Plymouth (automobile)

Plymouth
Division of Chrysler
IndustryAutomotive
FateDiscontinued
SuccessorChrysler
Dodge
FoundedJuly 7, 1928; 91 years ago (1928-07-07)
FounderWalter Chrysler
DefunctJune 29, 2001 (2001-06-29)
Headquarters
Auburn Hills, Michigan
,
ProductsCars, minivans, trucks
OwnerChrysler Corporation (1928–1998)
DaimlerChrysler (1998–2001)
ParentChrysler

Plymouth was a brand of automobiles based in the United States, produced by the Chrysler Corporation and its successor DaimlerChrysler. The brand first appeared in 1928 in the United States to compete in what was then described as the "low-priced" market segment dominated by Chevrolet and Ford. Plymouth was the high-volume seller for the automaker until the late 1990s. The brand was withdrawn from the marketplace in 2001. The Plymouth models that were produced up to then were either discontinued or rebranded as Chrysler or Dodge.

History

Origins

1928 Plymouth Model Q Coupe

The Plymouth automobile was introduced at Madison Square Garden on July 7, 1928.[1] It was Chrysler Corporation's first entry in the low-priced field previously dominated by Chevrolet and Ford.[2] Plymouths were initially priced higher than the competition, but offered standard features such as internal expanding hydraulic brakes that Ford and Chevrolet did not provide.[3] Plymouths were originally sold exclusively through Chrysler dealerships,[3] offering a low-cost alternative to the upscale Chrysler-brand cars. The logo featured a rear view of the ship Mayflower which landed at Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts. However, the inspiration for the Plymouth brand name came from Plymouth binder twine, produced by the Plymouth Cordage Company, also of Plymouth. The name was chosen by Joe Frazer due to the popularity of the twine among farmers.[4]

The origins of Plymouth can be traced back to the Maxwell automobile. When Walter P. Chrysler took over control of the troubled Maxwell-Chalmers car company in the early 1920s, he inherited the Maxwell as part of the package. After he used the company's facilities to help create and launch the six-cylinder Chrysler automobile in 1924, he decided to create a lower-priced companion car. So for 1926, the Maxwell was reworked and rebadged as the low-end four-cylinder Chrysler "52" model. In 1928, the "52" was once again redesigned to create the Chrysler-Plymouth Model Q.[5] The "Chrysler" portion of the nameplate was dropped with the introduction of the Plymouth Model U in 1929.

1938 Plymouth 4-door sedan

Great Depression, 1930s–1940s

1939 Plymouth in a Swedish 1940s fashion photo
1947 Plymouth police car of Glendale Police Dept. Arizona
1949 Plymouth four-door sedan

While the original purpose of the Plymouth was to serve the lower end of a booming automobile market, during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the division helped significantly in ensuring the survival of the Chrysler Corporation when many other car companies failed. Beginning in 1930, Plymouths were sold by all three Chrysler divisions (Chrysler, DeSoto, and Dodge).[6] Plymouth sales were a bright spot during this dismal automotive period, and by 1931 Plymouth rose to number three in sales among all cars.[7] In 1931 with the Model PA, the company introduced floating power and boasted, "The smoothness of an eight - the economy of a four."[8]

In 1933, Chrysler decided to catch up with Ford and Chevrolet in engine cylinder count. The 190 cu in (3.1 L) version of Chrysler's flathead-six engine was equipped with a downdraft carburetor and installed in the new 1933 Plymouth PC, introduced on November 17, 1932. However, Chrysler had reduced the PC's wheelbase from 112 to 107 in (284.5 to 271.8 cm), and the car sold poorly. By April 1933, the Dodge division's Model DP chassis, with a 112-inch (284.5 cm) wheelbase, was put under the PC body with DP front fenders, hood, and radiator shell. The model designation was advanced to 'PD'. The PC became the 'Standard Six'. It had been the 'Plymouth Six' at introduction, and was sold through to the end of 1933, but in much lower numbers. In 1937, Plymouth (along with the other Chrysler makes) added safety features such as flat dash boards with recessed controls and the back of the front seat padded for the rear seat occupants[9]

The PC was shipped overseas to Sweden, Denmark, and the UK, as well as Australia. In the UK, it was sold as a 'Chrysler Kew', the town of Kew being the location of the Chrysler factory outside London. The flathead six which started with the 1933 Model PC stayed in the Plymouth until the 1959 models.

In 1939, Plymouth produced 417,528 vehicles, of which 5,967 were two-door convertible coupes[10] with rumble seats. The 1939 convertible coupe was prominently featured at Chrysler's exhibit at the 1939 New York World's Fair, advertised as the first mass-production convertible with a power folding top. It featured a 201 cu in (3.3 L), 82 hp (61 kW; 83 PS) version of the flathead six engine.


For much of its life, Plymouth was one of the top-selling American automobile brands; it, together with Chevrolet and Ford, was commonly referred to as the "low-priced three" marques in the American market.[11] Plymouth almost surpassed Ford in 1940 and 1941 as the second-most popular make of automobiles in the U.S.

1950s

A 1952 Plymouth
1956 Plymouth Fury , Virgil Exners Forward Look cars

In 1957, Virgil Exner's new Forward Look design theme, advertised by Plymouth with the tagline "Suddenly, it's 1960",[12] produced cars with advanced styling compared to Chevrolet or Ford. The 1957 total production soared to 726,009, about 200,000 more than 1956, and the largest output yet for Plymouth. However, the 1957–1958 Forward Look models suffered from poor materials, spotty build quality, and inadequate corrosion protection; they were rust-prone and greatly damaged Chrysler's reputation.[12][13]

In 1954, Chrysler started its decade-long unsuccessful attempt to develop and market a viable car powered by a turbine engine when it installed an experimental turbine developed specifically for road vehicles in a Plymouth.[14]

1960s

1962 Plymouth Sport Fury
1960s logo

Although Plymouth sales suffered as a result of the quality control problems and excesses of the Exner-styled models in the early 1960s, people bought enough of the cars to keep the division profitable. Starting in 1961, the Valiant compact became a Plymouth, further boosting sales. Under the impression that Chevrolet was about to "downsize" its 1962 models, Chrysler introduced a significantly smaller standard Plymouth for 1962. As is known, Chevrolet's big cars were not downsized, catching Plymouth in a sales slump in a market where "bigger was better". The 1963 Fury, Belvedere, and Savoy were slightly larger, featuring a totally new body style, highlighted by prominent outboard front parking lights. For 1964, Plymouth got another major restyle, featuring a new "slantback" roofline for hardtop coupes that would prove popular.

1968 Plymouth Roadrunner, one of the Muscle car era models

For 1965, the Fury models were built on the new C-body platform. The Savoy line was discontinued and the Belvedere was classified an intermediate, retaining the B-body platform used starting 1962. The low-end series was Fury I, the mid-level model was Fury II, and the higher-end models were Fury IIIs. The Sport Fury, which featured bucket seats and console shifter, was a mix of luxury and sport. Ford and Chevrolet had introduced luxury editions of their big cars for 1965 and Plymouth responded in 1966 with the VIP, a more luxurious version of the Fury. Furys, Belvederes, and Valiants continued to sell well during the late-1960s and early-1970s. While Fury I and Fury II were only available in the U.S. as sedans, Canadians got a Fury II two-door hardtop in addition to the pillared sedans.

The performance car market segment expanded during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The 1964 Barracuda fastback is considered the first of Plymouth's sporty cars. Based on the Valiant, it was available with the Slant Six, or 273 cu in (4.5 L) small block V8. For 1967, Plymouth introduced the Belvedere GTX, a bucket-seat high-style hardtop coupe and convertible that could be ordered with either the "Super Commando" 440 cu in (7.2 L) or Hemi 426 cu in (7.0 L) V8 engines. Looking for an advantage at the drag races, 1968 had a stripped-down Belvedere coupe, the Road Runner, which featured a bench seat and minimal interior and exterior trim, but was available with Chrysler's big-block engines and a floor-mounted four-speed manual transmission. The Barracuda, originally a "compact sporty car", became available with the 426 Hemi and 440 big block engines in 1968. The GTX, Barracuda, Road Runner, Sport Fury GT, and Valiant Duster 340, were marketed by Plymouth as the 'Rapid Transit System', which was similar to Dodge's 'Scat Pack' concept. During this time, the brand also competed in professional automobile racing. Examples include Richard Petty's career with Plymouth in NASCAR; Dan Gurney, who raced a 'Cuda as part of the All American Racers in numerous Trans Am events; and Sox and Martin, one of the most well-known drag-racing teams of the period, only raced Plymouths after 1964.

1970s

1973 Plymouth 'Cuda coupe
Pete Hamilton with his Petty Enterprises 1970 Plymouth Superbird
Gran Fury Sport Suburban 1977

By the 1970s, emissions and safety regulations, along with soaring gasoline prices and an economic downturn, meant demand dropped for all muscle-type models. As with other American vehicles of the time,[citation needed] there was a progressive decrease in the Barracuda's performance. To meet increasingly stringent safety and exhaust emission regulations, big-block engine options were discontinued. The remaining engines were detuned year by year to reduce exhaust emissions, which also reduced their power output. There was also an increase in weight as bumpers became larger and, starting in 1970, E-body doors were equipped with heavy steel side-impact protection beams. Higher fuel prices and performance-car insurance surcharges deterred many buyers as the interest in high-performance cars waned. Sales of pony cars were on the decline.[15] Sales had dropped dramatically after 1970, and while 1973 showed a sales uptick, Barracuda production ended 1 April 1974, ten years to the day after it had begun. The redesign for the 1970 Barracuda removed all its previous commonality with the Valiant. The original fastback design was deleted from the line and the Barracuda now consisted of coupe and convertible models. The all-new model, styled by John E. Herlitz, was built on a shorter, wider version of Chrysler's existing B platform, called the E-body.[16] Sharing this platform was the newly launched Dodge Challenger; however no exterior sheet metal interchanged between the two cars, and the Challenger, at 110 inches (2,794 mm), had a wheelbase that was 2 inches (51 mm) longer than the Barracuda.

The E-body Barracuda was now "able to shake the stigma of 'economy car'."[17] Three versions were offered for 1970 and 1971: the base Barracuda (BH), the luxury oriented Gran Coupe (BP), and the sport model 'Cuda (BS).[18] Beginning mid year 1970, and ending with the 1971 model, there also was the Barracuda Coupe (A93), a low-end model which included the 198ci Slant Six as a base engine, lower grade interior, and (like other Coupe series Chrysler Corp. offered that year) had fixed quarter glass instead of roll-down rear passenger windows.[19] The high-performance models were marketed as 'Cuda deriving from the 1969 option. The E-body's engine bay was larger than that of the previous A-body, facilitating the release of Chrysler's 426 cu in (7.0 L) Hemi for the regular retail market.[citation needed]

For 1970 and 1971, the Barracuda and Barracuda Gran Coupe had two six-cylinder engines available — a new 198 cu in (3.2 L) version of the slant-6, and the 225 — as well as three different V8s: the 318ci, the 383ci with two-barrel carburetor and single exhaust, and the 383ci with four-barrel carburetor and dual exhaust 330 hp (246 kW) SAE gross. The Cuda had the 383ci 335 hp (250 kW) SAE gross (same as Dodge's 383 Magnum) as the standard engine. It also had the 440ci four-barrel Super Commando, the 440ci six-barrel Super Commando Six Pak, and the 426ci Hemi.[20] The 440- and Hemi-equipped cars received upgraded suspension components and structural reinforcements to help transfer the power to the road.[citation needed]

In 1970 the power plant options offered to the customer were:

  1. 275 hp (200 kW) SAE gross in the 340-4V.
  2. 335 hp (250 kW) SAE gross in the high performance 383-4V,
  3. 375 hp (280 kW) SAE gross in the 440-4V,
  4. 390 hp (290 kW) SAE gross in the 440-6V, and
  5. 425 hp (317 kW) SAE gross in the 426-8V.

Other Barracuda options included decal sets, hood modifications, and some unusual "high impact" colors such as "Lime Light", "Bahama Yellow", "Tor Red", "Lemon Twist", "Curious Yellow", "Vitamin C", "In-Violet", "Sassy Grass" and "Moulin Rouge".[21]

The compact Valiant sold well, and built a reputation for attractive styling, durability, economy, and value. Although the Valiant hardtop was discontinued for 1967, it was reintroduced as a virtual clone of the Dodge Dart Swinger for 1971 under the model name "Valiant Scamp". The Scamp was produced along with the Valiant, Dodge Dart, and Swinger until 1976, when it was replaced with the Volaré. Featuring transverse-mounted torsion bars and a slightly larger body, the Volaré (and its Dodge twin, the Aspen) was an instant sales success. Available as coupe, sedan, or station wagon, the Volaré offered a smoother ride and better handling than the Dart/Valiant, but suffered quality control problems and by 1980, was selling poorly.

Realizing that front-wheel drive, four-cylinder engines, and rack-and-pinion steering would become the standards for the 1980s, Chrysler introduced a new compact car for 1978, the Plymouth Horizon/Dodge Omni twins, based on a Simca platform. Horizon sold well, but unfortunately suffered from a scathing report by Consumer Reports, which found its handling dangerous in certain situations. Plymouth continued to sell the Horizon until 1987, when a variety of front-wheel drive compact cars made up the line. Big Plymouths, including the Fury and Gran Fury, were sold until the early 1980s, but mostly as fleet vehicles. While attempting to compete with Ford and Chevrolet for big-car sales, Plymouth was hurt by Chrysler's financial woes in the late 1970s, when both its competitors downsized their full-size models.

1980s

1983 Plymouth Reliant coupe
1987-1990 Plymouth Voyager SE
1988 Plymouth Reliant Exec Classic
1989-1990 Plymouth Acclaim
1989-1992 Plymouth Acclaim LX

Most Plymouth models, especially those offered from the 1970s onward, such as the Valiant, Volaré,and the Acclaim, were badge-engineered versions of Dodge or Mitsubishi models.

The Plymouth Reliant and Dodge Aries were introduced for model year 1981 as the first "K-cars" manufactured and marketed by the Chrysler Corporation. The Reliant was available as a 2-door coupe, 4-door sedan, or as a 4-door station wagon, in three different trim lines: base, Custom and SE ("Special Edition"). Station wagons came only in Custom or SE trim. Unlike many small cars, the K-cars retained the traditional 6 passenger 2 bench seat with column shifter seating arrangement favored by many Americans. The Reliant was powered by a then-new 2.2 L I4 SOHC engine, with a Mitsubishi "Silent Shaft" 2.6 L as an option (curiously this engine also featured hemispherical combustion chambers, and all 1981 models equipped with it featured "HEMI" badges on the front fenders). Initial sales were brisk, with the both Reliant and Aries each selling over 150,000 units in 1981. As rebadged variants, the Reliant and Aries were manufactured in Newark, Delaware, Detroit, Michigan, and Toluca, Mexico — in a single generation. After their introduction, the Reliant and Aries were marketed as the "Reliant K" and "Aries K".[22]

The Reliant replaced the Plymouth Volaré/Road Runner. The Aries replaced the Dodge Aspen.The Reliant and Aries were classified by the EPA as mid-size and were the smallest cars to have 6-passenger seating with a 3-seat per row setup, similar to larger rear-wheel drive cars such as the Dodge Dart and other front-wheel drive cars such as the Chevrolet Celebrity. Chrysler marketed the car as being able to seat "six Americans." The Aries was sold as the Dart in Mexico. The Reliant and Aries were selected together as Motor Trend magazine's Car of the Year for 1981 and sold almost a million Aries and 1.1 million Reliant units over the nine-year run.

In 1982, Plymouth downsized the Gran Fury again, this time sharing the mid-size M platform with the Chrysler Fifth Avenue (called Chrysler New Yorker/New Yorker Fifth Avenue for 1982 and 1983) and the Dodge Diplomat. In addition to the R-body Gran Fury, the M-body Gran Fury replaced the M-body Chrysler LeBaron, which had moved to the compact K platform that year. Now considered a mid-sized car, this generation Gran Fury was close to the exterior size of what was once the compact Valiant and Volaré but offered more interior room. The M-body was in fact heavily based on the Volaré's F platform. Like its predecessor, the 1982 Gran Fury was introduced later than its Chrysler and Dodge siblings; the Chrysler LeBaron and Dodge Diplomat had used the M-body since 1977. 1982-1989 Plymouth Gran Furys shared the Dodge Diplomat's front and rear fascias. They were virtually identical with the exception of badging. Once again, the third generation Gran Fury was available in base and higher-end "Salon" trim. As in previous years, the higher-volume Gran Fury base model catered more towards fleet customers while Gran Fury Salons were geared more towards private customers and offered options such as full vinyl roofs, velour upholstery, turbine-spoke wheels, power windows, and power locks. Although available to private retail customers, the M-body Gran Fury was far more popular with police departments and other fleet customers, primarily since the car was reasonably priced and had a conventional drivetrain with proven components that could withstand a good deal of abuse. This generation of the Gran Fury sold in respectable numbers. However, despite having the same base prices as the Gran Fury (just under $12,000 USD for their final year), the Diplomat always outsold it, usually by several thousand units each year. The Chrysler Fifth Avenue's total sales were always more than that of the Gran Fury and Diplomat by far, even though it generally cost about $6,000 USD more. This was the last car to carry the Gran Fury nameplate, but it remained largely unchanged for its 7-year run. Declining sales, a lack of promotion, and technical obsolescence—the platform dated back to the 1976 Plymouth Volare and Dodge Aspen—eventually contributed to the model's demise in early 1989. That year, a driver-side airbag became standard; this would be the last RWD Plymouth until the introduction of the Prowler. While Dodge offered the 1990 Monaco, and later the 1993 Intrepid, Chrysler never replaced the Gran Fury with any other large car in the remainder of Plymouth's lineup on through to its demise in the 2001 model year.

In 1984, Chrysler marketed the rebadged Plymouth variant of its new minivan as the Voyager, using the Chrysler's S platform, derived from the K-platform (Plymouth Reliant and Dodge Aries). The Voyager shared components with the K-cars including portions of the interior, e.g., the Reliant's instrument cluster and dashboard controls, along with the K-platform front-wheel drive layout and low floor, giving the Voyager a car-like ease of entry. The Voyager was on Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best list for 1985.[23]

For 1987, the Voyager received minor cosmetic updates as well as the May 1987 introduction of the Grand Voyager, which was built on a longer wheelbase adding more cargo room. It was available only with SE or LE trim. First-generation Voyager minivans were offered in three trim levels: an unnamed base model, mid-grade SE, and high-end LE, the latter bearing simulated woodgrain paneling. A sportier LX model was added in 1989, sharing much of its components with the Caravan ES. Safety features included 3-point seat belts for the front two passengers and lap belts for rear passengers. Standard on all Voyagers were legally mandated side-impact reinforcements for all seating front and rear outboard positions, but airbags or ABS were not available.[24] Notably, the Voyager, along with the Dodge Caravan, are considered to be the first mass produced vehicles to have dedicated built in cup holders.[25][26] Original commercials for the 1984 Voyager featured magician Doug Henning[27] as a spokesperson to promote the Voyager "Magic Wagon's" versatility, cargo space, low step-in height, passenger volume, and maneuverability. Later commercials in 1989 featured rock singer Tina Turner.[28] Canadian commercials in 1990 featured pop singer Celine Dion.[29]

For 1987, which was the Sundance's first year, it was available in a single base model. For 1988, a higher-end RS model was available. The RS model, which stood for Rally Sport, came with standard features that included two-tone paint, fog lights, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. It was also available with a turbocharged 2.2 L I4 engine, and other amenities like an Infinity sound system, tinted window glass, and dual power mirrors. For 1991, the base model split into two distinct models: entry-level America and mid-level Highline, in addition to the high-end RS. The stripped-down America had previously been offered for the Plymouth Horizon's final year in 1990.

The AA-body cars were badge-engineered triplets, as were most Chrysler products of this time. The Acclaim differed from its siblings primarily in wheel choices, bodyside molding, and fascias where it sported its unique taillights and the corporate Plymouth eggcrate-grille. Like the K-body and E-body vehicles they replaced, the Acclaim and Dodge Spirit were both marketed as mainstream variants, while the Chrysler LeBaron was marketed as the luxury variant. Despite this, there was substantial overlap in trims and equipment among each car. For example, a fully loaded Acclaim was almost similar to a base LeBaron in features and price.[30]

In addition to its entry-level base model, the Acclaim was initially available in mid-range LE and high-end LX trim. LE and LX models came equipped with features such including premium cloth seating, power windows/door locks, premium sound systems, bodyside cladding, additional exterior brightwork, and on the latter 15-inch lace-spoke aluminum wheels.[31] In spite of this, the base model accounted for nearly 85 percent of Acclaim sales.[32] Unlike the Spirit, the Acclaim did not receive any sport-oriented models.[24] The Acclaim has also been characterized as the replacement for the smaller Reliant,[33][34][35] though the Sundance launched in 1987 is closer than the Acclaim in most dimensions to the Reliant.

Final Years: 1990s–2001

1999 Plymouth Prowler

By the 1990s, Plymouth had lost much of its identity, as its models continued to overlap in features and prices with Dodges and Eagles.[32] Chrysler attempted to remedy this by repositioning Plymouth to its traditional target market as the automaker's entry-level brand. This included giving Plymouth its own new sailboat logo and advertisements that focused solely on value.[32][36] However, this only further narrowed Plymouth's product offerings and buyer appeal, and sales continued to fall.[37]

Chrysler considered giving Plymouth a variant of the highly successful new-for-1993 full-size LH platform,[38] which would have been called the Accolade, but decided against it. By the late 1990s, only four vehicles were sold under the Plymouth name: the Voyager/Grand Voyager minivans, the Breeze mid-size sedan, the Neon compact car, and the Prowler sports car, which was to be the last model unique to Plymouth, though the Chrysler PT Cruiser was conceived as a concept unique to Plymouth before production commenced as a Chrysler model.

Late 1990s letter emblem from a 1999 Neon

After discontinuing the Eagle brand in 1998, Chrysler was planning to expand the Plymouth line with a number of unique models before the corporation's merger with Daimler-Benz AG. The first model was the Plymouth Prowler, a hot rod-styled sports car. The PT Cruiser was to have been the second. Both models had similar front-end styling, suggesting Chrysler intended a retro styling theme for the Plymouth brand. At the time of Daimler's takeover of Chrysler, Plymouth had no models besides the Prowler not also offered in similar version by Dodge.[citation needed]

From a peak production of 973,000 for the 1973 model year, Plymouth rarely exceeded 200,000 cars per year after 1990. Even the Voyager sales were usually less than 50% that of Dodge Caravan. In Canada, the Plymouth name was defunct at the end of the 1999 model year. Consequently, DaimlerChrysler decided to drop the make after a limited run of 2001 models. This was announced on November 3, 1999.[citation needed]

The last new model sold under the Plymouth marque was the second-generation Neon for 2000. The PT Cruiser was ultimately launched as a Chrysler, and the Prowler and Voyager were absorbed into that make, as well. Following the 2001 model year, the Neon was sold only as a Dodge in the US, though it remained available as a Chrysler in Canadian and other markets. The Plymouth Breeze was dropped after 2000, before Chrysler introduced their redesigned 2001 Dodge Stratus and Chrysler Sebring sedan.