Curbside Capsule: 1940 Plymouth Roadking 2-Door Sedan – The Low Priced Beauty With the Luxury Ride

Some time ago, Son Number One paid a visit to a cousin of mine who lives near Savannah, Georgia USA, and while on a hike, discovered this 1940 Plymouth gently dissolving back into the red Georgia clay…

One of 55,092 Roadking 2-Door Sedans manufactured for the 1940 model year, our subject car is based on the Plymouth P9 chassis with a 117″ wheelbase. Interestingly, a commercial Utility Sedan version was offered, which was a rare (589 units produced for 1940) version of our subject car with no rear seat or trunk partition, giving ample space for a businessman’s samples. Differences between the Roadking and Deluxe trim levels included the dashboard, fender stampings, chrome trim, front grill and headlight bezels.

1939 Plymouths offered a column shifter on the Deluxe models (made standard on all models in 1940) and a “Safety Signal” speedometer changed colors based on the car’s speed. Other instruments had red warning lights to indicate problems. Sealed-beam headlights were introduced in 1940. These features led to an Eastern Safety Conference Award for Plymouth in both 1939 and 1940. Additionally, a dealer-installed “All Weather Air Control System” was introduced for 1940 that combined the heating and ventilation system to provide much better ventilation and air “conditioning” (chilled air was not a feature, however!).

Here’s a photo of a less-delapidated (Deluxe model) dash taken from the inter webs – note the way the gauges are clustered for easy viewing by the driver, and the redesigned bodies offered more leg and hip room than previous models. Material quality, fit and finish were all excellent, lending credence to the positioning of the car as the luxury model in the low-priced field. Plymouth would see a 40% increase in sales in 1940 from the previous year, and nearly took over the number two sales spot from Ford…

Plymouth was the last of the Chrysler Divisions to receive the new body styles introduced in 1939 – ’39 Plymouths were actually a clever restyle of the former body design. While the ’39 styling motifs were carried forward for 1940, the only common detail was the Mayflower sailing ship hood ornament. The somewhat long-in-tooth 201 c.i.d. (3.3l) straight six got a modest 2HP bump up to 84HP for 1940 and featured rubber mounts to minimize transmitted engine vibrations, marketed as “Floating Power.” In a move that I’m certain made sense on the drawing board but didn’t work out well in practice when changing a flat on a dark night with no flashlight, the wheel studs on the left side of the car had left-handed threads (ostensibly to prevent them backing off due to wheel rotation).

Walter P. Chrysler died at age 65 on August 18, 1940, marking the end of an era for Chrysler Corporation. With rumbles of war echoing in the headlines, automakers would soon be starting to convert over to military production. The 1940-41 Plymouths would be the last full years of pre-war production, and despite substantial engine and chassis changes for the short 1942 model year, it would be the 1940-41 body style that would come back as the post-war offering.