Building Chrysler, Part 2: Engineering, Plymouth, War and the Boom

The growing demand for entry-level Plymouth models during the 1930's and 1940's led to the addition of new Plymouth assembly plants in California and Indiana. It quickly became the third best-selling brand behind Ford and Chevrolet.

The growing demand for entry-level Plymouth models during the 1930’s and 1940’s led to the addition of new Plymouth assembly plants in California and Indiana. It quickly became the third best-selling brand behind Ford and Chevrolet.


Despite the economic hardships brought on by the Great Depression Chrysler wound up adding four new assembly plants during the 1930’s. These included the Los Angeles Assembly in Commerce, CA, Wyoming Avenue Assembly in Detroit, the Evansville Assembly plant in Evansville, Ind., and Warren Avenue Assembly in Dearborn, Mich.

Plymouth performed remarkably well.  As other car brands vanished, Chrysler’s Plymouth brand grew stronger, in large part because they were well-built and incorporated new features that were lacking in rival models from Ford and Chevrolet.

The list of features included an all-steel body while they still had wood elements.  In addition, it offered 4-wheel hydraulic brakes instead of mechanical ones.  And the 1930 Plymouths had larger, 196-cu. in. 6-cylinder engines with standard fuel pumps.  For 1931, Chrysler’s patented “Floating Power” made its debut on its Plymouth models. This was a two-point engine mounting system strategically placed so the engine’s natural rocking axis would intersect with its center of gravity and keep the engine’s natural vibration from reaching the frame and body. Rubber engine mounts provided flexibility and a cantilever leaf spring kept the engine properly aligned. Ads boasted that Plymouths had the smoothness of an eight-cylinder, but the economy of a four. Chrysler also featured automatic spark control and rust-proofed welded bodies.

 Chrysler's Los Angeles plant post card

Post card from the 1930s illustrating Chrysler’s Los Angeles plant

The most controversial product of the decade was the Airflow. Inspired by aircraft designs of the time, work began on the concept way back in 1927.  But due to the time needed to complete and pay for tooling, the first Airflow models did not arrive until January 1934.  Only Chrysler and DeSoto versions were built.  GM and other rivals launched a smear campaign to undermine faith in the car – claiming it was unsafe, while the opposite was actually true.

The Airflow ranks as one of the most significant mass production automotive designs ever brought to market.  It forecast the growing importance of vehicle aerodynamics, plus an end to the traditional methods of body construction and engine placement.  Despite sluggish Airflow sales, Chrysler turned a profit in 1934, largely due to Plymouth’s growing popularity against rivals Ford and Chevy.  The Airflow “experiment” ended in 1937.

Overall, Chrysler production and sales continued to grow stronger thanks to Plymouth taking over as the third best-selling nameplate behind Ford and Chevy, a spot it would hold for the next two decades.  Plymouth with its low-cost, high-value offerings kept Chrysler alive during the depression, but the DeSoto and Dodge brands also did well, climbing in the sales rankings.

Plant No. 7) Given the rising popularity of the Plymouth brand and the rapid shift of the American population to the West Coast during the depression years – especially California – Chrysler’s next plant was located near Los Angeles.  It was purpose-built in 1932 to handle Plymouth cars and trucks, as well as Dodge trucks.  During World War II the plant switched over to war-time production, manufacturing over 40,000 aircraft engines, as well as Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and Lockheed PV-2 cabin tops.  Following the war, various Plymouth, DeSoto, Dodge and Chrysler models were assembled there.  The last three models to be assembled there were the Dodge Coronet, Plymouth Valiant and Belvidere. Status:  Out of service – closed in 1971.

Plant No. 8) The eighth plant to come online for Chrysler was the Wyoming Avenue Assembly plant, located in Detroit.  It was purchased from the GM Export division in 1934 to handle the growing demand for DeSoto branded products.  The facility was built in 1919 by Saxon Motors, which was founded in 1913 by Hugh Chalmers and Harry W. Ford (not related to Henry Ford). GM acquired the facility after Saxon Motors folded in 1922.  Production continued there until 1980.  Status: Out of service

The ninth assembly plant to be operated by Chrysler was a former Graham facility located in Evansville, IN, opened in 1937.

The ninth assembly plant to be operated by Chrysler was a former Graham facility located in Evansville, IN, opened in 1937.

Plant No. 9) The next plant to be added was Evansville Assembly. Once it became clear a single plant was not sufficient to handle the growing demand for entry-level Plymouths, Chrysler purchased another assembly plant from the Graham-Paige car company, one of several automakers unable to weather the Great Depression. This factory was located in Evansville, Ind.  Status: Out of service

Plant No. 10) The final plant of the decade to be added was the Warren Truck Assembly Plant, built in 1938 in Warren, Mich., and focused on assembling light-duty and commercial trucks. Nearly 7 million trucks – for both civilian and military use – were built there between 1938 and 1985.  At that point it was closed and renovated to handle production of the compact Dodge Dakota pickups for the 1987 model year. Further changes were made in 2000 to handle assembly of the full-size Dodge, now Ram 1500 quarter-ton pickup trucks that have been assembled there since 2001. From 1985 to 2015 another 7 million trucks have been built at the plant. Status:  Active. Ram trucks are now assembled at the plant.