Plymouth was one of the first engineered brands – similar to the Acura, Infiniti, Eunos and Lexus brands of more recent years. A brand created by Walter P. Chrysler.
Unlike the recent Japanese brands that wanted to take the base vehicles upmarket, the 1920s was full of manufacturers trying to capture the lower end of the market. It was a time when motoring was still a luxury and the main US companies had “companion” brands that filled different market segments – Ford had Lincoln and Mercury, GM had Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Buick and at the bottom, Chevrolet. Chrysler created Plymouth in 1928 to tap into the low end of the market.
Mr. Chrysler had bought Maxwell-Chalmers and renamed it after himself. The Plymouth brand was created by using one of the Maxwell-Chalmers models to fill the gap to the lower market. The new model was originally called a Chrysler Plymouth Model Q and in 1929 the Chrysler badge was dropped in favour of the Plymouth name.
Chrysler had taken a big punt on Plymouth because the end of the 1920s was sliding into recession. The brand was a huge success and became one of the most popular brands in the US. Unlike its rivals, Plymouths retained a 4-cylinder engine and developed an innovative way to make the engine smoother. They used only two mounting points – one at the front and one at the rear. The marketers called it floating power! Other Chrysler brands adopted this approach and they even licensed it to Citroen for a while.
By 1933, Plymouth had upgraded to a 6-cylinder motor borrowed from the sister brand, De Soto. In fact many of Plymouth’s components came from the Chrysler group parts bin. Plymouth had been using a 4-cylinder version of Chrysler’s Flathead 6 and then used the De Soto version of the 6 as the upgrade path. Plymouth used this engine up until 1959.
The popular 1930s Plymouths started with the PA followed by the PB, PD and PE. The PC was uprated quickly to the PD and the PE saw the 1,000,000th Plymouth roll off the production line. As stated earlier these cars were hugely popular with the public and Chrysler was spending millions on each model – the PD cost $9M to get to market. This is quite remarkable considering the Great Depression was at its peak!
Like many other manufacturers of the 1930s, Plymouth produced new models nearly every year, mostly updated versions of the previous years model with added goodies as they were designed into the cars. So the PJ was replaced in 1936 by the P-2, then by the P-4 in 1937 and the P-6 in 1938. The P-8 arrived in 1939 and the P-10 in 1940. The last two versions before they switched to military products were the P-12 and P-14C. All these late 30s cars were offered in 7 seater saloon, 2 door coupes or 2 door convertible models.
After the war the P-14 was uprated to the P15, which was quickly followed, by the P18 and P20 with a Station Wagon option now available.
In 1951, Plymouth’s model naming took a new direction, instead of the P series of Standard, Deluxe and Super Deluxe, came new names with the Concord, Cranbrook and Cambridge. The Concord didn’t last long and was replaced by the Belvedere and then in 1955, Plymouth offered their first V8 attached to the Powerflite gearbox, a two-speed auto!
In 1957 the 10,000,000th Plymouth was produced and the cars were now sprouting the classic fins and designs that make the late 50s so unique. The Powerflite was also replaced by the Torqueflite 3 speed box as well. A classic example was the 1958 Fury and you could see the evolution of the design over about 4 years, as the corners got progressively sharper! By this stage in the group, Plymouth were seen to be the sports brand with sports orientated designs.
The early 1960s saw another major change in design at Plymouth, gone were the fins and two designs stood out. The first was a flattened boat tail style Fury and the second was an all-new compact unibodied car called the Valiant V-200 fitted with a slant six motor. The 1962 Valiant Signet even won a design excellence award for its styling.
It was around this time that Plymouths were starting to win major Hot Rod and Auto Club races as well as gaining success in the Mobil Economy Runs. Now that’s what I call covering all bases! The racing success brought a new sports feel to Plymouth and they set out make some of the great muscle cars of the late 60s and early 70s.
In 1968 they got into a battle with their sister Dodge to produce the Road Runner (licensed from the cartoon character). The Road Runner came with a 6.3 litre Hemi motor delivering 335 horses. Pay a bit more and you could upsize that to a 7 litre with 425 horses. Plymouth thought they would sell a couple of thousand in the first year – they sold 45,000!
In 1970 to satisfy homologation requirements for NASCAR, Plymouth built 2,000 Superbirds based on the Road Runner with a high rear wing and long deep nose for aerodynamic purposes. It was a winner on the track but a dud on the road!
It is sad to say but the 1970s was the start of the rot at Chrysler – they were having a tough time in Europe and in the US were starting to play the badge engineering game, so many Plymouths started to be rebadged Dodge models. They were losing their identity and even started importing British Hillmans into the US to try and gain a foothold in the low end of the market.
To find another way of gaining lost market share Plymouth started to import and rebadge Mitsubishi’s alongside another short-lived sister brand, Eagle. Business was picking up when Chrysler decided to launch a couple of retro models: the Prowler hot rod style convertible and the PT Cruiser. Unfortunately, to screw things up, Chrysler merged with Mercedes and the cultures never gelled between the US and Germany. One of the casualties was Plymouth. The remaining models were rebadged as Chryslers and then the brand was dropped unceremoniously during the divorce in favour of the parent company.
It was a sad end to a brand that once stood close to the top of the pile and produced cars that covered all market segments.