by Jim Benjaminson. Copyrighted by the Plymouth Bulletin. Reprinted by permission.
Any typographical errors are our own! Thanks to Mike Sealey for catching some, and for noting that the PT in PT Cruiser originally stood for Plymouth Truck.
[Now that Chrysler belongs to a company which is infatuated with commercial vehicles, it seemed like an ideal time to cover the history of Plymouth commercial trucks and cars.]
Plymouth's first venture into the field of commercial vehicles took place shortly after Plymouth itself was born in mid-year 1928. With the start of the Chrysler Corporation in 1924 from the battered shambles of the Maxwell-Chalmers entity Walter Chrysler had formulated a master plan to establish himself as a major U.S. automobile manufacturer. To achieve this goal his plans Included a high priced car (the Chrysler), a low priced car, the Plymouth), a medium priced car (the DeSoto) as well as a luxury car (the Imperial); also included in the plan was a line of commercial cars which became the Fargo.
Chrysler, however, soon found himself with a duplication of product lines when he purchased the automotive plum of Dodge Brothers. The Dodge Brothers firm had become the property of the banking firm of Dillon, Reed & Company following the untimely deaths of John and Horace Dodge in 1920. Dillon had attempted to sell the automotive concern before but previous attempts by others to purchase the facilities had fallen away. Chrysler's purchase of the huge Dodge complex was much akin to the canary swallowing the cat - Chrysler was little over 4 years old and here it was buying lock stock & barrel - the complete Dodge holdings. Not only did he gain production plants but much needed forging and stamping facilities as well. Chrysler himself would remark in later years that had it not been for the Dodge purchase there might never have been a Plymouth at all.
The Dodge Brothers had been in the commercial field since 1917 and had absorbed the Graham Brothers truck line as well shortly before the Chrysler purchase. Chrysler's master plan to enter all fields of manufacture had already been put into motion before the Dodge purchase and the Fargo was well on its way into production. The Corporation would soon find itself with internal competition as well as stiff competition from other manufacturers. For 1928 the 4 year old Chrysler Corporation introduced the DeSoto in May, followed by the Plymouth in June September saw the debut of the Fargo. It is uncertain where the Fargo name was chosen from. Some claim it was in honor of the famed Old West stage Lines of Wells-Fargo & Company; others claim the name was suggested by Joseph E. Fields, a Chrysler vice-president who had started his career by selling farm machinery in Fargo, North Dakota. Regardless the Fargo was a commercial version of the Plymouth passenger car.
The Fargo was available in two lines, the small half ton version called the Packet was built on the 109" wheelbase Plymouth chassis and was powered by a "Q" series 4 cylinder engine. The price was $795, Beginning in March of 1929 the Packet would be powered by a 6 -cylinder DeSoto engine. Following a practice of robbing pieces from all the Corporation lines the Plymouth, DeSoto and even Chrysler provided both mechanical and sheet metal parts for the Fargo.
A three quarter ton version called the Clipper was also built. This was a 112 3/4" wheelbase chassis powered by a Chrysler '65' engine. In June of 1929 a one ton version called the Freighter became available. This, too, was powered by a DeSoto 6.
The Corporation soon found that internal competition from Dodge and the poor economic conditions brought on by the Great Depression had severely hampered the market for the Fargo line and Clipper production ceased in March of 1930. The Freighter was discontinued in October and the Packet lasted until November. Production had been at the Detroit plant with the exception of 38 Packets assembled In the Windsor, Ontario plant. A little over 9,600 Fargos had been built with the Freighter accounting for over 50 percent of the production total.
Following the demise of the Fargo and the absorption of Graham Brothers into Dodge Brothers Truck the Dodge became the corporation's only commercial vehicle. Why then in 1937 did Plymouth re-enter the field.
Plymouth enjoyed a unique sales strategy. Early in 1930 Chrysler decided to offer the Plymouth line to all of his dealers--any Dodge, Chrysler or DeSoto dealer could now sell the new Plymouth. The new low priced kid on the block was now available through over 7,000 dealers, a factor which no doubt helped contribute so greatly to the new cars astonishing sales record from a new make in 1928 to the 3rd largest selling car in the U.S. by 1931. (This strategy probably backfired in later years. Although Plymouth was the corporations bread and butter line it always played second fiddle in the showrooms. Why sell a low profit, low priced car when you could convince the customer to buy a higher priced, higher profit car sitting right alongside it on the showroom floor?).
The answer why Plymouth re-entered the commercial car field in 1937 lies in the marketing structure already explained. A dealer selling the Dodge-Plymouth lines had a commercial vehicle to sell prospective customers. But a dealer selling either the DeSoto-Plymouth or Chrysler-Plymouth combination did not have a commercial vehicle for those customers. With nothing to offer those dealers were losing sales, if Plymouth were to re-enter the market than all the corporation dealers would be sitting on the same level, it is doubtful if the Dodge. Plymouth combination dealers ever really pushed the secondary Plymouth line however).
Built on a 116" wheelbase and powered by a 70 horse L head 6.cylinder engine the new pickup was designated the model PT50. Included in the lineup on the truck chassis was the Express pickup), the (sedan) delivery, a Cab & Chassis and the Westchester Station Wagon. Priced at $525 for the pickup and $495 for the cab & chassis 1937 would be the best sales year the Plymouth pickup Line would see. Standard equipment included safety glass in all the windows, a front bumper on the pickup and the spare tire was mounted in the right front fender. The pickup box was 6 feet long and could carry objects 471/2" wide. The cab & chassis came standard equipped with full Length running boards and rear fenders. Optional equipment included a left side mount fender, bumper guards, chrome windshield frame and a right hand windshield wiper. A rear bumper was standard on the panel delivery only. Unique to 1937 production on the commercial chassis was the Westchester Station Wagon. In previous years And in all years following 19371 the station wagon was built on the passenger car chassis. The body, built by the U.S. Body & Forging Company of TeiI City, Indiana, featured side curtains as standard equipment while glass side windows were optional. In the rear, the wagon could be equipped with three types of doors. These included a tailgate and upper lift gate, a tailgate with two swinging lift gate doors, or with two swinging doors replacing both the tailgate and lift gate.
Standard transmission for 1937 was a three speed until with a 3.73 rear axle ratio as standard. Optional ratios included both a 4.1 and a 4.78 unit.
The panel delivery featured only a drivers seat but a second seat was optional if more passenger carrying capacity was needed. The station wagon boasted three seats with a carrying capacity of 8 people. Both the 1937 and 1938 commercial series were designed closely to the passenger car line but despite the outward similarity in appearance no sheet metal or trim parts interchanged.
The 1938 model PT57 lineup included the express, the panel delivery, and the cab 8 chassis The station wagon went back to the passenger car line. Prices increased substantially but sales were down by nearly 50 percent following a national trend caused by the Recession of 1938, The pickup sold for $585 while the panel delivery commanded a whopping $695. The PT57 was also built on the 116" wheelbase chassis and was again powered by the 70 horsepower engine. Standard axle ratio this year was 4:1 and both a 3 speed and 4 speed transmission was available. 20" wheels were also offered for those that needed extra road clearance. The panel delivery now had only one door at the rear. Again the spare tire was carried in the right front fender, with a left spare tire mount optional. Options offered were essentially those offered in 1937 but with the addition of such items as a speed governor, chromed radiator shell and chromed headlamp shells, as well as an oil bath air cleaner and metal spare tire covers. A right hand tail lamp was offered on the panel delivery only 1938 was the last year the commercial line would resemble the passenger cars.
The 1939 model PT81 was a decidedly commercial looking vehicle and in fact looked very much like the Dodge pickup on which it was based. The two makes came down the same assembly lines side by side. Only the front end sheet metal was different to provide product identity. Sales of the PT81 increased substantially over the previous year while the prices were lowered slightly following the rest of the Plymouth sales lineup for '39. Only the express and the cab and chassis were cataloged this year. Production of the panel delivery reverted back to the passenger car line. Options for the '39 model again pretty well followed that of previous years. Gone were the side mounted spare tires, the spare now found a home beneath the frame rails at rear of the box. A chrome radiator shell could be had for $6 while chrome on the windshield frame cost the buyer $3 extra. For the first time a right hand fail lamp was offered on the pickup and colored sheet metal was a $5 option.
The cab was claimed to be the biggest of any offered by the "Big Three" and the doors featured an extra latch at the top of the door to prevent it from popping open on rough terrain. Although the pickup was still built on the 116' wheelbase chassis the cab was moved forward slightly and the size of the box was increased to 78" long and 48 1/4" wide. The engine remained the 70 horsepower Plymouth 6.
Sales of the 1940 model PT105 pickup climbed slightly despite the $10 price increase over the 1939 models. Again the chassis was of 116" but horsepower was upped to 79. Only minor trim differences mark the '40 over the '39, the most noticeable being the addition of parking lamps on top of the headlamps and three chrome bars on the radiator shell - The small lamps were neccisifatedby the switch to sealed beam headlamps in 1940. The chrome radiator shell option was dropped but chrome headlamps were still offered. As in the previous year only the express and cab and chassis were built on the commercial chassis.
The 1941 model PT125 saw a slight decline in sales and the price rise once again. The express now sold for $625, the highest price in the history of the Plymouth pickup, while the cab and chassis commanded $590. The wheel base remained at 116" but the horsepowwer was increased to 82. The pickup received a minor face lift in the form of new grill trim over over the oici sheet metal. The parking lamps left theft perch atop the headlamps and were now mounted on the cowl. Another major change, the Plymouth nameplate was now centered on the upper hood panels rather than on the radiator shell. The front bumper was also slightly Weed to conform better to the prow shaped front end. The headlamps were also moved slightly outward to mount directly on the top V of the fender crown. The option list remained the same as years previousiy but as production ended for the 1941 models it came to end as weli for the Plymouth commercial car line. The pickup was not continued into 1942.
Despite the fact the dealer network had wanted such a vehicle, competition from Dodge as well as from other manufacturers proved to be too much; Dodge dominated the sales picture to the point that it was no longer practical to continue producing the commercial Plymouth. And with America's impending entry into World War ii and the demand our Allies were making for military vehicles Dodge needed all the production capacity it could get without sharing its production facilities with Plymouth.
Today an early Plymouth pickup is a rare sight-and the sight of a Fargo is even more soi Plymouth re-entered (for the third time) the commercial car field again in 1974 with the Trail Duster and Voyager van series. With the current state of the market and the trend to small cars Plymouth is now offering a line of small, imported pickups built by Mitsuibishi in Japan.
In what may seem a confusing mess to some. Piymouth also offered a line of 'commercial' type vehicies on passenger car chassis as early as 1935. Built on the P.1 chassis this first vehicle was called the Commercial Sedan and was nothing more than a two door sedan with an added door at the rear and the rear seat removed. Metal blanks were slipped in over the windows to complete the conversion. For the small business man who needed a delivery car and a family car but couldn't afford both, this body style was just the ticket. A rear seat was optional and with the window blanks removed it could be used as a passenger car.
A regular panel delivery was sold in 1936 and marketed on the P1 chassis; the panel deiivery returned to the passenger car chassis in 1939 and was built through the end of production in 1941.
Also sold was a utility sedan, built from a two door sedan with only a drivers seat and a sliding screen partition behind the drivers seat; the rear seat was removed (available as an option) and the trunk partition was missing to aid in loading or unloading. The Utility Sedan was offered from 1939 to 1942,
And in an effort not to miss any possible sales to those in need of a commercial type vehicle Plymouth also cataloged a unique removeable pickup box which could be mounted in the trunk of the coupe. This option made its first apperance in 1936 and was continued through 1939. It listed for less than $30. The box was designed to fit in the trunk compartment of the coupe with the lid closed, or with the lid open the box could be extended out past the bumper for added carrying space A novel swing away taillamp was included for use when the box extended out beyond the bumpers.
Also read our histories of Plymouth delivery vehicles, pickup trucks, and Fargo.
Chrysler Heritage • History by Year • Chrysler People and Bios • Corporate Facts and History
All Mopar Car and Truck News