The Rise and Fall of Plymouth
May 22, 2009
The Plymouth division was created by Chrysler in 1928. The original emblem featured a view of the Mayflower landing at Plymouth Rock, however the name was actually chosen for the Plymouth Binder twine, which was quite popular with farmers, one of the segments of the population Chrysler was hoping to attract. Early in the history of Chrysler, of which Plymouth is a division, the founder of Chrysler Corporation Walter P. Chrysler had taken control of the financially ailing Maxwell-Chalmers car company. The Maxwell automobile was a part of this package. In a stroke of genius, Chrysler decided to put the Maxwell car to good use. He had been toying with the idea of creating an economy class of vehicles with very attractive priced. The Maxwell car fit in with this plan. The car was soon reworked and renamed the Chrysler 52 model. The low-end market had been previously dominated by Chevrolet and Ford.
While Plymouth vehicles were priced slightly higher than other brands in the same division, the beauty of a Plymouth was that it offered as standard features, its competition lacked. Expanding hydraulic brakes were of these standard features. Consumers at that time felt that stopping the car efficiently was a feature worth paying for!
The Plymouth division was a hit with buyers from the outset; however, it had yet to prove its real worth. This importance would become very apparent entering the 1930’s. It was the Plymouth line up that allowed Chrysler to survive the Great Depression and the period immediately after when so many car manufacturers of the time went under.
The forties and fifties were good years for Plymouth. The cars had a reputation for durability, affordability and engineering. The company offered stiff competition for both Chevrolet and Ford. The design department for Chrysler’s economy division came up with a forward-looking theme and the advanced styling they engineered was very popular with consumers.
Unfortunately, the sixties were not as kind as the earlier decade had been and Plymouth saw its share of the market quickly eroded. Matters were made when the Plymouth was forced to compete against Dodge, another of Chrysler’s divisions. Dodge also marketed lower priced cars, particularly the Dodge Dart. The Dart was had a slant six engine that was incredibly reliable and Plymouth had a difficult time competing. The sixties began a downward spiral that the once popular division would never fully recover.
Through the seventies and eighties, the brand did launch some popular selling vehicles such as the 1981 Reliant and the 1984 Voyager. For a while, it did appear that Plymouth would be able to pull out its slump and turn things around. As the eighties gave way to the nineties however, it was clear that Plymouth was losing more and more of its share of the market to the likes of Pontiac and even Dodge.
The merger between Chrysler and Daimler- Benz proved to be the deathblow for Plymouth. When Daimler began to look at ways to improve sales in the United States market it was clear that either the Plymouth brand or Dodge would have to go. Plymouth did not have any unique models than were not available in other types of Chryslers or Dodges. In addition, while Plymouth dealers sold other types of Chryslers, many Dodge dealerships sold only Dodges. It was this fact that prompted Daimler to give Plymouth the axe. After many long years in the car business, the Plymouth line was officially discontinued in 2001.
Ronnie Tanner is a contributing writer at SW Engines. He writes about used Plymouth engines, used transmissions and other industry specific topics.
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