(first posted 2/9/2012) We’ve discussed the topic a few times here before, but the biggest single reason compacts didn’t “take” in the early-mid fifties is because full-size cars weren’t all that big. With their 115″ or so wheelbases, they closely approximated the mid-sized cars that (re)appeared in the early-mid sixties. But Plymouth fielded an even smaller car, the 111″ wheelbase P17/P19, along with the 118.5″ “regular” cars when it introduced its new post war line in 1949. That’s pretty solidly in compact territory; its overall length of 186″ is all of two inches more than the 1960 Valiant. Compact indeed.
This is the 1950 version, shot by bobloblaw at the Cohort. From the cowl forward, the two share sheet metal. But the rest of the body is unique to the short-wheelbase cars, with a humped back not unlike a Volvo PV444/544. No four doors in the short length, but the pioneering all-steel wagon did sit on this chassis. Either way, the rugged side-valve 217.8 inch six powered them. Which does make me wonder about the dual exhausts on this example.
But for the Explorer in the background, these pictures could have been taken in the 60s/70s.
Easy on the leather, bro…
That’s Ridgewood, NJ. Albeit in a industrial part of town, Ridgewood is a very tony bedroom community of NYC. A good chunk of those 1% show off their wealth here, just like 1950s Pleasantville (but in color).
Before you ask, I was in town to visit a friend that works in town.
This car was misleading… as I approached it it seemed like one of those mid century barges but once I peered into the car it was narrow and downright claustrophobic, headroom yes, but exceedingly narrow.
Judging from the rubber, I’d say this car doesn’t get out much, perhaps the autobody showowner is letting the coupe grab some rays on a pleasant January saturday as it trolls for an offer?
Ah, Ridgewood! I was born at Valley Hospital there, and my grandparents lived in nearby Wyckoff until 2004 or so. Old stomping grounds. A perfect setting for CC spotting. On warm weather weekends there are still a fair number of interesting CC’s to be seen lining those tony streets. One of my earliest memories was being taken to the Stride Rite shoe store on East Ridgewood Ave for new shoes in my grandmother’s Valiant Signet Convertible, then raising my 4-year-old arms while grandma honked the horn going under the NJ transit overpass that separated the east and west sides of town. I stood on the “hump” in the back seat holding on the to front headrests. Carseats and seatbelts were “optional” in those days of course.
I missed that one! 110-111 inch wheelbase is indeed the sweet spot. This car is the missing link between the 1939 Studebaker Champion and the 1960 Falcon. The First Wave Compacts of that era were all too short.
We could wonder what if Plymouth had keeped the 111″ short version during the 1953-54 model years?
Then what if Plymouth received the green light for their small-car project named “Cadet”?
Cadet? Chevrolet also played around with a compact concept called Cadet too.
The Cadet was Earl Mcphersons baby to showcase his strut suspension it morphed into the English Ford Zephyr MK1. I cant say Ive ever seen this short Plymouth great find
Here’s the link for anyone who’s not read it. Compelling case for when GM began its long decline…
This car has a high beltline and quite narrow windows, rather like today’s cars.
OK here’s my wild theory on the dual pipes. Somebody repowered this sucker with a slant-6 at some point. One of the slant 6 performance web-pages I’ve read quoted one of the engineers involved in the project saying that a dual exhaust system for the slant 6 tying certain cylinders together in the firing order “really woke the engine up.” (At least that would be cooler than a V8.)
I actually had the opportunity to peer under the car to see a faux dual exhaust. It’s connected to the main pipe, but just from behind the gas tank! At least it looks a bit more macho!
Questions: First, is the formal name of this car the Plymouth Special Deluxe Fastback Coupe? From what I understand, this is a pretty rare car and after searching for it on the internet, I can hardly find this model style. Second, what signifies the “special” title? Is it from having an option like the radio? Last and most importantly, are there enough parts available for this car to be a daily driver? Thanks.
You can get a split exhaust manifold which is basically a header and gives you dual exhausts. It is not uncommon and there is an enthusiast scene devoted to improving performance of the flat 6’s. Historically these little Plymouths were used in the early stock car races and established an impressive winning record thanks to there toughness and durability. Lee Petty, Richards dad, raced and won with 6 cylinder Plymouths in the early 1950s.
Plymouth called the fastback a two door sedan. Most people see the club coupe and think it’s the two door sedan. Nope,what you see here is the real deal two door sedan. The Special Deluxe models had a longer wheel base. The Deluxe models made do with a 111 inch wheel base. The Special Deluxe models had a longer wheel base than Ford.
I had forgotten all about these. I would imagine that these were variations of the similarly small Dodge Wayfarer that brought us the last roadster from the big 3.
Oops – I just looked it up. The Wayfarer was on a 115 inch wb. From the looks of the picture of the coupe on Allpar, it looks like the same fastback body of this Plymouth with a slightly stretched-out butt that sort of splits the difference between a fastback and a notchback.
So, it looks like the 57 Ford was not the first low-price car to come with two wheelbases and two body shells. A great find.
To use Chrysler’s later terminolgy, I think the short-wheelbase Plymouths and Dodges were essentially the A body, the long-wheelbase Plymouths and Dodges were the B body, and the DeSotos and Chryslers were the C body.
I assume that the postwar interest in compacts is what prompted Chrysler to take a step in that direction with the short-wheelbase models. And I assume that the consumer apathy that killed off all of the “true” compacts from the independents (except for the Nash Rambler) is what prompted Chrysler to drop the short-wheelbase models after only a few years. Today, they are kind of a forgotten chapter in the history of the U.S. auto industry.
Chrysler was working on a number of compact prototypes during the 1930s, some with radial engines, as part of their Star car project. But these were the only ‘compacts’ they produced until 1960.
I don’t remember things like wheelbases. Sure do remember the car. Might this style have been given to a couple cars.
It used to be cool to buy a split manifold for inline sixes. It did wake them up. I am sure that back in the day you could buy it for a flathead also.
You could and still can buy split manifolds for flatheads -or- add in a y-pipe for duals.
A college friend had a 1949 Plymmie 4-door with a split manifold and dual pipes. Great-sounding car. Another had a 1952 2-door sedan with overdrive. I always wondered if I’d have liked one with both of these features, but I was way more interested in flathead Fords at that time in my life.
186″ long? Wow. That’s two inches shorter than my old 6th-generation Accord, which seemed small and nimble compared to the barge Honda currently sells.
Of course, my car probably crushed this thing in terms of interior room, trunk capacity and performance (even with the four cylinder). This thing has way more character, though, at least in hindsight. In its day, pre-Forward Look Plymouths were about as dull as it got. A Henry J or Crosley would have been worse, but that’s about it.
Your Accord will crush it in interior room? In width, perhaps. These things are way tall, and one sits upright and high on the seats like a church pew. And enough headroom to wear a hat; that was mandatory, as per Chrysler Prez KT Keller. And no console to get in the way…Give me this Plymouth with your Accord’s chassis, and I’d be…well, I guess that almost describes my Xb, doesn’t it?
Silly me. How could I forget about Keller and his affection for cars that accommodated large hats? Just a couple of days ago, a 70 year old coworker was telling me how nothing comes close to the head/legroom in his old ’48 Plymouth.
I said this before, but my 2007 MX5 accomodates my fedoras quite nicely. I really do wear them – every day, including to and from work and year ’round.
To be fair, Paul, not all of us are tall. I’m 5’4″, so interior volume above a certain height isn’t really of much value to me.
Yeah at 5’8″ I’ve never desired tall cars either, I can fit into pretty much anything comfortably and if offered the choice between tall or wide I’ll take wide
And yet…it looks big. The mind play tricks on you when you see cars like these!
Here’s the two-door wagon, from the brochure at the Old Car Manual Project. You’ll find this two-door sedan there too.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a duller brochure. Might as well be selling file cabinets.
The intended audience would be handymen and not the all purpose hauler of later years. I am told 1955 Chevrolet had a “Handyman” with NO stock radio and NO heater. Sales were do dismal, my source said they were recalled and converted into 56 Nomads.
Not so sure about that last part; the basic Handyman wagon was popular with fleet and commercial customers. Also, radios and heaters were optional in lots of cars in the 50’s — although heater-less cars were sometimes a “delete option” by special order except in cities like Miami and Phoenix. The practice of inserting “R&H” in classified used car ads, to denote the presence of a radio and heater, became such a habit it persisted long after it was unnecessary.
The Chevy Handyman of 1955-57 was their two-door wagon. They came in two trim levels: 150 and 210. they never came in a BelAir.
I currently own a ’57 210 Handyman. So does regular CC commentor Lee Wilcox…
Converting a Handyman to a Nomad would be really difficult. The greenhouse is much shorter, plus the doors are completely different.
Not having one handy to check though I always thought the Nomad and Handyman were different bodyshells converting one wouldnt be feasible in a factory setting the whole thing would have to be unstitched and reassembled.
IINM, that Plymouth was the first fully steel-bodied station wagon on the market. It success was hindered by the fact that it was only available on the short-wheelbase body, however, and as a result was noticeably smaller than consumers expected a typical family car to be. By the end of the 1950 model year, Chevrolet had a wagon that was not only steel, but built off a conventional-size body, and a 4-door to boot. Needless to say, it blew the doors off the Plymouth in the sales race. Plymouth didn’t have a conventional-sized all-steel wagon until the 1953 restyle, and even then, it was still available only as a 2-door. A 4-door version didn’t appear until 1955. Ford had all-steel in both styles in 1952.
As for the 1955-57 Chevy, I think the bottom line is that the 150 and 210 came as a Handyman (2-door wagon with conventional pillared styling), while the BelAir came as a Nomad (2-door wagon with different, sportier, pseudo-hardtop styling). They were two different body styles, and I agree that it would seem difficult to recall unsold examples of one and convert them into the other. Both styles were new for 1955. Unlike most other manufacturers, who started off with 2-door wagons and added a 4-door later, Chevy started out with a 4-door wagon and didn’t introduce a 2-door version until later. I assume that either the station wagon market was so hot that GM thought it could sell enough 2-doors to make it worthwhile, or they just wanted to match rivals who had kept a 2-door in their lineup even after introducing a 4-door.
I don’t have any sales or production figures handy, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Handyman actually outsold the Nomad. The Nomad body was dropped after ’57, but Chevy kept building conventional 2-door pillared wagons until 1960.
R&H scrawled across a windscreen in used car lots back in the day was a big selling point nothing except luxury versions of anything came with a heater or radio from the factory and all were dealer installed extra cost accesories.
Indeed KiwiBryce ~
My one owner little old lady 1958 Plymouth Plaza two door had no heater much less a radio or driver’s side rear view mirror .
It was equipped with the rock solid two speed slushbox transmission however….
Just looking through that extremely dull brochure and came across a wagon model I had no idea existed. The Special Deluxe four door eight passenger version with wood applique. Here’s one that was for sale four years ago:
And here’s one for sale today. $52,500 OBO. Maybe it will sell for $10K less, or not?
I find that the spare tire arrangement is inordinately cool.
And what’s going on under the second row seat? Also I see the wood isn’t an applique as I thought, given the existence of the all-steel two door like a 1950 Ford wagon, but it’s an actual full wood body (at least the doors and B and C columns). Pretty amazing car I had no idea existed.
These cars are about the right size, height as current crossovers. I wish someone would ressurect this body style on a modern crossovers chassis. GM Lambdas, Dodge Durangos, Ford Flex/edge chassis would be perfect for this. The car/SUV would offer the same kind of utility, but with a lot more style!
I’d bet that Plymouth’s P18 didn’t sell all that well because its compact length didn’t translate into meaningfully better fuel economy or a spectacularly low price.
The P18 two-door weighed 2,951 lbs. and listed for $1,492 compared to Plymouth’s 118.5 inch w.b. DeLuxe club coupe (3,034 lbs. and $1,519).
The 1949 Ford Standard club coupe, with a 114-inch w.b., was arguably a better deal than the P18. It weighed 2,945 lbs. and listed for $1,415.
Or consider the Studebaker Champion. Its two-door sedan weighed 2720 lbs. and listed for $1,630. The 1950 Nash Rambler convertible coupe weighed 2,410 lbs. and listed for $1,808. Both had more compact bodies but higher price points.
What would be the reason for buying a short-wheelbase Plymouth if it didn’t offer a clear advantage as an economy car? If the Plymouth had offered a sportier design it might have anticipated the long-hood, short-deck look of personal coupes. But that was not to be.
That era’s Plymouths were like Accords and Camrys in the 90s. They always sold at a price premium when new, and maintained their resale values better than Ford or Chevrolet. Other than their plain looks, those Plymouths had virtually no baked-in faults. Compared to the valve-burning Chevy Blue Flames and the Ford flathead V8s with too many issues to go into here, the little Plymouth was just a very good, honest car.
You’re correct, as I have attested to several times about my parent’s 1950 Plymouth. Sadly, no photos exist that I can find…
Believe it or not, I have just this past week come into possession of a photo of my Dad’s 1950 Ply. All these years I had been of the understanding that his first car was a 46, but getting this photo opened my eyes. Today I looked up the 1950 Plymouth on CC for the first time. This car was the predecessor to his 55 Dodge Crusader.
The comparison to Accords and Camrys is fascinating. If accurate, seems like a candidate for a Chrysler ‘Greatest Hit’. Likewise, it’s a heartbreaker to think that Chrysler would piss it all away seven years later with the immensely stylish, but atrociously built Forward Look cars.
Reminds like a lot of the GAZ Pobeda which also came in the M72 4×4 version – has to be one of the first cross overs!
This Plymouth would look great with the same treatment.
Yes indeed, even this dirty-beige paint says “late 1940s – early 1950s GAZ” to me (the shade on the Plymouth is actually closer to the original GAZ paint than the respray shown on the following photo)
Height really does matter, and plays tricks to make you think a car is more massive than it is. I have a Rover p4 which is built on a very similar architecture to the Plymouth, and probably almost exactly the same size. It looks monsterous, particularly in all black. However, on paper, its actually smaller than the latest generation Focus estate, and actually weighs less too. Yet, the interior on the Rover is cavernous, with gobs of legroom front and back, while the Focus is worse than a K car inside, partly due to the stupidly thick front seats and motors underneath where the rear passenger’s feet would go. I think interior wise, the best comparison would be a compact SUV. My parents had a gen1 Honda CRV- and that thing has more room inside than almost anything I’d been in as a kid. Why? because its tall. Alot of people like my mum, who is NOT a typical SUV driver, purchased it because of the interior proportions.
If they made that plymouth today, but with a modern 12 volt electrical system, heated air intake to prevent carb icing, sealed ball joints, and front disc brakes, seat belts and perhaps a collapsable steering column, I’d buy it in an instant.
The pictured car has been fitted with normal 50-52 taillights. These roundbacks originally had their own unique ‘asymmetrical’ taillights that wrapped around the side of the fender.
As usual, Chrysler skimped on brand identity where it would be visible, and went to the trouble of tooling up unique parts inside the brand, too subtle for most people to notice.
As Billy Rockfish noted back in 2012, split exhaust manifolds were widely available speed parts for the MoPaR flathead sixes back then, as were twin carb intakes. Here’s just such a set up I saw on a 230 inch Dodge installed in a ’34 Plymouth hot rod in 2014….
A sweet little car….
..with a wonderful bark….
I hope you’re still out there Gene. I just found this thread and I GOTTA find out the specs on that music-making flathead. I would pay some good money for that sweet sounding ’34 Plymouth!
“Full-sized American cars weren’t that big in the 50s”? Really?
Until the late 50s, the low priced Three were about the size of a modern midsize.
The ’55 Chevy sedan, depending on content, is close in size & weight to the current Toyota Avalon.
Keeping in mind that folks, on average, were shorter and weighed less (weren’t as “beefy”) than they do today….5 or 6 people could ride in these Plymouths quite well.
My parents had a 49 Plymouth Deluxe and a 51 Plymouth Deluxe….1 a business coupe and the other a 2 door sedan. They are tall, you sit on seats like church pews and the trunks are HUGE. The downsides? Brakes that fade quickly and steering and rides that rival odd trucks.
But, hey, they are (were) as trouble-free as anvils.
My neighbor bought one of these out of ” Memory Lane ” Junk Yard in Sun Valley , Ca. before they closed up and moved to Long Beach , he had the engine rebuilt and drove it , immediately lost interest and sold it to some guy who only cared that no one else would ever have one at the ‘ Show & Shine ‘ .
These were very sturdy yes but Flat Heads don’t like high RPM’s so the Interstate Highway System chewed then all up rapidly in the 1960’s .
Ah. My birth year plymouth. A car that refuses to rust, unlike me.
I had a pal who had a ’60 Savoy with dual exhaust and a slant 6. Which might have been a J.C. Whitney piece (to visit last weekend’s story). He said it was totally for show, no connection to the working pipe.
Just saw one of these at a local show yesterday!
The letter/numbering on the license plate would indicate that this has been the license plate number for this car since the early 50s.
My parents 1940 Dodge carried BA96B on the plate in the same style as this plate.
Interesting to see a later, replacement plate decked out in this similar way. The original plates of the 50s were black with yellow digits.
That car was mine and my fathers. Everything that is being questioned was done by us from dual exhaust etc. We purchased it in the early 90’s and did our best to restore it ourselves in our garage. He passed away in 2000 and it was sold. I’m curious who owns it now and the whereabouts. Would love to buy it back
Those sleepy-eyelid headlights are the most anthropomorphic feature I’ve ever seen on a car!
Not super uncommon aftermarket add-ons back then. Also, for some unknown reason, small round blue lenses stuck in the middle of other wise red tail lights.
I re-read that article and it reminds me of an old article of Collectible Automobile about the 1949-52 Plymouth where Richard M. Langworth, who did the article, wondered what if the P18 Deluxe fastback got a hatchback version more or less similar to the Kaiser Traveler.?
My maternal grandparents had one of these in medium blue, from 1950 to 1966.
The ‘hot’ 1949-’52 Plymouth in the collector market now is not a convertible, woody wagon or Belvedere hardtop but the three passenger business coupe, last of the three window coupes. Same applies for the concurrent Dodges.
I can dig that .
I wanted one badly for many years and prolly should have bought the ’49 DeSoto Business Coupe I found in the 1980’s in Whittier, Ca. .
Good looking cars that were better built than the cheaper Chevies and had better handling and *much* better dual leading shoes brakes to boot .