1935-1936 Plymouth

With the worst of the Great Depression behind them by 1935, automakers could begin to look ahead to renewed sales strength. At Chrysler Corporation, volume leader Plymouth couldn't have picked a better time to offer completely new 1935 Plymouths.

Plymouth Image Gallery

The 1935 Plymouths boasted major design and engineering advances.
The 1935 Plymouths boasted major design and engineering
 advances. See more pictures of Plymouth cars.

Chrysler Corporation turned 10 years old on June 6, 1935. That year, founder Walter Percy Chrysler turned over the president's chair to his handpicked successor, Kauf­man Thuma Keller, and took a less-active role as chairman. It was a good time to change the guard. The Depression was easing, and Chrysler's company was doing well -- especially its Plymouth Division.

No wonder. New from the frame up, the '35 Plymouths offered major design and engineering advances over the 1934 models -- and rivals Ford and Chevrolet. Plymouth still had the only four-wheel hydraulic brakes among "The Low-Priced Three." Now came a stronger chassis with a revised suspension that improved both ride and handling, plus safer, more streamlined bodies without old-fashioned wooden substructures. New touring sedans arrived with built-in trunks, an increasingly popular feature.

With all this, Plymouth sales topped 350,000 units for calendar 1935 on some 26-percent-higher production. Model-year volume rose, too, reaching nearly 327,500 units.

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1936 Plymouth

Plymouth did even better business with its even better 1936 Plymouth models, which were substantially changed, but didn't look it.

Nineteen thirty-five was the first time since its mid-1928 debut that Plymouth sold a single basic design for a full season. The lineup began with 12 models and ended with 14, but all were designated PJ. At announcement time in January, there was a lower-priced series, simply called Plymouth Six, consisting of a two-passenger coupe, a two-door five-passenger sedan, and a commercial chassis.

The 1936 Plymouth touring sedan trunks had a more integrated look.
The 1936 Plymouth touring sedan trunks
had a more integrated look.

In February 1935 came lower-priced, detrimmed replacements as part of a new Business series that also included a five-passenger four-door sedan; a two-door five-passenger commercial sedan (with a removable back seat and a side-hinged rear cargo door); and the West­chester Suburban, a four-door wood-bodied wagon seating seven or eight. Prices ranged from $510 for the Business-series coupe to $765 for the wagon.

All but the commercial sedan and wagon were duplicated in the top-line DeLuxe series, which also offered a rumble-seat coupe seating two or four, a rumble-seat convertible coupe, the new two- and four-door five-passenger "trunkback" sedans, a seven-passenger four-door sedan, and a five-passenger version called Traveler. The last two used a special 128-inch wheelbase. Other models rode a 113-inch wheelbase. DeLuxe prices ran from $575 to $895.

All Chrysler Corporation cars in these years used essentially the same bodies and chassis, but with variations in wheelbases and sheetmetal to distinguish the company's four makes. Airflow styling had arrived for the 1934 DeSotos and Chryslers, but was so unpopular that ideas for Dodge and Plymouth versions were fast abandoned.

Seeking to recover for '35, Chrysler and DeSoto supplemented Airflows with more conventional Airstream models, and their general look was applied to Dodges and the PJ Plymouths (neither of which were called Airstreams, though). Accounts differ, but credit for this styling usually goes to Raymond Dietrich, cofounder of the famed LeBaron custom coachworks and hired as a Chrysler designer in late 1932 by Walter P. himself. Perhaps coincidentally, LeBaron was acquired in 1927 by Briggs Manufacturing Company, a major body supplier to Chrysler and other Detroit automakers.

A Plymouth promotional film extolled the PJ as "designed to be the smartest car in the parade," with "synchronicity of smart styling in the sleek radiator, fenders, hood, and graceful body lines." You might not think this car warrants such flowery words today, but 70 years ago, the PJ was quite something for the low-priced field.

As the top-line models, DeLuxes used chrome instead of paint for the headlight buckets, taillight bezel, and windshield surround, and most left the factory with body-color fenders. Vertical grille bars were painted body color. These trimmings were optional for Six and Business models, which were otherwise delivered with a black grille, headlamp shells, and fenders regardless of paint color.

All models had three thin horizontal chrome strips decorating the hoodside louvers. Sixes and DeLuxes added a row of five bright rings that made the spears appear to "float" over them.

Wheels were a steel "artillery" style with pinstriping. Standard tires were 6.00316s on DeLuxes, 5.25317s on other models. Twenty-inch wheels and tires were available for those who had to drive on deeply rutted roads. A spare tire with tube was optional for all models except the Business commercial sedan, where it was standard in a front-fender sidemount. Sidemounts were available for selected models except the new touring sedans, which concealed the spare within their built-in trunks.

Deluxe interiors were highlighted by a rich-looking woodgrain dash and window garnish moldings, plus knobs and horn button made of ivory-tone plastic. Two five-inch circular dials, well positioned behind a three-spoke steering wheel, used white markings and red-tipped pointers against black backgrounds. The left dial clustered four gauges -- water temperature, fuel level, oil pressure, and amperes -- around a quarter-dollar-size image of Plymouth's trademark Mayflower emblem. The right dial housed an odometer and 100-mph speedometer.

On coupes, convertibles, and touring sedans, the dials were separated by three nickel-plated vertical bars, an accent repeated on the glovebox doors. In the center of the dash were controls for the choke, throttle, instrument lighting, and headlamps, arrayed in a square around the ashtray. The ignition switch was centered slightly lower between the two light switches.

The more-spartan Business models had a tan-painted dash and moldings, a black horn button, and nickel-plated metal knobs. Their emergency-brake handle and steering-column support were also painted; DeLuxes substituted nickel plating.

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Plymouth Features

The Plymouth PJs features included three types of ventilation. Front-door windows could be cranked one inch straight back as well as fully lowered in the usual way, and a screened cowl vent could be tilted up by moving an under-dash handle. The windshield could also be cranked open to near horizontal, but this aid didn't work very well. (Having driven a tilt-windshield '37 Plymouth, I doubt most owners used the feature except for low-speed driving around town.)

All trim levels were available with pile or mohair upholstery. Bedford cord featured in the Business coupe, leather in the DeLuxe convertible. The Westchester wagon had brown imitation "Spanish" leather. Front floors in all models were covered by black rubber mats; sedans included ribbed hogs-hair carpet in the rear.

Turning to options, DeLuxes offered through-the-fender dual-tone trumpet horns and a Philco "Transitone" radio with in-dash controls, replacing the ashtray. Most all PJs were available with fender skirts, an electric clock in the glovebox door, spotlight, locking gas cap, right-side taillamp, metal spare-tire cover, wheel trim rings, and a range of hot-water heaters. Also optional was an Art Deco-style radiator ornament depicting the good ship Mayflower, as on the gauge cluster. This was fitted to most PJs, especially Deluxes, with the $3.50 cost simply added to the customer's order.

Plymouth's efforts to create a thoroughly reengineered lineup for 1935 were rewarded with increased sales.
Plymouth's efforts to create a thoroughly
reengineered lineup for 1935 were
rewarded with increased sales.

Plymouth's valve-in-block inline six was one of the smoothest engines around. Introduced in 1933 as the product of a $9-million research and development effort, it received numerous improvements for '35. Displacement was unchanged at 201 cubic inches (bore and stroke: 3.1334.38 inches), but a new cylinder head boosted compression from 5.8:1 to 6.7:1, which added five bhp (to 82 at 3600 rpm).

Also new was full water jacketing, with a water-distribution tube that more efficiently circulated coolant and controlled valve temperatures. To accommodate this, the starter was moved outboard about a quarter-inch on the bellhousing, which gained ventilation ports for a cooler-running clutch. Hardened valve seats were new for '35, too. So was a vacuum-advance spark control that automatically adjusted distributor position relative to engine load to ensure proper timing and smooth running with no knock.

Also featured were aluminum pistons with two compression and two oil rings. The crankshaft was held by four sturdy main-bearing caps and rode on forced-pressure oil between insert bearings at all mains. Connecting rods had insert bearings, too. A Carter "Ball and Ball" carburetor fed an intake manifold incorporating a heat-riser for quicker warm-up and improved fuel economy. An automatic choke was optional.

As always, Plymouth's six boasted a fully pressurized oiling system, with a cam-gear-driven pump furnishing a strong 30-45 psi flow to cam, main, and rod bearings. A drip-feed was used for the timing gears and chain, splash and fog lubrication for the valves and their solid lifters. Ford's flathead V-8 also had full-pressure lubrication, but Chevrolet's ohv six provided 12-15 psi oiling only to the cam and main bearings, relying on a rod dipper-and-splash system for low-end lubrication and a pump-drive flow to the rocker shafts and assemblies.

The rest of the PJ powertrain was familiar. The transmission remained a three-speed sliding-gear unit with synchromesh and floorshift. A single 9.5-inch dry-plate clutch linked the flywheel to the transmission's input shaft, which connected to a trunnion-type universal joint on an open driveshaft leading to a semi-floating rear axle. DeLuxe models were geared at 4.125:1 for better acceleration and hillclimbing ability. Cars with the optional 20-inch wheels substituted a 4.375 rear axle.

The PJE business coupe, a special fleet-market model with economy features, used a 3.7:1 ratio, plus lower compression (5.2:1) that reduced horsepower to 65. Today's PJ owners prize this taller gearing for the more relaxed highway cruising it provides.

Most Plymouths in 1934 offered an innovative "pantograph" independent front suspension with A-arms and coil springs, but the '35s reverted to a tubular front axle on semi-elliptic leaf springs. Though this change has never been fully explained to our knowledge, the likely reasons were cost, limited supplies of spring steel, and insufficient coil-spring manufacturing capacity.

However, these same reasons apparently explain why GM offered its Dubonnet "Knee Action" ifs only on top-end Chevrolets and Pontiacs for a few years in the Thirties, while the costlier Oldsmobiles, Buicks, and Cadillacs got a superior double A-arm suspension.

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Plymouth's Success

Plymouth's success was due in part to improved ride and handling for 1935, thanks to a stronger new double-drop frame with central X-brace. Besides allowing lower floors, wider seats, and better weight distribution, the new chassis design enabled engineers to push the passenger compartment further forward, putting rear-seat passengers ahead of the rear axle for the first time.

A new frame, a new body, and a refined transmission contributed to the 1936 Plymouth Deluxe' success.
A new frame, a new body, and a refined
transmission contributed to the 1936
Plymouth Deluxe' success.

Revised springs enhanced ride comfort for all passengers, and the front suspension added a transverse torsion bar that reduced body sway when cornering. Bodies were also stronger, as traditional wood framing was eliminated. Fabric roof inserts continued, but Plymouth could advertise "all steel" construction more truthfully than Chevrolet, whose new 1935 "Turret Top" bodies retained wood substructures.

The new chassis and bodies, mated at no fewer than 46 points, combined for what Plymouth promoted as "Floating Ride." It was nice match for "Floating Power," introduced on 1931 Plymouths and still unmatched in the low-priced field.

Floating Power was designed to enhance comfort by reducing powertrain noise and vibration reaching the passenger compartment. It involved mounting the engine on three large rubber isolators, one in front and two on either side of the bellhousing at the second crossmember.

Carl Breer, who with Fred Zeder and Owen Skelton made up Chrysler's famed "Three Musketeers" engineering team, described this innovation in his autobiography, The Birth of Chrysler Corporation and Its Engineering Legacy:

"Find as near the center of mass of the power plant as possible. Then draw a straight line from the center of the universal joint connecting the propeller shaft through the engine center of mass forward. Where it comes out over the front cross member, mount a cradle-type rubber mounting. Then mount the two rear side supports on a circle using the center line axis as the circle center. Locate the two side mountings at the tangential angle so the engine can rotate freely around the axis line drawn through the center of mass. If you do this, you should overcome the side shift action."

Plymouth advertising continued to emphasize engineering in 1935. Said that year's sales brochure: "Now a new twice-as-rigid frame, a new Sway Eliminator, a change of front shackles and the miracle has been surpassed. The Perfected Floating Ride." Enthused an ad in the March 9 issue of Colliers: "Rough roads are made-to-order for this big, fast new Plymouth. You don't have to stay on the concrete highways with the Floating Ride."

As with many other cars, the most popular '35 Plymouths were the two- and four-door sedans, particularly the new DeLuxe touring models. The built-in trunk added $25 to list price, putting the two-door at $650 FOB Detroit, the four-door at $685. Even so, both tourings outsold the trunkless "flatback" styles, and the four-door touring was the top-selling model in the line. Of the nearly quarter-million PJ DeLuxes built, touring sedans accounted for 127,271.

The least popular '35s were the Traveler sedan (just 77 built), the Westchester wagon (119), the seven-passenger sedan (350), and the commercial sedan (1,142).

Despite its great success, the '35 Plymouth was a "one-year wonder." Plymouth had come from nowhere in the late Twenties to gain a firm hold on the number-three sales spot, but Chrysler was still gunning for the top. And with leaders Ford and Chevrolet swapping places in the '35 race -- finishing one-two, respectively -- Plymouth looked to have a shot at number two in 1936.

That didn't happen, even though Plymouths were substantially changed for the second straight year. As historian Jim Benjaminson noted in The Plymouth Bulletin: "The '36 is looked upon by many as merely an updated version of the '35 car. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth, as this car had a new frame, a new body, a refined transmission, an improved suspension, and a host of other refinements over the car it replaced." It was also more advanced than the '36 Chevy and Ford, yet didn't look as new as it was.

But although Plymouth again had to settle for a third-place finish, sales reached a new high on record model-year production of more than 520,000 units.

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The Leader of the Low-Price Field

Plymouth became the leader of the low-price field in the mid-1930s. The 1936 Plymouth frame was redesigned with half-inch deeper siderails (up to 5.5 inches), plus a straight front crossmember to replace the previous Y-brace, which allowed extending the X-member forward for greater torsional strength.

The 1935-1936 Plymouth models, including this 1935 Plymouth Deluxe, were a solid success
The 1935-1936 Plymouth models, including this
1935 Plymouth Deluxe, were a solid success.

Plymouth claimed these changes increased chassis rigidity by no less than 100 percent. Axles were enlarged, and the four-wheel semi-elliptic leaf springs were returned for better weight balance and fewer ride oscillations. A kick shackle was added to the left front spring to help absorb road shock, while rear spring shackles received "silent" rubber bushings.

The new chassis reduced ride height by one inch, which combined with updated styling for a somewhat sleeker look, announced by a taller, narrower "fencer's mask" grille. Body rigidity also improved with the addition of boxed A- and B-pillars, strengthened cowls, beaded fenders, diagonal cross girders in the front doors, and X-bracing behind the rear seat.

Plymouth's sturdy, reliable powertrain was basically unchanged, but a low-compression 65-bhp engine option was added, part of a package that also included the longer rear-axle ratio and other economy features of the previous PJE coupe.

Also new for '36 was a unique shift-lever design that didn't wobble when the car was in motion. Models and prices were much the same, but the Traveler sedan was dropped and the seven-passenger sedan was shortened to a 125-inch wheelbase. Also, each series got its own designation -- P1 for Business models, P2 for DeLuxes. Don Butler, in his book The Plymouth and DeSoto Story, says this was done by request of several state motor vehicle departments.

"Measured by all other cars ever before developed for the low-price field," proclaimed the 1936 sales brochure, "this . . . Plymouth is the peak of perfection. Never before has there been offered a car so fine in detail, so positively right in all its engineering. It is distinctive in styling. New beauty is apparent in every angle -- new radiator grille, ornament, headlamps and hood louvers -- new heavier fenders and more massive body -- all expressing greater value!" This year also introduced a new ad slogan -- "Plymouth Builds Great Cars" -- that would last well into the Fifties.

Plymouth certainly led the low-price field in several ways for '36. As Arch Brown noted in April 1998, Ford "offered nothing new apart from an exceptionally attractive facelift and a wider selection of body types; no seamless steel top, no independent front suspension, certainly no hydraulic brakes." Chevrolet finally matched Plym­outh's hydraulic brakes, but still used wood-framed bodies and the trouble-prone Dubonnet independent front suspension.

While Chrysler would continue to push hard in the low-price field, buyers didn't always appreciate the innovations, and Plymouth would never rise beyond third in sales. Nevertheless, the 1935-36 models were a solid success that deserve credit for advancing the state of the art in "common man" cars.

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1935-1936 Plymouth Specifications

The 1935-1936 Plymouth models were a true success story. Here are the specifications for the 1935 and 1936 Plymouth models:

1935 Weight Price Prod
PJ Business (wb 113)
coupe, 2P
2,625 510 16,691
2d sedan
2,670 535 29,942
4d sedan
2,720 570 15,761
2d commercial sedan
2,735 635 1,142
Westchester Suburban
4d wagon
-- 765 119
Total PJ Business
PJ Six (wb 113)
business coupe, 2P
2,665 565 6,664
2d sedan
2,685 615 7,284
Total PJ Six
PJ DeLuxe (wb 113; Traveler, 7P 128)
business coupe, 2P
2,675 575 29,190
coupe, 2/4P
2,730 630 12,118
convertible coupe
2,830 695 2,308
2d sedan
2,720 625 12,424
2d Touring sedan
2,780 650 45,203
4d sedan
2,790 660 66,083
4d Touring sedan
2,815 685 82,068
Traveler 4d sedan
-- 895 77
4d sedan, 7P
3,130 895 350
chassis* -- -- 24
Total PJ DeLuxe
Total 1935 Plymouth
P1 Business (wb 113)
coupe, 2P
2,650 510 26,856
2d sedan
2,720 545 39,516
4d sedan
2,750 590 19,104
2d commercial sedan
-- 605 3,527
4d Touring sedan
-- -- 1,544
2d Touring sedan
-- -- 768

Westchester Suburban

4d wagon
Total P1 Business
P2 DeLuxe (wb 113; 7P 125)
business coupe, 2P
coupe, 2/4P
convertible coupe
2d sedan
2d Touring sedan
4d sedan
4d Touring sedan
4d sedan, 7P
Total P2 DeLuxe
Total 1936 Plymouth
*Long wheelbase. Sources: Encyclopedia of Amer­i­can Cars, by the Auto Editors of Con­sumer Guide®, Publi­ca­tions International, Ltd., 2002; The Plymouth and DeSoto Story, by Don Butler, Crestline Publishing, 1978.

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