|» » » 1934 “Big Three” comparison test|
by Jim Benjaminson. Copyrighted by the Plymouth Bulletin. Reprinted by permission.
Chevrolet entered 1934 with two models, the top of the line DA Master and the Standard DC. Ford offered two models, the V8-powered Model 40A and the four-cylinder Model C, both of which could be had in either Deluxe or Standard trim. The Ford Deluxe versions had pin striping, cowl lamps and twin horns. Plymouth and Ford both had all-steel bodies while Chevrolet clung to the Fisher Body metal-over-wood composite construction. Both the Ford and the Plymouth had front opening "suicide" doors while Chevrolet's front doors were of the more conventional rearward-opening type. (This arrangement would be reversed for 1935).
The 1934 Chevrolet rode on a 112" wheelbase (our car is the smaller 107” wheelbase DC Standard) as did the Ford. Master Chevrolets were powered by an 80 horsepower Blue Flame Six (our test car has a 60 horse engine). The Ford V8 entered 1934 with a reworked manifold and a two barrel Stromberg carb which brought it to the 85 horsepower rating it would retain for the rest of the decade. Master Chevrolets were fitted with the DuBonnet system of independent front suspension (commonly known as Knee Action) while Ford clung tenaciously to buggy-type transverse leaf springs. Both cars had cable actuated mechanical brakes, rode on 5.50 x 17” tires, and had torque tube final drive.
The Chevrolet's "Fisher Body No Draft Ventilation" featured a fixed-position windshield, rearward facing cowl ventilator and crank-controlled vent panes. Ford's "Clear Vision" system had single pane front window glass which moved rearward about two inches before beginning to lower into the door. Like the Plymouth, the Ford's windshield cranked open.
Our Chevrolet test car belongs to Dale Holen. He bought it back in the early sixties. He had approached the car’s owner earlier, but found that the car had already been sold to a party whose intentions were to knock the body off the chassis and make a field sprayer out of it. A year later Dale, noticing the car was still intact, bought it “for the whole sum of $25.” Dale did all the mechanical work on the car, including "an amateur body job." Several years later, when the roof of the building in which the car was stored collapsed on it after a heavy snowfall, he thought the Chev was a total loss. The car sat under the rubble until spring. Then Dale discovered that although its roof was crushed, the car was rebuildable. This time its body came back to life under the careful hands of professional bodyman Donald Dalzell. The car, painted maroon with black fenders and yellow striping, now looks as good as it runs. Clif Jenson acquired his 1934 Ford back in the early sixties, after he had found it advertised in a Sunday newspaper. Although the asking price was $100, only $75 was needed to bring the car home...and under its own power, to boot! Of the three test cars, this Ford is the closest to factory-original, not having been touched in the years since Clif bought it. A previous owner had repainted it black, given the interior mouldings a white paint job, lobbed off the cowl lights and added later "V8" emblems to the hood sides.
This writer's 1934 Plymouth was acquired in 1964, a year after his uncle, Albert Widme, discovered it in the shed where it had resided for 14 years. Twenty dollars brought it home. While the odometer did not indicate that it was a high mileage car, its condition demonstrated that it had truly “been around the block.” The front suspension was held together by baling wire. Its engine was very tired and transmission had to be practically tied into high gear. Over the years it has been treated to nearly everything from an engine and transmission rebuild to reupholstery and a long bodyshop stay.
What's it like to drive these three cars? We thought you'd never ask!
There is no doubt that the Chevy belongs to a master mechanic. It jumps to life at the first touch of the starter button and it runs so quietly that it's hard to tell that it is even running. The clutch takes hold immediately and smoothly. The driving controls all fall easily to hand. Gearshifts are quick and precise. We found the steering to be a little on the heavy side, yet it has no tendency to wander. The ride is a little bouncy, but we have to remember that this car has the shortest wheelbase of any of the three we are driving today.
The brakes require a great deal of pressure to bring the car to quick, sure stops. We have to wonder what they would be like if all the mechanical connections under the car were coated with mud or ice as would have happened under normal driving conditions of the day. We are amazed that the brake and clutch pedals are bare metal with no rubber cover! Acceleration isn't neck snapping, but still it is more than adequate for a car of its day in its price range.
The seating position in the Chevy is quite comfortable, once you're behind the wheel. But, for our tastes, we found the wheel too close to the seat for easy entry or exit. The front seat is adjustable, after a fashion, which is accomplished by changing the bolts holding the seat in place. As on all of our test cars, the front seats lift up and forward to allow rear seat passengers entry or exit. The instruments, located in the center of the panel, can cause the driver to divert attention from the roadway to look at them. But they do have all the necessities for knowing what's happening under the hood. The doors close with a solid "Fisher Body clunk." Dry rot, a common problem for composite body cars, hasn't seemed to have struck this car and caused its doors to sag.
We have to admit we never really got a good drive behind the wheel of the Ford. This car had been in storage for many years by the time we coaxed it out of reitrement for this little get-together. After our initial photo rendevouz, the Ford's coil "gave up the ghost" and the Ford went home "pushing a Chevy on a chain." We did have it long enough to gather these impressions, however.
Starting is typical of the flathead Ford V8, with a sound common only to these cars. The Ford took some cranking each time, but never failed to start until the coil gave out. Acceleration is brisk, almost to the point of being jumpy. But then, this car was geared to act that way - a fact that made Ford the favorite of the hot rod set. There is little doubt that the Ford would outrun the other two from a standing start. But in the long run we wouldn't be bit surprised to see the Plymouth overtake it.
While of the three cars the Chevrolet is the smallest in actual size, the Ford, with its compactness of design, looks smaller than it really is. Handling is quick and the ride is typical "early buggy." Though this suspension shines on the back roads upon which the car was used when new, it really shows today how antiquated the Ford design was in comparison to the "modern" ride of the other two cars. The Ford instrument panel is directly in front of the driver, but, unbelievable as it may seem, the car is fitted with neither an oil pressure nor an engine temperature gauge!
The Ford's brakes require less pedal pressure than do the Chevrolet's but it's still more pressure than we would prefer (or are used to in the Plymouth). The seating position is good and the driver controls all fall easily to hand. As a "young man's car," the Ford easily fills the bill. But for a "family sedan," we'd prefer either of the other two cars.
The Plymouth is an easy starter, coming to life consistently on the third revolution. The steering is light but still a little "loose" in comparison to the other cars (and compared to other 1934 Plymouths we've driven over the years). Of the three cars, the Plymouth rides the easiest, as well it should, having the longest wheelbase and the most modern suspension of the three. Acceleration is good, but again it's not neck snapping. At highway speeds the engine works fairly hard, a fact of life caused by the car's lower rear end ratio. The clutch is smooth and easy. This car was not equipped with the vacuum clutch and its free wheeling transmission was replaced with a conventional unit years ago.
The seating position is low - too low, really - but there is little that can be done to raise the seat other than block it up in the rear. Of the three, the Plymouth is the only car that has an adjustable track for moving the driver's seat back and forth. The instruments are placed directly in front of the driver, but the edges of the steering wheel interfere with some of the gauges. The car handles easily on the road, providing a much more "modern" ride than either of the other two. But, the brakes are really the car's shining point. (We have to wonder why the others waited so long to convert to hydraulic brakes and why customers bought cars without them!) Stops are quick and true, needing far less pedal pressure than either the Ford or the Chevrolet. Each car's ventilation system is unique. We have to think, however, that the Plymouth, with its vent wing/window combination, captured the best of both the Chevrolet's crank out vent panes and Ford's retractable glass.
Looking at these three cars now, over 50 years after they were built, we find it amazing how closely their styling resembles each other. However, despite their similarity, there are enough differences to make one easy to tell from the other. Styling is a matter of taste, so we won't consider the aspect in this test. But, just in choosing a car for its mechanical attributes, the buyer of 1934 had his work cut out for him.
Examine the following chart, then make your own decision. Or have you already?
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