Plymouth Cricket: A Squashed Bug on America’s Windshield

Plymouth Cricket: A Squashed Bug on America’s Windshield

To say that the Plymouth Cricket was a byproduct of Chrysler’s hurried quest to become a multinational corporation is like saying a staph infection is a byproduct of poor hygiene. Possibly thinking that two wrongs might equal a right, Chrysler decided to appropriate the Hillman Avenger sedan from its new portfolio of British crap. They slapped a Plymouth badge on it and, voila, they had a small car for the U.S. at a fraction the cost. 

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The DeSoto Airflow: Ahead of It's Time and Left Behind

The DeSoto Airflow: Ahead of It's Time and Left Behind

The History of the Automobile is littered with tales of cars so advanced that they flopped. Their technical or stylistic achievements were greeted in the marketplace with hesitation and suspicion. Trailblazers paid the price for being first. The 1962 Oldsmobile Jetfire was the first car to use turbocharging, deivering big block power from a smaller more efficient engine. The Jetfire flamed out after 2 years, but a decade later Turbo Saabs and Buick T-Types made inter-cooling cool. The versitile Scout Scarab of 1936 was the first minivan. But after selling a total of 9 copies, it was the last one for 45 years before the Plymouth Voyager took suburbia by storm. Honda’s 60mpg Insight of 1999 introduced us to gas-electric hybrid technology. The Insight barely achieved 4-didgit annual sales, while just a few years later Toyota’s Prius would become the suburban eco-warrior’s front line weapon against climate change.

And then there was the 1934 Airflow, the car that brought automotive aerodynamics into mainstream consciousness…and nearly destroyed the DeSoto brand, and the Chrysler Corporation along with it.

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Free Fall: The Plymouth Volare

Free Fall: The Plymouth Volare

The Volare was probably the most memorable Plymouth of the 1970s, but for all the wrong reasons. It was a memory most Volare owners would like to expunge. It was the most problem-plagued, recall-ravaged car in history. Volare is Italian meaning, ‘to fly.’ But within two years of this new Plymouth’s introduction in 1976, the name came to mean, “I got stuck with a lemon.’

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Mid Century Plymouths: A Time When Time Stood Still

Mid Century Plymouths: A Time When Time Stood Still

Plymouth rolled out its all-new 1942 models a few months before World War II forced the shutdown of all civilian automobile production. It would be almost four years before America’s industrial might would be relieved of its war-time service. When consumer production resumed in late 1945, demand for new cars was frenzied. Car-starved consumers snapped up any new car they could find. Carmakers had to ramp up production fast. The most expedient way was to dust off their 1942 tooling, swap in some new bits of trim and call them ‘46s. No one would complain that they were getting warmed over 4- year-old cars so long as their odometer read “0.” And why bother spending on brand new ‘47 or ’48 models either, so long as the sellers-market still raged. Not much needed changing but the VIN numbers.

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The Playboy: A Product of Its Times and a Victim of Them

The Playboy: A Product of Its Times and a Victim of Them

Pity the Playboy. This darling little roadster with the world’s first retractable steel roof was launched in the heady times following WWII, when a Can Do spirit reined supreme and anything seemed possible. The Playboy was a contemporary of the famous Tucker. It was a bit less ambitious, but just as optimistic. The master showman Preston Tucker sought to change the way the world thought about automobiles. Playboy’s founders just wanted to sell a bunch of them to young people and housewives. Alas, the promise of the times proved illusory, at least for startup car companies. The Tucker and Playboy would share a similar fate.

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Eagle: The Automotive Version of a Harlequin Romance

Eagle: The Automotive Version of a Harlequin Romance

The lineage of the Eagle brand spans five automobile companies from four nations. Eagle was paired with the fabled Jeep line. It sold close to half a million cars over 10-years. Despite all that, you’ve probably never heard of Eagle. Too bad. The story contained all the elements of a good novel; romance, betrayal, farce and tragedy. It even produced a couple of excellent cars. The only thing the story missed was a purpose. No one ever stopped to ask what need Eagle filled. But then, if they had asked, we would have no story. 

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The Story of DeSoto

The Story of DeSoto

The DeSoto automobile was launched in 1928 as part of a new and rapidly expanding Chrysler Corporation. Conceived to do battle in the fast growing mid-priced range, DeSoto‘s position in the price/prestige strata was between the budget-minded Plymouth and the luxurious Chrysler. Through a series of events, DeSoto was also wedged sometimes awkwardly alongside a newly acquired but well-established Dodge brand. With such a family dynamic is it any wonder that throughout its 33-year history DeSoto struggled for recognition. Ask any DeSoto devote’ and they will rattle off half a dozen delightful models. But to the average car buff, the name is but a blip on the screen of automobile awareness. DeSoto’s anonymity is especially true for those of us born after 1960, the marque’s final year. We know the stunning 1957 Adventurer, of course, with its graceful soaring lines and mighty Hemi engine, arguably the apex of 1950s American automotive design. After that, the marque is mostly remembered in B&W images of 1940s taxicabs from old movies on the late show. Such was the DeSoto lot in life; a middle child forever fighting for its rightful place within the Chrysler family of cars.

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Recycling at its Best: ThePowell Sport Wagon

Recycling at its Best: ThePowell Sport Wagon

While most vehicles end their lives in a junkyard, it is there that the 1300 Powell Sport Wagons built from 1955 to 1957 began theirs. Beneath the modern looking steel and fiberglass body of each of these sport utility vehicles, lay the bones and innards of a 15-year old Plymouth plucked from the scrapheap. This noble act of recycling resulted in a whole new category of vehicle, the car-based utility truck. 

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The Crofton Bug

The Crofton Bug

The Crofton Bug was a pint-sized truck-let built in San Diego, California from 1958-1964. The Bug was nearly a foot shorter and 1000lbs lighter than the original WW2 Jeep. Do not confuse this Bug with the more famous insect from Germany. The Volkswagen was called the Beetle (and nicknamed Bug) because its U.S. ad agency thought it was cute. The Crofton was called the Bug because it crawled over rocks like one.

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