Recently I came across this 1949 Plymouth Special DeLuxe coupe which has been in the same family since new and it made me think of the ’49 Chrysler New Yorker I featured a few weeks ago. How does a car stay in the same family since new for this long? Easily.
The present caretakers of this machine are actually the second owners according to the DMV, with the present owner having ridden to the dealership in Cloverdale to pick it up after mom wrecked their family car. That car stayed in the family as he grew up and was the car he took his wife in when she was just a high school sweetheart and they were on their first date. Turns out that romance blossomed and she’s still his Mrs. 64 years later.
She thinks it’ll last, too. I asked her.
In fact, to further extend the family’s love of the ’49 Plymouth their son is the one who repainted the car and while the photos here might not do that paint job justice, I can say that the factory would have been proud of a car that looks this nice coming off the end of the line. The original-looking maroon paint was beautiful and the bodywork was outstanding. Not that it needed much, but the car had been sitting for some time and so it did need a good going-over to make it look this better-than-new.
1949 was an interesting year in the auto industry. After production of passenger cars resumed in 1946 following World War II, automakers were building anything and everything they possibly could to satisfy demand. While there was strict competition for market share there was also a rush to come out with brand new products before the competition did. ’49 was a magical year as GM, Ford and Chrysler all hit the mark with new vehicles at that time, each reflecting a somewhat different interpretation of what Americans would want in their driveways.
Today we think of Ford as America’s second-largest carmaker but in ’49 it was the Chrysler Corporation and this Plymouth was part of that story. In those days the company was headed by K.T. Keller and one of his mandates was that you would be able to wear your hat while driving the car. This definitely affected styling of Chrysler’s various vehicles with the ’49s riding on a longer wheelbase but being shorter overall and quite tall to accommodate all those hats.
When it came to automobile design, Keller was very conservative. “A car shouldn't knock your hat off-or your eyes out either,” he is quoted as saying, nor should the hood be so low “you can piss over it.” The 1949 Plymouth was truly a car K.T. Keller could love and I saw nobody attempting to pee over the hood even all these years later.
Under that unpeed-over hood was the original 217 cubic inch in-line six-cylinder engine. That engine gave more gusto to drivers with a newly-designed cylinder head that raised compression from 6.7:1 to 7.0:1 while a new intake manifold provided better distribution of the air-fuel mixture.
This model is the Special DeLuxe which set the original owner back some $80 over the base model - nothing trivial in those days. But you did get bright trim, stainless stone guards on the rear fenders and a choice of blue or green broadcloth or green or blue pile fabric were available.
That six-cylinder power plant was not known for its performance but that didn’t stop Lee Petty, a tobacco farmer, from racing a Plymouth business coupe knowing that the car was lighter than the competition. Earning his nickname, “The Rock,” he got to place one seventh and two second-place trophies on his mantle.
Petty managed to put the smaller Plymouth among the first three cars in 19 consecutive races to the chagrin of other drivers who claimed that he was running with a souped-up engine. Because of those claims, that poor engine was torn down 15 times and found to be completely stock.
While road speed wasn’t a hallmark of these cars, there was speed designed into the new manual window crank mechanisms which only needed 1.5 cranks to fully raise or lower the side windows. While this might sound trivial, it actually keeps the drivers hands on the wheel longer.
Front seat cushions were increased 5 inches and rear cushions 6 inches in width, with legroom in the rear seat increased to 42-1/2 inches. Advertised as “chair height,” the seats could have extra springs added to firm them up; Airfoam seat cushions were optional on all models except the P17 two door, Suburban, and woody station wagon.
That hat-wearing driver would look down the hood and see a newly-redesigned Plymouth ship logo out there on the end. The chrome was new all around but was designed with a nod to the ‘48s.
While this Plymouth today seems so incredibly different than modern cars it really was comparable. There was a lot more value built into this car than its predecessors with a beautiful instrument panel and some cool features, like those fast-winding windows. The interior was outfitted above this car’s standing and the driveline improvements gave it more reliability and performance. Sounds like an advertisement for a car for today.
But a car for today isn’t shuttling a couple who have spent 64 years in love to car shows where thrilled onlookers are enjoying a tribute to a lifetime of togetherness behind the wheel of a beautiful maroon heirloom.