The Good Life: When Plymouth rocked

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Stakes couldn't have been higher for Plymouth at the dawn of 1955. The Chrysler Corporation's boxy compact fleet had dropped Plymouth to fourth place behind Buick. Under the supervision of Plymouth chief stylist Maury Baldwin, the 1955 models were the product of a level-setting redesign: Longer by more than 10 inches, lower by nearly two and wider to boot, the car leapfrogged into the space age. It didn't just look faster; it was faster. V-8 engine performance was reaching new highs in the auto industry that year, and Plymouth introduced its own under the hood. A trade rag predicted the car "could well become a classic."

This print ad is still, in 2019, strikingly modern (though its copy isn't). "The 1955 Plymouth proudly disdains gimcracks and gingerbread and warmed-over features," it crows. Shot at an angle from just below the right headlight, the car appears to point up and forward, as if driving into the future. (If it wasn't already, this hip style of fish-eye-lens portraiture would become a cliché, repeated on several Blue Note album covers alone over the next decade; check out Hank Mobley's "A Caddy for Daddy" when you get a chance.)

Whether it was the new design, the V-8 engine, the new power-steering option or the marketing, something clicked. Production could barely keep up with demand, ultimately churning out 705,455 cars that year. Still not enough to overtake Buick (that would come a few years later), Plymouth's sales captured a 10 percent market share.

"The years will never dim on its true modernity," the print ad promises. While maybe not entirely true, it certainly remains free of gimcracks.

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