Welcome to Thursday Trivia where we offer up a historical automotive trivia question and you try and solve it before seeing the answer after the jump. It’s like a history test, with cars!
This week’s question: What is the legendary source of the Plymouth brand’s name?
If you think you know the answer, make the jump and see if you’re right.
It may be surprising to think about it, but there are presently four brands under the Chrysler halo. Five if you count parent Fiat. Chrysler, Dodge, Ram and Jeep are still a far cry from the plethora of marques the Auburn Hills headquartered company fostered during its heyday back in the 1950s.
Back then Jeep wasn’t a part of the family, and Ram had yet to be split off from Dodge, but the company did look more like General Motors than a Fiat subsidy. At the height of its empire the company’s holdings stretched from Imperial at the top, down through Chrysler, then DeSoto, Dodge, and then finally their value brand, Plymouth.
Plymouth went out of business in 2001 because, I guess people weren’t interested in value any more. Of course it hadn’t helped the brand any that Chrysler offered up pretty much the same cars at its more-numerous Dodge dealers, or that they had muddied the brand’s price position with the misguided Eagle nameplate, the result of the AMC/Jeep purchase from Renault.
Chrysler had debuted Plymouth 73 years prior in 1928. The company sought to turn their recently purchased Maxwell into a competitor in the low-end market that at the time was dominated by Ford, and to a lessor extent Chevrolet. When Henry Ford received word that Walter P. Chrysler intended to enter this market with his reworked Maxwell he sent him a note warning that he would go broke doing so.
That was advice that Chrysler would not heed. The company moved forward with the revamped car, but knowing that the Maxwell name was tainted by that brand’s bankruptcy they sought a new name, one that would be memorable and free of controversy.
Plymouth was the result, and the company line is that it was named for the colony that was the ultimate destination of the Mayflower pilgrims. The legend of its origin is far more interesting.
Already in 1926 Walter Chrysler was planning a full-fledged entry into the low-priced field dominated by Ford and Chevrolet. Indeed, Henry Ford had warned Chrysler, “You’ll go broke! Chevrolet and I have the market all sewed up!” But WPC wasn’t one to fear to such warnings. In fact he was more likely spurred on by them to prove such warnings wrong. And Ford’s rapidly declining Model T sales seemed to indicate that the giant was vulnerable and that the warning could indeed be proven wrong.
To take full advantage of this vulnerability, Chrysler needed the “perfect car with the perfect name.” That name was to be “Plymouth.” Named after Plymouth Rock, that great American symbol, right? Well, not quite.
Behind the “official line” is a story that surfaced years later. It is about what really happened behind those closed boardroom doors. “What we want,” Chrysler had said, “is a popular name, something people will recognize instantly.”
In that room was Joe Frazer, later to become president of Graham Motors and still later to join Henry Kaiser in a post-war automotive venture. “Well, boss,” replied Frazer, “why not call it Plymouth? That’s a good old American name.”
The other assembled executives looked askance the notion of their car bearing such a puritanical sounding * name. Yet against his colleagues’ misgivings, Joe Frazer persisted. “Ever hear of Plymouth Binder Twine?” he asked.
” Well,” boomed out Chrysler, “every goddam farmer in America’s heard of that!” The hidden appeal wasn’t wasted on this one-time Kansas farm boy. Every farmer had to have a car, and most of them at the time were driving Fords. Now here was an opening to the giant’s vulnerability. “Every farmer uses Plymouth Binder Twine,” he said, “let’s give them a name they’re familiar with!”
And so the name was Plymouth. The Mayflower ship on its radiator suggested the rock and the Pilgrims, but if it wasn’t for the binder twine, there would never have been a car named Plymouth.
Over the years Plymouth would often be positioned as Dodge’s little sister, frequently getting hand-me-down cars while occasionally stepping out with their own notable offerings like the Valiant, Barracuda, and much later the funky Prowler. The Plymouth Cordage Company, makers of the eponymous Binder Twine was bought out in 1965. Its factory site is today the location of a retail and office complex in Plymouth Massachusetts.