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by Jim Benjaminson. Copyrighted by the Plymouth Bulletin. Reprinted by permission
Ethel Miller -- who was she? And what happened to her? And just exactly who was Ethel Miller,you might ask?
She is the woman who claimed to have purchased the first Plymouth car ever built, back in 1928. Over the years, she would also own the One Millionth Plymouth and the Two Millionth Plymouth--then she seems to have fallen off the face of the earth. It's a question that has perplexed Plymouth researcher and historian Jim Benjaminson for twenty years. The former editor of the Plymouth Bulletin has asked these questions many times--without getting any concrete answers to the questions.
According to Chrysler Corporation history, Mrs. Ethel Miller of Turlock, California claimed to be the purchaser of the first Plymouth car ever sold, when the marque was introduced in mid-summer 1928. Upon learning that Plymouth would build its one millionth vehicle in August of 1934, Mrs. Miller wired Walter P. Chrysler to reserve the car for her. Chrysler in turn, offered to send her a plane ticket so she could be present when the car came off the line--an offer Mrs. Miller turned down, opting instead to attend Turlock's Melon Festival. The One Millionth Plymouth was built in Detroit August 9th. Mrs. Miller didn't leave Turlock until Tuesday, August 28th to begin her eastward trek to pick up the new car, following a bon voyage party thrown by Turlock's mayor at City Hall. In the meantime Chrysler had the car, a 1934 Deluxe PE Plymouth, shipped to the Chrysler Pavilion at the Chicago Worlds Fair where it was put on display.
Upon arrival in Chicago, Mrs. Miller's '28 Plymouth was put on display in place of the '34 (Chrysler also sponsored an antique auto display at the fair including a Friday the 13th Jinx Day race, which was won by Barney Oldfield driving an early Maxwell). Taking delivery of the One Millionth Plymouth, Mrs. Miller told Chrysler to reserve the Two Millionth Car for her when it was built.
That event happened in the fall of 1936, after the 1937 models were introduced. An extant photograph shows Mrs. Miller posing with Car # 1, Car One Million and Car Two Million along with Harry Moock of the Detroit sales offices and Verne Orr, California sales manager.
From that point, Mrs. Miller seems to have vanished into thin air. When the Three Millionth Plymouth was built in 1939, she was no where to be seen; same for the Four Millionth Plymouth in 1941.
Who was she? And what connection did she have to Chrysler? And what do we really know about her? These are the few facts that have been gathered. First, she was always referred to as Mrs. Ethel Miller (her full name was Ethel L. Miller). When she first appeared in 1934 she was listed as the manager of the St. Elmo Hotel in Turlock, California. She appeared in city directories up through 1938--the last year being listed as living at the Vincent Apartments.
Her first Plymouth, a 1928 Model Q Deluxe Coupe, carried California license plate 1L 16 96; the One Millionth car, a PE 4 door sedan had California plate 6E 96 48 while the Two Millionth car, a '37 P4 four door had California license 11 C 919. Efforts to trace these license plate numbers has so far proven futile.
What became of the # 1 Plymouth? Chrysler Corporation still retains a Model Q Deluxe Coupe it calls #1 -- but its serial number clearly shows it is not the first Plymouth built.
How did Mrs. Ethel L. Miller of Turlock, California come to think her '28 Plymouth was the first car built? Would YOU turn down a plane ticket from Walter P. Chrysler to see your One Millionth car being built? After purchasing these milestone cars, what happened to her? Where did she disappear to? Did she pass away? (California death records list far too many Ethel Millers to pursue that line of research). Did she remarry so that her last name changed--and she no longer had an interest in obtaining new milestone Plymouths? The St. Elmo Hotel she managed disappeared years ago and no one in Turlock has even heard of her...
The 13 year search for Mrs. Ethel L. Miller of Turlock, California -- the lady who owned Plymouth # 1, Plymouth #1,000,000 and Plymouth #2,000,000 just came to an end.
The stories too long to tell here (watch the Bulletin) ... married 5 times (that's why we couldn't find her in the Social Security death records) - walked out of an abusive first marriage in Indiana, packed up 3 kids and went to California.
Why didn't she get Plymouth # 3,000,000? She asked for it -- Chrysler Corporation REFUSED her -- so she went out and bought a Pontiac!
Born 1884 Died 1967 Last name Winzler Buried in Turlock, CA.
Chrysler 1904-2018 •
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