by Jim Benjaminson. Copyrighted by Jim Benjaminson. Reprinted by permission.
Originally published as a printed book by Motorbooks International.
At first glance, it was easy to assume that Plymouth's 1950 offering was little more than a restyled 1949. Closer examination revealed that although the two cars were definitely siblings, a host of changes had taken place, so much so that only the doors were bolt-for-bolt interchanges between the two years. Basic contours remained the same, with relocated bolt holes and altered cut outs marking the differences between the two model years.
As in 1949, Plymouth once again offered three distinct series on two different wheelbases. Model names remained the same, Deluxe and Special Deluxe, but engineering codes were changed to P19 for the short wheelbase Deluxe cars and P20 for the long wheelbase Deluxe and Special Deluxe. The switch from 1949 specifications was accomplished without any downtime, the final 1949s rolling off the line November 25, 1949, followed by the first P20 Special Deluxes that same day. Switch over to the first P19 Deluxe and P20 Deluxe took an additional ten days, the first of those coming off the line December 5.
The 111 inch wheelbase Deluxe line again included a fastback two-door sedan, a three-passenger business coupe, and the all-metal, two-door Suburban station wagon, The 118-1/2 inch wheelbase Deluxe line offered only a two-door club coupe and four-door sedan, with the Special Deluxe offering those two body styles plus a convertible club coupe and four-door wood-bodied station wagon.
Distinguishing the 1950 cars from the 1949s were plain bumpers and a simplified stainless steel three-bar grille. The fluted, three-rib bumpers had been attractive but were expensive to manufacture and nearly impossible to straighten when dented. The new design, with a slight roll at the bottom edge of the face plate, helped the 1950 models appear more massive. The top bar of the grille curved to follow the grille cavity down to the front gravel shield. The center bar extended beyond the cavity to the outer edge of the fenders, as did the lower grille bar, both of which formed a boxed area for the now nearly square parking lamps. A single, center vertical bar served to accentuate the forward peak of the grille. The radiator badge was raised several inches from the leading edge of the hood line, with individual block letters spelling out "Plymouth" between the emblem and the edge of the hood.
Viewed from the side, the cars looked nearly identical, though the rear bolt-on fenders were restyled and made slightly longer to give the car a more massive look on all models except the Suburban and woody wagon (which would retain the 1949-style fenders through the 1952 models). The rear fender stone shield was a bit larger, with less detail than before.
Shortages of the fender shield found many cars built from August on shipped without them. Dealers were advised they would be shipped as soon as available and should be installed on cars already in the field, making it possible that some original cars were never fitted with them. The tail lamps were in a horizontal format, moved down and wrapped around the fender rather than sitting on top of them as they had done in 1949. The separate trunk-mounted stop light used since 1941 was eliminated, both tail lamps housing the brake and optional signal lamps under one lens. The license plate light was placed above instead of below the license, and the old lever-style deck lid handle was now of the "T" variety. The rear nameplate was changed to a one-piece script and relocated above the license plate.
There was little doubt that the car did look more massive; but the changes were so subtle it was hard to notice them. The rear window was 32% larger, curving around the edges further and set into its own self-locking rubber gasket. Early into production (P19 Deluxe 18061672, P20 Deluxe 15378781, and Special Deluxe 12446808), the cars were lowered 3/4 inch in height by using different springs. This, combined with a wider tread stance, both front and rear, helped rid the car of its high and boxy look.
The front tread was increased from 55 inches to 55- 7/16 inches by moving the center line of the wheel rim outward. The rear tread increase, from 56 to 58- 7/16 inches, required a wider rear axle housing. The differential carrier and gearing remained the same as 1949, 3.73 for P19 models and 3.9 on all P20 models, with ratios of 3.9 and 4.1 optional, the 4.1 ratio standard on the wood body Special Deluxe station wagon.
Despite the wider rear wheel tread, the box perimeter frame of the 1950 was the same as used under the 1949 models, with the exception of the Special Deluxe station wagon. P19 cars, with the exception of the Suburban, lacked a front sway bar, had only seven rear leaf springs, used a restriction thermostat, and did not come with an oil filter as standard equipment. Clutch plates in the P19 models were also 1/4 inch smaller (9-1/8 inches versus 9-1/4 inches) than those used in either the P20 Deluxe or Special Deluxe.
Interior choices were the same as in 1949, the only discernible change being new backgrounds of transparent gunmetal on spun aluminum for the gauges. The gunmetal finish was also used on the radio grille screen. The new rotary switches were retained, but larger control knobs helped make accessing them much easier.
The beautiful wood grain finish was retained on all models except the convertible, which continued to use a painted dashboard and garnish moldings as in years past. Business coupe buyers had a choice of vinyl resin or woven fiber fabric at no cost, with broadcloth optional. Deluxe two-door buyers had only a single choice of broadcloth with vinyl resin door trim. The P20 Deluxe club coupe and four-door sedan came in a single broadcloth choice, although buyers of the same body style in the P20 Special Deluxe version had a choice of blue or green broadcloth or blue or green pile fabric. Convertibles were finished in Bedford cord with vinyl resin trim at the top of the seats in either red, green, or blue, depending on the car's exterior color.
Sales of the all-metal Suburban station wagon continued to soar, despite grumbling from buyers that a more upscale model wasn't available. Realizing the potential for such a vehicle, a more upgraded version called the Special Suburban was added to the line. Identical in size to the standard Suburban, the Special Suburban had as standard equipment many items reserved for the P20 Special Deluxe cars, including armrests on both doors, assist straps and armrests in the rear compartment, glovebox lock, dual horns, horn ring, chrome radio grille, exterior belt line moldings, front bumper guards, chrome-plated tailgate hinges, and chrome rear window divider.
Special Suburban interiors were greatly upgraded, with rear sidewalls and wheel wells upholstered in pleated, brown, vinyl resin fabric. The headliner was done in brown checked woven fiber, with door panels in two tones of pleated brown vinyl and brown checked fabric. Like all P19 models, the Special Suburban rode on 6.40x15in tires. Unlike other P19s, the Suburbans were equipped with a front sway bar. Optional only on the Suburban were 6.00x18in wheels and tires. The Suburban wagons and Special Deluxe woody wagon shared a nine-leaf rear spring, compared to seven leaves on other P19 models and eight leaves on P20 Deluxe and Special Deluxe cars.
Outside of the increased rear axle width, mechanical changes were so few as to be almost nonexistent. An “improved” radiator core reduced coolant capacity from 15 to 13-1/2 quarts. Cars built from August on were fitted with a narrower (3/8 inch versus 3/4 inch) fan belt and pulley. The electromechanical convertible power top motor, pump, and reservoir were relocated at the very end of 1949 production, and can also be found on some P18 convertibles.
Motor Trend tested a Special Deluxe four door for its March issue and concluded it was "a car with riding comfort, handling ease and good visibility, although lacking in acceleration characteristics (0 to 60 mph took 18.56 seconds to achieve). The reliability of any Chrysler product makes this car worthy of a prospective buyer's consideration."
Model year production was up, but Plymouth's overall sales performance fell considerably, in what would be the best year the auto industry would see until 1955.
As a fuel economy champ, Plymouth was second only to the Ford six in the 1950 running of the Mobil Gas Economy Run. Plymouth recorded 21.25 mpg against the winning Ford's 23.33 mpg. In its traditional three-way race, Plymouth scored lower than Ford and Chevrolet in the ton/miles per gallon category.
On the nation's race tracks, the pesky little Plymouths continued their winning ways. At the inaugural 500-mile race September 4 at Darlington, North Carolina, Johnny Mantz, driving a 1950 P19 two-door sedan, outlasted the bigger, heavier cars to win the race at an average speed of 76.26mph. The Mantz car, which was later wrecked, has been replicated and is on display at the Speedway to this day Museum.
Walt Faullmer campaigned his 1950 Plymouth to a second-place finish in the 250-lap Oakland (California) Speedway race, one of nine cars out of twenty still running at the race's end. Fourth place went to another Plymouth.
At the Carrell (California) Speedway, George Seeger placed third driving a 1949 in that 250-lap race. At the Oakland Classic on October 1, Plymouths placed fourth, fifth and sixth in a 300-1ap contest. Wilkesboro, North Carolina's, 100-Mile Grand National Race on September 24 saw Plymouths come in first, second, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh-the winning driver, Leon Sales of Winston-Salem, driving the same car Mantz drove to victory at Darlington. In Hillsboro, North Carolina, October 29, Lee Petty, who had started it all, was declared the winner (at 175 miles) of the 200-mile NASCAR race on the Occoneechee track. Lee averaged 92.7mph in his 1950 Plymouth business coupe, but the race had to be called because of darkness!
Plymouth's last wood-body station wagon was built in 1950. U.S. Body & Forging, known now as Ushco Manufacturing, had been Plymouth's sole station wagon body supplier since the first "official" station wagon back in 1934. Sales of wood-body wagons had continued to dwindle, down to just 2,057 units for 1950. The woody wagon not only cost more to buy, it was an expensive body to maintain. Plymouth recommended the wood work be revarnished every six to eight months when exposed to excessive sunlight or salty air conditions.
The trouble-free all-metal Suburban, despite having only two doors and a limited carrying capacity, had easily spelled the woody wagon's doom. The all-metal wagons lacked only one ingredient-they never had the class associated with the wooden-bodied cars. What they lacked in class they more than made up for in sales, accounting for 5.6 percent of sales in 1950, compared to the wood wagons' 0.34 percent.
Plymouth dealers were advised in September that any further orders for wood body parts would no longer be sent to Ushco, but would be supplied directly through the regular Chrysler parts outlets, a complete change in procedure from years past. The list sent to dealers included parts for only the P15, P18 and P20 woody wagons. The end of an era had come to the station wagon business.
As Plymouth steamed head-on into its best sales year since 1937, the U.S. found itself embroiled in another overseas conflict following Communist North Korea's invasion of South Korea. There were justifiable concerns Korea would drag the country back into another world war. As had been the case during World War II, the government began placing restrictions on the automobile industry. By October steel was in short supply, as were other critical materials such as chromium and copper. For a time it appeared the government might have to once again curtail automobile production.
For Plymouth in general and Chrysler Corporation as a whole, these events would end up turning against the company. Ford Motor Company was under new management and breathing hard down Chrysler's neck to regain its number-two position in the automobile industry. More worrisome was Buick, which was openly aiming to wrestle third place away from Plymouth. Despite a reduction in market share, sales of over 600,000 cars set an all-time record for Plymouth, which would remain the number-three selling automobile for 1950. But the market was changing- would Plymouth change to keep up? Unfortunately, its continued sales successes may have lulled corporate thinking into a false sense of security.
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