Plymouth debuted on June 7, 1928, at New York’s Madison Square Garden, the world’s biggest stage. The venue was appropriate. At that time, Walter P. Chrysler occupied a position in the society not unlike the one Steve Jobs did in the decade past. Walter Chrysler was a product alchemist. Like the Apple machines of the new millennium, in the roaring twenties the latest hottest tech was the automobile, and the automobiles made by Chrysler were the ones everyone wanted.
The low-priced market of the late twenties was dominated by Ford, challenged by Chevrolet, and seasoned with a progression of lesser marques vying for the 3rd spot on the sales podium. With the new Plymouth, Mr. Chrysler sought to disrupt that arrangement. While Ford was known for its manufacturing efficiencies and General Motors for its marketing prowess, Chrysler Corporation to its core was an engineering powerhouse. Chrysler’s Plymouth was a cut above in terms of performance and refinement.
Good engineering isn’t free. While a Plymouth cost a bit more than a Ford or a Chevy, it was also a little roomier and more powerful. Plymouths had more refined feel than their contemporaries. Chrysler engineers employed chassis technology called “Floating Power” that used insulated engine mounts to keep vibration out of the passenger cabin. Plymouth’s also boasted other features no other car in the low priced field could, like hydraulic brakes and a high compression engine. If you appreciated a good car, needed a cheap ride, and could scrape together a few extra bucks a month, you got a Plymouth.
Just 18 months after Plymouth’s debut, the national economy would go into freefall. Being a lot of car for not that much money, it turned out to be the perfect car for the times. Of all the dozens of carmakers to enter 1930s, only Plymouth would emerge not only solvent but actually selling more cars than before the depression started. In its first 4 years Plymouth zoomed to #3 on the sales charts behind Ford and Chevy. In doing so it gave rise to the term, Big Three.
Watching the Detectives
All new for 1935, the Plymouth Model PJ was a real sleeper. Its new X-frame chassis gave the car a more controlled ride and better weight distribution. The engine was redesigned for a bit more power, much improved engine cooling, and was now mated with a fully synchronized gearbox. The PJ was a much improved car and it looked the part, with a sleeker body that adopted the beginnings of aerodynamic streamlining.
The Plymouth was an everyman’s car that still managed to look a bit menacing. That made it a favorite ride for Hollywood’s everyman heroes. In Howard Hawk’s 1946 film noir classic, The Big Sleep, Humphry Bogart’s Phillip Marlowe drove a prewar 1937 Plymouth P3.
As a kid watching the late show on TV, this was one of my favorites. When I discovered that it was a Plymouth that Bogie drove in the movie, they became kind of my default car in black and white for tough P.Is driving business coupes. Apparently I wasn’t alone in linking Plymouths with detective noir. When director Robert Zemeckis chose wheels for his grizzled P.I., played by Bob Hoskins in the farce-noir, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, he also made the association with Plymouth.
Copyright@2019 by Mal Pearson