June 28, 2001 seemed like a very normal day. It also seemed that way in Belvidere, Illinois where the DaimlerChrysler assembly plant had a silver Neon roll off the line. There was no fanfare and no press, despite the fact that it was the very last Plymouth to be made. It was on this day that the Plymouth brand finally breathed its last.
It wasn’t unexpected. On September 23, 1999, an article which proclaimed that the Plymouth brand was dead was featured in the Detroit News. At the time, the owner of the Plymouth brand was DaimlerChrysler, and the company had no comment on the matter. That silence was taken as a confirmation of the report. Then later on November 3, 1999, the president of the Chrysler part of DaimlerChrysler announced that the Plymouth brand would indeed be discontinued by the end of 2001.
Some Plymouth models would be discontinued, while other would live on rebranded as Dodge models.
The Beginning and the End
Many experts have blamed the demise of Plymouth on how Chrysler failed to establish and maintain a proper identity for the brand. It originated way back in 1928, and it was Chrysler’s attempt to battle the other US automotive giants Ford and Chevrolet in the arena of low cost cars. The Chrysler brand remained a symbol of upper class refinement, so the Plymouth brand was deemed more middle class and working class.
The Plymouth cars were still a bit more expensive than the Fords and the Chevys, but they also compensated by offering features that other cars didn’t have at the time. They were the ones who first offered internal expanding hydraulic brakes.
By the time of the Great Depression the brand was still doing well enough to survive the lean years. In fact, its success helped the Chrysler parent company to survive the 1930s. The brand introduced new features in the industry, such as the downdraft carburetor and the flathead-6 engine. They offered top of the line safety features. They also introduced 2-door convertible coupes. It was so successful that it almost overtook Ford in sales in 1941.
But by the 1960s, Chrysler was repositioning the Dodge brand as the alternative to Plymouth. The price difference between the two marquee names became smaller, and son enough the manufacturer was offering affordable compacts and midsized cars with both Dodge and Plymouth badges. By 1982, Dodge was selling more units and that was the beginning of the end. By 1990 there were no longer any uniquely Plymouth cars and they all were rebadged as Dodges.
The Muscle Car Heyday
Today, most industry experts love the Plymouth brand for its muscle cars. These cars mostly appeared in the 1960s and early 1970s, and you will have to pay a lot to get one of these babies.
- 1956 Plymouth Fury. This was the first ever muscle car that Plymouth built. With its 303-cubic-inch V8 engine, it basically decimated the competition at the Daytona Beach Speed Week right after it was first introduced. For Stephen King fans, this is also known as Christine, the demon car who possessed “her” driver and mowed down her enemies.
- 1964 Plymouth Race HEMI aka the Belvedere. This car obliterated the NASCAR competition, and superiority of the 426 HEMI engine was so obvious that it was basically banned to make everything fair again. There were very few of these cars made in 1964, but it does have a full production version called the 1966 Belvedere.
- 1967 Plymouth Barracuda Formula S383. The ‘Cuda was launched in 1964 to compete with the Mustang, but it had its own identity buy 1967. This version was the most powerful in the Barracuda lineup.
- 1968 Plymouth Roadrunner 383. The muscle cars started out as affordable vehicles, but bigger engines and more amenities were pricing it out of reach for many. The Roadrunner was a throwback to the roots of the muscle car, as its barebones frame was powered by a massive yet reasonably priced 383-cubic-inch base engine. Young adults loved this car so much that it became the 2nd most popular muscle car for the year. There was a 426 HEMI option, but that was just a bit more expensive. The 383 offered a more bang for the buck.
- 1970 HEMI ‘Cuda. This is the original Camaro killer, and it featured the fabled 426 HEMI, the trendy E-body platform, and the unique Shaker hood. For many, this is the greatest HEMI car in history. A convertible version of this one once sold at auction for a cool $2.675 million.
- 1970 Plymouth Superbird. You’ll easily remember this one if you see it, as it has that unique rocket nose cone and a massive rear wing that rose higher than the roof of the car. It came with either a 426 HEMI or a 440 V8, and the HEMI version won 8 NASCAR races. Many thought that was too much, so they made up new rules to slow down the HEMI cars. These weren’t very popular as production cars (many were transformed into Roadrunners), and less than 2,000 were produced. That makes it a highly sought after collector’s item.
- 1971 Plymouth GTX 440+6. Its numerical name was because it had a 440 V8 engine and it came with 3 tw0-barrel carburetors. You’ll also love the Air Grabber hood and pistol grip shifter.
- 1972 Plymouth Duster 340. This was the last great muscle car of the era, as its light weight was powered by a robust 340-cubic-inch engine.
There may no longer be any new cars with the Plymouth brand. But while these cars exist, they live on in our memories, in our garages, and in our fantasies.