by Jim Benjaminson. Copyrighted by the Plymouth Bulletin. Reprinted by permission.
Any typographical errors are our own!
When it came to commercial vehicles, Plymouth always seemed to have a hard time deciding what to do or how serious to be. Plymouth's first entry into the commercial car field was a very short lived sedan delivery in 1930; when it proved not to be a commercial success, the body style was dropped but the idea lingered on and would re-appear in the mid-1930s for a seven year run.
Looking at a Plymouth sedan delivery from the corporate standpoint, one has to wonder why Plymouth even bothered with such a style; both of the Corporation's other truck lines included sedan delivery body styles. Dodge and Fargo (while Fargo was still a U.S. entity) both offered such a model so one had to wonder why there was a duplication of product. Perhaps two factors in the marketplace dictated such a move.
The first of these may have been the fact that dealers that were not paired with Dodge (such as Chrysler-Plymouth or DeSoto-Plymouth dealers) were left without such a vehicle...but perhaps a more significant factor was that both Ford and Chevrolet offered such body types. This, perhaps more than anything else, may explain Plymouth's entry into the commercial car field, both with a pickup and a sedan delivery.
Plymouth's sister division, the Fargo, offered the buyer a choice of a series of panel deliveries, called the Packet (half ton models) and the Clipper (three quarter ton). Another model, called the Sedan, could easily be called a station wagon as it offered seating for more than the customary five passengers. Dodge also had a full line of such vehicles. After the Corporate decision to drop Fargo to eliminate a duplication of product, one has to wonder why another duplication of product line would be granted to Plymouth.
The first Plymouth sedan delivery was offered on the 30U chassis, a line of vehicles built from April 1930 through June 1931. The idea behind the vehicle was rather ingenious—the major difference in the sedan delivery was the addition of a door at the rear of the body. With this lone exception, the 30U sedan delivery was nothing more than a two door sedan. For the purchaser that needed both a personal passenger vehicle and a commercial vehicle, this unit was just the ticket.
While in use as a delivery vehicle, the rear seat could be removed and window blanks were used to fill the rear quarter windows with the name of the business painted on them. When needed as a passenger vehicle the window blanks were removed and the rear seat was installed. Only the most observant would note the door at the rear giving away the cars commercial heritage. At the premium price of $750 (and despite a pnce reduction to $675) the 30U sedan delivery was not a commercial success as only 800 them were built.
Looking at the state of the economy at that time, the dropping of the sedan delivery from the Plymouth lineup should have come as no surprise. Walter Chrysler, along with the rest of the industry, was retrenching to weather the Depression years. Many makes wouldn't survive the 1930s—and among them was Plymouth's companion make Fargo. Although Plymouth's star would continue to rise throughout the Depression years, it would be accomplished without a commercial vehicle of any sort for at least five more years.
As the economy began to warm up in the mid-1930s, it once again became evident to Plymouth personnel that there was a need for a commercial vehicle. The idea of an "interchangeable" vehicle such as the 30U commercial sedan—a commercial vehicle convertible to a passenger vehicle—was probably a good idea that should be offered a second chance.
Plymouth re-entered the commercial car field in 1935 with just such a vehicle. Again, the vehicle would be a converted passenger car, this time based on the flat back PJ Business two door sedan. The only modification would be the addition of a single door at the rear of the body. Upon purchase the buyer got a drivers seat but the rear cargo area was devoid of any seating. The vehicle was fitted with roll down rear quarter windows but again, window blanks that snapped Into place would be used to make the "conversion" to a full commercial type vehicle. A rear seat was optional, if the buyer wished to use the vehicle for carrying more than front seat passengers. To Indicate its conversion, the body plate carried the designation code 651-B, whie standard flat back two door sedans carried the 651 Briggs body code.
Although Plymouth had gone to all steel bodies in 1930, the 1935 PJ commercial sedan had a substantial amount of wood in the rear of the body, framing the door itself. Acceptance of the PJ Commercial Sedan was considerably better than the 30U version, with 1,140 being sold at the price of $635.
With this increased acceptance, Plymouth saw fit to offer a 1936 version built using its own special body. As with the 1935, the vehicle bore a strong resemblence to the 1936 passenger car line but the rear quarter panels were now fixed; there were no windows in the rear quarters and no window blanks to bother with. However, the "dual use" as a passenger-commercial vehicle was curtailed.
At the rear was a single door and as on the 1935, the spare tire rode in a single right sidemount. Dual sidemounts were optional on both years. The 1936 sedan delivery was built on the P1 business chassis. Priced at $605, the 1936 sedan delivery found a home with 3,161 buyers, a substantial increase over the previous year. Like its predecessor, the roof insert was fabric (this would be the last year for cloth inserts on any Plymouth, whether passenger or commercial). In an unusual move, the gas filler pipe was located inside the body and it was necessary to open the rear door to fill the gas tank.
For 1937, Plymouth entered the commercial field in a big way—offering for the first time a truck chassis pickup (which was also available as a cab and chassis). With the availability of the truck chassis, the decision was made to build this year's sedan delivery on the truck chassis rather than the passenger car chassis. Called the model PT50, 3,256 were built and sold at the price of $655. The wheelbase on these vehicles was 116" (up three inches over the 1936). Under the hood was the familiar 201 cubic inch flat head six cylinder engine, rated at 70 horsepower.
The "Commercial Sedan," as it was called, came with a standard rear bumper while the other commercial offerings in the line listed this item as being optional. Supsension was by semi elliptic springs located at all four corners, with nine leaves in each spring. Building the panel on the truck chassis offered the buyer a heavy duty frame, with a maximum depth of 6". As had been previous practice, only one door was fitted at the rear of the special panel body. This door was fitted with a single roll down rear window.
The 1938 sedan delivery was also built on the truck chassis, this year called the model PT57. Differing only slightly in exterior trim, sales dropped dramatically as the Recession of 1938 struck, sales falling to just 1,601 units. The price had increased to $695 which had not helped sales any, but industry-wide sales fell by nearly 50 percent across the board.
With a major redesign of the truck line effective with the 1939 model year, production of the sedan delivery body styled reverted back to the passenger car chassis. The 1939 model was built on the P7 chassis and once again featured its own distinctive body. The rear quarter panels were solid steel and the spare tires were carried for the last time in the front fenders.
Taking its design from the completely restyled passenger cars, the "Panel Delivery," as it was now called, now featured two doors at the rear of the body. Split vertically, each door had its own roll down rear window, fitted with flush type handles that would not interfere with the cargo being carried. The panel delivery offered 124.6 cubic feet of cargo carrying capacity. Although the body was all steel, a false floor was fitted made of hardwood which offered a completely flat floor.
Built on the P7 passenger car chassis, the vehicle still retained a floor shift transmission control and the seat was now upholstered in a "leather like" fabric finished in blue (previous models used a gray upholstery). In its base form, the panel delivery was fitted with only one taillamp and windshield wiper, although option packages offered for the passenger car could be purchased which would offer twin tail lamps, twin windshield wipers, radios and other amenities to those wanting them. Also offered were high clearance 20" wheels for mail carriers and others requiring increased ground clearance-when fitted with the 20" wheels, the spare tire could not be carried in a fender mount. The fender mounted spare tire was available only on the panel delivery and station wagon in 1939, marking the last time for this location of the spare tire on any Plymouth vehicle.
For those that didn't need the carrying capacity of full sedan delivery, Plymouth offered its first "Utility" sedan in 1939. Based once again on a two door passenger car, the utility sedan was nothing more than a gutted two door sedan. The sedan delivery sold for $715 while the Utility sedan commanded $685. Despite this little price difference, the sedan delivery racked up sales of 2,099 units while the utility found only 340 customers.
For 1940 Plymouth offered much the same lineup. The sedan delivery was based on the P9 Roadking chassis, as was the Utility sedan. At $720, 2,846 sedan deliveries were sold, whie the utility enjoyed a slightly improved sales picture, with 584 finding buyers at $699.
With the discontinuance of side mounted spare tires, it became necessary to mount the spare tire of the sedan delivery in a recess on the right side, just forward of the rear fender.
Despite the fact that the sedan delivery was built on the passenger car chassis, it was still considered to be a commercial vehicle (as was the station wagon up to the 1940 model year.).
1941 saw little change in the model lineup but despite the best sedan delivery sales since 1937 (21 units less total than the record set in '37), 1941 would be the last year for the sedan delivery. Once again the sedan delivery was based on the passenger chassis, this time on the P11 chassis. And again, a utility sedan would be sold, based on a gutted two door sedan body shell. For the price difference ($745 for the sedan delivery, $739 for the utility sedan) one has to wonder why any utility sedans were sold at all. (One explanation for the utility sedan is that it could travel into restricted areas where commercial vehicles such as the sedan delivery were prohibited).
Major changes were evident to the new vehicle purchaser walking into the Plymouth showrooms as the 1942 models were announced. Gone from the sales lineup was the pickup, the cab and chassis, the seven passenger sedan and the sedan delivery. (Missing since 1940 had been the removeable pickup box for the business coupe). Plymouth didn't entirely abandon the commercial car field in 1942. As a last ditch effort, a utility sedan was once again offered, but only 78 of them were sold at a price of $842.
Plymouth came full circle in only 12 years as far as commercial vehicles were concerned— ironically, looking at the production figures, one has to note that 80 commercial vehicles were built in the first year of 1930—while 78 were built in the last year of 1942.
Today, the Plymouth sedan deliveries are among the rarest of all Plymouths. The reason for the poor survival rate is simple: they were built and sold as a "work" vehicle and that is the way they were treated. For the most part, they were literally driven to death. The few that survive today have been rebuilt from near total wrecks.
Adding to their rarity at shows today is the fact that most sedan delivery owners also have other old Plymouths and these usually receive the restoration treatment first, while the sedan delivery waits until "later." For most of the Plymouth sedan deliveries, "later" has already come in the form of the scrap heap and the junkyard torch.
Also read our histories of Plymouth commercial vehicles, pickup trucks and Fargo.
Chrysler Heritage • History by Year • Chrysler People and Bios • Corporate Facts and History
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