Monday, September 14, 2015

Were 1939 Chryslers, DeSotos and Dodges Totally Restyled?

I don't have a definite answer to the question posed in this post's title.  That would have to come from Chrysler archives, an automobile restoration expert or perhaps a knowledgeable member of a club devoted to one of the Chrysler Corporation brands active in the 1930s.

My strong suspicion, however, is that the answer is "no," even though various publications in my automobile library state otherwise.

Let's begin with the setting.  Chrysler Corporation's 1938 brands (Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto and Chrysler, in ascending price order) shared a typically rounded, heavy-looking basic body whose style was in line with cars from General Motors and other firms.  However, cars such as the Lincoln Zephyr and Cadillac Sixty Special along with the usual Detroit scuttlebutt must have made it clear to Chrysler management that competitors would be offering sleeker designs for the 1939 model year.

Chrysler did plan a total redesign of its line for 1940, but it probably became obvious that its 1939 line had to be freshened to remain competitive until the 1940 cars appeared.  So 1939 Chryslers, DeSotos and Dodges were given a truly major facelift, a facelift with plenty of new sheet metal and reworked tops that gave the appearance of a complete redesign.  Plymouths were given a less-comprehensive, but still extensive, facelift.

I'll use Plymouth to begin making my case.

The profile view of a 1938 Plymouth at the lower-right corner of this ad serves as our reference.   Items to note are the hood cut-line, the shapes of the doors and their hinging.  The area in the vicinity of the hood cut and the front door's forward cut is especially important because, beneath the sheet metal lies the cowling and firewall, usually cited as the most expensive and change-resistant parts of non-unitary car bodies.

This is an image of a 1939 Plymouth captured from a 1939 European film by imcdb.org.  The body aft of the hood is essentially the same as for 1938 Plymouths.

The image in this 1939 Plymouth ad is an illustration, but serves our needs.  Almost all the front of the car has been facelifted, largely eliminating the bulbous look of the 1938s.  Another facelift feature is the replacement of the flat windshield by a V'd, two-piece windshield, something that required some adjustments to metal stampings for the roof.  Note that the cutline at the rear of the hood is unchanged.  This strongly suggests that the firewall - cowling structure is that from 1938.

More baseline photos.  The upper one is a sales photo side view of a 1938 Dodge, the lower is of a 1938 DeSoto.  These brands along with Chrysler got the extreme facelift.

Compare this 1939 DeSoto with the 1938 model in the previous image.  Like 1939 Plymouths, the front ends and windshields are new. Also changed are the rear of the car along with the upper part of the rear doors and associated windows.  Due to this, the door hinge on the C-pillar was lowered, but the other rear door hinge remains as before.  The lower forward door hinge is as it was, but the upper hinge has been made internal.  The hood cutline seems to have been changed slightly towards the bottom to accommodate the reshaped front fenders.

Two more examples of 1939 Chrysler Corporation cars.  As noted in the image, the first is a Dodge.  The lower photo is of a Chrysler Royal.  Again, pay attention to the hinges and cut-lines.

One thing that puzzles me is why the Plymouth wasn't facelifted as completely as its senior brothers; after all, Plymouth production amounted to more than 40 percent of the Corporation's total, which would have helped amortize the tooling expenses for the other brands.  Perhaps it had to do with Ford's late-1930s practice of having its less-expensive range featuring style characteristics of the previous year's top line.  That is, maybe Chrysler was simply following a fad.  Or perhaps, because of that fad, they thought they could save tooling expenses on Plymouth and get away with it in the marketplace.

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