Plymouth Sees End of Road after 73 Years

Article excerpt

Plymouth: Born 1928, scheduled to be "put down" in 2001 at age 73. Named after Plymouth Rock, it was the creation of Walter Chrysler, who needed a low-priced car to compete with Ford and Chevrolet.

Although it never outsold either, Plymouth was a success. Three years after its birth, it surpassed Buick to become the third best-selling car in America. By 1934, the company had built 1 million Plymouths for Depression-era America. Until 1937, the list price for the most expensive Plymouth was still less than $1,000. In 1940, you could pay as little as $645. (Fords sold for even less.) Staid styling, good engineering and sound construction for exceptional value earmarked Plymouth.

Plymouth leaves behind some notable contributions to the automotive field: the first all-steel station wagon in an era of woodies, rubber engine mounts to reduce engine vibration, four-wheel hydraulic brakes in a low-priced car, the first power-operated convertible top, first turnkey ignition in a low-priced car, standard safety glass, and the electric alternator.

Other Plymouth advances also were unique, if less memorable. In 1953, the company introduced Hy-Drive, a quasi-automatic transmission with a torque converter that eliminated shifting between second and third gear but required using the clutch to get out of first. This was upgraded the following year with a two-speed, fully automatic transmission called PowerFlite.

Under the influence of noted car designer Virgil Exner, Plymouth took on a whole new modern "aircraft" look in the mid-1950s, with engineering and technology to match: nascent tail fins, aluminum pistons and carburetor, and tubeless tires. Perhaps most remarkable was the changing location of the gear shift. Early cars all had a floor-mounted gearshift, which later was moved to the steering column. For Plymouth, the migration didn't stop there. In 1955, Plymouth designers moved it to a vertically sliding lever on the dashboard. …