Dodge Heritage

Send This Page To A Friend

Dodge Brothers


Legend has it that the superintendent of an engineering works at Windsor, Ontario once told the Dodge brothers that there was only work for one man, to which the reply was 'We're brothers and we always work together. If you haven't room for two of us, then neither will start. That's that!'

The Dodge brothers, John Francis and Horace Elsin, were like that. Though there was four years' difference in their ages - John was born in 1864, Horace in 1868 - they were as inseparable as if they were twins. Both were red headed and both were quick tempered.

They were, it was said, always ready to quarrel with anybody else or each other. John was the natural leader, pushy and talkative; Horace was usually quiet, tolerant and slow-moving. They had left their birthplace, Niles, Michigan, in the early 1880s, determined to become engineers.

They found work, and gained valuable experience, in machine shops in Detroit and Windsor; their idea of relaxation, once the week's work was over, was to spend Saturday night in a favorite saloon in the roughest part of downtown Detroit drinking themselves to a standstill.

Dance Bartender...Dance

One night, John ordered the bar owner to climb on to a table and dance. When the man refused, John pulled out a revolver and repeated his request. This time the man obeyed, while John hurled glasses at the mirror behind the bar. However, once he had sobered up, he happily paid for the damage.

In 1899, the brothers organised the Evans and Dodge Bicycle Company in Windsor to produce a four-point-bearing bicycle of their own invention. When a Canadian group made a successful takeover bid, the brothers moved back to Detroit, where they established one of the best machine shops in the Middle West. Order, cleanliness arid efficiency were its hallmarks and soon they were making components for the infant motor industry.

In February 1903, Henry Ford asked them to produce the chassis for his new venture, the Ford Motor Company. The Dodge brothers were already considering substantial offers from the Oldsmobile and Great Northern companies, but there seemed to be far greater profits to be made from the new company so, on 28 February, the two brothers signed a formal agreement with Henry Ford to provide 650 chassis for Ford's first season of production.

The brothers undertook to deliver the chassis to Ford's assembly plant on Mack Avenue, Detroit, at a cost of $250 each - a total of $162,500. In return, they would receive the first payment of $5000 on 15 March, provided that they could show that they had invested that sum in equipment to service the Ford contract. If the investment was then doubled, they would get the next $5000 a month later, plus another $5000 when the first batch of chassis was delivered.

John and Horace Dodge, pictured in Detroit in 1914
John and Horace Dodge, pictured in Detroit in 1914.

The First Dodge
The First Dodge, which was powered by a 3.5 liter engine.

1918 Dodge Coupe
1918 Dodge Coupe.

1918 Dodge Hardtop
1918 Dodge Hardtop.

1924 15 cwt Dodge Van
1924 15 cwt Dodge Van.

1930 Dodge Eight DC
1930 Dodge Eight DC.

1936 Dodge D2 Coupe
1936 Dodge D2 Coupe.

1949 Dodge Coronet D30
1949 Dodge Coronet D30.

1959 Dodge V8
1959 Dodge V8.

1960 Dodge Dart
1960 Dodge Dart, which featured heavy bumpers, tail fins, pillarless side windows and a 4.5 liter V8.

1961 Dodge Polara
1961 Dodge Polara, with pillarless side windows.

1963 Dodge Polara
1963 Dodge Polara.

1966 Dodge Polara Fastback
1966 Dodge Polara Fastback.

1970 Dodge Super Bee
1970 Dodge Super Bee, which became a cult symbol. It featured a 430bhp V8.

1974 Dodge Dart Sport
1974 Dodge Dart Sport, the smallest of the 1974 Dodge models excluding the Japanese derived Mitsubishi Colt, which was later marketed as the Dodge Colt.

1975 Dodge Monaco Brougham
1975 Dodge Monaco Brougham, which had a vast number of different engine options.

1977 Dodge Monaco
1977 Dodge Monaco.

1977 Dodge Aspen
1977 Dodge Aspen.
This $15,000 was to pay for the first sixty engines delivered, the next forty would be paid for in cash as they were completed, and thereafter there would be a regular payment every fortnight. It was an arrangement that suited both parties; the Dodges might not have had much formal education, but they were shrewd businessmen, and had known Ford for several years. Within a short while, the Dodge works were engaged virtually one hundred per cent on building Ford chassis, employing a staff of 150. Deliveries started in early July, and soon Ford was assembling fifteen complete Model A cars a day.

John Dodge Becomes Vice-President of Ford

The Dodges employed their staff on piecework rates, which resulted in some slipshod workmanship, but, as the brothers had invested $10,000 in the Ford company, and as John had been made a director, they soon rectified this state of affairs, and sales forged ahead. When Ford introduced the Model N in November 1905, it was announced that the mechanism for the new car would be made entirely within the new Ford factory on Piquette Avenue and that the Dodge brothers would make the chassis for the larger Ford cars only. The brothers were now given 350 shares each in the Ford Motor Company, and John became Vice-President.

However, as time went on, the independent Dodges became more and more dissatisfied with the prices they were receiving for the transmissions, rear axles, drive shafts and forgings that they were supplying to Ford. They were worried, too, that Ford might suddenly cancel their contract and leave them high and dry.

By 1912, they were determined on a course of action: they would become independent of Ford, and build their own cars. In August 1913, John Dodge resigned from the board of the Ford Motor Company, though he maintained friendly relations with Henry Ford, and the brothers continued as shareholders. In fact, the 2000 shares that the brothers now held provided a large proportion of the backing for the new venture. They were receiving over a million dollars a year in dividends, and their properties were estimated to be worth $30-$40 million.

The Dodge car was unveiled on 14 October 1914; it was produced in the new Dodge factory at Hamtramck, Detroit, which had been built on a site acquired in 1910. The car was a conventionally designed four-cylinder model of 3½ liters capacity, with a power output of 25 bhp. There were two distinctive features: the gear-change operated 'back-to-front', and the 12-volt electrical system incorporated a North-East dynastarter unit which automatically restarted the engine, should it stall with the ignition switched on.

Dodge Cars Assist The Campaign Against Mexican Bandit Pancho Villa

Thanks to the company's long association with Ford, the Dodge name was already well-known throughout the American auto trade, and soon more than 22,000 dealers across the States were clamouring for agencies for the new car. The marque's rise was meteoric: by 1916, annual production was America's fourth biggest, with over 70,000 cars delivered. A big boost to Dodge sales came that year when General 'Black Jack' Pershing ordered 250 Dodge staff cars to help him in his campaign against the Mexican bandit, Pancho Villa. Villa. subsequently returned the compliment by adopting the Dodge as his official car-but he was killed while riding in it in 1923.

Dependability and The Dependable Dodge

John and Horace Dodge may have been illiterate, but they coined a word to describe the Dodge's performance that became an everyday term: dependability. In 1920, the Dependable Dodge was second only to the Model T in sales. By this time, the link with Ford had been finally severed: alarmed by Henry Ford's insistence, in 1916, that he would henceforth ignore dividends altogether, except for purely nominal payments, the Dodges brought a suit to protect their income. It ended in Ford buying them out - and all the other shareholders in the Ford Motor Company - for a total of $ 106 million, of which the Dodge Brothers' share was $25 million.

The Brothers Die of Pneumonia

However, although the case was hard fought, personal relationships between the Dodges and Henry Ford remained friendly and free of bitterness. A major breakthrough came in 1916, when Budd all-steel tourer coachwork was adopted as a standard feature (a few all-steel saloons were also built). However, this was not the first time that this construction had been used on a production vehicle, as BSA and Stoneleigh in Britain had featured all-steel coachwork as early as 1911. In life, John and Horace Dodge had been inseparable; in death, too, they were not parted, in 1920 they died of pneumonia within a few months of each other.

Ownership of the company passed to their widows, with Frederick J. Haynes, formerly Vice-President and General Manager, taking over the management of the firm, which was now making 1000 cars a day. This situation continued until 1925, when the New York bankers Dillon, Read & Company took over Dodge for a reputed $146 million, of which $50 million represented goodwill, written down in the Dodge accounts as being worth $1. The company's sole product was still the original 3½-liter four (now available either as a car or as a truck), although the basic design had been steadily refined over the years.

Walter Chrysler Buys Dodge

The 1923 models, for example, had pioneered the stop lamp and the anti-theft lock - fitted, in this instance, on the gearbox. Although the company boasted of its 'sound financial standing, which permits uninterrupted development and adherence to the policy of constant improvement', its unadventurous marketing policy had brought it to the brink of financial disaster by 1927. Clarence Dillon of Dillon, Read & Company approached Walter Chrysler and found him receptive to buying Dodge. After days of haggling, the two agreed on terms: Chrysler was to acquire Dodge for $70 million in stock plus the interest payments on Dodge bonds, worth $56 million.

The merger, sneered one financier, was 'like a minnow swallowing a whale', but Chrysler always claimed: 'The greatest thing I ever did was to buy Dodge'. He had acquired one of the world's largest and best-organised motor factories: the Hamtramck plant now covered 58 acres and employed 2000 people. It was a move essential to his continued expansion. Minutes after the contract giving Chrysler control was signed, his Chief Production Manager, Kaufmann T. Keller, had huge canvas signs reading 'Chrysler Corporation, Dodge Division' hung over the entrance gates, then marched in to take control - on 30 July 1928.

The Dodge Victory

A new six-cylinder model, the Senior Six, was introduced in 1927; its specification included four-wheel hydraulic brakes and a seven-bearing crank- shaft with pressure lubrication, and it was to this model that Walter Chrysler looked for the company's future expansion. The old four-cylinder model was rapidly pensioned off, and replaced by a new cheap six, the Victory, fitted with a short-stroke version of the Senior's power unit; in 1930, an even smaller six, the 19.8 hp 2.6-liter, appeared. At the extremely reasonable price it represented remarkable value for money.

At the same time, Dodge brought out a 26.4 hp straight-eight, with a power unit similar to that of the contemporary Chrysler; this model was only catalogued until 1933. By that time, the Victory and Senior Six had acquired styling similar to that of the Model B Ford. These cars, claimed the Dodge copywriters, had 'every modern feature, not merely one'. The specification included automatic clutch; easy-change, silent gearbox; freewheeling; hydraulic brakes; non-burning, non-pitting valve seat inserts; self-oiling springs; Airwheel tyres; double drop X-type frame and a welded, monopiece steel body. The virtues of the coachwork seemed a little ominous, however: the company said 'A Dodge steel body may be dented, it cannot be shattered - nor is there any wood to feed a sudden flame'.

The Dodge Senior Six

Nevertheless, Dodge was once again the industry's fourth biggest manufacturer, with sales of 86,000 in 1933. Despite their close links with Chrysler, Dodge never adopted the controversial Airflow styling entirely, although their 1935 models followed the more orthodox vee-bonneted Airstream look. For 1936, the Senior Six acquired, as standard, the new Chrysler automatic overdrive transmission, in which a centrifugal clutch brought in the overdrive top-gear when the car was cruising at speeds over 45 mph; rationalisation had by now proceeded to the point where the Dodge had precious little of its former individuality remaining, and few changes other than new body styling and independent front suspension were made during the remainder of the period just prior to World War 2.

The Red Ram V8

There was little to choose between the Chrysler Corporation marques in post-war days, either; indeed, some Plymouth models were sold as Dodges in export markets, and all shared a common bodyshell, introduced in 1949. The faithful old L-head six was still the Dodge's power unit, although in 1953 the option of the new Red Ram V8 was offered-and taken up by more than half the customers. What had been a relatively simple model range suddenly became highly complex: the 1954 line-up comprised eight basic series, two wheelbase lengths and two power units, all mixed according to choice.

Dodge Custom Sierra Station Wagon

Chrysler Corporation cars were dramatically re-styled in 1955, although the same power-unit options continued. Larger engines and push-button automatic transmission made their appearance on the 1956 line, and a new four-door hardtop, the Lancer, made its debut. Powered normally by one of Dodge's V8 power plants, it could also be ordered with the side-valve six. Another new model was the Custom Sierra Station Wagon, which could be purchased with either two or three rows of seats; in the latter form, it seated eight passengers. Ride comfort was improved on 1957 models by the introduction of 'Torsion-Aire' torsion-bar front suspension plus oversize 14-inch tyres.

The range now consisted of the Coronet, Royal, Suburban, Sierra and Kingsway, mostly with the Red Ram V8, although two six-cylinder models were still listed. In 1958, the Chrysler Corporation produced its 25-millionth vehicle and, that year, Dodge cars underwent a fairly comprehensive facelift, gaining wrap-around, compound-curved windscreens and quadruple headlights in a restyled grille.

Under the bonnet, a major innovation was the option of an electronically controlled fuel-injection system, which boosted the Red Ram's power output to 333 bhp. More than seventy per cent of the sales that year were of the Dodge Coronet range, and an astonishing 96.4 per cent of all cars produced were fitted with automatic transmission.

Auto Transmissions, Power Steering and Power Brakes The Norm

Indicative of the driving priorities of the average American family motorist were two other statistics: 62.5 per cent of the cars produced had power-assisted steering, yet only 34 per cent could boast power braking. By now, the side-valve six was definitely on the way out: only one 1959 model offered it, and that was the rock-bottom of the range, the Coronet MDI-L. Within a year, it disappeared completely.

Styling was at its nadir in 1959: tailfins had been growing in size throughout the decade and now, under the name of 'Swept-Wing Styling', they became positively overpowering. Twin radio aerials and juke- box-style rear lights completed the aesthetic mess. Top of the range was the Custom Royal four-door hardtop, which was available with 305, 320 or 345 bhp V8 power units, while the Sierra station wagon catered for the 'Quiverfulls' by offering six or nine-passenger versions also available with various engine options.

The Compact Dodge Dart

In 1961, the Lancer name was revived for a new compact, this time based on the Plymouth Valiant, but the company's general trend during the 1960s was to build bigger. Its Iate-1960s 'compact', the Dart, boasted a 4½-liter engine. This model was backed up by the larger Coronets with six or eight-cylinder engines with overhead valves, plus the 6.3-liter Polara and 7.2-liter Monaco. Mindful that it was missing out on the sub- compact market, the company concluded a deal in 1971 to import the Mitsubishi Colt sub-compact from Japan. This model became steadily more Dodge and less Japanese, until a complete restyling in 1974·

Lean Burn

However, the Colt was only a partial solution to the company's problems resulting from the fuel crisis. 1976 saw some Dodge engines equipped with a computer controlled spark timing device called 'Lean Burn'. The system cuts both pollution and fuel consumption. Its application was extended for 1977. Also in 1976 Dodge introduced their own compact car, the Aspen.

It was available in a range of body styles, including a station wagon, and with a choice of straight-six or V8 engines. The new models were an instant success, giving Dodge a 15.1 per cent share of the domestic compact market. For 1977, the range also included smaller versions of the Monaco range, two versions of the Charger and two sporting pick-ups - the Sportsman and Ramcharger. Some of the smaller Dodge trucks also took on a sporting flavour.

The Coronet and Charger were effectively replaced by the Diplomat for 1977, which was actually a fancier Aspen. Meanwhile, the huge Monaco (Royal Monaco beginning in 1977 when the mid-sized Coronet was renamed "Monaco") models hung around through 1977, losing sales every year, until finally being replaced by the St. Regis for 1979 following a one-year absence from the big car market.

In a reversal of what happened for 1965, the St. Regis was an upsized Coronet. Buyers, understandably, were confused and chose to shop the competition rather than figure out what was going on at Dodge. Everything came to a head in 1979 when Chrysler's new chairman, Lee Iacocca, requested and received federal loan guarantees from the United States Congress in an effort to save the company from having to file bankruptcy. With bailout money in hand, Chrysler quickly set to work on new models that would leave the past behind.

The first fruit of Chrysler's crash development program was the "K-Car", the Dodge version of which was the Dodge Aries. This basic and durable front-wheel drive platform spawned a whole range of new models at Dodge during the 1980s, including the groundbreaking Dodge Caravan. The Caravan not only helped save Chrysler as a serious high-volume American automaker, but also spawned an entirely new market segment that remains popular today: the minivan.

Dodge K-Cars

Through the late 1980s and 1990s, Dodge's designation as the sporty-car division was backed by a succession of high-performance and/or aggressively styled models including the Daytona, mid-sized 600 and several versions of the Lancer. The Dodge Spirit sedan was well received in numerous markets worldwide. The Omni remained in the line through 1990. Dodge-branded Mitsubishi vehicles were phased out by 1993 with the exception of the Dodge Stealth running through 1996, though Mitsubishi-made engines and electrical components were still widely used in American domestic Chrysler products.

In 1992, Dodge moved their performance orientation forward substantially with the Viper, which featured an aluminum V10 engine and composite sports roadster body. This was the first step in what was marketed as "The New Dodge". Step two was the new Intrepid sedan, totally different from its boxy Dynasty predecessor.

The Intrepid used what Chrysler called "cab forward" styling, with the wheels pushed out to the corners of the chassis for maximum passenger space. They followed up on this idea in a smaller scale with the Stratus and Neon, both introduced for 1995. The Neon in particular was a hit, buoyed by a clever marketing campaign and good performance.
1977 Dodge Charger
Latest Classic Car Classifieds

Unique Cars and Parts USA - The Ultimate Classic Car Resource