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1934 “Big Three” comparison test / car reviews

Chevrolet entered 1934 with the DA Master and the Standard DC; Ford sold the V8-powered Model 40A and the four-cylinder Model C, in Standard and Deluxe trim (the latter coming with pinstriping, cowl lamps, and twin horns). The Plymouth was the Model DE.

plymouth, chevrolet, and ford

Plymouth and Ford used steel bodies, while Chevrolet clung to metal-over-wood construction. The Ford and Plymouth had front-opening “suicide” doors, while Chevrolet’s front doors were rearward-opening. In 1935, they would switch places.

Master Chevrolets were powered by an 80 horsepower Blue Flame Six; our smaller test car has a 60 horse[pwer engine. The Ford V8’s newly reworked manifold and two-barrel Stromberg carburetor brought it to the 85 horsepower rating it would retain for the rest of the decade — just 5 hp over the bigger Chevrolet six.

Master Chevrolets were fitted with the DuBonnet independent front suspension (“Knee Action”), while Ford still clung to antiquated, buggy-type transverse leaf springs. Both cars had cable actuated mechanical brakes, rode on 5.50 x 17” tires, and had torque tube final drive. Plymouth had always used hydraulic brakes, and had an independent front suspension for 1934.

1934 plymouth suspension

The Chevrolet had a fixed-position windshield, rearward facing cowl ventilator, and crank-controlled vent panes; both Ford and Plymouth had windshields that cranked open, and Ford also boasted front window glass which moved rearward about two inches before beginning to lower into the door.

Our Chevrolet test car belongs to Dale Holen, who did all the mechanical work on the car, including “an amateur body job.” After the roof of the building in which the car was stored collapsed on it, Dale brought the body back to life under the careful hands of professional bodyman Donald Dalzell. The car, painted maroon with black fenders and yellow striping, now looks as good as it runs.

Clif Jenson acquired his 1934 Ford back in the early sixties, for $75 — and he drove it home under its own power! This Ford is the closest to factory-original, not having been touched since Clif bought it. A previous owner had repainted it black, given the interior mouldings a white paint job, and added later "V8" emblems to the hood sides.

This writer’s [Jim Benjaminson’s] 1934 Plymouth was acquired in 1964, after his uncle, Albert Widme, discovered it in the shed where it had resided for 14 years. $20 brought it home. While the odometer did not indicate that it was a high mileage car, its condition demonstrated that it had “been around the block.” The front suspension was held together by baling wire. Its engine was tired and the transmission had to be practically tied into high gear.

Driving Impressions

1934 Chevrolet

There is no doubt that the Chevy belongs to a master mechanic. It jumps to life at the first touch of the starter button and is so quiet it’s hard to tell that it is even running. The clutch takes hold immediately and smoothly. The driving controls all fall easily to hand. Gearshifts are quick and precise. We found the steering to be a little on the heavy side, yet it has no tendency to wander. The ride is a little bouncy, but we have to remember that this car has the shortest wheelbase of any of the three we are driving today.

The brakes require a great deal of pressure to bring the car to quick, sure stops. We have to wonder what they would be like if all the mechanical connections under the car were coated with mud or ice as would have happened under normal driving conditions of the day. We are amazed that the brake and clutch pedals are bare metal with no rubber cover! Acceleration isn’t neck snapping, but still it is more than adequate for a car of its day in its price range.

The seating position in the Chevy is quite comfortable, once you’re behind the wheel. But we found the wheel too close to the seat for easy entry or exit. The front seat is adjustable, after a fashion, by changing the bolts. As on all of our test cars, the front seats lift up and forward to allow rear seat passengers entry or exit. The instruments, located in the center of the panel, can cause the driver to divert attention from the roadway to look at them. But they do have all the necessities for knowing what’s happening under the hood.

The doors close with a solid “Fisher Body clunk.” Dry rot, a common problem for composite body cars, hasn’t seemed to have struck this car and caused its doors to sag.


We never really got a good drive behind the wheel of the Ford. This car had been in storage for many years by the time we coaxed it out of retirement for this little get-together. After our initial photo rendezvous, the Ford’s coil “gave up the ghost” and it went home “pushing a Chevy on a chain.”

Starting is typical of the flathead Ford V8. The Ford took some cranking each time, but never failed to start until the coil gave out. Acceleration is brisk, almost to the point of being jumpy. But then, this car was geared to act that way - a fact that made Ford the favorite of the hot rod set. There is little doubt that the Ford would outrun the other two from a standing start, but in the long run we wouldn’t be bit surprised to see the Plymouth overtake it.

While the Chevrolet was the smallest in actual size, the Ford looks smaller than it really is. Handling is quick and the ride is typical “early buggy.” Though this suspension shines on the back roads upon which the car was used when new, it really shows today how antiquated the Ford design was in comparison to the other two cars. The Ford instrument panel is directly in front of the driver, but, unbelievable as it may seem, the car is fitted with neither an oil pressure nor an engine temperature gauge!

The Ford’s brakes require less pedal pressure than do the Chevrolet’s but it’s still more pressure than we would prefer (or are used to in the Plymouth). The seating position is good and the driver controls all fall easily to hand. As a “young man’s car,” the Ford easily fills the bill. But for a family sedan, we’d prefer either of the other two cars.


The Plymouth is an easy starter, coming to life consistently on the third revolution. The steering is light but still a little loose in comparison to the other cars (and compared to other 1934 Plymouths we’ve driven over the years). Of the three cars, the Plymouth rides the easiest, as well it should, having the longest wheelbase and the most modern suspension of the three.

Acceleration is good, but again it’s not neck snapping. At highway speeds the engine works fairly hard, a fact of life caused by the car’s lower rear end ratio. The clutch is smooth and easy. This car was not equipped with the vacuum clutch and its free wheeling transmission was replaced with a conventional unit years ago.

The seating position too low, really. Of the three, the Plymouth is the only car that has an adjustable track for moving the driver’s seat back and forth. The instruments are directly in front of the driver, but the edges of the steering wheel interfere with some of the gauges. The car handles easily on the road, providing a much more modern ride than either of the other two.

The brakes are really the car’s shining point. (We have to wonder why the others waited so long to convert to hydraulic brakes and why customers bought cars without them!) Stops are quick and true, needing far less pedal pressure than either the Ford or the Chevrolet.

Each car’s ventilation system is unique. We have to think, however, that the Plymouth, with its vent wing/window combination, captured the best of both the Chevrolet’s crank out vent panes and Ford’s retractable glass.

Looking at these three cars now, over 50 years after they were built, we find it amazing how closely their styling resembles each other. Despite their similarity, there are enough differences to make one easy to tell from the other.

Examine the following chart, then make your own decision. Or have you already?

All had three main bearings and a three speed manual transmission with dry clutch.

Tested40A DeluxeMaster DADeluxe PE
2-door price$535$580$610
Weight2,621 lb2,995 lb2,773 lb
EngineL-head V8OHV SixL-head Six
Cubic Inches221207201
Compression6.35.455.8 (6.5 optional)
Horsepower85 @ 3,80080 @ 3,30077 @ 3,600 (82 opt.)
Tire size5.5 x 175.5 x 176 x 16
Axle ratio4.114.114.375
Final driveTorque tubeTorque tubeOpen driveshaft
WheelsWire spokeWire spokeSteel artillery
BodySteelSteel over woodSteel

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