Tuesday, November 23, 2010

In honor of Thanksgiving, let's look at the Mayflower. And the Pilgrims. Oh, and Plymouths from all over Kansas City!

Unfortunately, there weren’t any cars in Squanto's day, but a major component of Thanksgiving had an influence on what was once one of the top selling cars in America.

When you think of the Pilgrims, you probably have an image of a bunch of guys in big, dopey buckle hats eating cranberry sauce around a lavishly set picnic table and taking corn planting lessons from smiling Indians.

People enjoying a picnic isn’t all that big of a deal in and of itself, but, you know, they had to sail there in a stinky, wooden ship. It took 66 days. 45 of the 102 passengers died. Pretty much everybody got scurvy, which is way worse than H1N1. They earned that turkey dinner.

The Pilgrims made their little jaunt across the Atlantic in the Mayflower. Now, the Mayflower was supposed to be a cargo ship, so it had amenities similar to the back of a U-Haul truck, only not nearly that nice. It was about 100-feet long, and it took some 30 guys to run it. The head honcho was Christopher Jones, who was a good sailor desperately in search of a tasty stuffing recipe.

After the whole settling of North America thing, the Mayflower was sailed back home to England, where it was supposedly torn apart and made into a Quaker barn. Hopefully they sprayed some Lysol on the boards before they built the barn to get rid of all those sick germs.

Fast forward to 1928. Evidentially, Walter P. Chrysler had Thanksgiving on the brain when he named his newest car brand Plymouth after the Massachusetts colony on which the Pilgrims landed. Plymouths were intended to compete with popular, lower-priced vehicles like Chevrolet and Ford, as opposed to the more expensive offerings from parent company Chrysler.

Over the years, Plymouth proved to b e very successful. During the Great Depression, the Plymouth brand likely kept Chrysler Corporation afloat (get it—afloat? Pilgrims, Mayflower, aflo—nevermind) by providing more affordable vehicles to cash-strapped Americans. Throughout the 1940s and ‘50s, Plymouth was generally the third best-selling brand behind Chevy and Ford, and occasionally, it would even nudge out Ford for number two.

Plymouth went through a number of identities over the years. In the 1940s and early 1950s, they came across as dowdy, narrow, and tall. They were “cars” with a lower-case “c.” They got the job done, and there was a lot of room inside for Pilgrims and other people to wear their tall hats.

By the mid- to-late ‘50s, Plymouths, along with all the other Chrysler Corporation brands, benefitted from renowned stylist Virgil Exner and his “Forward Look” designs. Sweeping lines and radical fins modernized Plymouths right into the space age. Powerful engines, such as the ubiquitous “Hemi” didn’t hurt brand image either.

When people think about late 1960s/early 1970s Plymouths, they usually have muscle cars in mind. Cars like the Barracuda/’Cuda and the Road Runner perfected the art of stuffing gargantic engines into chintzy, light vehicles. These cars may actually be more popular today than they were when they were new.

After the gas crisis of the 1970s, and the emergence of small, gutless gas-misers in the ‘80s, Plymouth followed the rest of Chrysler’s lead, bringing out a bunch of lackluster cars and Voyager minivans on shortened or stretched versions of the K-Car platform. The last Plymouth that was even marginally interesting was the Prowler retro sports car, but in the end they were basically known for Neons and Voyagers. Chrysler Corporation closed the Plymouth chapter after the 2001 model year.

At various times in history, including at the end, Plymouth’s logo featured an image of the Mayflower. That logo represented a 73-year voyage that flourished during times of calm and survived many tidal waves. But in the end, all that’s left is an old Quaker barn full of memories.

Pass the candied yams!

The slideshow below contains photos of all sorts of Plymouths taken mostly at car shows around Kansas City.  There are a handful that I shot at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Michigan, but most of them are local.  So if you had a Plymouth in a car show this year (or if you parked by one), you may just see your car in here!

Some portions of this story taken from Examiner.com.

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