William Rubano posted shots of a car that I have no memory of ever seeing before: a 1952 Plymouth Cranbrook Belvedere Coupe. Needless to say, it has a quite distinctive two-tone paint treatment, with the roof seeming to melt down onto the rear haunches of the car. I assumed that this must have been the very first Belvedere ever, Plymouth’s response to the pioneering 1950 Chevrolet Bel Air hardtop coupe, the first in the low price class. Actually, it’s not (quite); the first Belvedere came out as a 1951½ model, but it lacked this roof treatment.
Here’s what the 1951 Belvedere looked like: tall, short, and not very graceful. With more than a touch of Kim Kardashian. We’ve covered this generation of Plymouths here before, which were the product of Chrysler President K.T.Keller’s dictum that “Cars should accommodate people rather than the far-out ideas of designers”, or in blunter words, “the styling won’t knock your hat off, but neither will getting in one of our cars…We build cars to sit in, not to pee over.”
Well, Americans in the exuberant post war era begged to differ; they were quite happy to
pee over their cars sit a bit lower if it meant the cars looked sexy, low, long and flashy. The Belvedere obviously didn’t.
The 1952 Belevedere’s new roof treatment was obviously an effort to make it appear a bit lower and longer. Of course the ads really do make it look that way, but truth in advertising renderings was not a priority back then.
Here’s a more honest representation of how it looked in profile: An SUV/ CUV hardtop coupe. What goes around, comes around. K.T.Keller was just 60 years ahead of his time. I’d take that one in a heartbeat; it would suit (and fit) me perfectly.
The black over turquoise is a bit more appealing than this combo. And a continental spare is always off-putting. Now the butt has a hole too.
Under its stubby hood purred a 218 cid flathead six, rated at 97 hp. Just the ticket for purring along the unhurried two-lane highways of the time. And overdrive was now available, to make highway cruising even more pleasant. Mustn’t strain that dear old six too hard.
A pleasant place from which to direct the Belvedere’s comings and goings with that big tiller.
The Belvedere name, like so many others, started out as top-tier new models, and eventually ended up gracing taxi cabs. Life at the top of the heap is a fleeting affair.
I guess the only way to make it look low, sleek and sexy would be to park it next to a Hillman Minx Californian.
Yeah the resemblance is remarkable, but if you think this Plymouth looks strange take a google trip down under and have a look at how Chrysler Australia restyled those 53 bodies all the way to 63
Ah, the Chrysler Royal. Do you know if those were ’55 Plymouth Fenders they grafted on? If so, it would support my pet theory that the ’55 Plymouth and Dodge, like the ’55 Ford and Mercury, weren’t all-new bodies, but a clever reworking of the ’53 body, which was an update from the ’52 body here. If only Chevy and Pontiac were truly new, it would help explain why both Chrysler and Ford were able to beat GM with new low-price bodies in ’57.
I once owned a 53 Savoy, apparently the dashboard/instrument panel carried over a few years.
My family also owned a 49 and 51 Plymouth, and yes, all these pre ’57 Plymouths look tall and stubby.
Ford had a similar paint treatment on it’s Crestliner 2 door, I prefer the Plymouth 2 tone treatments in both iterations. And I have to admit this is one of those few times I like skirts and a Continental kit.
Just not a fan of that 2 tone brown combo….just about any other colors would seem to be more appealing.
Someone else had mentioned that Plymouths of this era were the Toyotas of their time, including selling at or not much below MSRP. They might not have been the most stylish cars (‘ungainly’ is the word that comes to mind), but if they were stone-cold reliable, a lot of that can be forgiven.
And then Chrysler pissed it all away with a 180 degree about-face with the good-looking (but horribly built) Forward Look cars, only recovering by the mid-sixties with the advent of the Valiant/slant six/TorqueFlite combo.
That would be at the peak of the post-war sellers market. Then the Korean war limited availability of raw materials and thus auto production.
The sales wars that killed the independents started later. But there were many years of MSRP or slightly lower for all makes after the end of WWII. Pent up demand was the auto makers dream and held up for a long time
Wow, what a find! I don’t think I have ever seen one of these in person. All of the old survivor Plymouths from that era seem to be gray or black sedans.
This is one of the rare cars that actually looks better with the skirts and continental kit (something that you will almost never hear me say, as a rule). I kind of like the brown and tan 2 tone, too.
I just noticed, the advertisement picture (the red and black drawing) made the rear overhang appear twice as long as it really was…about as long as that of a Chrysler.
My parents bought their 10-12 year old 51 Plymouth businessman’s coupe for a few hundred dollars. And yes, like 60s-70s Toyotas, these cars were a bit stodgy but dead reliable.
I wonder how easily a slant six would transplant in there?
Or the Fluid Drive out of a contemporary Dodge?
Oh yeah, put that fluid drive in there and gain the disadvantages of a manual and an automatic transmission, and the advantages of neither.
I had a 53 New Yorker with some form of fluid drive, and every time I drove it I wished it had either a Torqueflite or a 4-speed manual transmission to put that 331 hemi’s power to the ground.
Easy tons of room Chrysler AU stuck a V8 in the same engine bay later on.
Saw a few of these in the metal back in the ’50s and ’60s. At least to eyes tuned for those wavelengths, the two-tone swoop made a real difference. It added enough of a fastback feel to remove the stubbiness.
Of course the real point of ’49-’52 Chrysler products was the interior. Like the Tardis, they were bigger and more interesting inside than out. Comfy seats, fine radio, good ergonomics, best heater controls, and the “least bad” column shift of any American car.
There’s the old adage that timing is everything in the auto industry and K.T. Keller’s misplaced (for the time) obsession with interior comfort and room above exterior styling seems almost brougham-like. Is it possible he was decades ahead of his time?
An over inflated Hillman Minx Californian for sure, Rootes group must have liked it they made its smaller clone its top of the range in small cars, nicer without the roof I think
There is much to be said for extremely reliable cars but the two tone paint scheme brings the term “lipstick on a pig” to mind.
Around the Chrome Belvedere emblem, it looks like someone has used coarse sandpaper; I wonder of this car has been “patinated” as is so popular now-a-daze.
This is one car that would look better in a good paint job; dark blue on the bottom and white top.
Never seeing anything but the standard Plymouths and Dodges, in my neck of the northern woods, back when these were new; this car looks stylish in comparison.
I think if the front side trim was continued into the door, it would have give an impression of extra length to the front.
It looks like the Hillman has this treatment in the picture Bryce posted.
Having it end at the shut line seems to highlight the stubbiness.
i cant see a clock on the belvedere dash i think i see where its supposed to go the original owner wouldnt spring for a clock ! also in 1959 chrysler stude and amc
still were selling 1930 flathead sixes
I like it but I’m also fond of those Keller Mo-Pars , esp. the Business Coupes .
I’d like the saffron and black or maybe the turquoise one .
I’ve always loved those Foxcraft skirts but they don’t quite compliment this car IMO .
Too bad they stuck with the venerable flathead , it doesn’t like open roads America’s famous for .
No , the overdrive only helps , it doesn’t make up for the flatheads poor speed ability .
These all had dual leading shoe brakes and stopped on a dime .
Frumpy, Lumpy and Dumpy!
I have one of these but much better paint job and no skirts / continental and know of a very few which are so much better with the operative words very few.
Robert Swartz was right, the ’55 Plymouth/Dodge cars used the new sheetmetal on an old frame.