Plymouth's "Transitional" 1930 30U
1929 had been a banner year for the auto industry, despite the fact that the stock market had crashed in October, plunging the world into the worst depression in modern history. The real effects of the Depression were only just starting to be felt.
Plymouth entered the market with a car that can best be described as “confusing;” while almost totally new, it looked like the same car as in 1929. It sat on a new frame, had a completely revised engine, a new wide band radiator, and most importantly, an all steel body; yet, except for the new radiator shell, it looked almost identical to the cars it was replacing.
And as the model year continued, the car changed ever so slightly, in some cases incorporating items that were being developed for the totally new car that was to replace it, the Model PA.
Production of the Model 30U, as it was called, began just three short days after the model U was shut down on, April 5, 1930. As was Chrysler's practice at the time, the 30U did not carry a model year designation - for the first two and a half months the car was a 1930, then on July 1st, with car serial number 1530245, the car became a 1931 model, which is how the 30U remained until the end of production on June 8, 1931.
The Model 30U enjoyed a 14 month production run, one of the longest in Plymouth’s history (surpassed by the P15 built from late 1945 through the spring of 1949), yet it was one of the few Plymouths for many years where sales did not exceed those of the previous year. By the time the last 30U rolled off the assembly line, only 75,510 cars had been built (serial number sequences give a figure of 75,513 while body production figures show only 75,208 units, but that figure does not include bare chassis), down considerably from the Model U.
While others were struggling to survive, Walter Chrysler was forging ahead, plunging $2.5 million into a completely new car (the PA). He made one shrewd move to ensure that more prospective buyers would see his new Plymouth cars: while Plymouth had been the sole property of Chrysler franchised dealers, effective with the Model 30U, the car would be sold by all franchised dealers by Dodge and DeSoto dealers as well.
To reduce production costs, the 30U shared many components with the DeSoto Model CK and the Chrysler Model CJ, although these cars were six cylinders while the Plymouth remained the Corporation’s only four cylinder line.
On its introduction to the public May 10th, 1930, the 30U had six body styles, including a four door sedan, a sport roadster with rumble seat, a phaeton, a business coupe, a rumble seat coupe, and new to the Plymouth line, a true convertible coupe with rumble seat. The convertible was easily distinguished by its fixed windshield posts and folding landau arms. The true die-hards could still opt for the roadster, with its snap-on side curtains, but such open body styles were fast losing their popularity.
Business Coupe prices were slightly reduced by the time the 30U achieved 1931 model status, and two more body styles were added, a two door sedan and a business roadster without rumble seat (the windshield posts on the business roadster were fixed while those on the sport roadster were hinged). For some long forgotten reason, the phaeton suddenly became the “Sport Phaeton.”
Also added to the line was a short lived Commercial Sedan, a two door sedan with a door fitted into the rear. The interior was a gutted body with accomodations for the driver, while the rear quarter windows were fitted with blanks on which the business name could be placed. This car was designed with the small businessman in mind — the type of fellow that could only afford one vehicle but needed it for two different purposes. For a slight extra cost, the buyer could purchase a rear seat to convert the vehicle into a passenger vehicle. The window blanks were easily removeable and outside of the extra door at the rear, the car took on all the appearances of a normal two door sedan.
The high initial price tag of the Commercial Sedan, $750 to start with, later reduced to $675, did little to attract buyers, and only 80 of them were sold. The idea did not lose its appeal with Chrysler, and the Commercial Sedan conversions would re-appear in 1935.
While retaining the styling flavor of the Q and U models which it replaced, the most striking difference of the new 30U Plymouth car was the wide chrome radiator shell and an externally mounted horn on the headlamp bar. It is hard today to believe that Chrysler's thin band radiator shell was controversial, but bowing to public pressure, the 30U once again looked like the rest of the cars on the market.
The external horn, a Klaxon Model 16, has left restorers of the 30U in a small dilemma — where was it mounted? Unfortunately for Plymouth, many of the published “photos” of the car were actually renderings — and the artists, in many cases, took liberties; some showed the horn was mounted dead center on the headlamp bar, while others showed it hanging beneath the bar. In reality, the only mounting was above the bar.
The hood louvers were now stamped into a flat side panel rather than in a raised panel, another of the "major" differences of the 30U over the U. The louvers were split into two groupings, the front group containing 15 louvers, while the rear contained only 14.
The new “Airwing” fenders closely resembled those of years past, but they were made of slightly heavier material on most body styles; some, such as the roadster and phaeton, used the same rear fenders as the Q and U. Other body parts would also be used between the model years, including the doors and rear half of the phaeton body and the splash aprons above the running boards if the car was equipped with sidemount fenders.
While the Q and U Plymouths had used a composite body (metal skin over a wood frame), the 30U became the first Plymouth to feature an all steel body. Although the parts books indicate different part numbers for such items as doors, there remains some question as to whether or not 30U doors will interchange with those of the Q and U models.
Another interesting aspect of the 30U Plymouths is the rear window shape: early cars were built with a rectangular rear window while later cars were fitted with an oval shaped window (which would be a PA trademark). Exactly when this change took place is not known.
The headlamps remained basically the same as those of previous cars, but the lamp buckets were now painted rather than chrome-plated. Early cars were fitted with the old style "P" hubcaps, while later cars (around serial number 1558573) got the new style that featured the word “Plymouth” inside a raised parollelogram design. Wood-wheel equipped cars saw a change from the demountable type rims at the same designated serial number. Wire wheel equipped vehicles saw two changes: cars up to serial number 1518228 used a 5 lug bolt wheel, while most cars after that (with some exceptions) to car 1558001 used a 6 lug bolt pattern; and cars built after 1558001 returned once again to a 5 bolt wheel pattern but there are undocumented changes in these two 5 bolt wire wheels.
Under the hood, the venerable old four was completely revamped, starting with a 1/4'" increase in the bore; displacement rose to 196 cubic inches. With a 4.6 to 1 compression ratio, horsepower increased from 45 to 48 at 2,800 rpm. Torque was 120 ft.-lbs. at 1,200 rpm.
The crankshaft and camshaft were both beefed up and would see use through the 1932 PB models and after engine number U276061, all pistons were fitted with four, rather than three, rings for better oil control.
Early 30U engines were still cooled by thermo-syphon cooling, while fuel was supplied by a vacuum tank, but by July the engines had been fitted with fuel (possibly around car number 1517571) and water pumps (parts books indicate there was some type of changes at engine number U220883 and again at engine number U223883).
The new Plymouth carried a U series engine but to differentiate between the old U engine and the new, beefier U engine, engine numbers ran in a different sequence. The 1929 U numbers ended at U110,000, while the 30U's U series engine began at engine number U200,001 and ran to U277,000.
All 30Us were fitted with the spur gear type transmission of years past while power was transmitted from the 8 7/8" single disc clutch plate to the semi floating spiral bevel gear differential (4.3 to 1 ratio) via fabric universal discs, rather than more conventional universal joints.
These discs, which may have provided less shudder at take off, had to be in perfect balance or the car would set up a vibration at any speed, a factor which has kept many of these early cars from seeing regular road use. (It was easy to substitute some Chrysler pieces to convert the 30U to a regular U-jointed car; people who have done it claim greatly improves the car and does away with the vibration problems).
Other changes to the 30U included a frame that was just shy of two inches longer than that used previously, the reduction of the radiator capacity from 3 1/2 to 2 1/2 gallons, and an increase in the engine oil capacity from 4 to 6 quarts. Tire size remained at 4.75x19", the same as that used on the later model U cars.
The car was sprung on all four corners by semi-elliptic springs; the front axle remained the same, but two styles of drag links were fitted, the early 30U sharing the double spring type as used on the Q and U, while later 30Us switched to a single spring type which would continue in use through the PB.
At the rear of the frame hung an 11 gallon gas tank; a new electric fuel gauge sat in the dashboard, the first such gauge fitted to any low priced automobile.
The change to a steel body was not a first for the low priced field (Ford and Dodge had both had all steel bodies for many years), but it was a change that the entire industry would eventually adopt. All body panels were now welded together into single huge panels resulting in one rigid structure; gone forever would be the problems of wood rot. The steel body also resulted in a much safer automobile and Plymouth would soon capitalize on that, displaying various corporate cars being rolled over or driven over the side of cliffs, only to be driven away under their own power with minor damage to the vehicle itself. The steel body, with Plymouth's four wheel hydraulic brakes, would become major selling points of the car for years to come. (General Motors wouldn't switch to all steel bodies until the late 1930s; Chevrolet finally switched to hydraulic brakes on its Master series cars in 1936 while Ford wouldn't get hydraulic brakes until 1939).
Bumpers, front and rear, were of the twin bar variety similiar to those used in years past and were an option—although probably all cars shipped had bumpers, the cost was added to the advertised cost of the car, a practice that would continue well into the mid-thirties.
The interior of the 30U was mostly unchanged, although the instrument panel was slightly redesigned, the gauges nestled in the center of the panel in delicately designed nacelles.
One item missing from the panel was the medallion type Fedco serial number plate. With the 30U models, the Fedco system of serial numbering was abandoned in favor of a strict numerical system, with the serial number plate attached to the right front door post, where it would remain until after World War II.
Upholstery was mohair, although open cars were fitted with leather, as were the rumble seat cushions. Buyers could probably also get leather in sedans for additional cost. Early car buyers could improve the ride of their new car by opting for the extra cost hydraulic shock absorbers, but these became standard.
The values and virtues of the new Plymouth did not go unnoticed by the dwindling number of new car buyers. Plymouth had ended the 1929 sales year in tenth place. Despite the poor sales showing of the 30U in comparison to the U, Plymouth still managed to climb two notches, to eighth place by the end of 1930; but the stage was set for Plymouth's dramatic takeover of third place in 1931.
The availability of the new Plymouth in Chrysler, Dodge, and DeSoto dealerships had not hurt. Plymouth now had a network of some 7,000 dealers (some sources claim over 10,000 dealers); Walter Chrysler's strategy helped the new Plymouth in the market, and also helped keep some of his other dealers alive, by giving them a low priced car to offer to what few new car buyers there would be.
Years later, this arrangement would work in reverse; when a prospective Plymouth customer entered the dealership, any smart salesman would soon steer the prospect to a higher priced Dodge or DeSoto to increase his sales commission. Special Interest Autos would come to dub the Plymouth as “Always A Bridesmaid, Never The Bride.”
Worse, the Plymouth would lose it own separate identity, becoming a “Chrysler-Plymouth,” before disappearing entirely. It was a sad thing to happen to the Corporation’s bread and butter car.