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Plymouth cars for 1940

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

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Plymouth for 1940 finally received the new body the other Chrysler lines had received the year earlier. When production began on August 1st, 1939, the majestic convertible sedan, the sporty rumble seat, and the drafty, side-curtained station wagon were all memories. The new body, mounted on the 117" wheelbase, was lower, wider, and longer than any Plymouth in past history.

The 1940 cars' wheelbase was stretched 3" across the board (the 1939 convertible sedan had been the only Plymouth built on a 117" chassis before 1940). In addition, the engineering department moved the engine 4" forward and then relocated the rear axle 7 1/2" aft, so the passenger compartment increased in size with the seats now cradled inside the suspension, rather than over it. The glass area in the new bodies was increased by 18 percent, with larger windshields, a narrower center windshield divider, larger quarter windows, and a larger one-piece rear window replacing last year's two-piece window. The new backlight gave the driver an increase of 23 percent in viewing area. The windshield wipers, previously mounted above the windshield in the header panel, were relocated to the cowl. Interior space was up over 10 cubic feet from 1939 and trunk space increased to over 21 cubic feet.

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Priced slightly higher than the '39 cars, the model lineup included the cheaper Roadking P9 series in a two door or four-door sedan, as well as a two-passenger coupe. The Deluxe P10 series offered a club coupe, a two-passenger business coupe, a convertible coupe, two-door and four-door sedans, a 7-passenger sedan, a limousine, and a station wagon. The Commercial Car line included a pickup (express) and a cab and chassis on the truck chassis, as well as a Utility Sedan and a panel (sedan) delivery on the Roadking chassis.

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Although design of the 1940 models was a refined version of the 1939 ideas, nothing interchanged except the sailing ship hood ornament. Greatly adding to the looks of the car, the hood line was unbroken and the entire panel opened all the way from the prow of the nose to the cowl. P10 models had a chrome belt line molding running from the center of the car back to the deck lid while Roadking models had chrome trim only from the center of the car to a point about halfway back on the hood. With the advent of the new body for 1940 Plymouth dropped the rumble seat in the coupe and convertible body styles. The rumble seat had been around since the first cars in 1928 but it was a "make due" accommodation for extra passengers, always cold and drafty and with no protection from the elements during foul weather.

To offset the loss of this 2-4-passenger configuration, Plymouth engineers added a set of small, fold out-of-the way auxiliary seats to the rear of the coupe and called it the Club Coupe. The spare tire in the club coupe was moved from behind the passengers seat to a spot flat on the floor of the trunk. A regular two-passenger coupe was also marketed and both models sold well throughout the year. The convertible coupe, also, was fitted with the auxiliary seats.

The four door and two door sedans were offered pretty much as in years past with the four-door being the biggest seller in the line.

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The wooden bodied station wagon was growing in popularity as well and it was built only on the Deluxe P10 chassis (although a handful of P9 wagons were built for export). Sliding glass windows were standard this year in the wagon, doing away with the drafty and cumbersome side curtains that were standard in years past. The wagon was considered part of the passenger car line.

Plymouth was the only low priced carmaker to offer a 7-passenger sedan, which was built on an extended wheelbase chassis. In addition, a limousine with divider window was built as well. Both the Roadking and P10 Deluxe were equipped with twin tail lamps. Access to the bulbs was provided inside the trunk and slots in the bulb mounts allowed the trunk to be illuminated when the lights were on.

Trunk lid hinges were concealed for the first time (except on coupe and convertible models) and the right hinge featured a unique locking device that held the lid on the open position. To close the trunk it was necessary to lift the lid higher to release the rotary latch mechanism. Gone was the trunk lid prop (on sedan models). Door hinges were concealed on the front doors as well.

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For the first time, a stone deflector appeared between the rear of the body and the rear bumper. Rotary door latches became standard equipment on all Plymouth cars and rubber door seals were additions to the Deluxe Plymouths. With an eye to the future, Plymouth made the running board a delete option on all models. The factory recommended NOT deleting them on the convertible. When omitted a chrome strip ran the length of the space between the fenders and a rubber pad was placed on the leading edge of the rear fender to protect the finish from stone and gravel ships. There was no charge for this delete option.

Following the end of a battle that had started in 1937 with each individual state over their lighting requirements the 1940 models were the first Plymouths to be equipped with Sealed Beam headlamps. These new lamps provided 65 percent more efficient lighting and eliminated the problem of fading illumination caused by dust covered bulb and reflector units used in the past.

A major improvement in the 1940 Plymouth was the new All Weather Air Control System. As an option it was offered on both the Roadking and Deluxe models. The combined heating and ventilation system provided fresh air, circulated to all parts of the car in summer and winter even with the windows tightly closed. In cold weather the air was heated and maintained at a selected temperature. The heated air could be circulated to the rear seat passengers as well as the front. By flipping a lever on the heater itself air could either be circulated from the bottom of the heater to the front seat alone, or the heated air was forced thru heater conducts built into the kick panels and the air flowed along the front seat into the rear compartment. The system, which employed two heaters mounted on either side of the firewall, was a dealer-installed option. Air was brought into the system through the cowl-mounted ventilator and a defroster system was incorporated as well.

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On the interior the motif set in 39 was again refined. All the instruments were placed in front of the driver. The oil, amp, fuel and temperature gauges all had tell tale red danger signals to indicate trouble somewhere in the car, as well as the "Safety Signal" speedometer which indicated by a colored band under the speedometer needle eye the speed of the car. From 0 to 30 miles per hour the eye showed green, from 30 to 50 mph it showed amber and when speeds exceeded 50 the eye glowed red. The radio was moved farther left towards the driver and an electric clock mounted in the glove compartment door was optional. A disappearing panel in the center of the dash provided the ash receiver and a cigar lighter at home. Interior sun visors also offered an additional 2" endwise adjustment allowing the passengers a greater range of shade. Plymouth was awarded, for the second year in a row, the Eastern Safety Conference Award.

The new transmission introduced for 1940 also allowed the engineers to lower the front floor hump and all models were treated to the column shift lever. With the emergency brake lever located on the left side under dash by the steering column the front seat was obstruction free and could carry three passengers in fair comfort.

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The new body, being wider than the previous models, gave rear seat passengers an additional 3" hip room. The relocated differential meant the rear doors could now be full width, rather than curving in to match the fender line. In addition, rear door windows now lowered completely into the door. Rear seat passengers also benefited in that the area under the drivers seat was undercut to allow more room for the passenger's feet. The increased trunk had the spare tire mounted vertically along the right side to provide more luggage space and also to balance the weight when only the driver was in the vehicle. (This on sedan models only).

The mechanical end of the new Plymouth, tagged the "Low Price Beauty With the Luxury Ride" remained pretty much the same as years previous. The engine was the familiar "L" head 6 cylinder, displacing 201.3 cubic inches. Horsepower was upped to 84 for the 1940 models (up two from '39), this figure reached at a speed of 3,600 rpm. Compression ratio remained at 6.7 to 1, the highest figure in the low priced field. Bore and stroke were 3"x4". Again 4 piston rings were utilized and the engine had full pressure 011 lubrication. The crankshaft used 4 main bearings. Cooling system capacity was 3.5 gallons while a 17-gallon fuel tank was fitted. Access to the tank-sending unit was through a cover plate in the floor of the trunk. To aid in valve regrinding the inner fender panel was easily removable. With the right front wheel removed it was possible for the mechanic to easily slip into the engine compartment to perform this task. An oil filter was standard equipment.

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A new shunt-type generator, with full voltage and current regulation, was used on the 1940 models. Generator output was increased from 28 to 35 amperes. A 90-amp 6-volt battery was standard. An entirely new transmission incorporating a blocker type of synchronizer to prevent gear clashing was used in both models. The transmission cover was moved to the side of the case and an extent ion at the rear of the transmission provided the use of the '39's short drive shaft despite the increased wheelbase of the '40 models. The transmission gears were helical cut for quieter operation. The ventilated clutch used a 9 1/2" dry plate.

Standard tire size was 6.00x16" although 20" wheels were optional for rural mail carriers and others that required extra clearance. When so equipped they provided 9 1/2" of ground clearance. An engineering change that has probably been more cussed at than appreciated was the change to left hand thread on the wheel studs on the left hand side of the car. Depending on which side of the car the motorist was changing a flat tire on he (or she) had to remember the wheel studs turned opposite from normal if on the drivers side of the vehicle.

Two "Commercial" bodies were building on the Roadking P9 chassis. The first, called the Utility Sedan was a two-door sedan with the rear seat removed and a screen partition separating the driver from the load compartment. Full access to the back of the vehicle was provided thru the trunk opening. The trunk was not partitioned off from the rest of the interior. A panel (sedan) delivery was built as well, this being a full sized vehicle with twin opening rear doors. The spare tire, carried in previous years in the front fender, was now relocated to a point rearward of the passengers door on the outside of the body. The entire interior of the panel delivery was lined and one leather-covered bucket seat was standard. A spare seat for a passenger was optional.

Plymouth continued to offer a line of vehicles on the truck chassis. Designated the Model PT105, It was built on a 116" wheelbase frame and in fact was built in the same factory as the Dodge pickup of the era. Only the front sheet metal differed between the two.

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The pickup (called the Express in factory literature) and a cab and chassis version were the only two styles available in the PT105 series. The pickup bed could carry objects fully four feet wide and was over 78" long. The Plymouth truck was $21.14 cheaper than the Ford 85 pickup, but cost around $10 more than the Chevrolet. It was the only pickup of the three with a rustproofed cab, pickup box, fenders, and sheet metal; Ford did not rustproof the cab or the box, and Chevrolet did not rustproof the cab. The 1940 Plymouth pickup had a 4" longer wheelbase than Ford, 2.5" longer than Chevrolet; from the Plymouth bed was 78" long, around 1" more than the Ford and 1/2" more than the Chevrolet. Plymouth and Chevrolet both had 48½" beds, while Ford's bed was 46" wide. The Plymouth cab was also wider and had more legroom than the competitors, though all were close.

The Plymouth pickup used the corporate L-head straight-six engine; Chevrolet used a valve-in-head straight-six, while Ford used its well-hyped V8. Plymouth could not boast greater horsepower, but they could boast greater simplicity than either competing design. Plymouth and Chevrolet used four springs to Ford's two in their suspensions; all three had double-acting shock absorbers at all wheels, but they were optional ($15) on Chevrolet and standard on the others.

The commercial line, too, received the new sealed beam headlamp system with the result that the parking lamp had to be moved atop the headlamp shell itself, as the sealed beam did not have a provision for the parking beam. Truck sales increased over '39 as well as the passenger car line despite a $10 price increase. Both a 3-speed and a 4-speed transmission were catalogued, with the 4-speed (with power take off opening) costing an additional $17.50.

Although Plymouth's 1940 share of the market penetration was less than it had been in 1933 when Plymouth had reached the number two sales spot, all indications were that Plymouth would soon take over that position. Paul Woudenberg, author of Petersen Publishing Company's book Ford In The Thirties, wrote that "success of Plymouth in 1940, whose percentage gains for that year, when projected into 1941, would have easily moved Plymouth into second place in the annual sales race."

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Plymouth had been steadily eating into Ford's market share and the problem was considered so bad at Ford that a crash program to improve their product was launched. The question was not how far was Ford behind Chevrolet, but rather how far ahead they were at Plymouth! The Ford men did pull out all the stops for 1941 and successfully held back Plymouth's advances; at the end of 1941 Ford was still in second place, Plymouth in third. Chevy remained number one but they, too, had pulled out all the stops to remain there.

Woudenberg wrote, "The 1940 Plymouth was all new easily the best Plymouth to appear in the short history of the marquee. The Chrysler Corporation had finally come up with a new style which was handsome, albeit boxy, and in keeping with the latest trends. The Plymouth wheelbase was increased 3 inches to 117 inches, which allowed the rear sedan doors to have no fender cutouts at all. The car was very roomy, broad on the inside with excellent legroom, with 15-inch high seat cushions. The car was exceptionally comfortable and its ride was the best among the low priced cars.

The 1940 Plymouth dashboard was refined from the 1939 ideas, and was very handsome, the trim in tasteful chrome moldings without plastic. The instrument panel, and indeed the whole car, had the feeling that everything was tightly screwed together with not a press fit or snap fastener anywhere. Upholstery fabrics and interior detailing were excellent and spoke volumes about Chrysler's grasp of the importance of quality control.

Technically, the Plymouth offered some nice consumer-oriented touches. New rotary door latches allowed one-finger push-shuts in remarkable silence. The gearshift pattern was strongly spring loaded to the plane of second and third, and once low gear was engaged the lever returned to the second-third plane. Thus, a shift pattern in the Plymouth was straight up for second and straight down for third with no notch in the movement at all. In any event, the Plymouth was a very easy car to shift and had a soft and smooth clutch. The steering was unusually light and responsive and the car handled with great ease. The 1940 Plymouth was a balanced and finely made car, representative of the best in Chrysler engineering and it properly led a sales recovery up to the half million mark, a substantial 40% increase over 1939.

Walter P. Chrysler had turned over the reigns of his corporation to K. T. Keller in 1935 and had gone into retirement. The years had not been kind to Walter Chrysler, and after a brief illness he died in 1940, at the age of 65. The driving force and spirit of the corporation was gone.

Although competent in every respect, under Keller's direction the Corporation took on a certain degree of stodginess. Engineering, which had long been the Corporation's trump card, so became the guiding light of the company that it almost lead to its demise. The public was buying styling, not engineering, and it would not be until the mid-1950s before the Chrysler Corporation would again become a style leader.

The 1940 Plymouth was a great car. It had engineering far and above anything else offered in the low priced field. It also had styling that is still distinctive today. It was a solidly built, well running, smooth riding, easy handling car. It was truly what it was advertised as: "The Low Priced Beauty With the Luxury Ride."

1940 Plymouth Literature

By Jim Benjaminson

Literature for 1940 is quite abundant and many different items were offered to both the dealer and the prospective customer. One of the major handouts was a 14x8" single sheet entitled "The 1940 Quality Chart" (reproduced elsewhere in this issue) which charted the comparison of Plymouth on 22 separate items with the competition as well as the high priced cars. Out of the 22 items listed the Plymouth P9 and P10 scored 21, missing only the automatic choke offered on higher priced cars.

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The Roadking P9 series was featured in a color catalog entitled "1940 Plymouth Roadking, the Low Priced Beauty with the Luxury Ride." Bearing form 5319-K dated 1-40, it contained 16 pages in an 101/2 x 81/2 " format. A brownstone catalog bearing the same title except dropping the word Roadking was issued. This catalog was 12 pages and featured all models including the station wagon. It was printed in a 9.5" X 8.5" format and bore form number 2637-K, dated 8-39.

Another brownstone 24-page catalog was entitled "The Low Priced Beauty With the Luxury Ride, 1940 Deluxe Plymouth." This catalog was form number 5317-K, dated 1-40. The station wagon received two pages in this catalog, along with a page for the convertible coupe and the 7-passenger sedan. Only the Deluxe models were featured. "Deluxe Plymouth for 1940" was the title of the 20 page color catalog for the P10 models. Again, only the deluxe models were featured but all were in color. The catalog did not have a form number or a date. Size was 10x7". Interestingly enough the cover showed a P10 4-door sedan colored in yellow--a color that was not offered.

Quite rare is the 40 page Mopar Accessories catalog for the 1940 Plymouth. Printed in an extremely small 3x6" size, this little red catalog pictured all of the available accessories plus listed their prices in a 4 page spread in the back. This catalog was intended to be a "mailer" to customers and the back page has a provision for a stamp to be affixed, as well as an address line with a spot for the dealers stamp to indicate where it came from.

Each purchaser of a new Plymouth received a copy of the owner's manual in the glove compartment. This 54 page catalog, measuring 51/2x81/2" was form number D8621.

Buyers of the new Plymouth that had their cars equipped with the Philco Model C-1708 pushbutton radio were to receive a copy of the installation instructions and owners manual. This was a single page sheet folded into four measuring 6x91/2" which when folded out gave the installation instructions. When folded properly the back page was a wiring diagram for the radio. Also included with this booklet were three separate sheets, one a radio parts lists, another the warranty service policy and the last sheet a page instructing the proper procedure for tuning the push buttons. The radio manual was form number D-8691 and it covered all the 1940 Chrysler radio line.

Another form was provided for the Mopar Model 29 hot water heater system. Measuring 8” x 11" this single page sheet was a three way fold; The front and rear cover offered installation instructions and parts photos, while the inside was a series of templates for mounting the heater in the car. Two parts books were issued to the dealers, the first called the Preliminary was issued October 5th, 1939; the final edition was issued March 15, 1940. The first version was form number D8949 while the later volume was form D9167. Only one service manual was printed, bearing form number D8634.

Several interesting items were sent to the dealers when the 1940 models was first introduced. The first was a service booklet entitled "Mechanical Information on the 1940 Plymouth P9-P10". This illustrated 20-page book was meant to be used in conjunction with the filmstrip sent to the dealer. At a service meeting the service technicians could follow along in the book as the record and filmstrip were played. This service book is form number D9049 and is 8” x 11" in size.

A rather novel item was the "Hotter Than A Firecracker 1940 Plymouth" mailer. Two booklets were inside this round hard mairing tube, the first being an 8-page booklet explaining the new heating and ventilation system in the 1940 cars. Printed in an 8x10" size the last page was a fold out showing a cutaway drawing of the entire system. It was designed so the back page fold out could be pulled out while the text was being read.

The second Item in the "Firecracker" was entitled the "1940 Plymouth Review." Slightly larger at 8 x 11" this catalog contained 20 pages. The last four pages contained photos of the entire 1940 model lineup, including the pickup and Roadking commercial cars. The rest of the book was a comparison of the changes and improvements in the 1940 Plymouth over the 1939 model. Neither of these booklets contained a form number. Service Operation Time Schedules were also supplied the dealers and the 1940 model was in at least two such schedules, form D9725 covering the 1939-1940-1941 models and form D10255 covering models from 1940-1941-1942. A separate line of folders were printed for the commercial car line and these were covered In the July August Issue (No. 123).

Confidential Salesman's Bulletins were printed by the Ross Roy Company. These bulletins were analytical comparisons of the advantages of buying a Plymouth in comparison to the competitive models. In addition service bulletins were printed as needed for the new line of color postcards of the new models could be purchased by the dealer for mailers to customers and every two weeks the factory published the Plymouth Sales Promoter, an 8 page magazine dealing with the new models and dealers successes in selling the 1940 line. National magazine advertising was a big item with Plymouth in 1940 and all major magazines carried ads in both color and black and white. Many interesting two page center-spread color ads appeared in such magazines as the Saturday Evening Post.


Aaron H. wrote: "I bought a 1940 two years ago from someone I worked with, who got it from their grandfather's estate. I looked through the info and found old titles. Turns out it used to belong to my parent's neighbors! With the paperwork I got sheets of paper that are perforated into about 3/8" squares. Each square has a series of letters on them. I am told those came with the radio and were the call letters of radio stations. The squares were meant to be seperated and put on the buttons as required so you knew what station you set each button for."

Member Of The Family

by Jim Benjaminson

What else can you call a car that you've grown up with, besides a member of the family? The '40 Plymouth came into our family when I was two years old--and at age thirty-four, (me, not the car) it still remains in the family. It has carried the family through years of normal service, seen service as a field car, and been a parade car and a show car.

I remember vividly the day Dad had to tromp the brakes to avoid a car that pulled in front of us, and little old me, at the ripe age of 4 or 5, flew off the front seat into the passenger windshield--leaving two distinctive cracks in the glass as a reminder. Years later I replaced that windshield but now I wish I wouldn't have. I remember sitting stalled at the Hensel corner, with my Aunt Clara driving, when the fuel filter plugged. I remember when the "Old Plymouth" was put into service in the fall of 1967 as the family car as we awaited arrival of a new car from the factory after a drunk had wiped out the other family car, never mind that it was winter time--the dual heater system kept the occupants toasty warm and as recently as last August the Plymouth served as the get away car for the first leg of my honeymoon trip, my new bride and my old Plymouth.

The 1940 P10 Deluxe Plymouth two-door sedan was built in Detroit on May 7th. Painted in Amphibian Green, it was shipped to Valley Motor Company in Grand Forks, the area Dodge-Plymouth distributor. From there it was sent out to Byron Motors at Mountain, North Dakota, just five miles from my Mother and Father's home places. There, John Crowston, a farmer from nearby Hallson purchased it.

John and his family used the car throughout the war years, rolling up over 70,000 miles before John decided to trade the car. Following the war my father did the service work for John and on more than one occasion Dad told him he would like to buy the car when he traded it off. One evening in 1948 John called Dad and said the car had been traded and if Dad wanted it he had better call for it right away. Dad did buy the car, but with the demand for cars being what it was following World War Two he paid $30 more for the car used than John had paid for it when new.

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Jim Benjaminson's "member of the family"
1940 Plymouth

By this time the engine needed repair, so at 76,630 miles the block was replaced and Dad sold his '34 Plymouth PF business coupe for money to pay for the "new" Plymouth. The Plymouth remained in the immediate family with my uncle Albert buying the car in 1952. He kept the car until 1957 when he traded it for a new car to my cousin who worked for a Ford dealer.

My aunt Clara bought the car from him for $85 in 1957 because "she might need something to drive." The car saw little use over those years and was stored inside most of that time.

About this time I was bitten by the car bug and started looking around for "wheels". My aunt, ever fearful that her nephew might become a high school dropout, promised the '40 Plymouth when I graduated. Some things are worth waiting for and in 1964, with a diploma in one hand, she placed the keys for the car into my other! At first the car was used for driving to work and as an everyday summer car. It was stored over the winters. There was an urge to make a hot rod out of it, but that urge, thankfully, was passed. Then came the bug to restore the car, not that it really needed a lot of work.

After serving as the family vehicle in the fall of '67 the Plymouth was rewarded with a stay in a body shop to remove 27 years worth of dents and dings--and a new paint job duplicating the original green. Gradually over the years it has been treated to such other items as wide whitewall tires and re-chroming of the bumpers and guards. In 1972 the car was shown for the first time and it received a first place trophy, the first of many such trophies that have since been accumulated. Its biggest honor to date was receiving a National Third Junior award at the 1978 AACA Judging Meet held in Grand Forks, North Dakota. The car had not even been formerly entered but it was taken at the last minute when the planned car was not completed in time for the show. The only preparation done for the meet was vacuuming the interior and cleaning out the trunk and it did not even get a wash job before the show.

Now the car shows 141,600 miles but it runs, rides and handles as well now as I am sure it did when it left the Lynch Road assembly plant 40 years ago. It has been a source of pleasure and pride in our family for 32 years now--and it will continue to do so for many more years.

Also see cars of the war years

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