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Plymouth 1946-1959: Introduction and Acknowledgements

by Jim Benjaminson. Copyrighted by Jim Benjaminson. Reprinted by permission.
Originally printed by Motorbooks International.


For nearly one quarter of a century Plymouth was this nation's third best selling automobile. When Walter P. Chrysler asked the buying public in 1932 to "Look At All Three" he was referring to Chevrolet, Ford, and Plymouth.

During Walter Chrysler's lifetime, the Plymouth division of Chrysler Corporation continued to grow and prosper by building automobiles far superior to those offered by his competitors in the low priced field. During the bleak Depression year of 1932, Plymouth was the only auto maker to increase its sales. What we take for granted today was exclusive to Plymouth-all steel bodies, hydraulic brakes, and independent front suspension.

Following Walter Chrysler's death in 1940, a change came over the corporate attitude toward Plymouth. K.T. Keller, Chrysler's hand-picked successor, seemed to favor Dodge (the division he had run when Chrysler Corporation bought Dodge Brothers in the summer of 1928). But something else had also happened - the competition had caught up and even surpassed Plymouth.

Stodgy styling, outdated mechanicals, and a reluctance to go "model for model" against the competition slowly took their toll on Plymouth sales. When Plymouth fell from third, it fell hard, dropping to fifth in a single year. Where it had once been the leader, Plymouth was now reluctant to even follow.

It would take a combination of things, including fresh new styling from Virgil Exner's studios and a V-8 engine, to turn things around. As the 1957 models made their debut, Plymouth was back in the sales arena as never before, breaking all time sales records in the process. But there was a dark side to this success. The 1957 models had been rushed into production and built in quantities never before achieved by Plymouth; quality hit rock bottom, leaving Plymouth (and Chrysler Corporation) with a tarnished reputation that would dog it for years to come. During the flamboyant late-1950s, Plymouth quickly found itself "out finned" with bleaker days still to come. Continued unacceptable quality and outlandish styling nearly brought Chrysler to its knees.

Even worse, Plymouth always played second fiddle to its stablemates, despite its once proud record of being the Corporation's bread and butter car. Walter Chrysler's plan to franchise Plymouth to all of his dealers at the outset of the depression kept many of them alive, but in the long run, failure to let Plymouth stand on its own worked against it. Automotive writer Arch Brown once referred to Plymouth as the car that was "always the bridesmaid, but never the bride,"-a perfect assessment.

From the time of Walter Chrysler's death, the Corporation has had difficulty coming to terms with Plymouth's market niche. Even with the success of today's Plymouth Voyager minivans, Chrysler has openly questioned the advisability of maintaining the nameplate, though public opinion surveys showed the Corporation that "Plymouth" was still a viable entity.

As this was written (in August 1993), word was that Plymouth will survive, becoming Chrysler Corporation's "value brand." Corporate insiders tell me, "You should see what's on the drawing boards" for 1995 and beyond.

Regardless of Plymouth's future, this is the post-WWII history of America's number three selling automobile, its ups and downs during that critical period from 1946-1959.

Hopefully it will not only give the reader an insight to Plymouth's place in this country's rich automotive history, but also answer questions about specific Plymouth models. When available, comparisons have been made between Plymouth and its two rivals Ford and Chevrolet, including equipment and options, engines, transmissions, horsepower and performance figures, and gas mileage results. These comparisons are based on results published in road test magazines of the period. In preparing this book, production figures always cover the model year while sales figures from the Automobile Manufacturers Association follow the calendar.


There are many people to thank in the preparation of any book, and this Postwar History of Plymouth is no exception. Hopefully we won't overlook anyone.

First and foremost is recognition of my aunt, Clara Sloan. When I first expressed an interest in "old cars," she gave me a 1932 Chevrolet pickup, followed two years later by a 1940 Plymouth that had once belonged to my father (he was second owner, buying the car when I was two years old). It was that Plymouth that perked my interest in the marque and led to this Postwar History of Plymouth. I still have both cars (I got the Chevrolet in 1962, the Plymouth in 1964); today the Chevrolet is undergoing a ground-up restoration, while the Plymouth is maintained as a good original car.

Next is an acknowledgment to the late Don Butler whose book The Plymouth and DeSoto Story helped pave the way for this one. Many times Don's book came off the shelf to check a reference point-or simply to serve as inspiration. I never met the man in person, but our correspondence was lengthy and informative. Quite frankly, this book wouldn't have been possible without his.

Don Bunn cannot go without being duly recognized. It was through his efforts and encouragement-and his opening a few doors in the publishing world-that this Postwar History of Plymouth was brought to life. "Mr. Dodge Truck" was always there with advice, answers to my questions, and suggestions.

There are special friends associated with the Plymouth Owners Club that deserve special recognition. Heading the list is the club's current magazine editor, Lanny Knutson. Lanny's photos and comments appear throughout the book.
Joseph J. "******" Eberle and Andrew G. Weimann II both deserve more than a pat on the back. Each dug deep into their extensive literature collections to provide research material. ******'s dealer data book and dealer accessory catalogs proved invaluable. And I am proud to know that I am one of the few to whom Andy would entrust his fantastic collection of rare brochures and photographs.

Anytime I ran into difficulty I knew I could count on Loyd Groshong, Paul Curtis, Robert Semichy, and Earl Buton, Jr., to provide photos, data books, or other needed information.

There are others, of course, all of whom played an important role in gathering material for this book. Ralph Dunwoodie provided early information. Mary Cattie of the Free Library of Philadelphia and the late James J. Bradley of the Automotive History Collection of the Detroit Public Library were contributors long before the idea of this book ever came about.

Obscure aspects of Plymouth history came to light through the help of many people: Jeff Peterson, Bill Hossfield, and Channing Powell (for the Powell
Sport Wagon); Dr. Verne Clauusen (Walter Chrysler's birthplace home); Jeff Godshall, Frank Marescalco, Jim Russell, and G. Marshall Naul; James Wren of the Automobile Manufacturers Association (sales figures), Cathy Swartz of PPG Industries (paint information), and Columbia Pictures.

Library credits to the Automotive History Collection of the Detroit Public Library, Free Library of Philadelphia, Franklin Roosevelt Library, and the Carnegie Regional Library of Grafton, North Dakota.

This book would not have been possible without researching many books and magazines of the periods covered, including Automobile Topics, MoTor, Science & Mechanix, Hop Up & Motor Life, Hot Rod, Motor Trend, Mechanix Illustrated, Ward's, Fortune, Northern Automotive Journal, Life, Saturday Evening Post, Floyd Clymer, Dell Buyers Guide, Motor Service, Automotive Industries, Automobile Trade Journal, Southern Automotive Journal, American Automobile, Speed Age, Popular Mechanics, Collectible Automobile, Antique Automobile, Cars & Parts, Special Interest Autos, Plymouth Bulletin, WPC News, and the Slant 6 News.

Newspaper credits to St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Tulsa World, Detroit News, and the Wamego Times.

Book credits to The Plymouth & DeSoto Story by Don Butler, Complete History of Chrysler Corporation by Richard Langworth and Jan Norbye, Life Of An American Workman by Boyden Sparkes, Standard Catalog Of American Cars, 1805-1942 by Krause Publications; the Chilton Catalog & Directory 1928; War Production Board bulletins, and the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Corporate sources included: Ross Roy Data Books, Confidential Bulletins, letters to dealers, Plymouth Sales Promoter, League Monthly, service bulletins, and hundreds of sales catalogs and brochures.

Last but not least are the many people associated with Chrysler Corporation that I have come to know over the years, including former and current employees: Madryn Johnson, Diane Davis, and Karla Rosenbusch formerly with the Chrysler Historical Collection; Bruce Thomas, Barbara Fronczak, and Brandt Rosenbusch currently with the Chrysler Historical Foundation; Otto Rosenbusch; Manfred Strobel of Chrysler Photographic; Marvin Raguse Jr., and George Stecher.

To each and every one mentioned here, and to those I may have overlooked (unintentionally), thank you.

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