Q: Greg I know you’ve written about the Chrysler brands recently, but I would like to see more on the Dodge brand. How did it all start? And what about the Fiat connection now that Fiat is the owner of the Chrysler brand? I enjoy your nostalgia columns.
— Michael W., Ocean City, New Jersey
A: Michael, no problem and thanks for your kind comments.
To get to your second question first, I feel Chrysler Corporation is on better financial ground now that Fiat is behind them and I feel the Dodge brand will continue to be one of its top models. To explain further, gone are the other Chrysler brands Desoto, Imperial and Plymouth, so it’s either a Dodge or Chrysler nowadays if you are a MOPAR fan. And, with this said, few cars are as nice as the Chrysler 300 or as powerful as a Dodge Charger or Challenger Hellcat. The Dodge Durango also deserves a note of assurance, as do all those great looking RAM (formerly Dodge) trucks. Add in Viper, Dart, classic Caravan minivan and Journey, and Dodge has a pretty nice lineup of vehicles.
As for the history lesson, Dodge has quite the saga as it dates back to the early 1900s when its original builders, namely Horace and John Dodge, carved a reputation for themselves in a then fledgling horseless carriage industry.
Prior to becoming car builders, the Dodge brothers were highly respected machinists who built engines, transmissions and other important components for the auto industry. So big was their business that early day accounts point to the fact that a Ford Model T incorporated more Dodge brother parts than Ford.
By 1914, the brothers decided it was time to build their own car, which they did. As for innovation, the brothers were the first to incorporate a steel body as other manufacturers utilized lots of wood in the process. Promoting a vehicle that offered more structural integrity, the initial Dodge cars were an instant success and by 1920 were second only to Ford in overall sales with 140,000 units sold.
However, tragedy hit the Dodge family that same year. Horace contracted viral pneumonia while on a business trip with his brother, and nearly died. John, who was at his brother’s bedside throughout the ordeal and helped nurse Horace back to health, then contracted the same pneumonia and did die. Eleven months after John’s death, Horace, succumbed to a liver disorder, ending a great era of Dodge ingenuity.
Thanks to solid business planning in the event of something like this happening and a family approved ownership realignment to Dillon Read & Co., the car and truck company continued to thrive after the brothers died and was eventually purchased by Chrysler in 1928.
Chrysler took the Dodge nameplate, promoted it along side its successful Plymouth, Chrysler/Imperial and all-new Desoto lines and embarked on many years of success. Later Desoto, Imperial and Plymouth were eliminated from the lineup, while Dodge and Chrysler remain as the American brand nucleus franchise in the now re-named Fiat Chrysler Automobiles company.
As for performance, experts agree Dodge was and still is a forerunner. In the 60s, Dodge and Plymouth flexed its muscles by winning numerous NASCAR races thanks to a stable of competent drivers and great engines. At the drags, none could compare to the “Ramchargers,” a group of Chrysler engineers who took to the quarter-mile in a fashion that some say will never be duplicated. Their “Candymatic,” red and white striped 413-426 wedge and later 426 Hemi Super Stock, A/FX Dodge Darts and funny cars were the terrors of the quarter-mile, while drive-ins were crowded with “Six Pack” Challengers, Coronet R/T 440s, 383 and Hemi Super Bees, and Mr. Norm’s Grand Spaulding special order 440 Darts.
On the airwaves, Dodge’s “official” hot-rod song came in 1963 thanks to the Beach Boys hit single “Shut Down. Then, in 1964, an even more famous song from Jan and Dean, dubbed “The Little Old Lady From Pasadena” arrived, solidifying the Super Stock Dodge as a legitimate, high performance contender. In reality, I doubt the Corvette would have won the race against the 413 Super Stock Dodge in “Shutdown,” and, much to my dismay, there was no real “Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” with a shiny red Super Stock Dodge in her garage. But those Super Stock Dodge Darts were the “sleeper” models of the boulevard back then, hands down.
Back at Chrysler headquarters, management realized how important high-performance was to sales, got behind all of these efforts and sent their factory race drivers on national tours presenting high-performance clinics at Dodge dealers everywhere. It was a great era, and I was fortunate in 1968 to attend a Dodge High Performance Seminar hosted by the late great drag racer Dick Landy at Glauser Dodge, in Vineland New Jersey.
Today, Dodge leads Chrysler with more new models compared to Chrysler’s 2017 offerings of just the 300 series or the spectacular new Pacifica minivan. Emphasis seems directed at the growth of the Dodge brand as its “a vehicle for everyone” lineup while Chrysler seems to be consolidating its brand which is now aimed at the luxury specific consumer … and similar to what Chrysler once called the Imperial.
Thanks for your letter Michael, and by the way if you want a Dodge Viper, 2017 will be its final year.
— Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and other GateHouse Media publications. He welcomes reader questions at email@example.com.