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Solid but outdated: Plymouth 1950 to 1954

by Jim Benjaminson • Part of the Illustrated Plymouth and DeSoto Buyer's Guide

1950-Models P19 and P20

First glances can be deceiving-in the case of the 1950 Plymouth, it would be easy to assume that the car was a restyled '49. Still, although the two were definite siblings, a host of changes had taken place, so that only the doors and deck lid were bolt-for-bolt interchanges. As in '49, three distinct series were built, on two wheelbases, carrying the same model names but different engineering codes.

The short-wheelbase P19 Deluxe included a fastback two-door sedan, three-passenger business coupe, and all-metal two-door Suburban station wagon. Long-wheelbase P20 Deluxes were sold only as a two-door club coupe and four-door sedan. The Special Deluxe, also coded P20, included the club coupe, four-door sedan, convertible club coupe, and wood-body four-door station wagon.

A simplified three bar grille and plain bumper face plate distinguished the 1950 from its predecessor. Changes at the rear included wrap-around tail lamps incorporating the stop lamps-gone was the center-mounted stop light. A T-type trunk lid handle and repositioned license plate light marked the remaining changes.

Sitting on a wider stance, the front tread was increased 7/16 inches by moving the center line of the wheel rim outward. A wider rear axle pushed the rear tread out 2 inches. Gear ratios remained the same, the center carrier interchangeable with earlier years. Engine displacement and horsepower remained the same as '49.

Sales of the all-metal Suburban wagon continued to soar, despite grumbling from consumers the car was too plain. This demand was met by the addition of the Special Suburban. Extra equipment included arm rests on both doors, assist straps and arm rests in the rear compartment, glove box lock, dual horns, horn ring, chrome radio grille, exterior belt line moldings, front bumper guards, chrome-plated tailgate hinges, and chrome rear window divider. Upgraded upholstery in the Special Suburban included rear side walls and wheel wells upholstered in pleated brown vinyl resin fabric, a headliner in brown checked woven fiber, and two-tone door panels of brown vinyl and brown checked fabric.

Sales of the wood-body four-door wagon continued to slide, dwindling to just 2,057 units. Although beautiful to look at, the wood wagon required constant upkeep-the factory recommended refinishing the wood work every six months or "more often if needed," a chore usually ignored. Without much fanfare the woody wagon slipped into oblivion at the end of the model run.

Sales of 610,954 cars broke 1937's record for Plymouth, helping it retain its traditional third place in industry sales.

1951-Models P22, P23S, and P23C

Plymouth entered the 1951 market with three new model names, albeit not three new cars. Abandoning the terms "Deluxe" (used since 1933) and "Special Deluxe" (since 1941), the new models were named Concord, Cambridge, and Cranbrook.

Engineering codes attempted to alleviate some of the identity problems of the '49-50 long- and short-wheelbase Deluxe. The Concord, built on the 111-inch wheelbase chassis, became the P22 (what happened to P21?). In turn, the Cambridge was coded P23S, while the other long-wheelbase Cranbrook became the P23C.

The names were new but body styles remained the same as before-Concords built in fastback two door, business coupe, and Suburban station wagon. Last years' Special Suburban upgrade continued, now known as the Savoy Suburban.

The Cambridge continued to be only a club coupe and four-door sedan while the Cranbrook had both, plus a convertible club coupe-and for the first time in Plymouth's history, a sporty two-door hardtop convertible, called the Cranbrook Belvedere. Unlike the real convertible with folding top, the hardtop convertible had a fixed roof with pillarless side windows.

Although Chrysler had originated the hardtop idea back in '46 with a handful of Town & Country hardtops, they dropped the ball, leaving the door open for GM to popularize the style. The Cranbrook Belvedere was a catch-up model to match Chevrolet's Bel Air, introduced the previous year.

With a new front end marked by a sloping hood and new lower and wider grille, the car took on a heavier look, effectively hiding its '49 origins. A heavy center bar floated across the grille cavity, carrying three massive vertical teeth-the outer two of which were nearly hidden by the similarly shaped bumper over rides.

The once-familiar Mayflower ship ornament continued to grow more abstract each year, now sprouting speed waves that looked more like wings. Wheel cutouts were squared off, side trim revised, but from the rear the car had changed little-the deck lid, in fact, would interchange with the '49.

With the addition of the Cranbrook Belvedere, two-tone paint returned to Plymouth for the first time since 1941. The Belvedere was sold in eight solid colors and four two-tone combinations. Seldom seen was two-tone paint on the Cranbrook club coupe or four door, a late year addition to the option list.

Under the hood, the '51 Plymouth was boringly the same-a 217-cubic-inch six developing 97 horsepower. The Korean War continued to siphon off badly needed raw materials placing restrictions on the auto industry's use of chromium and copper; many chrome-plated trim pieces, such as parking light bezels, taillight bezels, headlamp rims, name plates, and license plate housings, were coated with a colorless enamel protectant. Unless cared for properly, the chrome would soon begin to look dingy.

Cars built after mid-April began using steel asbestos cylinder head gaskets in place of copper gaskets, and engines which had traditionally been painted silver aluminum were painted gray. Eventually, the lack of copper affected the availability of radios and heaters. Unlike the post-WWII era, all cars were shipped with five tires, although whitewalls were unavailable.

For a time it appeared rationing of automobiles was a likely possibility, with curtailment of production all together possible if the industry was called back into service. This time consumers heeded the warnings and didn't delay taking delivery of new cars.

1952-Models P22, P23S, and P23C

Despite continued shortages and threats of nationwide steel strikes, cars built to 1952 specifications began coming off the lines in November, although they wouldn't officially be announced until January.

Plymouth boasted "46 advances;" the casual observer commented, "no change!" What changes there were, were hardly perceptible. The hood medallion, now round instead of shield shaped, was most obvious. The Mayflower ship sat lower and regained some its "ship" shape, the "bow waves" of '51 washed away. The grille, headlamps, parking lamps, bumpers, and over riders were identical. From the side the fender script, for those who cared enough to notice, was in script, rather than block letters, and at the rear the nameplate was moved down with the letters becoming part of the license plate light. Taillights, rear bumper, and over riders were unchanged.

The changes were so minimal that Plymouth chose to carry over the same engineering codes and model names. Serial number sequences were not consecutive as had been the P15 from 1945-49, the numbers bumped just enough to provide positive model year identification.

Body styles remained the same, the Concord in business coupe, fastback two-door sedan, Suburban and Savoy Suburban form on the same 111-inch wheelbase, Cambridge club coupe and four-door sedan, Cranbrook club coupe, four-door sedan, convertible club coupe, and Cranbrook Belvedere convertible hardtop on the 118½-inch wheelbase.

Only the Cranbrook Belvedere could easily be picked as a '52 by virtue of its new roof and paint treatment. The side-window drip molding, rather than stopping at the belt line, swept down behind the quarter window, crossed over the belt line, and flowed down the fender-body seam (rear fenders were still detachable) to the rear bumper. When two toned, the color of the top cascaded across the deck lid, the moldings serving as the dividing line between colors. Available in one standard color-Belmont Blue-three two-tone combinations were optional. The rarely seen two tone was still offered on the Cranbrook club coupe and four-door sedan.

A new cylinder head changed combustion-chamber design, with no gain in horsepower. Plymouth was the only member of the "low-priced three" to sell only a three-speed manual transmission; Chevrolet gave buyers a choice with the addition of Power Glide in 1950 while Ford offered both overdrive and Ford-o-Matic in '51. Having pioneered overdrive in 1934, Chrysler made little use of it over the years; it would be mid-year before Chrysler saw fit to make it available on both Plymouth and Dodge (and reintroduce it to DeSoto). By years end, 17% of production had been fitted with overdrive, which would increase in importance as time went on and highway speeds grew.

Separate production totals were not kept for the years 1951-1952. 22 months and 1,007,662 cars later, the P22-P23 series ceased production October 2, 1952. 1952 Plymouths

1953-Models P24-1 and P24-2

1953 marked both Plymouth's and DeSoto's Silver Anniversary-but the company choose not even mention it (perhaps in light of both Ford and Buick's 50th anniversary?). The 1949-1952 cars had been big cars that looked small. For '53, overall length was decreased just one inch-but the cars looked considerably smaller. Keller's dictates of smaller on the outside, larger on the inside were at work once again.

The '53 Plymouth was caught in a time warp; at a time when bigger was better, it had grown smaller. As other makes plastered on chrome trim, Plymouth took it off. As the horsepower race began to heat up, Plymouth's only power plant was a 20-year-old flathead six. Plymouth was one of only seven makes not to offer power steering, and of the low-priced three, the only one not to offer an automatic transmission.

Built under engineering code P24, models were pared to just two, Cambridge (P24-1) and Cranbrook (P24-2). Deleted from the lineup was the short-wheelbase Concord; from now on, just one wheelbase would have to do-114 inches-three inches longer than the Concord's had been, but 4½ inches shorter than before.

Body styles in the Cambridge series included a four-door sedan, club sedan (two-door sedan to most), business coupe, and Suburban station wagon. The club sedan and business coupe shared the same general body details, the club sedan having a rear quarter window while the business coupe had a solidly fixed rear side window. Business coupes came without a rear seat and the option of carrying the spare tire in the trunk or rear compartment. An optional rear seat cushion could be ordered to turn the vehicle into a family car on weekend while still retaining its business capabilities during the week.

Cranbrook body styles included a four-door sedan, club coupe, convertible club coupe, Cranbrook Belvedere hardtop convertible, and the Savoy Suburban station wagon.

Modern touches included a one-piece windshield and non-detachable rear fenders. And they were plain, with Cambridge especially devoid of chrome trim. Headlamps sat higher and wider, with parking lamps directly beneath at the extreme outer ends of the grille bar, which flowed across the grille cavity into a similarly shaped body crease wrapping around the side of the car to form a rub-rail contour on the front fender. The rub rail ran back to the leading edge of the front door, while a similar rub rail began on the lower rear door to flow across the rear fender to a point just beneath the tail lamps.

The grille was a simple horizontal bar chromed only across the center third-provided the buyer had opted for the option which included a chrome hood molding. Chrome trim on the front and rear fender rub rails was also optional.

Plymouth for '53 sat on a fully boxed, four cross-member perimeter frame six inches wider than before. The rear axle was moved 4½ inches ahead of center on the springs, with a higher kick up for the axle, resulting in a lower frame allowing a flatter floor and more leg room in the rear seat.

Under the hood sat the same engine used since '42, still at 217 cubic inches now rated at 100 horsepower by virtue of 0.1 increase in compression. Transmission choices at the beginning of the model run included a regular three-speed manual or three speed with overdrive.

Added to the option list in April was a semi-automatic called Hy-Drive. In its simplest form, Hy-Drive placed a torque converter ahead of the standard clutch and transmission in place of the flywheel; consisting of four major parts-impeller, turbine, primary stator, and secondary stator. The converter was a welded, self-contained assembly with a replaceable ring gear. Hy-Drive received its oil supply from the engine oil pump through passages in an adaptor plate and the converter housing. Oil changes required 11 quarts but were called for only semi-yearly.

Tire size remained 6.70 x 15 inches. Despite its otherwise plain-Jane appearance, the addition of real wire wheels-in either painted or chrome finish-was a welcome albeit expensive option. Supplied by Motor Wheel, painted wire wheels upped the price of the car by nearly $95; chrome wires nearly $250.

As the model run came to a close, Plymouth looked back on the best year it had ever had. Record sales of 650,451 cars helped Plymouth maintain its traditional third place by a substantial margin over a hard charging Buick...then came 1954...

1953 Plymouths

1954: Plymouth Model P25

Once again Plymouth would field only a slightly warmed-over redesign, as it had done in 1952. Only a new grille, tail lamps, and additional body trim would set the car apart from its '53 stablemate. There would again be three models, each pirating the model name from body styles of the past.

Leading the pack was the Belvedere (P25-3)-now a complete line consisting of four-door sedan, sport coupe (formerly the Cranbrook Belvedere), convertible coupe, and two-door Suburban station wagon. Next in line was the Savoy (P25-2)-the name pirated from the deluxe station wagon-Savoys came in four-door sedan, club sedan (two door), or club coupe. At the bottom end of the pricing ladder sat the Plaza (P25-1) in four door, club sedan, business coupe, or Suburban wagon format.

A restyled grille bar, now chrome plated across the width of the car, again acted as a beveled cap running to the rub rail on the fender. The center of the bar featured the Plymouth name spelled out in red block letters against a gold plastic background.

Belvederes were treated to a full-length chrome sill molding and full-length side moldings, while a rear fender molding gave just the slightest hint of a tail fin. Longer, by 3 5/8 inches than the '53's, (except station wagons) the extra length was accomplished by moving the bumpers outward.

Two-tone upholstery helped spruce up the interior and for the first time, front floors were covered with carpet rather than rubber mat.

At the start of production Plymouth retained the same mechanical features as in 1953, but in April, Plymouth finally launched the PowerFlite, a fully automatic transmission. More expensive ($189 vs. $146 for Hy-Drive), PowerFlite was a two speed using essentially the same torque converter as Hy-Drive; unlike Hy-Drive, PowerFlite relied on its own oil supply. With PowerFlite came a more powerful engine as well, a 110-horsepower, 230-cubic-inch six "borrowed" from Dodge. Built under the same engineering code (P25) as the 217, the 230 could be identified by the diamond stamped on the top of the cylinder head and in the engine serial number.

In spite of these upgrades, Plymouth soon found itself in trouble-by December of '53 sales began to tumble; February sales were down 40% from '53, with the factory building to sold orders only. When the smoke cleared, Plymouth had fallen from third to fifth place, behind both Buick and Oldsmobile, with production of only 463,148 cars.

1954 Plymouths

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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