By Jim Benjaminson
When Motorbooks International asked me to write a buyer’s guide for both Plymouth and DeSoto, I accepted with some trepidation. Plymouth would be easy, as it’s been the subject of my research for some thirty years; my expertise lies mostly with the early cars, and they asked me to include Plymouth only through model-year 1974. More significant was their decision to include DeSoto, which I had done little research on.
Combining the two marques was logical. Plymouth and DeSoto shared much of their early heritage. Both were introduced in 1928 as 1929 models; both shared, for a time, production facilities, and many of the cars’ major components were interchangeable. Then they went their separate ways; DeSoto’s path would lead it to oblivion, followed, but not for some forty years, by Plymouth.
Neither marque has been a “high-dollar” collector car, with rare exceptions; both have limited market appeal, but that makes both Plymouth and DeSoto an affordable alternative for the old-car enthusiast on a limited budget.
Restoring either make is a challenge. Unlike Ford or Chevrolet, where cars can be built using a telephone and credit card, restoration parts for both Plymouth and DeSoto are hard to come by. Mechanical parts are no problem, thanks to Chrysler’s penchant for interchangeability and longevity, but body panels, interior fabrics, trim, and accessories can drive one to distraction. The result can be a car with more invested in it than may be realized upon the sales of the car.
Certain models command premium prices, including early open cars, coupes of the 1933-34 era (popular with the hot-rod crowd), and the muscle cars. These later cars that have generated most of the “hobby press” where both marques are concerned, yet these cars were built in the lowest of production numbers. Output of the Plymouth Fury between 1956 and 1958 amounted to no more than 17,226 cars; the Golden Adventurer DeSotos built between 1956 and 1959 amounted to fewer than 4,100 units, while the fabled Hemi-powered Plymouth came to around 5,500 units.
Plymouth’s bread and butter car was the plain-Jane four-door sedan, these cars that have survived in the greatest numbers—ditto for DeSoto [as of the time of writing; every year changes the ratios]. Early models such as the wood-body station wagon are rare as hen's teeth but other models, even rarer, such as the seven-passenger sedan and limousine have drawn little hobby interest. Only in recent years has the DeSoto Suburban become a genuine collectible.
In this buyer’s guide, no production figure lists are included, as these are readily available.
One word of caution to the potential collector seeking an early Chrysler product. Interchangeability was a by-word at Chrysler Corporation. It was common for newer engines—or engines from another Chrysler line—to be swapped into the engine bay of an older Chrysler product. Originality brings the highest dollar in collector markets, so make sure you know what you are buying, as it’s not uncommon to find a ’53 Plymouth six residing under the hood of that ’36 Plymouth coupe. Likewise the Chrysler six, although larger in overall physical dimensions, was a common swap both in Plymouth and DeSotos. Plymouth never built a Hemi-powered car prior to the street Hemi of 1966, but these engines would fit, and they were swapped into these cars by early day racers.
A similar word of caution about the later street Hemi cars; the street Hemi was a special car from the bottom up—these cars have in recent years brought astronomical prices, but it is strictly “buyer beware”—know what you are buying before writing the check. Again, authenticity makes the difference between a good or a poor investment.
This book is reprinted with the permission and cooperation of Jim Benjaminson, who holds the copyright to the text and to his photos. Also see his book Plymouth 1946-1959.
Plymouth Commercial Vehicles
Top Ten List and Club Directory
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
Nash: 1947 and beyond
Aero-tuning the Dodge NASCAR trucks
All Mopar Car and Truck News
Chrysler 300 Letter Cars
The Engine Cleanup Committee