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‘“It’s a piece of precision engineering” - says critical watchmaker.’ Plymouth advertisement, 1934
Plymouth was The Chrysler Corporation’s value (as opposed to ‘budget’) brand; launched in 1928 it went toe to toe with long established household names such as Chevrolet and Ford. Its rise was meteoric and the shooting stars of the American automotive industry secured second place in the sales charts a scant five years later. It is fair to say that the planets certainly aligned for Walter Chrysler but it was his gargantuan $9,000,000 investment (when the company was actually losing money) in design, development and retooling for six cylinder production that put his eponymous company in such a strong position, even as the US entered the Great Depression years. Unlike say Tescos’ value pasta, Plymouth’s models were actually a tad more expensive than their competition but they were so well equipped with features such as hydraulic brakes usually only found on far more up market machines that sales rocketed like fresh tagliatelle alla carbonara for the price of tinned spaghetti hoops. 1932 was a hugely significant year for Plymouth as out went the four cylinder PB and in came the six cylinder prestige model, the PC, also known as the Plymouth Six in the USA and Chrysler Kew on this side of the pond. The investment previously mentioned resulted in production efficiencies that meant they could compete with Chevrolet’s “A Six for the price of a Four” offering - which was just as well given the economic climate. Chrysler launched their ‘six’ with a one and a half hour paid for radio broadcast on the ABC network which while pitched at dealers and employees, was eagerly monitored by Joe Public too – they knew all about it because Chrysler had been forced to take out press advertisements to apologise for replacing the usual programming with what was effectively an internal company presentation. Perhaps it was cute marketing but either way the gamble paid off and The Chrysler Corporation duly relegated The Ford Motor Company to third place in the 1933 sales charts for the first time ever. With a price tag some 30% lower than the equivalent 1928 four cylinder machine, the PC Six was set to be a sales triumph but retention of a relatively short chassis and resultant compact body style worked against the car; though buyers were happy to be able to buy a ‘six’ for ‘four’ money, they still wanted everyone to know they had 50% more pots under the hood and the longer bonneted PD which replaced it after just six months sold in considerably higher numbers.
Enough of the sales and marketing speak (never trust anyone who sells cars for a living), let’s get to what actually made the PC such a leap forward from the PB, to wit its six cylinder engine. A valve in block (or ‘flathead’ as the Americans call them, ‘sidevalve’ to others), 189.8 cubic inch unit (3.1 litres in real money), it produced an impressive 70 BHP at 3,600 RPM on a 5:1 compression ratio and a stump pulling 130 lb/ft of torque at a just above tick-over 1,200 RPM. Though Ford’s V8 had a couple of extra cylinders, it only made 65 BHP with Chevrolet’s offering even less powerful while the Plymouth was more reliable than either of its competitors. Technologically ground breaking it contained aluminium pistons plus shell bearings for both the crank and camshaft. A 9” dry plate clutch transmitted power to a 3 speed gearbox containing helical gears which in themselves significantly improved refinement. Reliable and economical the engine remained in production for automotive use right through to 1959 and beyond that for agricultural and industrial applications.
With a robust chassis, dropped between the axles for lower bodywork, semi-elliptic springs and hydraulic dampers, the rest of the PC Six was similarly ahead of the field and today it makes for a surprisingly capable machine given it hails from the early 1930s.
This four door ‘sedan’ (saloon to those who maintain aluminium is a nine not eight letter word), despite some negative feedback at the time, looks to our eyes to be very nicely proportioned. Though the bonnet perhaps hides the engine’s light under a bushel by not being ostentatiously long, in our opinion the substantial chromed radiator grill and cowl more than compensates for this and the 107” wheelbase of the chassis makes for a wieldy machine on today’s somewhat more crowded roads. Speaking of which, as an original Australian market vehicle, this PC has the considerable advantage of being right hand drive – quite apart from being as rare as a hen’s dentist. Having spent its life enjoying the car friendly antipodean climate, the PC was purchased by a leading custom car and hot rod builder (a not uncommon occurrence) but when push came to angle grinder, he couldn’t bring himself to modify such a lovely original machine. The PC’s period charm was however fully appreciated by an English ex-pat motor engineer who purchased it and shipped it to England in 1998 for his father’s personal use as a regular driver which also earnt its keep with the odd wedding booking and some TV and film work.
Today the bodywork is nice and straight with all the panels fitting well. The doors open and close easily with no misalignment and their catches mate well with their strikers. We couldn’t find any visible corrosion to the panel-work which seems to have benefited from both the climate and conscientious maintenance. Some wear and tear to the running boards has just been attended to and they have been repainted and fitted with new ribbed rubber treads. The chassis looks to be very solid indeed with just one area of surface rust near the exhaust, presumably where heat has caused the paint to flake off; please see the photo gallery. Given the PC’s age and era its underside is pretty fluid free though there is some oil evident around the rear axle.
The black paintwork is really very smart and though it is entirely suitable for the PC it is a difficult colour, renowned for showing every blemish and imperfection. In this case it simply shows how good the body is and how few issues there are. Over all it has a good lustre, depth and finish while a red pinstripe adds a neatly executed final touch.
Plentiful chrome-work sits well against the black and it is all in good to very good order. The main event is the radiator surround and grill which are excellent. The ‘Flying Lady’ radiator cap, the more ornate of two options offered in period, is a lovely Art Deco touch, again in very good condition.
The 17" Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels seem to be in good condition all-round with no obvious loose or broken spokes and they are shod with new Waymaster cross-ply tyres, still with their mould pimples on.
Inside, the Plymouth is for the most part charmingly original if not in quite such good shape as the rest of the car. The key elements, namely the front and rear seats, are trimmed in very nice dark red leather and while the door trims are a good colour match, they are in functional vinyl. Interestingly, the front bench seat is adjustable with the whole assembly moving back and forth in unit depending on the dimensions of front and rear cabin occupants. The carpets need full or partial replacement though their simple, flat shape should make this a cost effective ‘quick win’. The dashboard is a very attractive Art Deco affair and with all the dials functioning, it is a working work of art. A central 90 MPH speedometer is surrounded by peripheral water temperature, oil pressure and fuel level gauges while an ammeter rounds out a very well stocked and informative vista for driver and interested passengers. Remarkably the original Lane’s Motors (the supplying dealers) plaque is still affixed to the dashboard stating that the PC Six was ‘Stock Number P514’. The headlining is not perfect but nor is it in desperate need of replacement, being just a bit marked in places.
Under the ‘hood’ the engine looks far from as though it is a six in a space designed for a four with everything accessible and easy to work on. It certainly has a functional appearance but it gives the impression of a well maintained motor car. The alternator and 12 Volt conversions are both worthwhile upgrades to improve the Plymouth’s usability without altering its essential character.
While we are on the subject of usability, on the road the PC is hugely impressive and very easy to drive thanks in no small part to its fabulously torquey engine; one could pretty much stick it in top and forget the rest of the gearbox altogether though the change is a pleasure to use and easily mastered with a short pause all that is required between changes to allow everything to catch up with itself and ensure silent ratio swaps. Throughout our test drive the water temperature remained below 140 degrees Fahrenheit with oil pressure never dropping below 20 PSI on the move. For such a tall machine it corners surprisingly well with decent grip even if the distance you are from the road surface accentuated its body roll. The revolutionary for their time hydraulic brakes were clearly not just some frippery that in reality offered no discernible improvement over some stout rods or cables and today they still give confidence to their operator - even the drum transmission parking brake is very effective. Yes it pays to try to predict what the texting SUV driver up ahead is going to do next but that is probably no worse than the risk of being rear ended by a less well equipped Ford back in 1933; as they say in the US, ‘Stops on a dime and gives you 9 cents change’. All in all we found the driving experience something of a revelation, especially considering the Plymouth is fast approaching ninety years old.
The document file is somewhat slim having nothing relating to the PC’s life in Australia and with most of the work (such as it was) carried out in the UK being tackled ‘in house’, there is little paperwork other than a current and previous V5, both in the name of the only UK owner.
The Plymouth is a very rare (especially in right hand drive form), usable, go anywhere early 1930s machine in which it is still possible to cover long distances in some style and comfort with barely a second thought. Well able to acquit itself with honour in modern traffic this PC must be one of the most attractive propositions for the between the wars motoring enthusiast. With a little extra stardust courtesy of a significant appearance in Yorkshire TV’s 2002 film “A is for Acid” starring Martin Clunes as the Acid Bath Murderer John George Haigh, this Plymouth certainly has a lot going for it.