by Jim Benjaminson • part of Plymouth Commercial Vehicles
Plymouth entered the light duty truck market in 1937 with four body styles built on a truck chassis shared with Dodge. Dubbed the PT series (for Plymouth Truck), body types included the Express (pickup), a cab-and-chassis (with full length running boards and rear fenders), Commercial Sedan (sedan delivery), and wood body station wagon. The panel delivery would remain on the truck chassis for two years, the wagon for just one.
The reasons for Plymouth entering the light duty truck market were simple. Every Plymouth dealer in both the United States and Canada was dualed with another product from Chrysler. Dodge-Plymouth dealers had a commercial vehicle but those dealers dualed with DeSoto or Chrysler were left without anything to offer prospective buyers. It had to seem like a perfect solution, for little investment, Chrysler Corporation could clone the Dodge pickup and sell it under the Plymouth brand name.
With the economy heating up (1937 would be a banner year for Plymouth, setting sales records that stood until 1950), timing was perfect to enter the light duty truck market.
Production of the new Plymouth Commercial Car line began in December of 1936. Plymouth’s first truck chassis pickup was little more than a disguised Dodge pickup. All new for 1936, the Dodge was “updated” for ’37—it and the “new” ’37 Plymouth pickups were virtually identical except for minor trim differences such as grill and tailgate. Mechanically the Plymouth pickup used a Plymouth engine, coded series PT50 by the factory. (Dodge trucks were coded “T” series—Plymouth thus became “PT—Plymouth truck” to indicate their heritage.)
Built on a 116 wheelbase, the 1937 PT50 series Commercial Cars were attractively styled in the manner of the passenger car; the resemblance was in looks only, as no sheet metal or trim interchanges between the passenger car and truck, with the exception of front bumper, hubcaps and dash knobs.
Unlike Dodge, which offered a complete range of models, Plymouth “Commercial Cars” were built in just four versions—the Express (pickup), cab & chassis (which included full length running boards and rear fenders), panel delivery and station wagon. A “flat face cowl” could also be ordered for those wanting to mount their own special body. Attractively styled the PT50 series included safety glass in all windows, chrome front bumper, (rear bumper optional—panel deliveries had a rear bumper as standard equipment) with spare tire mounted in the right front fender. A left fender well was available at extra cost. The box was six feet long and 47 1/2” wide, of all steel construction, including the floors.
Standard equipment included safety glass in all windows, a front bumper and single sidemounted spare tire. The pickup box measured six feet long by 47 1/2 wide. Under the hood sat a familiar valve in block six displacing 201 cubic inches—the same as all Plymouth passenger cars from 1934 through 1941. The truck engine was rated at 70 horsepower at 3,000 rpm while ‘37 passenger cars were rated at 82 horsepower.
The panel delivery, which up to this time had been on the passenger car chassis, was now part of the commercial chassis line. Priced $50 higher than 1936, the panel delivery found 3,256 buyers. 10,709 pickups, 158 cab & chassis, 602 station wagons and 3,256 panel deliveries found buyers making 1937 the best sales year Plymouth Commercial Cars would see.
Plymouth’s 1938 Commercial Cars were so little changed, except for minor appearance items, lines were shut down for less than a day for model year change over. A shorter, fatter grill matched that of the passenger car, and the station wagon returned to the passenger car chassis, cutting the number of PT57 models to three including the Express, cab-and-chassis, and sedan delivery. Again, there was no interchange of either trim or sheet metal pieces between the passenger and commercial car lines. The Suburban Westchester wagon was reverted back to the passenger car chassis.
No mechanical changes were made with the exception of an optional four speed transmission with power take off capability. Assembly of the PT57 models came to a halt August 17, 1938—only 4,620 pickups and 95 cab-and-chassis having been assembled.
When Plymouth unveiled its new Commercial Car models for 1939, things had definitely changed—gone was the “passenger car” look. The new pickups had a decidedly truck like appearance to them. Literally all new from the ground up, the Plymouth Commercial Car was still a clone of the Dodge; the frame was still of the ladder type, wheelbase remained at 116” but from there similarities ended.
The new cab was moved forward, as was the engine, to provide for a 6 1/2” longer cargo bed without drastically increasing the outward dimensions of the vehicle. The cab had a more modern look, with a ship’s prow front end, headlamps mounted on the fender catwalks and a two piece, vee’d windshield among the more noticeable changes. The cab was claimed to be the biggest offered by the “Big Three” and was advertised as a true “three man cab”.
The box was increased in size, measuring 78 1/8” long, by 48 1/4” wide. Departing from the all steel boxes used in ‘37-38, the new box had a wooden floor, made up of 13/16” thick planking protected by steel skid strips.
Other exterior changes included more massive fenders each featuring four prominent “speed lines” and the elimination of fender mounted spare tires—the spare now riding in a special carrier under the box at the rear of the frame. (Some 1940 PT105 trucks are known to have the spare tire mounted above the running board forward of the right rear fender—these trucks have a special indent in the rear fender to allow this type of mount, with the mounting arm attached to the frame passing through an opening in the running board splash aprons. These trucks also have the gasoline tank mounted at the rear of the frame, instead of under the seat. The filler neck on these trucks is located on the left rear fender instead of the cab sidewall. It is believed trucks equipped this way may have been military issue).
Outside of the sailing ship hood ornament, headlamp rings and hubcaps, no bright metal trim appeared on the new models—even the front bumpers, which had been chrome plated on the 1937-38 pickups, were painted black or aluminum. The windshield frame, headlamps and entire radiator shell could be had chrome plated at additional cost but few were so equipped.
Mechanically the PT81 series differed little from its predecessors. The engine remained a 70 horsepower, 201 cubic inch six, with three speed manual transmission standard and four speed optional.
Box size increased to 78 1/8 long, with a wide of 48 1/4. Mechanically the PT81 differed little from its predecessors. Horsepower remained at 70 from 201 cid with a three speed transmission standard or four speed optional.
Minor appearance changes marked the PT105 series for 1940. New for the year was the addition of sealed beam headlamps; it was no longer possible to mount the parking lamp in the headlamp itself, so a rather odd looking “pod” was added to the top of the headlamp bucket. The upper grill shell was livened up by the addition of three horizontal stainless strips. Horsepower was increased from 70 to 79, although bore and stroke figures remained the same as previous years.
Despite a $10 price hike, sales of the PT105 series increased slightly with sales of 6,879 pickups and 174 cab-and-chassis units. The upper grill shell, which had been plain on the ’39 PT81, was treated to the addition of three horizontal stainless steel trim strips. Some PT105 models had the spare tire mounted on the right side of the box, forward of the rear wheel (normal placement for the spare tire was beneath the box).
Mechanical changes to the PT105 included a larger 35 amp generator to handle the sealed beam headlamps and an increase in horsepower to 79. Not seen, but cursed by many, was the switch to left hand and right hand thread wheel bolts. Prices were hiked by $10--sales increased slightly from the year before.
While the PT81 and PT105 had been very plain, the PT125 for 1941 was quite attractive with its chrome overlay grill patterned after the 1941 passenger car. Still, only minor changes marked the 1941 Plymouth Commercial Cars, most for the better, although the most obvious change—moving the headlamps from the catwalk to the crown of the fender, was a change for the worst in the opinion of many.
Without making any changes to the basic radiator sheet metal, designers fashioned a chrome overlay patterned after the ‘41 passenger car grill. Starting at the leading edge where the hood meets the radiator shell, a stainless strip ran forward to converge at the front of the radiator, from there plunging down in two vertical strips to the bottom of the grill shell. In the center was a large Plymouth sailing ship emblem. On either side of this, on the left and right outer grill panels, were five horizontal stainless strips, similar to the strips used on the 1939 and 1940 Plymouth passenger cars. Paint stripes accented the bars between the stainless strips. The front bumper, while still painted, had a pronounced vee in the center.
“Plymouth” nameplates, which had graced the sides of the upper radiator shell on the PT81 and PT105, were centered on the hood panels. The awkward pod shaped parking lamps atop the headlamp shells were replaced by attractive bullet-shaped lamps mounted on the cowl but it was the outward movement of the headlamps that gave the truck its startling new appearance.
Under the hood engine horsepower increased to 82 (vs. 79 in ‘40), mated to a new three speed synchro-shift transmission. Also new for the year were “stepped” brake cylinders with different size pistons in the same cylinder. The front pistons measured 1 1/4” actuating the front brake shoes, with 1 3/8” pistons actuating the rear shoes. This difference in size—or stepping—was claimed to exert equal pressure of both shoes against the brake drum.
PT125 sales decreased to the lowest level since recession year of 1938 (this at a time when industry sales were up), caused perhaps by the $40 price increase. Sales of 6,073 pickups and 196 cab and chassis units mattered little—as production wound down on the PT125 models, so too did an era at Plymouth.
With the dawn of the 1942 models, the Commercial Car line was quietly dropped. The reasons why were never publicly discussed; lower than expected sales volume were almost certainly a factor. A plausible explanation probably lies in commitments made to the military in supplying vehicles for our allies leading up to our involvement in the war effort.
Plymouth truck production halted prior to our entry into the war but within months all civilian truck production came to a halt (on April 30, 1942) as Chrysler Corporation helped turn Detroit into the “Arsenal of Democracy.”
Back to introduction / Chapter I • See Jim Benjaminson’s book Plymouth 1946-1959
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
Chrysler CEO Al GardnerDefining the Chrysler brand, upcoming cars, and more
Chrysler’s Pete HagenbuchThe tuner of some of Chrysler’s greatest production engines
All Mopar Car and Truck News
FCA at the Eiffels
Chrysler: Port Melbourne