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Illustrated Plymouth & DeSoto Buyer's Guide: 1930s Plymouth cars

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Illustrated Plymouth & DeSoto Buyer's Guide: 1930s Plymouth cars

by Jim Benjaminson

Production of the slightly revamped Model 30U began on April 5, 1930. They were considered 1930 models, until car number 1530245 rolled out the door on July 1st as a 1931.

Despite March price cuts of $65-75 per car and a fourteen month production run, the Model 30U did not see the success of the earlier cars. The 30U was still much like its predecessors; the most visible difference was the wider radiator shell. The fenders looked the same, though they were heavier (open models retained the same rear fenders). The 109 3/4" was unchanged, although the frame of the car had been lengthened by two inches. For the first time, though, Plymouth could provide customers with the safety of an all-steel body.

As the Great Depression began its stranglehold on the world economy, Chrysler made a move designed to protect not only his Chrysler-Plymouth dealers, but the Dodge and DeSoto dealer network as well. Each car line would be dualed with Plymouth, a move that would place Plymouth in over 7,000 dealerships. All dealers would have an "economical" car to sell.

The 30U had six body types at its introduction: four door sedan, sport roadster with rumble seat, business coupe, rumble seat coupe, phaeton, and convertible coupe. The convertible coupe, with roll up windows and a fixed windshield post, spelled the end for drafty, side-curtained roadsters. A short-lived business roadster (fixed windshield posts and no rumble seat) and "Commercial Sedan" were soon discontinued for lack of sales, while a two door sedan made its appearance later.

Aside from the wide radiator, the car got a Klaxon Model 16 horn mounted on the headlamp bar (replacing the Moto-Vox pictured at right). Arched hood panels were discontinued, hood louvers being split into two groups-15 louvers in the forward panel, 14 at the rear. Mid-year, the rectangular rear window was replaced by an oval window, a Plymouth trademark for the next several years. Headlamps were now painted on all models.

The venerable old four was upgraded with a quarter-inch bore increase, raising displacement to 196 cubic inches and horsepower to 48. The crankshaft and camshaft were both beefed up, and after engine number U276061, pistons were fitted with one more piston ring (for a total of four). Early engines relied on thermo-siphon cooling with fuel supplied by vacuum tank, but July saw the addition of water and fuel pumps (a hefty advancement for the time).

75,510 Model 30U Plymouths were built; by calendar year 1930 Plymouth had climbed two more notches, to 8th place in industry sales.

1932 Plymouth Model PA

Despite the ever-souring economy, Chrysler Corporation sank two and half million dollars in the car that would replace the Model 30U. Coded the PA series, the first car came off the line May 1, 1931. Regardless of its previous policies, Chrysler considered every PA built to be a 1932 model. After price cuts on most models, Plymouth was at the same level as Chevrolet but still considerably higher than Ford's Model A.

The PA Plymouth again shared many of its major body components with the DeSoto SA and Chrysler CM. Styling took on a gentler, more rounded appearance-the radiator shell was gently sloped, with built in radiator grill, flanked by bright, bowl shaped headlamps mounted on a cross bar between the fenders. The elongated hood gave the car a more massive appearance, the radiator topped by a graceful, highly detailed Flying Lady cap.

Buyers choices included a business roadster (which would be shortly discontinued), rumble seat coupe, sport roadster with rumble seat, convertible coupe, phaeton, business coupe, two and four door sedans. A special taxi cab model was also cataloged. As in earlier years, open cars were fitted with leather upholstery while closed cars received pile or broadcloth with leather optional.

Added in the fall of 1931 was the Deluxe Sedan. Selling for $55 more than the regular sedan, the buyer again got chrome cowl band and cowl lamps, sidemounted tires with tread and sidewall covers, chrome windshield frame and solid one piece rear bumper, in addition to more luxurious upholstery featuring broadcloth without pleats, three window pull-down shades, rope type robe rail, two assist-pull straps and two rear seat ashtrays.

January 1, 1932 saw addition of the PA Thrift. Built in just two body styles-two and four door sedan-the Thrift was initially available only in black (including the radiator shell, grill and headlamps), with wood spoke wheels. There were no shock absorbers, no dome light, no instrument panel temperature gauge, gas gauge found on the gas tank at the rear and a two piece rear bumper. Free wheeling transmissions, found on all other PA cars, was also not available on the Thrift series. By April, wire wheels, free wheeling and colors other than black, could be had on the Thrift.

Mechanically, the PA was little changed from before. Engine displacement remained at 196 cubic inches, with horsepower raised to 56 through higher compression ratios. New this year was a fully automatic mechanical spark advance, with vacuum controlled spark retarder. The crankshaft was statically and dynamically balanced with each piston and rod set being matched in weight to within .02 pounds.

Despite these innovations, the result of a great deal of research, was "Floating Power," a unique method of mounting the engine in rubber along the axis of its own center of gravity. Mounting the engine high at the front and low at the rear, allowed the motor to rock and vibrate without transmitting these motions into the passenger compartment.

Wheelbase remained the same although the frame was of the "double drop" type with kick ups over the front and rear axles to lower the car for both better looks and better handling by lowering the center of gravity. Tire sizes remained at 4.75x19" on adjustable spoke wire wheels.

As calendar year 1931 came to a close, over 105,000 PAs had come off the line. Plymouth had managed to slip past Buick to become America's number three selling automobile, a position it would occupy for the next quarter century.

1932 Plymouth Model PB

"Look At All Three," Walter Chrysler boldly challenged, pictured standing with one foot on the front bumper of the new PB series-his hand wrapped around the Flying Lady.

The PB series, although one of the shortest production runs in Plymouth history, was the zenith of the four cylinder Plymouths. Style had come to Plymouth-and in a big way. New body styling featured forward opening "suicide" style doors. Hoods stretched from the forward reaches of the radiator back over the cowl to the smartly raked windshield posts. The slant of the rear edge of the hood approximated that of the front door line, as did the hood louvers. One piece bumpers-along with one piece fenders, added to the clean, luxurious look.

Free-standing headlamps replaced the headlamp tie bar while a bolder grill, convex in shape, sloped forward near the bottom of the radiator shell. Simply put, this car did not look like a four cylinder automobile! Sales quickly proved that Plymouth was on the right track-it would be the only make of automobile to increase its sales, selling more cars in 1932 than 1931, fully 119% over the previous year (Chevrolet sales were 55% of 1931-Ford's only 49%.)

Ten body styles were cataloged, including the largest offering of open cars ever in Plymouths history. Buyers could choose between a business coupe, rumble seat coupe, convertible coupe, two door sedan, four door sedan, business roadster, sport roadster, phaeton, a 7-passenger sedan on a special 121' wheelbase and a two door convertible Victoria.

Roadsters, with their rakish "chopped top" look (the roadster windshield measuring just 7" high at the center) took on an especially pleasing appearance,. Wire wheels (wood optional) and twin under-headlamp Klaxon horns added to the look of richness.

The PB series would be the end of the line for the drafty roadster and phaeton models, which would be discontinued at year end (although limited production of these body style continued outside the United States).

Closed car interiors were offered in taupe broadcloth with a faint stripe or Bedford cord or leather as options, while all open cars received full leather. As would be Plymouth's practice for years to come, front floors were covered with rubber mats while rear passenger compartments were carpeted. An expensive looking "engine turned" panel housed the instruments

A stronger X-braced frame carried the 65 horsepower four-cylinder engine. Bore and stroke had remained the same as the PA series; the horsepower increase achieved by using a larger carburetor with an acceleration pump, changes to the spark curve, enlarging the exhaust ports, and increasing the diameter of the exhaust manifold, pipe and muffler. A beefed up 55 pound crankshaft had the same bearings as earlier models.

Buyers could also choose vacuum clutch controls combined with the free wheeling transmission. With the extra horsepower, Plymouth's brakes were improved by the addition of Centrifuse brake drums, combining cast iron linings fused to an inner lining of steel.

Hoping to expand its foreign markets, an export version (identical except for a smaller 3 7/64" engine bore) known as the PBX was announced in April. Of the low priced three, only Plymouth offered buyers a choice of wood or wire wheels-standard tire size being 5.25x18"; an extremely rare option was special 7.50x15" Airwheels which required factory engineering changes to use.

81,010 PBs were built between February and September of 1932, when the four cylinder engine was phased out of production. It would be decades and a very different world before Plymouth would build another four.....

1933 Plymouth models PC, PD, and PCXX

Forty-five days and nine million dollars after the last PB was manufactured, Chrysler Corporation introduced its new 1933 six cylinder model PC to the world. There had never been another new car announcement like it in the world. For 2 1/2 hours November 2, 1932, Chrysler Corporation took over the Columbia Broadcasting Company radio network to introduce its new model line to 75,000 Plymouth dealers and employees around the nation. Narrated by popular commentator Lowell Thomas, the program featured Walter P. Chrysler, B. E. Hutchinson, Fred Zeder, Harry Moock, and race drivers Billy Arnold and Barney Oldfield. Simultaneous dealer meetings in 25 cities around the country were staged to unveil the new, six-cylinder Plymouth.

Three hundred pounds lighter and on a 107" wheelbase, (five inches shorter wheelbase than the PB), the PC Plymouth came in just four body styles-4 door sedan, business coupe, rumble seat coupe and convertible coupe, starting at prices as low as $495. A two door sedan would be added in February. A broad, chrome plated radiator shell, thin, pancake headlamps and an odd relationship between the angle of the hood, windshield, door lines and hood louvers made the car look short and stubby-more like a four cylinder car than a six. The wheelbase was too short to mount fender mounted spare tires, a still popular option, causing customers to complain bitterly.

Sales surged briefly-then fell like a rock. Styling wasn't entirely to blame-a short lived economic panic caused by the closure of Detroit area banks which led to further closings around the country had not helped-but clearly something had to be done. A stop-gap measure was increasing the wheelbase of the PC by one inch-just enough so sidemount spares could be mounted, although they sat higher than the hood when so equipped.

Immediate plans were put into place to alleviate the problem for the spring selling season. A search of corporate parts bins found Plymouth raiding Dodge for its 111" wheelbase chassis from its DP series-then extending that wheelbase an extra inch to 112", same as the PB's had been. Dodge, in turn revamped its DP to a 115" wheelbase.

A crash program in styling set about to correct the PC's problems. A longer hood, with louvers matching the cut of the door and windshield, along with longer front fenders, were designed to fit the existing body structure. The upright radiator shell would be painted, with just a small chrome bead around the grill opening. Bullet shaped stainless headlamps would add to the illusion of length-and sidemount spare tires would fit properly in the fenders. Even the bumpers received attention, the front getting a 1 1/4" dip in the center. Interiors were upgraded as well-the redesigned car getting an oval instrument cluster in the center of the dash board along with a real glove compartment, replacing the individual gauges of the PC.

The new car, coded the PD Deluxe, began rolling off the lines March 17-and Plymouth couldn't build them fast enough. The PD had the same five body types as the PC-leaving Plymouth with a marketing decision to make-should they retain the PC-or trash can it?

In reality it was a little bit of both. The PC, as such, would be discarded, but to keep the advertised selling price of $495, the short wheelbase chassis (now called the PCXX) would remain. It would be redesigned, through the use of a new hood, radiator and headlamps, to look like the PD. PC body styles would be continued, except the convertible. For the first time in its history, Plymouth would offer two series on different wheelbases.

While the six cylinder engine was new to Plymouth, it had been in corporate use two years earlier. Displacing 189 cubic inches, the six had less displacement than the four cylinder it replaced, although its horsepower rating of 70 with the standard head was greater. An optional aluminum cylinder head raised compression-and horsepower-to 76. The engine would become a familiar sight, serving, with only minor refinements, through the 1959 models (and even later in truck and industrial uses).

Like all Chrysler engines, it was a valve-in-block design with insert rod and main bearings, insert valve seats, full pressure lubrication, manifold heat control, a redesigned water pump which eliminated the need for a packing nut, oil filter and down draft carburetion. Pistons were aluminum with four rings per piston. A redesigned 12-cam free wheeling unit saw use in the PC and PD, but not the PCXX.

Chassis changes were not limited to just wheelbase increases-the PD and PC both shared a tubular front axle, the PCXX used an "I" beam type axle. Centrifuse brake drums, free wheeling,a automatic clutch control, manifold heat control, and an engine impulse neutralizer did not see use on the PCXX. Even the transmission-which used helical cut gears on the PC and PD - was of the earlier "silent second" type of years past. Gas tank on the PC carried 11 gallons, the PCXX 11 1/2 gallons, the PD 15 gallons.

There were no changes to the body itself between the PC, PCXX and PD (save for dash boards) but each had its own unique set of front fenders-rear fenders interchanged between similar body types.

By end of the model run, Plymouth managed to drop the price of the PCXX business coupe down to $445. With year end sales of 298,557 cars, one out of every four low priced cars being sold was a Plymouth.

1934 - Plymouth PE, PF, PFXX, PG

Following the lead set in '33, Plymouth entered the 1934 model year with two series. The price leader was the "New Plymouth Six" PF, built on a 108" wheelbase in business coupe, rumble seat coupe, two or four door sedan form. At the top of the scale sat the Deluxe Plymouth PE, with the same body lineup plus convertible coupe.

As the year progressed, the PE series would be expanded by two body types-the Westchester Semi-Sedan Suburban wood body station wagon (Plymouth's first "official" station wagon) and a close coupled, blind quarter window Town Sedan with built in trunk.

Before year's end, Plymouth would build its one millionth car, a Deluxe PE four door sold to Mrs. Ethel Miller of Turlock, California, who claimed to be the purchaser of the first Plymouth sold in 1928. Mrs. Miller's car was shipped to the Chicago World's Fair for display, where Mrs. Miller took delivery of the car, trading in her Model Q Deluxe Coupe, which was then displayed at the Fair.

Sales continued to climb but competition was stiff, so two additional series were added to the sales lineup. The price leader PG "Standard Six" came on line in March, in business coupe and two door (62 four door PG sedans were built, probably as a fleet order for the military).

The "Special Six" series PFXX debuted for the spring selling season; it featured a chrome-plated grill, chrome windshield frame, twin trumpet horns, twin taillamps, chrome headlamp shells, interior sun visor, ash tray and glove compartment on the dashboard. A PFXX Town Sedan joined the body lineup as well.

Deluxe PE Plymouths rode a longer wheelbase, stretched to 114". The PF, PFXX and PG all shared a 108" wheelbase. Joining the trend to independent front suspension, all models except the PG featured upper and lower "A" arms with a coil spring suspension, the PG sitting atop an "I" beam axle. Wheels on the PE were 6:00x16" steel artillery (early cars were fitted with 16" wire wheels). Wires were standard on the PG and PF, the PFXX riding for a time on 17" artillery wheels before switching to 16s.

The engine was stroked a quarter of an inch, to a displacement of 201 cubic inches, where it would remain through 1941. Horsepower was now rated at 77 (82 with the optional aluminum cylinder head). A small bore (2 7/8") engine was built for export use only. PE engines all featured automatic manifold heat control and crankshaft impulse neutralizer. The optional automatic clutch and free wheeling were exclusive to the PE series.

At first glance the '34 Plymouth appeared to be little more than a redesign of the '33 bodies, even though major changes had taken place in the upper body structure. Sharply raked windshields and low roof lines gave the closed cars, especially coupes, a "chopped top" look. Setting the PE apart from the other series was an extra long hood featuring both louvers and doors for ventilation.

Sitting atop the radiator was a delicate (and fragile) sailing ship ornament-the radiator cap could be found under the hood!

Vehicle Car Classic car Vintage car Classic

Perfected ventilation, which featured both vent wing windows and normal windows, could be locked together to roll the entire unit into the door-this again, an exclusive to the Deluxe series. And for the first time, a radio could be mounted into the dash panel on PE and PFXX cars.

Bedford cord with optional mohair was found in closed PE and PF cars, with full leather optional (standard in the convertible and station wagon) while the PG featured "hard-weave cord".

At year's end, a record 321,171 cars had been built. The '34 Plymouth was voted "The Most Beautiful Plymouth" ever built by members of the Plymouth Owners Club in 1987.

Plymouth Owners Club article on the Plymouth cars of 1934

This book is reprinted with the permission and cooperation of Jim Benjaminson, who holds the copyright to the text and to his photos. Also see his book Plymouth 1946-1959.




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