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Early Plymouth convertibles, 1928-1971

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

You really don't HAVE to be crazy to own a convertible--but it sure does help! Only a true nut would appreciate a car that is cold, drafty, noisy, leaks water--or is so darn much fun to drive. If you have ever owned one you know the thrill of motoring down the highway with the top down, the wind whistling around yours ears, with the sun shining brightly down on the top of your head. There is nothing like the feel of open air motoring.

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Convertibles are a special breed all to themselves. They are like no other automobile. If you have never owned one you will not know the thrill of the musty moisture smell the car acquires from sitting in the sun with the top down, a smell you only notice when the car has been sitting with the top up. If you have never owned a convertible you will not know the thrill of the noises that come into the car as you drive down the road. The studio soundproof quietness of an enclosed car is just not there: the sound of a diesel trunk sitting at your back bumper keeps you nervously glancing in the rear view mirror to make certain he is not really in your back seat. Nor will you know the joy of going to the movies and leaving the car with the top down--only to come out two hours later to discover it has been pouring rain for an hour and a half! Or the sudden increase of words to your vocabulary when a sudden rain storm comes up - and the top won't! And there is absolutely no thrill in the world to match that of lumping onto a hot leather seat while wearing your golf shorts. Ah yes--there is nothing like the thrills of owning a convertible. It is probably for these reasons that the convertible is no longer with us--but personally I would not be without one ragtop.

Chrysler Corporation's last convertible (until the 1980s) was in 1971. The big Plymouth convertible had died in 1970 but the Barracuda convertible continued until 1971.

Plymouth's first open cars began with production in June of 1928. The first Plymouth roadster sold for $670 but after about a month's production the car was equipped with a rumble seat and the price was increased to $675. The rumble seat would be included on at least one of every open model until 1939. In addition to the roadster a 5 passenger phaeton was offered at a price of $695. It was the only Plymouth to feature a two piece windshield.

Unfortunately, no production records are known to exist for the 1928 and 1929 models so it is unknown how many phaeton body styles were produced. Making an educated guess based on percentage rates of later years' known production, it is probable that less than 325 phaetons were built in the Q series. Today only three phaetons exist in the U.S.

The Plymouth rumble seat roadster and phaeton continued virtually unchanged through the 1929 model year; again no production figures are known and only two '29 phaetons are known in the U.S.

The 1930 model bowed on April 8th, 1930 and with it four open cars were cataloged. These included a business roadster without rumble seat, the rumble seat (or sport) roadster, the phaeton and a new offering in the form of a convertible coupe. Styled after the deluxe landau coupe, the top was fully collapsible. For those unfamiliar with the terms roadster and convertible, a roadster did not have roll up side windows. During inclement weather it was necessary to snap a set of fabric curtains into place.

The convertible with its roll up windows and solid windshield posts (the roadster windshields were hinged to fold flat against the cowl) offered much better weather protection with more convenience.

Open car production continued in the 1931 model year with little change but 1932 saw more open cars offered than in any year before or since. The Depression era buyer had a choice of a business roadster, a sport roadster, the phaeton, the convertible coupe or a new two door convertible coach. Incorrectly referred to over the years as a convertible sedan, the factory Service Card Records officially referred to the car as a Convertible Coach, although factory sales brochures that included the car called it a convertible sedan. At a price of $785 it was the most expensive Plymouth as well and only 690 were built. The model came equipped with dual fender mount spare tires and a special trunk rode on an extended platform at the rear. The top was of a Victoria style and it was necessary to install a set of pillar posts to enclose the car. The convertible coach body was also shared with the '32 DeSoto SC. The DeSoto was priced at $975 and only 275 were built. Chrysler and Dodge also offered the body style but both of those bodies featured regular opening doors while the Plymouth and DeSoto offerings had suicide doors. (The Dodge model DM convertible coach was an export version of the Plymouth and was mounted on the PB chassis--only 48 were built however).

1932 was the last year for the Plymouth roadster body style; unique to PB production was a special offering to young college people called the Collegiate Special--at an extra cost of $40 the factory would paint the car the owner's school colors (regardless of the combination) but it is not recorded how many such Roadsters were sold.

The phaeton also was discontinued after 1932 because of declining sales and today only a handful still exist (see chart). The short lived convertible coach also received the axe after a one year model run.

For 1933, only one convertible was offered, initially in the PC series. When the PC was not as successful sales-wise as had been hoped the '33 PD Deluxe was introduced in mid-year. The PC convertible was phased out and production of the PD convertible nearly doubled that of the PC. Only one convertible was available in 1934, mounted on the deluxe PE chassis. This would become the normal production practice for each year, offering only one open car on the deluxe chassis.

Beginning with the 1935 PJ model the convertibles received a special sub-frame to provide strength and rigidity. This practice was continued through the 1941 models. Mounting the subframe on top of the regular frame necessitated a special low-height seat. 1936 was the last year for factory fender mount spare tires and although they were not limited to installation on convertibles only very few cars were so equipped.

The 1937 convertibles saw the introduction of vent wings mounted on the door and these were used through 1941. The vent wing remained in place while the entire window mechanism rolled down into the door. (Some '37 models were equipped with a shorter window and had a 'modern' style vent window rigidly mounted on the door).

Plymouth enjoyed a unique sales advantage during the '39 sales year. It was the only Chrysler line to offer a convertible of any type (Chevrolet did not offer a convertible that year either) and two models were available, a convertible coupe and a convertible sedan.

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The '39 Plymouth convertible coupe was a truly transitional car--it was the last Plymouth to use a rumble seat and it was the first car to offer as standard equipment a power operated convertible top. The top was raised and lowered by two large vacuum cylinders that mounted behind the rear seat. The cylinders were controlled by a dash mounted switch which allowed the driver to raise or lower the top without leaving the drivers seat.

The '39 convertible sedan was a unique car--not only was it the only 4 door convertible sedan ever built by Plymouth, but it was mounted on a special 117" wheelbase chassis (the other '395 rode on a 114" wheelbase). The body for the car was built by Murray rather than Briggs and it was the most expensive Plymouth ever built to that time, selling for $1150. The car shared the same body as the discontinued '37-38 Chrysler and DeSoto convertible sedans and only 387 were built. Today only a few remain. The car probably would never have been built had it not been for the Chrysler-DeSoto offerings of it the year before. It was only built the one year. Both the convertible coupe and convertible sedan came standard equipped with double sided whitewall tires; the convertible sedan had leather upholstery as standard equipment and a black colored top was optional on both models replacing the conventional tan of years previous.

The only major changes of the 1940 convertible was the discontinuance of the rumble seat in favor of a trunk and the front header bar was now made of metal rather than wood.

1941 saw a dramatic production increase in convertibles, with a 51 percent increase in sales recorded. The war shortened 1942 production year saw the smallest number of Plymouth convertibles built since 1938; only 2,731 were built for the U.S. market and another 73 were exported overseas.

The P15 convertibles of 1946 through 1948 were the last American convertibles to have a Victoria style top with no windows except in the doors. In the car-hungry post-war years these cars sold like hot-cakes and they are still highly prized today.

Convertible production soared with the 1949-1952 models but production declined severely with the 1953 and 1954 models. By this time the vacuum powered top had been replaced by electric tops but other body styles were becoming more popular. The lowly station wagon soon became the everyday family car and the open car began its slide into oblivion. Convertible production reached its U.S. industry peak in 1965 but air conditioning and body styles with vinyl roofs that looked like convertibles helped contribute to the eventual discontinuance of the open car. They had never been sold in great quantity and they cost more to produce--a cost which manufacturers decided was too hard to amortize. Like the horse and buggy, the convertible gave way to modernization--and those remaining examples will continue to grow in value.

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