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1934 "Big Three" comparison test / car reviews

by Jim Benjaminson. Copyrighted by the Plymouth Bulletin. Reprinted by permission.

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.

all-three.jpg


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.

independent-suspension-1934.jpg


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.

Ford

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.

Plymouth

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.

FordChevroletPlymouth
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.)
Wheelbase112112114
Tire size5.5 x 175.5 x 176 x 16
Axle ratio4.114.114.375
BrakesMechanicalMechanicalHydraulic
Final driveTorque tubeTorque tubeOpen driveshaft
WheelsWire spokeWire spokeSteel artillery
BodySteelSteel over woodSteel

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