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.
All that changed for 1949. As supply and demand converged, the automakers where ready with their first new cars of the post-war era. A new Plymouth P-18 full sized car was revealed in March of that year. Unfortunately, that was 6 and 10 months after the respective arrivals of the handsome new Chevys and Fords against which it was meant to compete. Also unfortunate was that the new Plymouths didn’t look all that new. Chrysler’s chairman, K.T. Keller, refused to follow the longer/lower/wider “fad” as he called it, that the industry seemed so taken with. Chrysler’s cars would stick to proven design philosophies, conservative looks, with plenty of room inside. K.T. Keller was 6’4” and over 300lbs. For K.T, a lot of room was a lot of room. Thus, the 1949 ½ Plymouths were upright and dull at a time customers craved sleek and exciting.
The Plymouth P-17 variant introduced a few months later was more radical, but in the wrong direction. It rode on a wheelbase shortened by 7 inches, making it the Big Three’s smallest car. A decade later the market would embrace the frugal image of a compact car, but at the start of the 1950s, bigger was still better. Plymouth was compact before compacts were hip. The P-17 lasted 3 model years-worth of lackluster sales.
While a small Plymouth wasn’t what the market was looking for, the Suburban station wagon, also introduced that year, was a game changer. While the 1950 Suburban is often referred to as the first steel-bodied wagon, it was actually the third such creature. But while both the Jeep CJ-based 1946 Willys and the subcompact 1948 Crosley proceeded Plymouth, these two appealed to more specialized audiences.
But in 1950, it was still those grand woodies that America thought of when they thought of wagons. Despite the death toll sounding for timber, to ease the transition, Plymouth still offered a 4-door wood-bodied wagon. But steel required little maintenance and was safer in a wreck. It was significantly cheaper, too. Steel-bodied Plymouths would finish the year outselling their wooden siblings by almost 6 to 1. Not surprising - but sad nonetheless - Plymouth did not offer an organic wagon in 1951. Woodies of any make were gone after 1953.
That same year we said goodbye to the Woody, the Plymouth brand celebrated its 25thbirthday. It was a subdued affair. Though there was a completely redesigned Plymouth in 1953, no official note was made of the Silver milestone. Perhaps it was because both Ford and Buick were celebrating their 50th that year and Plymouth didn’t want to be thought of as having half the heritage.
Customers didn’t take much note of the ’53 Plymouths either, which stayed true to K.T. Keller’s stodgy design philosophy. Something would have to change or Plymouth might not be around for its own 50th.