by Jim Benjaminson • part of Plymouth Commercial Vehicles
Between 1933 and 1940, Plymouth would offer, through outside vendors, armor plated vehicles for sale to police departments. The most famous of these was the Kansas City Hot Shot--an armor plated ’33 Plymouth purchased by the Kansas City Police Department following the deadly shoot out known as the Kansas City Massacre.
Plymouth delivered the basic car to suppliers such as Perfection Windshield or Evans Armored Car of Indianapolis, Federal Laboratories of Pittsburgh or Smart Safety Engineering of Detroit for conversion. Perfection offered four different levels of armament-full body armor adding 750 pounds of weight to the vehicle.
The Plymouth sedan delivery returned to the passenger car chassis for 1939, as part of the P7 Road King series. It still carried its own special body, now with two rear door, split vertically. Each rear door contained its own retractable window, with flush mounted handles. A false wooden floor provided a flat load surface offering 124 cubic feet of cargo carrying capacity.
Also joining the lineup for 1939 was a new “Utility Sedan”, which like the Commercial Sedans of 1930 and 1935, was a converted two door passenger car built without a rear seat. The partition between the passenger compartment and truck was eliminated as was done for the ambulance conversions. Below the windows paneling replaced upholstery while the floor was covered with full length rubber mat. Unlike the panel delivery which came with only a drivers bucket seat (passenger side optional), the Utility Sedan was shipped with two bucket seats. An optional screened partition, with locking gate, could separate the driver from the load compartment of the Utility Sedan. Only 341 of the $685 Utility Sedans were sold, in comparison to 2,270 panel deliveries, which commanded a $715 price tag.
Unlike the other 1939 passenger cars, the Utility Sedan, Panel Delivery and Station Wagon carried the spare tire in a fender mounted carrier.
Plymouth’s 1940 passenger based “commercial” offerings included the Utility Sedan and panel delivery on the P9 Roadking chassis (though at least one Deluxe P10 panel delivery was special-ordered). Styling followed that of the passenger cars, the Utility Sedan being a stripped two door sedan, while the panel delivery again had its own special body. The panel delivery’s most obvious change from ’39 was placement of the spare tire in a special well on the right side of the body, in front of the rear fender. Utility Sedan production was up slightly, to 589 units at a price of $699 while 2,889 panel deliveries were built despite a $5 price increase to $720.
These same two passenger based body styles were continued into 1941. At $739 production of the Utility sedan fell to 468 units. Sedan delivery production rose slightly, to 3,200 units, as did the price to $745. The panel delivery discontinued for 1942, although the limited production Utility Sedan was still available. Also missing from the 1942 lineup was the ambulance conversion—1942 would prove to be the last year for any passenger based Plymouth commercial vehicles. Only 82 1942 Utility Sedan saw units were built. At $842, the Utility Sedan was now priced $8 under the price of the P14S Deluxe two door sedan on which it was based.
These same models were carried over into the 1941 model run with only minor trim changes. As 1942 dawned, a new era had taken over at Plymouth. Gone would be the ambulance conversion, the panel delivery, the Express pickup and the cab-and-chassis. Left to soldier on by itself was the Utility Sedan. When the last Plymouth rolled out the door January 31, 1942 an era in commercial vehicles came to a close. Like the first Commercial Sedan of 1930, the 1942 Utility Sedan ironically saw the same production total—80 units.
There were more pressing needs at hand; Detroit would be turned in a war machine--President Roosevelt would call it the Arsenal of Democracy. After four long years of war the automakers slowly got back into the business of making cars to meet a pent up demand unseen before or since. Plymouth didn't need to build any commercial models--it had all it could do to meet the demand for passenger cars.
Joining the Commercial Sedan for 1936 were two special purpose options to convert normal passenger vehicles into commercial vehicles. The first, a removable pickup box designed to extend the carrying capacity of the business coupe was cataloged. The pickup box slipped into the trunk opening and could be used with the trunk lid in place or removed. With the pickup box inserted, the lid could not be sealed shut but it could be locked into place with the tailgate. The pickup box would remain an option through at least the 1939 model year.
The second option first offered in 1936 was the hearse-ambulance conversion. For an additional cost of $55, the car body was modified to remove the X brace that separated the trunk from the passenger compartment. The rear seat was split and hinged at the center; in normal use the vehicle had a full rear seat. In ambulance mode, half the seat folded and swung up towards the roof of the car, held in place by leather straps. The other half remained in place for the ambulance attendants use. Patients were loaded head first through the open trunk lid—the patients’ head and upper torso were inside the passenger compartment proper while the feet and lower extremities remained in the trunk. The ambulance conversion was quite popular with police departments (at that time it was the police officer’s duty to administer to the injured and transport them to a hospital!).
The ambulance conversion remained in Plymouth's option books through the 1941 model run. Only during its first year did Plymouth emphasize its hearse capabilities.
Also available on the long wheelbase Plymouths was an ambulance conversion that featured a removable center pillar post on the right side of the vehicle. Held in place with pins and wing nuts, with the doors open and the center post removed, large objects such as gurneys and caskets could easily be placed into the cars interior.
The ambulance conversion could be had only on the P3 and P5 business chassis for 1937 and 1938; by 39 it could be had on either Deluxe or Road King chassis, in either two or four door models including the 7-passenger sedan.
Plymouth announced its first wood bodied station wagon on the Deluxe PE chassis for 1934. Like the armor plated Plymouths, the bodies for these cars were supplied by an outside vendor, in this case U. S. Body & Forging. Incomplete cars were shipped to Tell City, Indiana, where U. S. B. & F. installed the bodywork; once completed, the cars were returned to Plymouth for shipment to the ordering dealer.
Even though the wood bodied cars were built on passenger car chassis, they were considered to be commercial vehicles through 1939 production.
The station wagon rode on the commercial truck chassis only in 1937. The reason for this may have been due more to a natural disaster than product planning; U. S. Body & Forgings Tell City wagon plant suffered from flood waters that year. Production was transferred to Buffalo, New York, where it remained until Plymouth phased out wood-body station wagons at the end of the 1950 model year. During this period, the J. T. Cantrell Company of Huntington, Long Island, New York also supplied wagon bodies to Plymouth. Plymouth would also sell bare chassis to those wishing to have custom bodies made by other companies.
Historically it is interesting to question whether the addition of a Plymouth Commercial line helped, or hurt, corporate truck sales. Dodge garnered only 4.5% of new truck sales in 1932. The dominant truck manufacturers then, as now, were Ford and Chevrolet.
For 1933 and 1934 Dodge took 11.6% of the market, climbing slightly, to 11.7% in 1935. The all new Dodge line for 1936 raised the sales figures to 13.4% of the market.
With the introduction of the Plymouth truck in 1937, Dodge sales fell to 11.1% of the market, with Plymouth picking up 2.1% for a corporate total of 13.2%. (No figures are given for Fargo, although it is assumed they were counted as Dodges). During the recession year of 1938 as other sales fell dramatically, Dodge maintained a 9.4% market penetration while Plymouth fell to just .9% for a corporate total of 10.3%. 1939 sales for Dodge came to 10.6% plus 1.4% for Plymouth.
While the 1940 Dodge trucks posted a gain to 13%, Plymouth remained nearly static at 1.7% for a 14.7% corporate total—the best prewar performance Dodge would see, although the 1941 corporate total slipped only .1% to 14.6%. This gain came solely through Dodge sales, as Plymouth captured only .5% of the market, its poorest showing ever. Plymouth offered only a single line of light duty trucks while Dodge and all the others offered a full line of light, medium and heavy duty trucks.
All in all, the addition of Plymouth as a companion did little to increase corporate penetration of the new truck market. Although built and marketed at little cost, the results may not have been worth the effort.
Introduction / Part 1 • Truck-based Commercial Plymouths • 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
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