When we look at old cars, each one tends to be something we consider on its own. Unless it is a Mustang or a Corvette, the cars near it are usually different years, makes or models and we take them all in without anything like the experience its first owner got when shopping for it when new. So today let’s try something different. Let’s use this pair of New Yorkers to look at what it might have been like to actually shop for a new Chrysler during its first big postwar transition.
Imagine yourself in January of 1949. You are a successful banker in a smaller midwestern city. You are a conservative fellow by nature, which is why your last car was a 1941 Chrysler. This is also how you have kept your car in fine fettle during the war years, taking it in for regular service (and Genuine Mo-Par parts) at your local Chrysler-Plymouth dealer. You know that if you don’t take care of what you have you’ll never have anything.
It hasn’t done much good to pine for a new car since the war ended. All the rest who didn’t take such good care of what they had were more desperate and were willing to pay the premium (you are too much of a gentleman to call it a bribe) to be placed high enough on the waiting list to get a car as they dribble into the dealership, sold before they are unloaded from the truck.
If you had been really insistent you could have strolled into the Lincoln-Mercury dealer to see Bill who sold the ’47 Lincoln to Arthur, a parishioner at your Presbyterian church. Lincolns, you see, could be had pretty much at will over the last year or two. But you also know that Arthur has always been a dedicated Ford man who seems unfazed by the need to shift his own gears. Besides, you keep your cars for a long time and you know all about that Zephyr that Arthur had to nurse through the war. What a mechanic’s dream that one turned out to be when the poorly designed V-12 sludged itself up to the point of needing a rebuild in ’44. So no thanks. The ’49 is supposed to be all new but you don’t need to be anyone’s test driver.
That awful seller’s market has cooled by now so you won’t get held up at gunpoint when you go in to buy. I suppose that you could go see the new Olds or Cadillac with their sparkly-new V8 engines and Hydra-Matic transmissions. But if you showed up at church in a Cadillac you would never hear the end of it. Ward O’Connell bought a Cadillac just to show everyone how much money he has and you’ll be damned if you are going to stoop to that kind of thing because you don’t need to impress anybody.
The Missus would probably prefer something with an automatic transmission, but you just aren’t sure about those new designs. The Buick straight eight is more familiar but with that Dynaflow it is awfully thirsty and not very fast if you really need to pull something heavy. You don’t really think you will buy a mahogany speedboat, but it’s nice to know your car could pull it if you ever did. And who really needs more than a Fluid Drive. All told, it seems best to stick to a tried and true Chrysler.
But you have a terrible dilemma: which one do you choose? Yes, you are doing well and would prefer another New Yorker sedan. You have reached that point in life where you don’t have to settle for six cylinders in your new car. Chrysler has been late with new 1949 models and has only just now introduced them. And even so, they are just starting to trickle into dealerships while the leftover ’48s (which Chrysler has cleverly called First Series 1949 cars) are still plentiful.
As far as you can tell, there is almost nothing that is really different between the old and new models in terms of the mechanical design. It is the same good old flathead 323.5 cid (5.3L) straight eight mated to the same semi-automatic transmission and Fluid Drive that has become second nature to you. What’s so hard about using a clutch to shift between forward and reverse gears? Nothing, that’s what. And unlike the Dynaflow, these cars have a “low” range that will pull down a small tree if you need to do something crazy like that (instead of just calling Al the handyman who is better at that sort of thing.) About the only real difference is that the new model has an extra four inches of wheelbase (131.5 inches now) – although it certainly doesn’t look like it.
You know that Chrysler has been building top quality cars for twenty-five years and that your New Yorker will lead the pack in resale value down the line when you are ready to replace it in another six or seven years (or maybe longer if that stuff you keep reading about in Korea gets out of hand.) And there is nothing more reassuring than knowing that Chrysler has the best engineers in the business who have built a lot of life into these new cars. Things like full flow oil filters are not often seen in other cars. No wonder Chrysler Corporation is number two of the Big Three.
But which do you choose: Old Faithful or the New Look? The old version is so comforting. After all, you have been used to seeing its basic shape since the ’42 model came out. And you know that they certainly have all of the kinks and bugs worked out of it. The boys on the line must be able to build these with blindfolds on. But you know that they don’t because they are put together so well.
However, as soon as you drive it off the lot you will have “last year’s model”. The same thing happened when you bought the ’41, but it wasn’t as bad because they shut down the lines so quickly in ’42 for the war. You don’t like the modern styling as well. The old car is so stately. It just looks like it belongs in the driveway of your brick colonial with the ivy growing up the walls. You are 53 years old and not quite sure that you are ready for all of these new ideas on how cars should look. Those damned Studebakers have been hard to get used to. But the kids seem to like them.
I don’t know, the new ’49 just seems to be missing something, and you can’t quite put your finger on it. It just looks kind of dull. Or maybe kind of like a really big Plymouth. But then you try to be positive. Didn’t you think that the ’42 Chrysler was not much of an improvement too? And you got used to that one soon enough, especially once the ’46 models started to be seen more. This is just what cars will look like in the future so it’s best to join the crowd, isn’t it? And at least you can still wear your hat unlike Ralph at the club who has taken to going bareheaded when he travels because that damned Buick hardtop kept knocking his homburg askew when he slides behind the wheel.
Both cars are plenty nice inside. You love the older model’s dash design, it makes the car look like a million bucks.
But the interior is one place where the new model kind of excites you. Still, you wonder why they had to eliminate the full horn ring and whether that padding on the dash will hold up.
The back seats are awfully nice in both of them. Of course for what they’re charging, they ought to be. Still, you can’t decide . . . do you like the new one? Without as many windows it seems a little dark inside.
Then there’s the older style. You’ve gotta admit that the old New Yorker looks just like a limo back there. It’s just you and the Mrs. now, so how the back doors are hinged aren’t really a big deal to you. Still, you wonder why everyone feels the need to mess with the way back doors on cars have opened for most of your life. More progress, I suppose. What’s next, we start electing Republicans? Although the idea might appeal to you, you know that’s not likely to happen. Those days are gone for good.
There are two cars on display right now. You really like that navy blue one. “This”, you think, “is what a banker should drive.” You wonder if the dealer might swap some whitewalls onto this one, but then you remember how nice it has been not to have to keep them clean during the years when they have been hard to get.
The light green doesn’t really appeal to you that much. And good golly, have you ever seen bigger taillights?
Maybe you would like the newer car better in another color. The darker ones look OK in the magazine ads you have seen. But then cars always look better in the magazine ads. Irv the salesman has said he has a maroon one on order but he can’t say when it will be in. But you are not going to let the color drive your decision. That’s exactly what would happen if the Mrs. were in charge of picking a car, so it’s a good thing that this is your job. After all, buying a car needs to be a rational decision, not an emotional one. Can you imagine what kind of colors they might paint cars if women got to do the buying? You don’t even want to think about it.
But then the old one sure looks good in that navy blue. This is why this decision is so hard.
Enough of this woolgathering – you have a decision to make and a check to write. So which will it be?
Your heart says that the navy job is the car for you.
But your head says that you really should choose the green one in the new style. I guess there’s nothing to be done but see what Irv can do for you on the price. Like you always say, everything comes down to dollars and sense.
Thanks to Tom Klockau for the pictures of the green ’49 New Yorker which he found and agreed to share with me shortly after I had come across the navy older model at a show in Noblesville, Indiana. That one may not actually be a first series ’49 but work with me here.
This, J.P, is one of the finest articles to ever grace this website. Bravo! I felt like I was there and you not only told a great story and gave a lot of information, you masterfully put it in historical context. Superb writing!
I’d take the old one. You’re right, it looks a million bucks, inside and out!
That was something amazing to read. I had an angel on one shoulder and demon on the other the whole time.
Very creative article JPC.
The blue elegant monster is my choice.
And as you know, my first COAL was a ’53 Windsor convertible (same dashboard and general overall shape as the “new” green one).
That big blue monster says everything is changing, and not necessarily for the better.
That show off Ward O’Connell was on to something with his GM choice. And, I would not have dismissed the Buick Dynaflow that quickly, especially in two tone green Riviera form. It could have pulled your mahogany Chris Craft.
What a great read! Masterful depiction of the conservative, upmarket buyer’s mindset at the time. As for the cars, seeing them compared like this really hits home what a “miss” the “new” ’49 turned out to be. In a weird way, to me at least, the newer car looks more dated than the older one. The older design seemed more streamlined and certainly had more presence, inside and out. So that would be the car I would have picked between these two Chryslers–though in reality at the time I think I would have trotted over to the Buick dealer and brought home a Roadmaster (the boat would just have to wait…).
Dear J. P., I agree, this is a fabulous article. Creativity, nostalgia, laughs. You’ve done it! In 1949, as best as I remember, there was still a lottery or “waiting list” to buy automobiles. It was still a seller’s market despite the ads from all of the manufacturers that would have had you thinking that you could just walk right in to the dealership and buy whatever you wish. There is a Burns and Allen radio show from around 1948 that illustrates this problem, with much laughter of course. My Mom waited until 1950 to buy a car for just that reason, no more lottery. On had to submit one’s name (to where I do not know) and see if you would be blessed with the privilege of being taken fr a ride on the price of your new car. One of my uncles (my maternal aunt’s husband) was desperate for transportation as the family lived on Staten Island in New York City. It was relatively rural at that time. Uncle was able to buy a 1947 Olds 76 two-door sedan because that was what was on the lot. In 1951 he traded it in for a grand Buick Super four-door sedan which better suited the now larger family. Advertising cars post-War was as needed as advertising toilet paper. We knew a man named George who in 1948 was able to buy a dark blue 1948 Dodge four-door sedan. George was proud of that purchase. We went out with him, his wife and his daughter for a Sunday drive in that spacious vehicle. Again, J. P., thanks for a terrific article and much joy. You captured the moment.
I’d like to venture two thoughts regarding the (excellent) narrative just presented:
1. Back then, people were a lot more brand loyal than they are, not only now, but going back into the 70’s and 80’s. My parent’s generation would have normally stayed with one manufacturer their entire lives unless something major and unexpected hit (say the quality of the ’57 Chrysler line). So, the part of the narrative where our buyer starts considering a Buick instead (a point that I notice we’re jumping on real quick) seems a bit anachronistic.
This point is a MAJOR part of GM’s miscalculation when they started trashing their cars and customer base: They were really convinced that their customers would stay with GM, no matter how many Citations they produced.
And they had a justification for that miscalculation. My father was a prime example, a total GM man his entire life (well, from 1940-1992 at least). In that time period he had exactly ONE non-GM car. A 1981 Dodge Omni, bought on a whim from the local Dodge dealer, who had previously been his used car manager when he ran the Chevrolet dealership, and was a close friend of the family. I was stunned the day he brought it home, and more than a little pissed, as he had browbeat me into buying that Monza Kammback POS two year earlier, because he wouldn’t loan me the money to buy anything but a Chevrolet. (I finally broke the GM line the following year when I bought my 82 Omni – but so much for being the adventurous one.) We were a GM family, period. Either Chevrolet or Buick . . . . . . or walk. And remembering back through my neighborhood, we were the norm, not the exception.
2. During the Fifties, if you had any sense of style whatsoever, you really, really tried to avoid being seen in “last year’s model”. No, people weren’t buying a new car every year (even though that what it seemed like to little child me), but they were definitely trying to buy every time a major restyling came along. And although the 46-49 Chrysler has aged better than the 49-51(? – can’t remember offhand what year the next styling change hit), that second series 49 would have been a lot more desirable to the buying public. Because it wasn’t the tarted-up WWII car. And the wife would have weighed in on that heavily.
Very true. In addition, there wouldn’t have been that 20/20 hindsight that we now have. To me, the earlier model also somehow seems both more modern and more substantial, while the newer car seems somehow decontented and cheap, like a barely tarted-up Plymouth. But that wouldn’t have been the perception at the time.
What a great read!! Always love your creativity , but you have surpassed yourself this time…..FWIW I would have ignored the opinions of others and gone For the Caddy – a really beautiful vehicle – the Chrysler’s look so frumpy. But then I’m not a banker….
Would an ’49 Olds 98 be too downscale? V-8, good automatic transmission, up to date styling, not as flashy as the Caddy.
As well built as the Chrysler Corp. product were, the styling was two years behind Ford and GM until 1955. Look at the ’51 line-while not flashy, they would have been relatively competitive in ’49. If the ’53s were introduced in ’51 they would have been right in line with the Big Two.
Probably. DeSoto competed with Oldsmobile, Chrysler competed with Buick back then. The Chrysler Imperial (and the New Yorker tried) supposedly competed with Cadillac. Supposedly.
The 98 would be my choice if the Caddy wasn’t acceptable. And the 98 was quite comparable to the Chrysler; certainly not too downscale.
Delightful post, both in text and photos – stellar, JPC!
The older design is the more attractive one for several reasons for me, though I never did realize quite how long the hood was. That first photo especially emphasized that feature of the ’42-’49 design. The newer model is better proportioned.
But then everything else about the older Chrysler appeals more to me than the newer one. The dash is simply Wurlitzertastic, the rear suicide door and limo quarterlights add to the car’s character, the logos are beautiful…
Thank you again for this excellent post. Reminds me why I’ve always thought the ’40s was the best decade for American cars.
Fine and fun article. I’d take the older car because it’s less boxy and more imposing than the late ’49. However, the New Yorker I really drool over is this one, even if it’s less practical.
Six window for me. It may have a shorter wheelbase, but it is so stately and well proportioned it makes the new one look like a junior model. I’ll be getting a ’50 Buick soon anyways.
Lovely piece JP.
I’d go for the old New Yorker. I’ve always liked them. They are a little glitzy for a conservative. A more conservative choice would be a DeSoto.
Flashback to the early ’70’s when I clearly remembered blue Chryslers, Dodges and Plymouths of that vintage fading to that near-purple as shown in the print ad near the bottom of the coupe and sedan!
My late FIL 1.0 came back from The Big Dub with a love for all things Dodge, and by the time he gave up driving, rode them through thick and thin and ultimately as the company drove off the cliff, producing cars like his transmission-eating Dynasty.
Your late FIL illustrates perfectly where that breed of diehard Mopar buyer mostly came from. Their preferences were set back when Chrysler built some of the very best cars you could buy, even if their style wasn’t quite there. That “Chrysler engineering” aura lasted way longer than the actuality, at least as evidenced by the way the cars rolled off the lines.
At first glance the ’49 looks little different from a Plymouth (or a Dodge). It’s just not distinctive. No one would ever confuse a ’49 Cadillac (or Buick or Olds) with a Chevy. While it may have been well built and roomy, it’s just plain dull. Hard to believe that anyone would buy one of these over a Buick or Olds, with their fully automatic transmissions. Brand loyalty was indeed strong during this era and Chrysler did have it’s fans. But the lack of a fully automatic transmission until 1954 (years after the competition) had to have cost Chrysler untold thousands of customers. I mean Olds and Cadillac had Hydra-matic since 1941, Buick had Dynaflow since ’48 and even lowly Chevy got Powerglide in 1950. Clutchless driving was becoming wildly popular and Chrysler was reduced to labeling it’s third pedal as a “safety clutch”, in an effort to mask the inferiority of its semi-automatics. For some reason K.T. Keller was slow to this party and it affected sales mightily.
Walter Chrysler’s stroke and incapacity (1937 or 38) really affected that company. He had filled Chrysler Corp with really talented people in engineering and manufacturing, but none of those people had his sense of style and of what the market wanted. Just look at that company’s growth from 1924-34 and its products to see what he brought to the table. With him gone those who were left (many of whom had been there since the 20s) really turned conservative.
This would indeed be a huge decision. Your mental deliberation had me in true turmoil. A tremendous article!
Even after thinking about it’s hard to know – there are pro’s and con’s each way. However, I’m leaning a bit toward the first series but give me a few minutes and that could change. To really make it difficult, swap colors between these two examples.
I love the ’48 Chryslers, make mine a Coupe please .
In truth I’da prolly gone to my Chevrolet Dealer and bought a new Hardtop Convertible .
You’d have had to wait another year. The Bel Air didn’t come out until 1950.
I was under the impression that the hard top was available in 1949, non Bel Air trim……
I love those early hard top coupes Chevrolet dishonestly called Convertibles .
Truth be told the Chrysler was a better car by far but the Chevy looks better to my eyes .
Nope, Syke is right. The hardtop was introduced in 1950 and for a couple years was exclusively a Bel Air.
? Was ’50 also the first year of the Slip ‘N Slide Powerglide slushbox ? .
cast iron the first few years IIRC .
Thanks everyone for the generous compliments! When I saw the pictures of that green 49 I thought to myself how often do I get two beautiful (probably) original cars of the exact same model right on either side of a big model change? Before that I had been smitten by the navy blue one I had shot but was trying to decide what to write about it.
I am sure that in real life only the diehard bargain shoppers would have taken the older style once the new one was out, but surely there was some disappointment there. Haven’t we all been let down by a new model of a car we really liked?
I think my first-year-model Escort SS wagon was a bit of a letdown, esp after the block cracked at 6k. At least it was covered under warranty and right up until I sold it several months later.
That center section on the navy car’s dash looks like a precursor to 8 inch touchscreens! What a conversion that would be!
Excellent read. It really captures how the demographic and the market have changed in 65+ years! Thanks!
Well done, J.P.
I’ll take the outgoing one hands down. The new one was fussy-looking and would only get fussier, plus it truly looked too much like a Plymouth. The older one has more fluid lines and a certain class to it. And while it shared much with the Plymouths and Dodges of that era too, the overall vibe states “Chrysler” unequivocally.
I would gladly have either, but the photos of the front of the 48 make the front appear too long in proportion to the cabin. As discussed in earlier postings on how that was a trick to show off the straight 8 motor (as it needed the length), but for some reason, I see a cartoon dog when I view the first photo. That snout is just lacking floppy ears, a nose, and a wagging tongue to complete it in my mind.
The new one looks way too much like a Plymouth with longer front and rear ends. Which is exactly what it was. That was one of the most serious issues with Chrysler going forward from 1949: they only ever had one basic size of body shell. GM (and Ford) had unique larger senior bodies (C), that might have shared some styling aspects with the smaller cars (A-B), but were also unmistakably different.
So not only was the new 1949 Chrysler corp. styling boxy and dull, they all looked too much like each other.
The answer is of course the First Series. The dashboard alone seals the deal.
“So not only was the new 1949 Chrysler corp. styling boxy and dull, they all looked too much like each other.”
In fairness, Chrysler had the same problem with the 1946-early 49 cars, but because buyers were lapping up anything that would run it wasn’t so much of an issue. Besides, the older Chrylers had loads of presence, something that the new model lacked completely.
I think we are getting a good look at why that new 1949 model began Chrysler’s long, slow descent. In so many cases we can look at an old original car with modern eyes and see something that original buyers did not see. But not here. I am not strictly counting but I don’t think there has yet been a single enthusiastic vote among the readers for the new model over the older one. Brand-loyal buyers bought them because that was what was being served up. But I doubt that many bought them without a little touch of wistfulness about what was lost with the new model change. Packard buyers may have been the only others to share in this silent disappointment of “they don’t make ’em like they used to.”
In fairness, Chrysler had the same problem with the 1946-early 49 cars
Comparing a 1948 Plymouth and Chrysler and 1949 (new) versions shows that the differences were much greater in the older cars. The older Plymouth’s passenger compartment has similarities, but the center section and doors look decidedly longer on the Chrysler to my eyes. And from the cowl forward, there’s almost no comparison; the Chrysler’s huge nose and gaudy front end would never be mistaken for a Plymouth.
The new cars seem to share much more. The center section of the body might well be the same (I can’t tell exactly due to Tom not shooting a proper profile shot). The front end rear ends are longer, but from a bit of distance the Chrysler front end looks shockingly similar to the Plymouth’s.
I see much less obvious differentiation in the newer cars.
You make a good point that the 42-48 Plymouth at least had separate front fenders, but the Dodge could be tough for the uninitiated to distinguish from a Desoto or a lower end Chrysler. From the rear 3/4 they look a lot alike, even to me.
You are completely right that the 49 Mopars are indeed a botch of historic proportions. How do you make a car with a 131 inch wheelbase look stubby and sawed-off? I remember being bowled over to learn that the 51 Dodge Meadowbrook owned by a friend had a wheelbase only .5 inches shorter than that of my 68 Chrysler Newport (123.5 vs. 124). The 49 Plymouth may have been the best value ever offered in an American car.
I always thought things might have been very different for both Chrysler and Packard had they merely modernized the styling of their 40s models rather than go all-out with those bathtub creations.
Fun article, strange priorities people had then,
Don’t really know much about the price differentials, but the standout car of 49 for me would be a Cadillac 60 special, with new V8 and hydramatic but I expect that was out of reach
In the UK the bank managers car would be a Rover P4, itself a radical new design, or Humber Hawk, that’s if they were available, we still had food rationing until 1954.
Off topic but interesting none the less, food rationing improved the health of British people; infant mortality declined and life expectancy rose, discounting deaths caused by hostilities. This was because it ensured that everyone had access to a varied diet with enough vitamins
This is a great piece – and a wonderful question to ponder.
I’ll go against the prevailing grain here and vote for the newer New Yorker. Yes, my 2017 self is pulling me towards the more stately and (by today’s standards) collectible older model, but if I were in the banker’s position at the time, I think I’d be swayed by another line of reasoning.
The newer model will likely look more respectably for a successful-yet-frugal business leader to be driving in, say 1955. With all carmakers shedding their prewar designs, I’d feel somewhat concerned that the older design would look archaic in a few short years. And as conservative as I am, I do still have a reputation to uphold. The newer design, while seemingly not as dignified as the older one, is still good-looking, solid and conservative, but still modest enough for my restrained tastes and image. In other words, it’s a splendid compromise.
But, the Banker’s Creed does forbid apple green cars. Even though it seems vain, I’d ask Irv to order me a somewhat more dignified color.
Make it black and order the Nino Rota soundtrack on the side.
My family had a 49 and a 50 Plymouth when I was a kid, both were just “Mom’s car”, bought for a few hundred dollars. It would be years before I noticed the similarities with the concurrent Chrysler. I’m not a 50 something banker, but the similarities with the cheaper Plymouth would have had me looking at a Buick or maybe an Oldsmobile.
To me, these Chryslers are the late 1940s-early 1950s version of a modern Grand Marquis, while the Buick or Olds would compare to a Chrysler 300 of today.
It’s unfortunate, but in my opinion the Chrysler brand of car would not shake it’s stodgy image until about the 1955 models.
Oops, almost forgot, excellent write-up.
Those who were there, then, will recall the “spats” that Chrysler applied to their wheels, in place of whitewalls, for a brief period in the late ‘forties. Surely these were an optional accessory ? They were made of plastic, as I recall it — I must have seen a cracked or chipped one. No other car-maker offered these, as far as I know; I associate them with Mopars of the period, only.
Few auto accessories could have a more perfect analogy in the world of clothing, than these curious cones. https://media.istockphoto.com/photos/spats-picture-id116822552?k=6&m=116822552&s=612×612&w=0&h=n0S4PZk7WGyHJ7jamEmM3G4fkhiRR2gu5h1KvMZYsLE=
Other car companies did use these “spats” I have the full line of Crestline car histories, as well as most collector car magazines and my own memories as a child. These were used in place of whitewall tires and I hated their looks. I got used to them over the years.GM used a lot of them in the late 40’s, as well as independents, not so much Ford products, but some did cutting off around 49. Chrysler did use them a couple of years longer than others.
1948 for sure, that is a fine automobile. The 49 is just a car.
Nice narrative, but in reality nobody in the D family was driving a car in 1949, we were still using bicycles in the old country.
First car didn’t happen until 1953 in Canada, which was a 1946 Oldsmobile
First Series for me, absolutely. And no whitewalls with the navy blue and white wheels, it’s elegant in a very understated way.
A high school buddy had a Second Series ’49 Plymouth that looked exactly like the green Chrysler, except for being a little stubby. Why pay more for the Chrysler when they look so similar?
Not so sure about the gold standard resale value on the early ’49 Chrysler. The newer styling on all makes starting in the early 50s would be a huge factor. That and the upcoming Chrysler Firepower V8s and Powerflite/Torqueflite automatic transmissions by the mid ’50s probably put quite a damper on the resale value of that dark blue early ’49.
That said, make mine the early series New Yorker. I’m a huge post-war Mopar fan. (Especially DeSoto or Chrysler.)
But to the guy in 1949, all he had was the historical experience and all through the 30s and 40s Mopars had some of the best resale value in the business because they were so durable and well built. And up through 48, although they were certainly conservative, they were very mainstream in their styling. The future would play havoc with Chrysler resale, as we all know today.
Well, we certainly have a topic of interest of many of us! In the early 1950’S, a lady who we would see in the summer when we stayed at my grandparents’ summer “camp” in Lake Luzerne, NY had bought a 1939 Chrysler New Yorker business coupe such as the one depicted above, only, of course, a different grille. It had the 138 HP Spitfire Straight Eight and Fluid Drive. it also had the most unbelievable deck lid and trunk capacity. Thanks for reminding me about the spats on the wheels of Chrysler products. I do remember the cracked plastic, too. One of the problems that caused the homely 1949 to 1952 Chrysler products was an executive decision. In order to make a wider car, the gate line or “starting gate” if you will for Chrysler’s new models had to be discarded and new gate lines installed. This was not done. The other two of the Big Three did. So, Chrysler products were dowdy both in dimensions as well as that awful styling. But the engineering continued. 1949 saw the padded dashboard and electric windshield wipers on Chryslers and Imperials. In 1951, the Chrysler and Imperial offered air-conditioning, full-time power steering (Ford and GM introduced only part-tine power steering in 1953), the famous hemi-head V8 and optional four-wheel disc brakes. The hemi was also available in the De Soto by 1952. To make the New Yorker look a little better, in 1950 or 19512 they introduced a much enlarged back-lite with three-piece feature with strips of chromed metal to separate the three panels. But the basic car was ugly. The 1953 and 1954 Chrysler and Imperial, surprisingly, are built on the same chassis as the new 1949 model!
The larger rear window came in 1950 on Imperial, 51 on Chrysler. The wheelbase on 53-54 Imperials was 133.5 as compared to New Yorkers 131.5. used since 49.. 4 wheel disc brakes were standard on Imperial models and believe they were used until 1956 on limos. The T&C 49 convert and 50 hardtop also had them, at least the ones I had did. Style is in the eye of the beholder. I always thought the 49-54 Mopars were handsom and in some cases beautiful cars.
The disc brakes were only standard on the 1950-1954 Crown Imperial, meaning the huge seven seat sedan/limo. It was a $400 (expensive) option on other Chryslers/Imperials.
Thank you for writing my near biography 68 years removed. I’m 53, from the Midwest, worked for 13 years for a regional Midwest based bank, and have a three consecutive new Mopar purchase history. I’ve looked at Chargers and 300s in recent months, so the idea of an aging Mopar design obviously can appeal to me
So, back to 1949, I’m going to give the nod to the First Series.
Some years back, the owner of the restaurant next door to my favorite Mex-American place had the Desoto version of the First Series New Yorker. It was regularly parked on the small town main street in front of his restaurant. A factory limo, indeed, an incredibly spacious interior with very appealing style. The postwar Chrysler design, while handsome, is too much a big Plymouth.
Hmmm… Am 56 and work for a bank but on the other side of the Atlantic (Austria) and, in a twisted CC-effect sort of way was looking at an Italo-Chrysler (Lancia Thema, really a 300 with a V6 diesel and 4X4) – which I knew was about to go out of production – a couple of years ago. I wanted that car badly and Fiat-Chrysler was providing very good deals on them here but ultimately common sense prevailed (driving that car in rush hour Vienna, what with our narrow streets, is no fun. And finding a place to park is nightmarish) and I went for a… Mazda 3. Were I in the US and in the same position as “our” bank manager back then I think I’d have gone for the 49 on account of the huge depreciation I knew would be suffered by that (yes, more dignified) 48.
I like the green car. The other one with its super long assed front end, just seems so comical looking. it is like it got melted and stretched out. I understand that a car with a straight 8 needs to have a longer front end then a car with a V type engine but still it does not need a front end that stretched out.
So if I was shopping for a car in 1949, mine that attractive green car.
Lovely piece and a tough decision.
Is there space in the Fantasy Garage for the 49 with the 41’s interior? If not, then the 49 in maroon. Tell Irv I’ll be to sign tomorrow.
In hindsight, the older model is the more interesting car, but in my mind our fictional customer ultimately gets caught up in that infectious postwar optimism and goes for the modern slab-sided ride. At trade-in time, say the fall of ’56, it might be a different story! His wife might be able to talk him into an automatic at that point, but I bet he’d go for a left-over ’56 versus a new “suddenly it’s 1960” ’57 Chrysler. A car that looks like a jet plane would be more than a bit much for him and his obligatory hat. You really made that somewhat-stuffy fellow come to life for me!
Speaking of “long-assed” front ends, I wonder how many of the homeless could have been housed in the combined excess space ahead of the radiator in the many many US cars built since the Second World War that have noses extended merely to impress the neighbors . . . [gasp; inhale] . . .
This was a fun read. Top of the line Chryslers always seemed to project a dignified conservative vibe, at least until the 80’s. However, that Cadillac ad displays why the Cadillac was the top dog and remained in that position until the 1970s. Damn, now THAT’S a car.
The Buick dynaflow did have a low range, with a 1.8 to 1 ratio (roughly) and the torque converter was good for up to 2.25:1 making a low gear somewhere in the 3.6:1 range or more. The Chrysler’s low gear is almost 3.6:1. (see old car brochures)
I would not recommend trying to pull trees out with a dynaflow though or probably a trailer either.
“I suppose that you could go see the new Olds or Cadillac with their sparkly-new V8 engines and Hydra-Matic transmissions. But if you showed up at church in a Cadillac you would never hear the end of it. Ward O’Connell bought a Cadillac just to show everyone how much money he has and you’ll be damned if you are going to stoop to that kind of thing because you don’t need to impress anybody.”
I’m indifferent on which Chrysler to select, but I do know that I’m glad I don’t hang out with the crowd in this article. So judgmental about other people’s lives… and worse, they don’t keep their mouths shut about it.
I don’t care for the tackiness of many new luxury crossovers (and especially not the illuminated three-pointed star on new MBs), but if a friend or colleague bought one, I’d keep my opinion to myself.
People lament the loss of community since that time, but the nosiness and busybodies are something I don’t miss.
I grew up in a small town in northern IN during the 50’s and JPC captures the attitudes of folks toward money and status very well. It was the era of the “organization man” (the nuance of how many portholes your Buick could have depending on your position in the company) and folks drove cars that reflected their socio-economic status and position with the goal of staying within certain boundaries, especially if they were a banker, teacher, pastor, etc. Of course, rebellion against all of that was in the wind (Rebel Without a Cause in 1955 was a real cultural landmark) and some areas of the country (e.g., California) were way ahead on change (e.g., “foreign” cars, hot rods, custom cars, etc).
Little wonder so many of us kids were thrilled with the 60’s when everything changed – the Mustang was a great example of where a car purchase could alter your stodgy image ovenight and Ford’s advertising intensely focused on that point. I suppose one could argue that Chrysler itself led that change much sooner with the 55s in daring new shapes and wild colors (tri-tone!) and the Forward Look of 57. My great aunt and uncle traded in their drab black 49 Chrysler sedan (similar to green one here) for a flashy new baby blue and white DeSoto Firedome two-door hardtop in 55.
Should add that I totally agree with you about not missing that strangulating sense of conformity that caused people to judge one another in such limiting ways.
Great piece, JPC. I agree with others that the unfolding narrative is a real “page turner.” Your blog pieces about daily life also reflect your terrific writing talent. If this were an era of print journalism, I think you’d have your own column. Keep up the good work.
Isn’t one of the reasons why Ford tried hardest to bust out of this that buyers of our Chrysler man’s generation and perhaps the one after still thought of Fords as being farmers’ cars, and Lincoln-Mercury definitely had also-ran status behind the upper GM and Chrysler divisions and even (at least for the older ones) most of the independents?
No doubt, you’re right. I think Ford did a pretty good job of changing that image by the mid-50’s – offering the Thunderbird through Ford rather than Lincoln-Mercury was a great decision (as was using Thunderbird styling cues on other Fords). Even LA lawyer Perry Mason was driving Skyliners and Sunliners as well as Continentals! And by the mid-60’s folks we knew were trading in Chryslers and Buicks for LTDs.
That was certainly a well-written and enjoyable piece.
There was one difference between the 1946-early 49 and the 49 and 50 lines of cars: The earlier Plymouth had a different body shell from the Dodge, DeSoto, and Chrysler. This is the main reason that the 1949 Chrysler is thought to resemble a Plymouth…it actually does have the same body.
This sharing of bodies among the various Chrysler makes was not a new thing. Compare a 1935 or 1936 Chrysler Airstream with the same-year Plymouth and you’ll see what I mean.
A very entertaining lunchtime read and actually a good question: buy the last of an older, proven model, or be the first with the sleek new model? In this case, there’s no denying the dignified presence of the First Series, but perhaps a banker might want to show a forward-thinking optimism to demonstrate confidence in the postwar economy with something in keeping with the nation’s upward trajectory of the time. Therefore, as the contrarian, I would opt for the new model, but in a darker, more dignified color.
Regarding the differentiation from the less expensive Mopar lines, wouldn’t the interior of the Chrysler show best where the extra money was spent? Better upholstery, better seats, carpet, a padded and chromed dash, a nice big clock and radio – all conspicuously more expensive than what was available in a top-of-the-line Plymouth, Dodge or DeSoto? Except for those invited to ride along with you, no one would know that you were really an indulgent guy at heart.
I am not convinced that brand loyalty was quite as strong as portrayed above. My paternal grandfather, who would have been a contemporary of this fictional banker and who lived in a similar small town outside Boston, hopped between various Buick, Oldsmobile and Chrysler models from the late 1940s through the mid-1960s. While there was definitely social pressure guiding some of his purchasing decisions (a Cadillac or Lincoln would be unthinkably gauche), I think he mostly just bought what appealed to him at the time.
You guys got me curious and I looked. The interior of a 49 Plymouth was not a spartan place at all, especially in the upper trim models. Not as nice as the Chrysler, certainly, but it was no poverty-spec car, either. No Fluid Drive, though, just a straight 3 speed stick.
Plymouths were usually a little nicer than a Chevy or Ford, hence the Plymouth advantage. Just a little more expensive, but noticeably more nice.
Agreed 1,000 % .
I love these cars, many were in daily use around town well into the late 1970’s, original paint and upholstery no less .
My _only_ dislike is the flat head engines ~ quiet and robust yes but not good for open highways of which the West was full when these were new .
More a disappointment than dislike .
Unfortunately the semi-automatics on the Fluid Drive cars were incompatible with overdrive (or sort of included an overdrive within it which approximated the low and high gears that could be shifted by lifting off the gas). OD was quite common on some cars like Fords and Studebakers, but it seems to have been pretty rare in Mopars. An manual/OD setup would have given these cars some longer legs on the open road.
Some quickie research indicates that despite widespread availability in Mopars of the 30s (not strange given that Chrysler had done most of the development work on it), OD was discontinued after 1941 and not offered again on new cars until the 1952 Plymouth.
Really enjoyable piece, very high quality – feels like you could work the character up into a decent short story. Maybe a bit of Updike in there?
Informative as well; these aren’t cars that I’ve ever come across, but I now feel I know exactly where they sit in the great American narrative of car manufacture. Thanks!
I spoke with a ’47 Lincoln V-12 owner at a local charity car show. He insisted he never had any trouble with its cooling, even here in Tucson, and those who have, probably neglected maintenance (e.g. regular coolant flushes). Reminds me of Brit car apologists. Nice example, anyway.
Another postwar Lincoln, a Conti, was freely customized with a 460/C6 driveline and hand-built interior extras.
I have long understood that driven properly (e.g. keeping revs up and air moving through the radiator) that they are OK. But that was not how many people drove Lincolns back then. Everyone was used to the big long stroke engines that would chug along happily at lazy rpms. But the Lincolns would get hot easily in slow moving and they had oil flow issues so that low rpms would not keep oil flowing through the engine well (and precious oil pressure was diverted to the hydraulic lifters). Heat + poor oil flow often led to sludging and other problems.
My best friend’s father had a 47 V-12 (and had owned several in his youth) and claimed that with proper driving technique and fastidious maintenance they were OK, but even he kept a spare engine in the garage just in case. A flathead Mercury V8 was a popular swap-in replacement back then.
Could it be that classic owners today benefit from newer oil formulations less susceptible to such issues?
I had 2 1941 Zephyrs in the early 70’s, one was freshly rebuilt, the other had 50000+ miles on it and smoked, pumped oil, overheated,and lots of other things, it was in a sedan, thankfully the better engine was in the convertible coupe, which was delightful for several months before driving it normal for a modern car lead to the engine starting to go again. I also had 3 late 40’s Continentals (two cabriolets, one coupe) all had engine conversions to modern V8’s and automatic trans because the V12’s fell apart
Great work as always, Jim.
My dad had a 1947 Lincoln, purchased new. Engine was very problematic; replaced the fuel pump three or four times in the two years he owned it. As a child I best remembered the “signal-seek” type radio with a floor button to change stations! Replacement was a ’49 Buick Roadmaster fastback, a real beauty!
Wonderful tale, JP.
As for the choice, no matter which it is, your car will probably be rust-tree in 70 years, so you can’t go wrong.
A couple of off the track remarks: The Signal Seeking radio was the invention of Robert Bosch, GmbH for their Blaupunkt auto radios in the 1930’s. I would much prefer the 1949 Cadillac to the Chrysler. The 1949 Cadillac limousine was a holdover of the pre-War and post-War model while all other Cadillacs for 1949 were the new, beautiful design with the fishtail. But, GM did consider a ’49 Cadillac limousine and then held off for 1950 and the entirely different body style. BUT, one 1949 Cadillac limousine was built and painted blue. Here is the black and white photograph of this stunning limousine.
I’ll bet he just sat tight and drove what he had until the 1951s arrived with the V-8 and true automatic. One drive with that powertrain and he was ready to pay whatever the dealer asked, especially if it was in a “proper” (dark) color.
1951 Brought the Firepower Hemi but the full automatic PowerFlite didn’t show up until 1954. They added a torque converter to the old semi automatic in 1951 (I believe). The Fluid Torque was a good transmission, even if not a full auto.
I think the only manufacturers to offer a V8 and a full automatic in 1951 were Cadillac Oldsmobile Lincoln and Studebaker.
Ford-o-matic and Merc-o-matic for 51
I amusedly remember an early ’60s Perry Mason episode where the wife of the murder victim – a stingy college professor – lamented on the witness stand about how they still drove an eight-year-old car! Said wife was later unmasked as the actual murderer after it was revealed the stingy professor was hoarding his nickles and dimes to run off with his shapely college secretary!
More recently, where I worked in the ’80s, we had an elderly memorable customer, a Miss Doty, who continued to drive her dark-blue 1948 Fluid-drive Chrysler coupe.
IIRC, she mainly brought the car in for the annual safety inspection.
Sadly, as the years went by, the car started accumulating some rather large dents, reflecting her declining driving skills. Then, she may have passed away, or lost her license, as we didn’t see her and the Chrysler anymore.
Happy Motoring, Mark
My first car was a 1948 Chrysler New Yorker, straight 8. My father-in-law gave it to me and said he had paid $50 for it. It was dark blue like the one pictured in the article. I spent many an hour washing and polishing that large auto. But I love the long hood and the massive fenders.I learned to travel with tools to use in taking off interior pieces and when ever passing a wrecking yard would pull in to inquire if they had any 48 models. If they did, it was a chance to change out arm rests or other items after considering whether it would be an upgrade.
I was a poor student at the University of Kansas and struggled to keep my beauty starting and running in cold weather. I now wish I had that car. It was so visually appealing and its massive presence was simply dominating.
I really loved the article and will keep it for the memories it evoked.
I come from a family of Mopar people, a large family. I was born in 1948, but have visual memories of the families cars. Everyone in our family were friends with the Volpato’s (Chrysler dealer) and the Gearharts DeSoto dealer) and both handled Plymouth. Dad had bought a new Plymouth Special Deluxe sedan in 48, most all the rest of the family already had 46-47-48’s in 2 Dodges, 12 DeSotos and 8 Chryslers 2 of those were Imperals, Family picnics looked like Chrysler meets. When the true 49s were introduced 80% of the family bought new DeSoto’s and Chryslers, with one Dodge Coronet club coupe. Closest to dad was his brother Jim who bought a 49 DeSoto club coupe Dad and one uncle waited until 1950 and bought DeSotos. I remember the way they talked about them, the Larger cars were not referred to as bigger versions of Plymouths the referrals were the Plymouths looked like small versions of the large cars. There is a difference. Family members knew they bought premium cars and why wouldn’t Chrysler copy the styling of the bigger cars, they always had. The Dodges and DeSotos had considerable more interior room than Plymouth and the Chrysler more room still. They may have shared the BASIC body, but stretched for the larger series just as the 59 GM cars all used the same basic body but were different size interiors None in the family looked back to the 48 and older styling. As usual in the family the new cars were waxed regularly, wide whites for appearance and usually fog lights up front. Dads car was medium blue, and regularly got positive comments about being a pretty car. In it’s time setting, it was a new car, family members individualized their cars, several added skirts when ordering which changes the look considerably , as did color choice. one even added a continental kit to a convertible. For the most part there was an understated elegance about these Mopars. Over the years I owned all the competition, Cadillacs, Cocmopolitans, Mercs, Hudsons, Buicks, Kaisers, everything, as well as many many Mopars from 49 though the 1970s One 49 was a bright cheery yellow New Yorker Highlander convertible, white top, very wide whitewalls, fender skirts, fog lights dual carbs and split exhaust with duals. During that same time I had a 49 Cadillac convertible in emerald green, white top white leather, , also a black Town and country convertible, with red leather interior, power seat and windows (as the yellow New Yorker and Cadillac had) the same engine mods, 4 wheel disc brakes. All were in new condition, totally dependable, and all driven all over western states comfortably at 70-75 mph The yellow 49 had as many favorable comments as the Cadillac, and the 49 T&C was a stunner, it also had wire wheels from someone before me, build quality and care on that car were exceptional, it actually was great fun to drive. People loved to ask about it, what it was, the yellow 49 people could see from the many nameplates what it was and were friendly and talked of relatives,friends, or themselves having beloved Chryslers. The Cadillac, even though I was a teen, seemed to put up a standoffish wall, people would say it was pretty, or nice, but no more, I liked them all, but enjoyed the reactions to the Chryslers. I’ve had the 48’s and back also, but later after appreciating the style more. The next big family change of cars was 1956-57
I think that we would all like to read of the next big change in the mid fifties for your family and their Mopars. Please oblige us.
I was born in 1945. The first car of my Father’s; that I remember, was his 1948 Desoto Convertible. It was replaced in December of 1950 by a new 1951 Dodge Wayfarer convertible, with fluid drive. This was the smallest Dodge. My Father was afraid the Korean war would restrict new car production. Big difference in rearseat room to my young eyes.
That Dodge was totalled in December of 1955 in a not at fault wreck. It was replaced on Christmas Eve with a 1951 Dodge Diplomat 2 door hardtop with Gyromatic. In January 1956 we became a 2 car family when he bought a used 1955 Desoto Firedome 2 door hardtop with Hemi and Powerflite.
In five years and one month he went from 1948 styling and enginneering to 1955.