SAN FRANCISCO: While
the depression was devastating to most American auto companies, Chrysler Corporation
seemed to be living through it better than most. Despite the market crash of '29, Plymouth
sales were booming by the early '30s. This was partly because Chrysler was technologically
ahead of the competition and starting in 1930 all Chrysler, Dodge, and DeSoto dealerships
were given Plymouth franchises. This made a Plymouth agency almost as easy to find as a
Although Ford wowed the public in 1932 with their V8 answer to
Chevrolet's OHV six, the Chrysler products offered all steel bodies and hydraulic brakes.
These features were not yet available on Fords or Chevys. The Plymouth also could be
ordered with an economical and somewhat tricky "free wheeling" feature. Once the
freewheeling is engaged, any slowing action that could be derived from compression
"wind-down" is eliminated and once the brakes have heated to the point of
fading, you're on your own! This writer well remembers frantically trying to disengage
this wear and gas saving devise while flying down a steep San Francisco hill in a friend's
'31 Plymouth coupe back in the '60s. Though I finally regained control of the car, I
almost died of fright!
1934 saw both the production of the millionth Plymouth and the
ill-fated yet well-ahead-of-its-time Airflow models. While the Airflows, with their
art-deco-cum-Buck-Rodgers-Rocket-Ship styling and "interlocked" unitized body
and frame, were too advanced for the general public, they set the pace for the rest of the
decade's auto styling at Chrysler and had a considerable influence on car design around
the world. In 1935, Chrysler Corporation exceeded it's 1929 sales record though the actual
numbers were still well below both Ford and GM.
The 1936 Plymouth was basically a restyle of the '35 model. The grille
was a bit more rounded, and many of the details were Airflow-ized. Though Ford was still
careening through life with Henry's old buggy spring suspension and mechanical brakes,
it's V8 power sparkled when compared to Plymouth's plodding 217 cu. in. six. Plymouth
developed the image of the solid, dependable and under stressed family car. A good piece
of transportation for civil servants, traveling salesmen and prudent motorists. Styling
could be considered conservative and utilitarian rather than sleek or sporting.
John Rossi of San Mateo rebuilt this clean, dark blue '36 two-door. The
car is what we refer to as a "street restoration". That is, a car that has been
rebuilt, repainted and reupholstered, but not to a quality that would force the owner to
keep the car in a bag and trailer it from show to show. John rebuilt the car to drive on a
daily basis. It's been featured in an ABC news special in a simulation of early postwar
small town life and was driven to and from Hot August Nights in Reno, Nevada a day after
these pictures were shot.
John found the car years ago at a crusty used-car lot. The styling,
with the two-door "trunkback" body appealed to him and the $900 price seemed
more than fair. This was not the first collector car in the Rossi household. John had
bought and sold a Jag 3.8 Mark II and a '25 Dodge roadster and still owns a '34 Caddy that
was purchased and restored since the work on the Plymouth.
The mechanical work was farmed out to a fellow in Redwood City, that
has long since retired, while John tackled the body and dark blue paint at home in his
garage. Burke's Upholstery did the interior. Anyone that has restored anything other than
a Ford, Chevy or one of the more popular collector cars can appreciate how time consuming
and expensive it is to find the "proper" parts and how creative one can get when
faced with a quest for the impossible.
For instance, the car was missing some now extinct (and probably never
to be reproduced) trunk lid hinges. A trip to the marine supply store provided hatch cover
hinges with a similar action that were reshaped a bit then replated. Points off at the
Concours for sure, but just right for a street cruiser.
The Classic Drive
Come along and we'll take a drive around town. The large doors on the
two-door sedan offer easy entry to both the front and back seat. I had almost forgotten
that at one time, in the "old days" a passenger could enter the back seat while
someone was still sitting in the front seat. The rear seating area is both tall and wide,
while it's a bit cozy in the front seat where the body narrows. It never fails to amaze me
that Chrysler product dashboards, especially from this era, are filled with art deco
flourishes and cute little styling details. This '36 had these wonderful little plastic
dash knobs that looked for the entire world like silver rimmed polished rocks. The radio
was strange enough to be part of Dr. Zarkov's laboratory in a Flash Gordon serial.
Crack the starter and the little six comes to life. It has that
characteristic Chrysler deep whirring that brings to mind a forklift or stationary engine.
John's '36 has a floor mounted shifter with a non-stock crystal knob. Slide it into low,
let out the clutch and we're off onto the street. While these engines produce bags of
torque at the low end, they run out of poop early in the RPM range, forcing early
upshifts. Once one gets used to this and understands that the car is supposed to be in
high gear most of the time, it all does fall into perspective.
There are some formidable hills in western San Mateo and a simple
downshift to second is all that's needed to climb any of them. No need to worry about
keeping the revs up, as this ol' Plymouth has torque like an electric trolley at the
bottom end. You just can't rush it!
The handling is pretty good by contemporary standards - not as darting
or prone to lean as a Ford or as loose as a "Knee-Action" suspended Chevrolet.
The brakes stop the little sedan in plenty of time. The all-steel body seems solid and
strong with few squeaks and moans. It's easy to see why these cars were so popular with
salesmen and government agencies.
John has since sold the Plymouth in order to finance a move to the
country. Hopefully the new owner will use it regularly and derive as much pleasure out of
it as John Rossi did. By Rick Feibusch © AutoWire.Net - San Francisco
Byline: By Rick Feibusch © AutoWire.Net - San Francisco
Column Name: Classic Drive
Topic: 1936 Plymouth Sedan
Word Count: 1096
Photo Caption: 1936 Plymouth Sedan
Photo Credits: Rick Feibusch
Series #: 1999 - 35