Plymouth brand 1928 - 2001
Creating a mass-market sub-brand was something daring in the ’20s, but Walter Chrysler believed that thus his company would have a better chance against Ford and Chevrolet. Moreover, Chrysler automobiles were just too expensive to sell in larger numbers than its main competitors.
Walter Chrysler bought the Maxwell-Calmers car brand in the early ’20s and launched the Chrysler brand in 1925 based on the assembly lines of the former carmaker. Soon, the businessman understood that he could not fight on volume numbers with Ford and Chevrolet. He might have got a better profit from each unit, but its volumes were low. So, he came with the idea of badge engineering. He created the Plymouth brand, which produced cars based on existing Chrysler products, but priced lower.
Plymouth was introduced on the market on July 7, 1928, at the Maddison Square Garden. It was a re-badged Chrysler 25 but featured less expensive materials, and it wasn’t that much sophisticated as the 25. It still featured safety systems such as hydraulic brakes, a feature not present in Ford or Chevrolet vehicles.
Walter Chrysler’s idea proved successful during the Great Depression when the lower-priced Plymouth took third place in 1931 sales. Thanks to the lower-budget vehicle, Chrysler survived those bad economic years. The sub-brand started to develop its own products, most of them with inline-four engines, which were cheaper than the inline-six units. But the customers asked for more, and, in 1933, Plymouth introduced a six-pot version of the Plymouth PC, dubbed “DeLuxe.” It was an instant success.
Thus, by the mid-’30s, the Plymouth brand popularity greatly increased, and, in 1939, it managed to sell more than 400,000 units. Its flathead-six engine introduced in 1933 powered many of them and remained in production until the 1959 models.
After WW2, Plymouth’s image was improved by Virgil Exner’s Forward Look design theme in 1957. But the cost-cutting program came with few big problems: poor material quality, rust, and build quality. So even though 1957 was the best year for Plymouth products, with a production of 726,009 units, those problems badly damaged the brand’s reputation, and the sales dropped.
In 1960, Plymouth introduced the XNR concept-car with a fiber-glass bodywork designed by Ghia in Torino. The carmaker built it on top of an adapted Valiant platform and envisioned the brand’s idea for sporty, affordable vehicles. But that project died, and the carmaker had to carry on building just regular cars, despite their aggressive nameplates such as Fury or Sport Fury. In the late ‘60, the brand built the Road Runner based on the Belvedere. It was a massive success, selling more than twice the estimated value. Dodge also received the rights to produce the same car and renamed it Super Bee. The Road Runner was the third best-selling muscle car in 1968, behind Pontiac GTO and Chevrolet Chevelle SS-396.
After the muscle-car era, in the mid-’70s, Plymouth had to focus back on economy vehicles and worked on an inline-four, front-wheel-drive vehicle. It introduced the Horizon in 1978 based on the European Simca platform. Plymouth built it until 1987 when other carmakers came on the market with similar vehicles but with an updated, better design. Another important money-maker was the Plymouth Voyager minivan, which was well-received by customers, but it couldn’t sell in big numbers.
But the boxy-looking vehicles from the ’80s helped Plymouth survive until the ’90s when it returned with the low-budget Neon, Breeze, or minivans. With the PT Cruiser, a retro-styled model, the brand tried to return to the market with a new image. But that model was transformed into a Chrysler and couldn’t bring money to the brand.
During the DaimlerChrysler period, the German partner suggested that Plymouth should stick to retro-design models and introduced the Prowler, which was also sold under the Chrysler badge. But that couldn’t save the brand. On November 3, 1999, the company announced that Plymouth would drop out of the market. The last car sold under the Plymouth brand was a 2001 Neon.