by Jim Benjaminson. Copyrighted by Jim Benjaminson. Reprinted by permission.
Originally published as a print book by Motorbooks International
If ever the time was ripe to introduce a new car in the low-priced field, 1928 was the year to do it. From 1919 to modern times—excepting two years—Ford and Chevrolet held a one-two strangle hold on the market. Only 1920 and 1921 saw Dodge and Buick respectively bump Chevrolet from its traditional number two spot. But there was trouble in the Ford camp—old Henry reluctantly shut down the production lines in 1927 to retool for a new car to replace his antiquated but beloved Model T. With Ford's giant Rouge plant shut down, Chevrolet seized the opportunity to grab the number one spot for itself. Even after the 1928 introduction of the Model A Ford, Chevrolet still managed to stay ahead of Ford except for model years 1930, 1935, 1957, and 1959.
The number three spot has been more volatile. Between 1928 and 1970 that position has been held by Willys-Overland's Whippet, Hudson-Essex, Buick, Plymouth, regained by Buick, returned to Plymouth, seized by Rambler, then Pontiac, and finally returned to Plymouth.
For months Detroit newspapers had reported that a new car would soon enter production, taking aim at the low-priced market. As late as June 14 (the day production of the new car began) Motor Age was still speculating about the new car to be named Plymouth. The manufacturer remained a mystery until the car's unveiling at New York's Madison Square Garden on July 7.
"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" read the press releases.
Unruffled, Henry Ford told Chrysler, "Walter, you'll go broke. Chevrolet and I have that market all sewed up."
Walter Percy Chrysler had come a long way from his birthplace in the sleepy little community of Wamego, Kansas. Born April 2, 1875, Chrysler lived in Wamego just three years before his father, an engineer with the Union Pacific Railroad, moved the family to nearby Ellis where Walter would grow to manhood.
Chrysler realized early that he had a passion for anything mechanical, so it was natural that by 1892 he was working for the railroad as well. As roundhouse clean-up boy he made ten cents an hour. Not one to complain, Chrysler did the job to the best of his ability. What the job lacked in monetary rewards was more than made up for in "benefits"- watching and learning all he could about what made the great locomotives tick. Eventually, he took a job as an apprentice machinist (his pay was cut in half — but it wouldn't be the last time he would take a reduction in pay to get a better job). From there he moved to machinist, then to general foreman, finally rising to the highest rank of all, master mechanic. Bouncing around the country from job to job and railroad to railroad, he became, in 1908, the youngest Superintendent of Motive Power the Chicago Great Western Railroad had ever had.
He and his wife, childhood sweetheart Della Forker, settled into a comfortable lifestyle in Oelwein, Iowa. Chrysler's work often took him away from home, and it was on one of his many trips to Chicago that the hand of fate would point young Chrysler in a different direction. Visiting the 1908 Chicago Automobile Show, Chrysler fell madly in love with an automobile. Resplendent in ivory with crimson red leather upholstery, its siren song kept calling Chrysler back for "one more look". Before the show was over he knew he had to have it. The car, a Locomobile, cost $5,000 cash-he had just $700 in the bank.
After much pleading and coaxing, Chrysler persuaded Ralph Van Vechten, a banker friend, to loan him the money and the shiny Locomobile was loaded aboard a freight car for the trip back to Oelwein. Now all he had to do was tell his beloved Della what he had done!
Relating the incident to his biographer, Boyden Sparkes, Chrysler told how he began to clean out the barn behind the house to make room for the Locomobile. When Della asked what be has doing he told her about the car, that he had "gone in hock for more money than I would make in a year" to buy it. When asked her reaction Chrysler replied, "She did not scold me, but it did seem to me that when she closed the kitchen door, it made a little more noise than usual."
When the automobile arrived in Oelwein, Chrysler had the car unloaded, climbed behind the wheel, and had a teamster pull the car to his home — Chrysler did not know how to drive! Once in the barn Chrysler set about to learn everything he could about how it worked and how it was built. He wrote (in Life of an American Workman) "I wanted the machine so I could learn about it. Why not? I was a machinist and these self-propelled vehicles were by all odds the most astonishing machines that had ever been offered to man."
For three months the Locomobile never moved out of the barn until finally, at the coaxing of Della, Chrysler announced the car would come out on that Saturday afternoon. Word spread throughout the neighborhood and a large crowd of friends and neighbors gathered to watch the occasion. As Chrysler recounted in Life of an American Workman, "The big touring car bucked like a mustang saddled for the first time. We shot forward; as some of the neighbors whooped and yelled, she bucked again and lurched into a ditch, rolled half a length farther and stalled, axle deep, in my neighbor's garden patch."
A team of horses pulled the stranded Locomobile from the muck, and after settling with his neighbor for damages to the garden, Chrysler again mounted his great iron steed and proceeded at full clip out of town, where he narrowly missed hitting a cow. Making right angles at every section line, Chrysler made his way back to the barn where he and his neighbors pushed the machine back inside. By this time it was 6:00 p.m. He strode into the house, took a hot bath, and went to bed, exhausted by the trials of the afternoon — but Walter P. Chrysler had learned how to drive.
The Chrysler's moved from Oelwein in 1909 when Walter took the job as works manager for the American Locomotive Company. It was at ALCO that he came to the attention of James J. Storrow, a director of ALCO and former president of General Motors. ALCO had been drowning in red ink until Chrysler's take over of the locomotive manufacturing company.
The Buick division of GM was in a similarly desperate situation, and at Storrow's urging, Chrysler visited GM president Charles Nash. Nash, a notorious tightwad, offered Chrysler a job paying $6,000 a year — half what he was making at ALCO. Chrysler accepted the job without hesitation. Arriving at Buick, Chrysler found a plant turning out forty-five cars per day. Within weeks, after revamping the plant, Buick was churning out 200 cars a day. By 1912, Chrysler was president of the Buick Division. In the meantime he had hit up skinflint Charlie for a raise — to $25,000 yearly with a demand for double that the next year.
Chrysler’s stay at GM saw him rise to a salary of $500,000 per year, but he found it exceedingly hard to work under William Durant. Durant's undisciplined management style (he had founded GM in 1908, lost it to bankers, then recaptured it after founding Chevrolet and using its stock to regain control) was too much for Chrysler, and in 1919, at the age of forty-five, he retired.
Chrysler’s retirement didn't last long—at the urging of Ralph Van Vechten, Chrysler took the reigns of the ailing Willys Corporation. His "inducement" as he called the financial package, was a salary of 1 million dollars per year with a two year contract. Chrysler’s first act of business was to cut John North Willys' salary in half! It was at Willys that Walter Chrysler first met his "Three Musketeers"—the engineering team of Fred Zeder, Owen Skelton, and Carl Breer.
Political infighting at Willys caused Chrysler to pack up his family and head for Europe during the summer of 1921. He returned in time for John Willys to throw the company into receivership. Disgusted by the turn of events, Chrysler again headed for Europe, returning just prior to the Willys receivership auction at which he and the "Three Musketeers" hoped to purchase the huge Elizabeth, New Jersey, plant—including a prototype car they intended to produce under the "Chrysler" name.
Durant, who by this time had been ousted from General Motors a second time, had other plans, outbidding the Chrysler interests for the plant and the rights to build the car. Durant's third empire, Durant Motors, saw the "Chrysler" produced as the Flint. The Flint, along with the Durant and the Star, was short lived, and Durant's third house of cards soon came tumbling down.
For a third time, Walter Chrysler packed up his family and headed for Europe—this time to be called back to work his magic on ailing Maxwell Chalmers. Meanwhile, Zeder, Skelton, and Breer had been hard at work on another new car. At Chrysler's urging, they moved from their New Jersey headquarters and settled into the old Chalmers complex in Highland Park, Michigan, on June 6, 1923.
While work on the Zeder, Skelton, Breer car progressed, Chrysler heard that Studebaker was looking for a car. Chrysler invited Studebaker executives to look at the new car, and the deal was nearly clinched when Chrysler told Fred Zeder of his plans. Zeder exploded, "Walter, if you sign that contract without my signature I'll call Carl Breer in Detroit and have every blueprint destroyed!"
Despite Zeder's past association with Studebaker, this was one car he was determined to see built as a Chrysler. Chrysler withdrew his offer to Studebaker, and on June 6, 1925, Maxwell-Chalmers officially became the Chrysler Corporation.
Within four short years, Chrysler's empire included the huge Dodge Brothers complex, Chrysler and Imperial, DeSoto, Plymouth, and the Fargo line of commercial cars. In addition, workmen in New York City were building what would, briefly, be the tallest building in the world, the 1,046 ft, seventy seven story Chrysler Building (still the tenth tallest building in the world). Walter P. Chrysler had come out of retirement for good.
"Chrysler Springs A Surprise. Sets new style of 'dress' of cars—unveils the Plymouth, a smart new four," read the headlines in the July 7, 1928, edition of Automobile Topics. Motor Age, published two days earlier, gave the new Plymouth prominence over its parent, proclaiming "New Plymouth and Improved Chrysler for 1929." Badged as the "Chrysler-Plymouth," the new cars were slotted at the bottom end of the Chrysler lineup. Like Henry Ford's Model A, which "borrowed" its styling from the Lincoln, the new Plymouth looked very much like the Chryslers. With a 109 inch wheelbase, the car fell into line with the Chrysler "50" and "52" that it replaced.
At $725 the Plymouth sedan was considerably higher priced than its rivals from Ford ($585) and Chevrolet ($495). Fairly conventional in styling, its "Silver Dome" 45hp engine was capable of propelling the car to speeds of 60mph. Improvements over the Chrysler-Maxwell engine included full force-feed lubrication, a special manifold, larger diameter chrome-nickel intake vales, crankcase ventilation, aluminum-alloy ventilated bridge pistons, silchrome steel exhaust valves, friction-type impulse neutralizer for vibration dampening, and an oil filter and air cleaner as standard equipment. In an industry first for low-price cars, four wheel hydraulic brakes were standard. Plymouth's six body styles were composite (wood over metal) for its first two model years.
Known as the Model Q, the cars were considered 1929 models by the factory. Q production continued until February 4, 1929, when it was replaced by the Model U. It took a sharp eye to detect the differences between the two cars; most noticeable were the bumpers which remained two pieces but were now rounded, rather than flat, without the twin horizontal grooves found on the Q. Headlamps were changed from Depress Beam to Twolite, the hubcaps were larger, and the radiator nameplate read simply "Plymouth" rather than "Chrysler Plymouth." Tire size remained 4.75x20in, later replaced by 19in wheels. Wood wheels were standard with wires optional.
The biggest differences occurred underhood. The old Maxwell four had been completely revamped, moving the exhaust pipe from the rear of the engine to the front; the distributor drive housing was changed from a vertical to an angled position, front and rear main bearings were bigger, and the stroke increased 1/4in. Despite the changes, horsepower remained at forty-five. Additionally, prices were dropped for most body styles.
In April 1929, Plymouth celebrated its first "Thousand Car Day," building 1,002 vehicles. A seventh body style, a Deluxe sedan, was added. For his extra twenty dollars the Deluxe buyer got better upholstery and cowl lamps with bright trim cowl molding. Cars built after July 18, 1929, were considered to be 1930 models.
To meet the demand for the Plymouth, a new assembly plant was built in Detroit at the corner of Lynch Road and Mt. Elliott Avenue. Running 2,490ft long and containing 22.7acres of floor space under one roof and on one level, it was the largest automobile plant in the world. A second assembly plant, located across the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario, supplied cars for the Canadian trade. Model Q production totaled 60,270 U.S. and 5,827 Canadian-built cars, Model U production raised those figures to 99,178 U.S. and 9,167 Canadian built, pushing Plymouth to tenth place in the industry.
An "improved" Model 30U went into production April 5, 1930. With the exception of heavier fenders, a prominent radiator shell, and an all-steel body, the 30U looked much like the Q and U models it replaced. The 30U was considered a 1930 model until car #1530345 was built on July 1, then the 30U officially became a 1931 model. Despite March price cuts of sixty-five to seventy-five dollars per car and a fourteen-month production run, sales slipped to just 75,510 cars.
By now the nation's economy was in the strangle hold of the Great Depression. Realizing the position his dealers were in, Chrysler opened the Plymouth franchise to all his dealers (formerly Plymouth had been the exclusive property of Chrysler franchises), dualing Plymouth with Dodge and DeSoto dealers. The move served two purposes: the number of Plymouth dealerships swelled to over 7,000, and the low-priced Plymouth helped Dodge and DeSoto dealers stay alive when they found it impossible to sell their higher-priced cars. In its first year, one of every 100 cars sold had been a Plymouth. In its second year the ratio had risen to one in every fifty. Within another two years Plymouth would be the third best-selling car in the country, and by 1935 one of every four new cars sold would be a Plymouth.
The 30U proved to be a transitional model. Differences between early and late cars include a
switch to oval rear windows (a Plymouth styling mark through the PA models), the addition of water and fuel pumps (replacing thermo-syphon cooling and a vacuum tank fuel supply), and the replacement of driveshaft leather "discs" with conventional universal joints. The 30U engine's bore increased 1/4in with a subsequent increase from 45hp to 48hp. Bearings were again beefed up, and midway through production a switch was made to four rings per piston. Prices became more competitive, a 30U sedan costing $15 less than a comparable Model A and $50 less than a Chevrolet—while both of those marques continued to lose market share, Plymouth climbed two more notches, to eighth place.
The 30U was replaced in May 1931 by the PA series, a car that would march Plymouth directly into the number three sales spot—a position it would occupy for the next twenty-five years. The "Big Two" had become the "Big Three." Walter Chrysler, legend has it, was so proud of the PA that he drove the third car off the line and headed across town to visit Henry and Edsel Ford in Dearborn. After showing the car to the Ford's, he presented them the keys and bailed a cab for home. (Chrysler Corporation's own history Plymouth, Its First 40 Years (and subsequent fiftieth anniversary edition), Langworth and Nordby's Complete History of Chrysler Corporation, and Nevin and Hill's Ford: Expansion and Challenger: 1915-1933 all repeat this tale—but it may be more legend than fact.
Corporate records show car number 1570303—the third PA Plymouth built—was shipped to Chicago. There are, of course, other possible explanations. The car, if the incident actually occurred, could have been a pre-production prototype, or it may have been the third car built on a particular day and not necessarily the third car ever built.)
The Hagamans’ 1932 Plymouth
Styling of the PA was more rounded, the oval rear window again serving as a Plymouth trademark. Radiators featured the first built-in grill and were capped by a highly detailed shortbody "Flying Lady" cap. The four cylinder engine remained at 196ci but output rose from 48hp to 56hp. While the factory claimed 0-40mph in 9.7sec, the English magazine The Motor couldn't match those figures, taking 13sec just to reach 30mph, and 20sec to hit 40mph.
The Flying Lady — a mermaid — was designed by Avard Fairbanks, creator of the Dodge ram symbol, and symbolized the smooth ride and power of the new car.
Again, it was under the hood where the greatest changes had taken place with Chrysler's introduction of "Floating Power." Called the "Fourth Milestone" in motoring by Walter Chrysler (the others included electric self-starting, enclosed bodies, and four-wheel hydraulic brakes), Floating Power was the work of Owen Skelton and the result of testing nearly 1,000 different mounts.
Mounting the engine at three points—one point high (directly beneath the water pump), the other two points 1mv (on the transmission housing)—the engine was suspended along its own center of gravity. Mounted in "sandwiches" of rubber, the engine could shake and vibrate but these vibrations were not transmitted to the frame or passenger compartment. Plymouth was also the only manufacturer among the low-priced three to offer free wheeling (free wheeling allowed shifting without clutching).
Louis B. Miller and co-drivers Earl Pribek and Russell Harding pulled a bone-stock PA sedan off the assembly line, fitted an auxiliary gas tank in place of the rear seat, and proceeded to set a transcontinental speed record from San Francisco to New York and back, covering the 6,287mi in 132hrs, 9min, at an average of 47.52mph.
PA production totaled more than 106,000 units including a stripped model called the PA Thrift and the upscale Deluxe sedan.
The last of the 4-cylinder Plymouths, the model PB went on line February 4, 1932, with ten body styles, including the largest line up of open cars ever offered by Plymouth. Unusual additions were a two door "Victoria" style convertible sedan and a long wheelbase 7 -passenger sedan. Both would be one year offerings. Although the 7 -passenger would return to the lineup in 1934 and continue in production through 1941.
The PB was truly the zenith of the 4-cylinder cars, with styling that made it look like an expensive car. Borrowing touches from the custom car builders, the PB hood stretched from the radiator shell up over the cowl to the windshield posts. Free standing headlights, slanting windshields, and front opening "suicide" doors set the PB apart from the PA models.
The old four, with the same bore and stroke as the PA, was now pumping out 65hp thanks to larger valves, improved manifolds, and a change in the spark advance curve. The PB would be the shortest lived model (with the exception of the war-shortened 1942 models), the last car coming off the line September 27, 1932. Within days the huge Lynch Road plant was stripped to the bare walls—forty five days and 9 million dollars later it would be back on line, as production began on Plymouths first 6-cylinder cars. To bring the new PC series 6-cylinder cars to market, every machine tool in the building had been replaced.
The new car made its mark on automotive history by being introduced November 2, 1932, to the dealer network via the Columbia Broadcasting Company radio network. The brain child of Joe
Frazer, the 1-l/2hr program went on the air at 1:00 p.m. narrated by popular commentator Lowell Thomas. The show featured Walter Chrysler, B. E. Hutchinson, Fred Zeder, and Harry G. Moock, along with race drivers Barney Oldfield and Billy Arnold. Daily newspapers the day prior to the broadcast read "Plymouth apologizes to the radio public for taking time on the air to tell 7,232 dealers about Walter P. Chrysler's new Plymouth." Coinciding with the broadcast were dealer meetings in twenty-five cities across the nation—each meeting coordinated by Western Union time clocks. At the appropriate time, the cars were unveiled simultaneously.
The biggest news, of course, was the new 6-cylinder engine. At 189ci, it had less displacement than the 4-cylinder it replaced but developed 70hp with standard 5.1:1 compression. An optional aluminum "Red Head" raised compression to 6.5:1 and horsepower to seventy-six. Free wheeling was continued with the addition of an automatic vacuum controlled clutch.
Sales of the six soared and then plummeted. Much of the blame has been placed on the PC's poor styling; its broad, chrome-plated radiator shell, pancake headlamps, and short 107in wheelbase made it look more like a 4-cylinder automobile than the PB it replaced. Realizing a disaster in the making, a crash program was undertaken to bring out a bigger car for the spring selling season.
Pulling a longer wheelbase chassis from the DP series Dodge, the Plymouth's wheelbase was increased to 112 inches. While the body remained the same, longer front fenders, a longer hood, and a more upright painted radiator shell were fitted. A 1- l/4in dip in the front bumper and bullet shaped stainless headlamps marked the differences between the PC and the new PD series.
The PC was discontinued in April, being replaced by an upgraded model known as the PCXX which looked much like the PD with the exception of painted headlamps and straight-bar bumpers. For the first time in its history Plymouth offered the buyer two models.
These changes, along with an improving economy and government-mandated used car allowances (the NADA book went into effect November 30, 1933) saw Plymouth sales climb to an all time high of 261,088 cars.
Nineteen thirty-four introduced two series—the Deluxe PE and "New Plymouth Six" model PF, boasting an enlarged engine (201ci, 77hp) and independent coil spring front suspension. These were joined in March by the straight axle PG series "Standard Six." Offered only as a coupe and two door sedan, the PG was aimed at the fleet market. April saw the addition of two special PE models, Plymouths first wood body station wagon (bodies built by U.S. Body & Forging) and the close coupled, blind quarter window Town Sedan with built in trunk. The PF series was replaced mid year by the PFXX "Special Six," which differed chiefly in the addition of a glove compartment, an ash tray on the instrument board, and a chrome-plated "windshield frame.
Sales continued to climb, surpassing the 1933 record. On August 8, 1934, another milestone was reached when the one millionth Plymouth, a PE four-door sedan, was driven off the line. Plymouth had accomplished in six short years what had taken Ford twelve years and Chevrolet nine years to achieve. The car was delivered to the Chrysler Pavilion at the Chicago World's Fair where it was ultimately delivered to Mrs. Ethel Miller of Turlock, California, who claimed to have purchased the first Plymouth sold in 1928. Final 1934 production came to 321,171 cars.
Nineteen thirty-five saw a switch to rounded styling, influenced no doubt by the Chrysler and DeSoto Airflows. Again, two models were offered, both coded the PJ series (a third PJ series built mostly in Canada was short lived). Unusual models for the year included two long wheelbase sedans, one, a long wheelbase five-passenger sedan with built-in trunk, the other a seven-passenger "flatback" sedan with folding jump seats. Oddly enough, the 1935 Plymouths returned to a straight-bar front axle. Engine improvements included full water jacketing and a vacuum controlled distributor. Sales surpassed 350,000 cars for the model year.
A painted center section in the grill and long, bullet-shaped painted headlamps were the most noticeable external changes for 1936. Side mounted spare tires made their last appearance. Unusual options included a removable pickup box for the business coupe and a hearse/ambulance conversion for touring sedan models. Plymouth sales exceeded 500,000 units (520,025) for the first time in 1936.
Plymouth hit the market with an all new car for 1937—a true "fat fender" automobile, again offered in two model series called the "Business" and "Deluxe." Safety styling saw all dash knobs placed below the instrument panel, the windshield crank knob folded flush (this was the last year windshields opened for ventilation), door handles curved inward, and the back of the front seat heavily padded. A greatly improved economy saw sales soar to an all time high of 566,128 cars (excluding commercial vehicles), a record that would stand until 1950. Setting another record was sales of Deluxe models, chosen by 86.7 percent of purchasers, the highest such percentage ever in Plymouth sales history. The building of the two millionth Plymouth, a Deluxe Touring Sedan, also took place. Number two million also went to Mrs. Ethel Miller of Turlock, California. Nineteen thirty seven also marked Chrysler's recognition of the United Auto Workers Union following an eighteen day strike.
Plymouth rolled out its mildly restyled 1938 "Jubilee" models with high expectations for another banner sales year. Instead, the company was slapped in the face by a brief, severe recession. Sales throughout the auto industry slumped by nearly 50 percent. A shortened grill, bug-eye headlamps (which were repositioned mid-year), and a 12 percent price hike all helped keep buyers away from the showrooms. By years end, sales had dropped to 285,704 vehicles. Even a change in model names (the "Business" was now called the "Road King") didn't help.
For the Chrysler family, 1938 also proved to be a bad year. Walter was stricken with a circulatory ailment in May and was still convalescing when his beloved wife Della died of a cerebral hemorrhage on August 8. Walter had retired from active participation in Chrysler in 1935, though he would make a few more public appearances on its behalf.
A completely restyled Plymouth hit the showrooms early in September 1939—the first of any of the new cars to make their appearance. With a deeply prowed front end and two-piece vee'd windshield, few people realized that the 1939s were built on the old 1937-38 body shells. Of the entire Chrysler lineup, Plymouth was the only to offer any open models, including a convertible coupe with the industry's first power-operated top and a four door convertible sedan (the body was the same as used on the 1937-38 Chrysler and DeSoto convertible sedans).
Lower prices, an improved economy, and dashing good looks saw the 1939 models striving to recapture lost ground. Column shifting (on the Deluxe only) and a new "Safety Signal" speedometer that changed colors with the vehicle's speed helped Plymouth gamer an Eastern Safety Conference Award.
Plymouth returned to independent front suspension for 1939, which would also be the last year for rumble seats.
As the first of the 1940 models rolled down the assembly line August 8, 1939, no one realized these new bodies would still be in production nearly ten years later. While there would be major chassis and engine changes with the 1942 model, the 1940 and succeeding 1941 would be the basis for the postwar models. Sales continued to grow, with one of every fourteen new cars sold being a Plymouth. Sales projections foresaw the possibility of Plymouth surpassing Ford as the nation's number two selling automobile (Chrysler Corporation as a whole had passed Ford some years earlier, making Chrysler the second largest auto company in the U.S.).
Only an all out effort by Ford with a new car for 1941 prevented Plymouth from attaining the number two spot. Unfortunately, in the near future Plymouth's market share would slowly begin to slip.
The 1941 Plymouth, offered in three distinct series known as the "Plymouth," "Deluxe," and "Special Deluxe," showed only minor improvements over the 1940, including a counter-balanced deck lid, alligator style hood opening, and underhood mounted battery. Its most novel feature was the stop light mounted high on the center of the deck lid. Sales for 1941 climbed to 522,080, including delivery of two Quartermaster Corps fleet orders for military staff cars.
Nineteen forty-two models in Deluxe and Special Deluxe trim went into production in July 1941 with dealers and customers alike advised that "Plymouth automobile tools are rapidly being converted to tools for manufacturing of arms ... hundreds of Plymouth workmen will be transferred to the factory's own war materials unit."
Changes for 1942 included door panels flared at the bottom to cover the running boards and an odd "race car inspired" air scoop under the front bumper. A new model was the Town Sedan, which featured rear doors hinged at the front with quarter windows built into the door frame (regular sedans had suicide-style rear doors and quarter windows in the body). Underneath the body a perimeter box frame replaced the traditional X-member frame, while under the hood the old reliable 82hp 201ci six had been replaced by a 217ci 95bp engine pirated from sister division Dodge.
As America edged ever closer to all out war, "black out" models with painted—or missing—trim began making an appearance. Purchasers attempting to take delivery after January 1, 1942, found that all new cars in dealer inventories had been frozen by government edict; after January 10 only certain clientele—such as the military—or "critical" consumers such as doctors and nurses were allowed to purchase new cars. The last 1942 came off the line January 31, 1942.
As the giant Lynch Road assembly plant converted for total war production, tools and dies for the 1942 models were mothballed. Some design work continued into the early months of 1943, working on what would have been 1943 and 1944 models. Other development work, such as the plastic-bodied car secreted around the streets of Detroit in 1942, was discontinued entirely.
Chrysler Corporation's World War Two production included 25,059 tanks; more than 500,000 Dodge army trucks; 93,339 Bofors guns; 3 billion ammunition rounds; 5,500 Sperry gyro compasses; 18,413 B29 bomber engines; 11,000 Curtis Hell Diver wings; 9,000 pontoons; 10,000 Corsair landing gears; and 5,000 B29 Bomber fuselages. Detroit, Michigan, had, in President Roosevelt's words, been turned into the "arsenal of democracy."
Despite the bleak years ahead—and perhaps to bolster the American spirit as the war raged on —magazines and periodicals regularly presented artists drawings of radically designed cars of the future. When a car-hungry nation caught its first glimpses of the actual postwar models no one really cared that they were simply "warmed over" pre-war models. There wasn't a factory in America that could build enough to keep up with demand!
Chrysler Heritage • History by Year • Chrysler People and Bios • Corporate Facts and History
Plymouth 1946-1959: Introduction • Turbines • Diesels • Christine • Dream Cars • Print version1924-1945 • 1946-48 • 1949 • 1950 • 1951 • 1952 • 1953 • 1954 • 1955 • 1956 • 1957 • 1958 • 1959 DeSoto and Plymouth Buyers’ Guide: DeSoto 1929-39 • DeSoto 1940s • DeSoto 1950s • Exports
Plymouth 1928-29 • 1930-34 • 1935-39 • 1940s • 1950s • 1960s • 1970s • Valiant/Barracuda
Acknowledgements • Introduction • Top Ten Lists and Clubs
Jeep Wrangler history and production
Don Carlton racing cars
All Mopar Car and Truck News
FCA at the Eiffels
Chrysler: Port Melbourne