Photos by James Haklar
Walter Percy Chrysler introduced the low-price Plymouth in 1928. By 1930, his Plymouth was sold at Dodge, De Soto and Chrysler dealerships, where it fought the suffocating squeeze of the Great Depression. To help increase sales at Plymouth franchises, a commercial line of Plymouths became available in 1935.
Plymouth experiments with commercial vehicles
Plymouth’s 1935 commercial line consisted of a taxicab, wood-bodied station wagon and modified two-door flatback sedan that could be built as an ambulance or a sedan delivery. On the modified flatback sedan, the rear quarter windows could be filled with removable snap-on blanks, and a door was installed on the back of the body. In 1936, a new sedan delivery of an all-new design was introduced. It had a new elongated body and permanently blanked-out quarters more typical of a dedicated sedan delivery body. The car chassis-based 1936 Plymouth sedan delivery would be a one-year model, as Plymouth moved its delivery model to the truck chassis in 1937 and 1938, whereupon it became a panel delivery.
For 1937 and ’38, Plymouth’s commercial line included the panel delivery, a pickup and a cab-and-chassis, each on Plymouth’s truck chassis. During this time, the taxicab, the utility sedan, the coupe with a pickup box attachment and the four-door ambulance sedan rode on the car chassis. The wood-bodied station wagon was on the truck chassis for 1937, but returned to the Plymouth car chassis in 1938. The sedan delivery returned in 1939, when Plymouth moved its light-duty delivery model back to the car chassis. After 1939, the pickup box attachment was no longer available for the coupe. From 1939 to 1941, the pickup continued, as did the cab-and-chassis truck and the car-based sedan delivery, sedan ambulance, utility sedan and wood-bodied wagon.
The sedan delivery is a product of a bygone age. It was a hybrid or crossover that combined ease of operation and automobile economy with the cargo area and security of a small panel truck. This commercial adaptation of the automobile was ideal for delivering small items and carrying tools. The sedan delivery could also go into neighborhoods that banned trucks on certain roadways.
A unique survivor
Woody and Sandy Hummer, of Milford, N.J., own a 1941 Plymouth P11 sedan delivery. Few sedan deliveries have survived the toils of business use to become collectable, but the Hummers’ example has weathered the test of time well, and is one of the nicest and most original examples of its kind remaining.
The 1941 Plymouth passenger car was penned under Bob Caldwater, Chrysler Corp.’s styling chief at that time. The 1941 Plymouth design was actually a mild facelift of Plymouth’s more significant redesign for 1940. Both the 1940 and ’41 Plymouths had “fat fenders,” fastback styling, exposed running boards, a ship-prowl front end, a hood towering over the front fenders and a split windshield. An obligatory grille revision took place for 1941 that was sometimes referred to as a “chrome-plated bib.”
The Hummers’ 1941 sedan delivery cuts a similar profile to Plymouth’s wood-bodied station wagon of the same model year, but instead has an all-steel body and lacks rear side windows. The sedan delivery’s back doors are of the side-by-side “barn door” type and incorporate windows and a single taillamp, mounted to the left rear door. For safety, two additional taillamps have since been added to the top of the rear bumper of the Hummers’ vehicle and also serve as directional signals.
The instrument cluster has the passenger car gauges with Plymouth’s “Safety Speedometer.”
“The speedometer changes color when you go different speeds,” Woody remarked. It is similar to those found on 1959 Oldsmobile and 1959 Dodge models. On the ’41 Plymouth speedometer, colors change in increments of green up to 39 mph, then turn amber to 50 mph and change to red at faster speeds.”
Jutting out from the floor are large, round clutch and brake pedals. The rear cargo compartment walls and headliner are covered in vinyl. The separate front seats are stationary and slightly convex, with a tight walkway between them for access to the rear compartment.
Woody was a carpenter for 50 years, and stumbled upon this ’41 Plymouth sedan delivery when a customer in Flemington, N.J., opened the door to his garage more than 40 years ago. It was almost the vehicle he had been looking for.
“For years, I had been looking for a sedan delivery, preferably a 1937 — (the) year I was born — but never saw one,” Woody recalled. “When I saw it in the garage, I didn’t care what year, condition or price — I wanted that car. When he decided to sell me the car, I was the happiest man on earth.”
The sedan delivery’s working days were long over when Woody found it in Flemington. He learned that it had previously served the Hudson Garage, a Plymouth-De Soto franchise in Bayonne, N.J. After its working days were over, it was relegated to the dealership’s basement. When Hudson County widened the road in front of the Hudson Garage, the old dealership building was torn down, but the sedan delivery was spared a similar fate when it was bought by Woody’s customer in Flemington.
All of the graphics advertising the Hudson Garage on the sedan delivery remain original, so it’s clear to see how the vehicle was truly a four-wheeled business card for the dealership. Even after decades of being in place, the painted graphics still have a great “wow” factor. The sedan delivery’s indented side panels are essentially billboards, still advertising the dealership’s location at 647 Boulevard, which is now home to an apartment building. The telephone exchange painted on the quarter panels begins with “BA,” for Bayonne. Meanwhile, the passenger doors mention the lost brands of De Soto and Plymouth, both of which are as much history as the Hudson Garage itself.
After his purchase of the ’41 Plymouth, Woody improved its cosmetics by replacing the running boards, repairing the left rear fender and reupholstering the seats. It otherwise appears how it did when it last served the Hudson Garage.
A three-on-the-tree manual transmission backs the flathead six-cylinder that develops 87 hp and 160 lb.-ft. of torque. There is no overdrive, so the light-duty truck only drives at 45 mph before protesting.
“Our biggest trip was to Colorado Springs in July of 1986, to a Walter P. Chrysler meet,” Woody said. “It took us three-and-a-half days, because we could only go 45 miles an hour.”
Woody rows through the gears with its vacuum-assisted gear handle. He only has to touch the shifter and a servo pushes it into the next gear. There are service tools under the cargo bed, by the barn doors, to fix the vacuum-assisted shifter, but Woody has never had to use them.
The sedan delivery has been a part of the Hummer family for a long time, and represents memories beyond the vehicle’s value.
“Whenever we go to car shows people just love it,” Sandy says. “[It’s] won many awards, but we just enjoy showing it. We call the car ‘Percy,’ after Walter Chrysler’s middle name. It has been to Colorado, Michigan and every other year at Chryslers at Carlisle under the survivors tent.”
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