Burton on the Bay:
Down the Dodo Trail
Farewell to One More Species

They are all gone away, there is nothing more to say.

"The House On the Hill," 
1897, by Edward Arlington Robins.

Sorry, Ed, maybe they're gone or going, but there's a lot to say - and people will be saying it for a long time to come.

In the financial pages the other day, I noticed a story that strongly suggested the latest thing to be gone will probably be the Plymouth - and not the rock in Massachusetts near where the Pilgrims hosted the Indians on the First Feast of Thanksgiving more than a couple centuries ago.

Can it really be Chrysler's Plymouth will join in oblivion the dodo bird, passenger pigeon, Hechinger's, Hess Shoes, the DeSoto, Edsel, Studebaker, Hupmobile, Volkswagen Thing, Kaiser, Hudson, Westinghouse appliances, the Evening Sun, Liberty, Colliers and Mercury magazines, the hand-wound gramophone, Owens, Broadwater and Revel Craft yachts, the Sears & Roebuck catalog (outhouses haven't been the same since) and such bywords?

It isn't official yet, but financial insiders say the deal is done: Money rules, save a buck, toss out a brand. To hell with customer loyalty and tradition.

I'm still hurting from Chrysler's decision going back about 40 years to drop the DeSoto, a year after I scrounged up enough moola to buy my first new one. Despite its gaudy fins, it was the best vehicle, also the hottest, on the road in the lower and middle-priced range at that time and since.

I got so mad, I haven't purchased a car from the House of Chrysler since - though once I relented enough to look over one of its Voyager vans, which lost out to a Nissan Maxima station wagon, the best looking ever of such models to ride the highway. And you might know, the next year Maxima dropped its station wagons.


Out of Business

The culprit in this banish-Plymouth fiasco is Daimler, the result of the merger last year of the Germans, who make the Mercedes mostly on the other side of the Atlantic, and Chrysler, one of our oldest of the old U.S. auto plants.

Those Germans can vie with our Wall Street gang in lack of sentiment. Why they're the people who bought Hess Shoes, a Baltimore Institution, not long ago. The same day the story broke about Plymouth, Hess was starting its going-out-of-business sale.

The shoes weren't bad. Matter of fact, they were great and packed on the mileage before they wore out, but the chain of Hess shops wasn't meeting financial projections, which I guess is the same thing over there in Germany where DaimlerChrysler tells Chrysler what to do.

I only wish I was rich so I could tell Daimler-Chrysler with credibility I'd never buy another Mercedes, which I can't buy - not because of ire - but because I can't afford one, though I did once when a new diesel four-door sold for $4,000 and could run for a quarter of a million miles.

Going is the Plymouth, the likes of the Plymouth Road Runner that left all other autos including Chevies and Fords in its wake when handled by Richard Petty on the stock car circuit in the '70s. Inside word is names like the Breeze, Neon, Prowler and even what Consumers Report rated as the top minivan - the Plymouth Voyager - will be history.

Dodge will be at the low end of the Chrysler line and carry models somewhat akin to those now marketed by Plymouth. Dodge will be what auto makers refer to as entry-level vehicles. Till now, you started with a Plymouth, then moved up to a Dodge, then to a Chrysler. In the older days, there was the DeSoto in between, and many owners didn't want to go higher up the ladder to the Chrysler.

We're told Plymouth sales are down to about 307,000 a year, about half that of the days when Petty's light blue Road Runner got and kept the lead in big-time stock car racing. Plymouth was a big name in Canada, too, but last year was withdrawn from that market.



Prior to my DeSoto days, I had a couple of Plymouths, both station wagons, the first of which had a snazzy wooden body. I bought it second hand, ran it until the wood rotted away, replaced the bad timber, removed the back seats, bolted the rear doors shut, leaving only the tailgate for entry into the stowage and former rear seat area. That way, I ran it another couple of years.

That was back in the late '40s when station wagons were called beach buggies and considered classy. My next Plymouth came in the late '50s. New and all metal, like the first, it ran like a charm until I decided to step up. I drove around for years in a big DeSoto, the right front fender of which got bashed in. But I had a solution for that.

I bolted a metal window box into the gaping hole, planted a few flowers in it (they didn't do too well) and drove it for another couple of years till some dozing fellow motorist slammed into the back of it at a red light and the signature high rear fins ended up in the rear window. There was no room at the stern for tail lights or window boxes, so I junked it and switched to the Nashes of American Motors, which also went down the tube after merging with Jeep.


Booted Out: The Kicker

As for Plymouths, in the country in the days of yore, they were always third behind Chevrolet and Ford among the Big Three. They still had a lot of followers. Realistically, there wasn't much difference between the sedans of the three. All had straight six cylinder engines, the same accessories (though a heater was often an option), and they were roomy, though not ostentatious as most family jalopies came to be until the arrival of the days of the gas crunch and associated fuel price increases.

So the only Plymouth we'll be hearing about in the future will likely be the rock of the same name along the New England coast, and DaimlerChrysler will save a few cents in dropping its distinct emblem, replacing it with that of the Dodge. Same car, different label.

It will probably be the same with Hess Shoes, at least I would hope. They're well built, great for the outdoors and classy. But traditional leather plays second fiddle to the plastic tennis shoe variety these days, even in cold weather, for both men and women, young and old.

I recall doing a commercial for Hess outdoor boots about 20 years ago, and Peter Jay, then writing a column in the Sun, questioned in print one Sunday whether the outdoor editor should be doing such things. It didn't bother me much until several days later the late Gary Black, then principal owner and chairman of the Sun, called to invite me to lunch.

I thought I was in a pack of trouble - you know conflict of interest - but the subject wasn't mentioned at Haussners, which, incidentally, is also gone, and driving back to the office, he suggested we stop at Tochterman's Tackle Shop on Eastern Avenue, which thankfully is still around.

Once inside, he asked to see the Hess boots I blabbered about over the airwaves, and he promptly purchased a pair. I breathed a sigh of relief. End of controversy.

| Issue 45 |

Volume VII Number 45
November 11-17, 1999
New Bay Times

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