge main plant, that it was a Division of the Chrysler Corporation. As such, it should have been an equal. Of course, because of it's massive foundry operations that Chrysler so needed to get a low priced car off the ground, it was never really an equal to the other divisions.

If Keller had a clue to the concept of a low priced leader, he never really showed it. Plymouth was introduced as a standalone nameplate in June 1928. Granted it was the low end Chrysler that had been re-badged, and that in turn was actually the last leftover model of the Maxwell Motors that Chrysler had bought out in 1924 (reorganizing and renaming it in 1925) to make his own line of cars. But, what was wrong with that? The Maxwell was a fine automobile. And with a price reduction, the "new" Plymouth sold more cars that a four cylinder Chrysler ever would or ever could even be thought of.

Then in the Spring of 1931, Chrysler did something that not only guaranteed Plymouth, but insured the survival of the entire Corporation. Walter Chrysler recognized the depths of the country's economic depression. He also knew that Plymouth sales had increased every single year of its production except for 1930 when Plymouth slipped to 75,530 cars. In a typical Walter Chrysler executive move, he threw open the franchise of Plymouth to all the other Corporation makes. Instantly, Plymouth had 7,102 outlets nationwide. By 1933, one out of every three cars sold was a Plymouth. It broke production and sales records that would stand for years, and this, mind you all, in the midest of the worst economic recession that gripped the entire world in its icy monetary chill.

Keller nearly broke the back of Chrysler in the 1950s with his lack of interest in styling. While the 1949 car lines were completely different body wise, the lack of interest in styling set the stage for later big problems.

By the late 1970s most knew that Chrysler was a ghost of an auto manufacturer. It had excellent engineering, but, a three year run of poor quality cemented the corporate image. The headstone was set out for Plymouth in 1979 when the "R" body came out without a Plymouth name tag on it. Ever since then, Plymouth has not competed in its own market. Mainly it has been a marketing exercise for the leftover stuff at Dodge.

It has been then about 20 years since a conscious corporate effort at eliminating Plymouth as a name was set in place. The final decision, and it is now final, is that Plymouth is gone, long live Plymouth, may it rest in peace.

I think though, that Chrysler would have never done the deed, if it had remained Chrysler. Daimler company officials have absolutely no concept of the car, the image, the division, the following, the type of car, that Plymouth used to embody. Who else could have brought a car like the Road Runner to fruition, and not only set sales records with it, but have it be named as a "Car of The Year"? Only Plymouth could have and did pull it off. I cannot concieve of a German beancounter understanding that sort of image or conception, period. I am certain that if Lutz, Spirlich, Stalkamp were still around, Plymouth would be given a fair shot at competing in the market that made it famous.

It annoys me to see nothing but Ford Crown Victoria's as the Premier Law Enforcement Vehicle across the nation. The fact is, Plymouth owned that niche, with a much better car in the late 1960s, some 30 years before! And I can tell you from my own experience they were fast, sound, and safe. They handled as well as they went fast, and they stopped even better. I felt more comfortable at 100 mph in my old Plymouth Fury Police Car than I do now at 50 mph in my latest Jeep Cherokee, and that is a fact.

I also look out in my driveway, and I see a 1999 LHS, along with the 1999 Jeep Cherokee. I feel a pang, because I know that these will be my last two Chrysler vehicles. Both were designed and built before the finalization of the ill-fated Daimler buy out. Chrysler was duped by the Daimler folks, who had nothing more in mind than the expansion of their corporate aspirations. Chrysler went from dead to dancing as a leader in style, price, design times. Then it went all to hell when the deal was struck with Daimler. The killing of what was one of the premier automobiles of this country, indeed, the world, is but an indication that something is terribly wrong inside the hallowed halls of Highland Park Headquarters in Michigan, USA.

"Strang"

It's been said over and over again that Plymouth was dead before the merger and this is simply the plug being pulled at last. That much is probably true. Yes, the Prowler was a bad choice for an image car. But what about the rest of Chrysler?

Supposedly, Daimler nixed any plans of the Chronos being built because it would compete with Mercedes and now Chrysler's moving downmarket to make up for the death of Plymouth. What once was a genuine luxury brand (35 years ago) is now becoming a Buick or an Oldsmobile; a good car for the money. The Chronos wouldn't have put Chrysler where it once was, of course, but it would've been a much more effective image car for the brand than the Prowler was for Plymouth.

As for the Smart car, it's amazing that they're still bothering with it after however many years of failure. Surely Plymouth made more profit that this thing is.

It seems like the two aspects of Chrysler that DC isn't screwing around with are Dodge trucks and Jeep. They might make some bad choices, but they're not completely stupid, it would seem.

venom

Dodge, however, might be making a comeback if all the rumors are true. This would be a great thing in my opinion, but I find it hard to believe. If they're making all Dodge trucks 2001 models this January because of their CAFE average, how can these rumors all be true? I've heard stories that the Copperhead, Venom, Charger (which had better damn well come out) and Christ, even a HemiCharger (!) are going to be made. If 2000 Neon sales are as poor as I've heard, there's no way that they could meet the CAFE average.

Enter the PT Cruiser. Of course part of their strategy with the PT is to get ahead of the CAFE average, obviously why it's been classified as a truck. But has there been any news about how well the promotional tour has gone? Not that I've heard. It seems like they're taking a lot on faith, even if the car IS a wonderful vehicle and a great value. There's nothing certain in the automobile industry.

I'd like to see the Charger, Venom, Copperhead, GT Cruiser, etc. made. I also would've liked to see an LH Fury or an RWD Neon-based Duster or 'cuda made. The Charger (and 300N, apparently) are almost certain, but in what incarnations? Are they seriously going to be putting this new hemi in them? Personally, I'd be happy with the supercharged 4.7, but a hemi would be an amazing thing.

John Bartell

In honor of the brand of iron that is about to be laid to rest...
Everyone should take a Mercedes out for a test,
Once around the neighborhood, pedal to the floor...
Don't be gentle, give it your all, and then some more,
Take some rubber off, those spongey soft tires...
Drive on some gravel, and through the dirt with those wires,
Take it back to the dealer, all dirty and wet...
Tell him it isn't a true Chrysler product yet,
It can never replace, or even come near...
All the memories we have of the Fury, and Belvedere,
So Schremp, take it away, without consumer concern...
Hopefully some day, Plymouth will return.

Mike Sealey

This isn't exactly new ground for me. I grew up in a MoPar family, and to be specific I guess we were a DeSoto family and probably would've stayed one had Ma kept making 'em.

I was born in '55 and wasn't really around for the shakedown of the independents in that decade. I don't remember new Packards; I have some vague memory of new Edsels but don't remember their end of the road as a big deal, but I do remember DeSoto's demise as a big deal, even as Mom was tempted by those new Newports.

And I certainly remember Imperial being folded back into upscale-Chrysler-modelhood, fading away, coming back to my surprise in '81 and finding it impossible to recapture past glories.

So we've all seen this coming for a while, having gone through it a few times now.

It was pretty much a lock when the PT Cruiser was announced for production as a Chrysler. Who could expect the new corporate masters to recognize "PT" as a connection to the Plymouth truck lines of the '30s and '40s?

Maybe it was when the Breeze showed up so long after the Cirrus/Stratus, or when we realized Ma never got around to offering a Plymouth version of the original LH cars.

Maybe it was even further back than that, when the R-body platform appeared in Newport/New Yorker/5th Avenue form, and Dodge had a St. Regis version, but it took over a year for the R-body Gran Fury to appear...

And I've heard some make a strong case for the Cordoba being the beginning of the end.

But I'm left with all these memories.

The sailing ship logos all over Uncle Frank's '47 P-15 Deluxe 3-window coupe that fascinated me so much as a kid...

My first car, a '57 Sport Suburban 6-passenger painted in Adventurer colors, and the way it looked like it was ready to fly to another planet even in station wagon configuration...

My first hot rod, a '63 Sport Fury 2drHT, originally equipped with a 361 and later home of a screaming 383 out of a totalled '69 Road Runner...

The '63 Signet I bought as a second car when I married my first wife, which later got stolen, abused for about a month, and was finally recovered a little worse for wear but still running strong...

The seemingly unkillable '73 Satellite that I drove as a cab in Seattle in the '70s, putting almost half of its 340K on it myself. I still find myself driving this one in some of my dreams...

All the A-bodies I've owned, I believe over half of which were Valiants, and seemingly all of which met their demises through rust or other too-much-to-fix factors even as their Slant Sixes and Torqueflites remained indestructible...

So the demise of yet another American icon isn't exactly a new deal any more, and one man's memories ultimately only belong to one man.

On the other hand, this is the first time I've seen a make of car killed that had sold over twenty million copies over a seventy-year period, and one can't help feeling that with numbers like that they should've been able to keep trying...

Jim Deane

The end of Plymouth is most unfortunate; I see Chrysler (C-P-D-J, not including Daimler side) having the biggest problem not with a perceived imageless Plymouth, but with an overambitious division--Dodge. Dodge as an entity has acted like a completely separate car company; it has forcibly entered into markets that are not traditionally Dodge's turf, such as the economy scale cars (Plymouth) and Sport Utilty Vehicles (separate from 'Trucks') that are Jeep turf. Dodge edges in and makes sure that there is little that will differentiate its low end cars from the Plymouth versions, and little that will differentiate the high end cars from Chryslers.

I suppose my underlying theme is that the division that always covered its ass, played catch-up, and couldn't really figure out what it's supposed to do with itself, has taken the status as "favored son" and killed its sibling. I suppose the only comfort is that now, with the angle that Dodge has taken over the past fifteen years or so, with Dodge's siblings Plymouth and DeSoto out of the way, it can turn to kill its adopted parent. That will be a tougher fight, but it will be interesting to watch.

One of the most unfortunate consequences is that many Plymouth loyalists, myself included, can not bring ourselves to purchase non-Plymouth Mopars. I know that DC thinks that the "me's" of the world will just toddle on over to the Dodge dealership to pick up an identical car; unfortunately for them, if it doesn't say "Plymouth", I won't buy from DC.

I suppose it is on to Mitsubishi, Subaru, and BMW for me. Maybe even Ford or GM. As long as it isn't a DC product.

Well, at least the questions are answered!

Jim Deane
1998 Plymouth (extinct) Neon Expresso (extinct) DOHC (extinct) Coupe (extinct).

"Mr. C-Body"

In the great decades of the 60s and 70s, Dodge and Plymouth became much closer together product platform wise that they had before. In prior times, there was more differences in the Chrysler platforms between Plymouth and Dodge (basically wheelbase and trim). These differences evaporated by the start of the 1980s. Even when the K-cars came out, the Plymouth and Dodge variations carried on the brand differences with Dodge being the more upscale of the two although the two were basically the same vehicles otherwise.

The usual case was that Americans did not know how to make a profitable small car until Chrysler did it with the Neon. That was typically the territory of the Japanese.

I suspect that once the suspected cost study of what it was costing to keep Plymouth sailing made some circuits among managers who kept their noses brown, the financial viability of the demise gained some credibility among some numbers people and grew from there until someone upstairs said "NO." That someone is probably now or getting ready to be gone.

Plymouth could be a good free-standing vehicle line with the minivans, PT Cruiser, Prowler, Breeze, Neon, and sub-Neon. That's most of the current platforms except for the LH cars anyway (and that variation would not be too hard or expensive to do either--maybe that was another omen that Plymouth was going back then that they didn't get a version of it). And if you look at what Chevrolet has on the ground now and sells, the only thing missing would be the LH variation anyway.

Everything that Chrysler has on the ground is technically superior to most anything GM has (and the Chrysler products have been selling well also) so all it would take to keep Plymouth around is for someone to decide that it needs to be done and make it happen. The marketing people could take some cues from the Impala campaign and have some great things. But that should have happened several years ago.

The Eagle LH car should have done better than it did and probably could have if it had been a Plymouth instead.

As always, marketing can make or break a product and/or support hidden agendas of internal execs who want particular things to happen to give credibility to their hidden agendas (for career reasons) to have a product fail in the marketplace.

To me, adding successively less expensive versions to the Chrysler line tends to take away from the status of the marque. I support the reasoning behind there being a Chrysler version of the larger platforms so they can mirror GM in most cases, but trying to add "economy" versions to the mix might be ill-advised (although there are some who want a bargain basement version of some things).

Kind of like the seminars put on by people with the new ideas to make money in car sales. They make the rounds promoting their new ways to sell cars for more profit which also allegedly make the customers roll over and play dead. They charge something like $500+ for a one day seminar (per person). If a general manager is interested in staying on top of what's new, he'll send at least one of his people over there. Or send just one over there to see what it's all about. Either way, the presenters make money irregardless of if what they present is any good.

One of our guys who worked for us many years and went to a larger dealership was sent to one of these deals by the second dealer to see what it was all about. They spent a whole day in the meeting that basically said not to give a customer a price quote over the phone, make them come to the dealership. So our guy came back and used that strategy in reverse--if everyone else is not going to quote prices on the phone, we will.

They figured up a good price on the vehicles and used that pricing structure. They basically had no competition so it was probably a few hundred more than what they normally would do but they sold more cars than the competition for about six months until the other dealers discovered what was happening. The customers also related that they were the only ones who would talk price on the phone so the strategy worked.

David Zatz

Note: Those who believe James Holden honestly had not yet made a final decision when he told the press that, well, there had been no final decision, should note that owners were sent a professionally printed brochure about the change from Plymouth to Chrysler, apparently on the day of the announcement. Since it does take time to print hundreds of thousands of these things, I am beginning to think that Chrysler is not quite on the level with its owners and enthusiasts.

The Plymouth brand, now confined to the United States, long ago was joined at the hip with the Chrysler brand, so that nearly every Plymouth dealer is also a Chrysler dealer. The brand also lost every unique car they had long ago (except the Prowler); now, Plymouths are not even smaller-wheelbase Dodges (as with the Valiant, which in itself was only made a Plymouth to keep the brand alive). This led to the loss of Chrysler as a high-end brand. Without snob appeal or any sort of exclusive image, Chrysler finds it much harder to sell high-tag vehicles than, say, Lincoln or Lexus - whose rebadged Tauruses (Continentals) and Camrys sold quite well.

Is the death of Plymouth really necessary? Probably not. General Motors is wedded to their multiple-brand approach; so is Ford, with its Jaguar, Volvo, Aston Martin, Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, and sometimes Merkur brands. Honda, Toyota, and Nissan all have upper-level brands in the US as well as standard brands (Acura, Lexus, and Infiniti). Chrysler has three identical brands, and Jeep. Maybe the problem is not that Plymouth is useless; maybe the problem is that Plymouth has been ineptly marketed. Almost as ineptly as Chrysler.

Since Chrysler had at one point decided to make Plymouth value and Dodge performance, why not really try that strategy? It never really had a chance outside of advertising spin. So make Plymouth the value leader. Make Dodge the performance brand. Keep Chrysler for vehicles priced over $20,000 and tune them for a luxury ride (except for the 300M). Make the one most luxurious vehicle an Imperial. Make Imperial a separate brand, sold only through the very best dealerships - measured by Five Star compliance, customer surveys, and lack of customer complaints. And make Dodge available to Chrysler and Plymouth dealers so that each brand can have a unique car, or at least a car available with unique options. Only make Dodge Neon R/Ts. Only have one model overlap between Chrysler and the lower end models. Never let people buy the exact same car from any two of the three marques - make sure the premium options are only on the Chrysler, the strip-down models only on the Plymouth. And do a good job of differentiating the models - the LH series is an excellent example. (Or the Lexus/Camry/Avalon).

It's a thought. It's worth a try. There's still time for Chrysler to turn around and turn this into a major publicity stunt - "due to popular demand, we are bringing back Coke Classic!" Free advertising for years.

I know I'm trying to push a loaded dumpster. But it's all I can do.

I'll miss Plymouth. On the lighter side, in 25 years, maybe sooner, every Plymouth owner will be eligible to join the Plymouth Owner's Club.

On the darker side, one wonders how long Daimler will keep Chrysler itself around, if their only interest is commercial vehicles and financial institutions. Chrysler Credit and Dodge Ram may be the only bits of Chrysler to survive twenty years from now. The AMC curse is still at work... but at least Daimler didn't destroy Chrysler's parts warehouses. Yet.

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