Four Iconic Moments in Dodge’s 100-Year History

November 5th, 2015 by

2009 Dodge Ram Laramie

Dodge opened the doors to their factory more than 100 years ago. While the company had to initially hurdle some obstacles, the brand is now operating better than ever.

Of course, being around for a century, you’re bound to have several iconic moments. Luckily, we picked out those defining occasions and compiled them for your reading pleasure.

As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Dodge’s debut, let’s look back at some of the most iconic moments in the company’s history. From the Dodge Model 30 to the 2016 Dodge Journey, we’re sure you’ll get a better understanding of why Dodge is regarded as one of the greatest companies in the industry…

The Dodge Brothers Company

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Sure, this is a rather obvious choice, but the start of the Dodge Brothers Company wasn’t only significant for the brand, but the automotive industry in general.

Horace and John Dodge developed the company in Detroit, Michigan in 1900, and they originally made engine and chassis components for the multiple automobile firms in the area (including Olds Motor Vehicle Company and Ford Motor Company). Soon, after several years of playing around, Horace had finally created an original four-cylinder Dodge Model 30, which was regarded as a more upscale and luxurious version of the rival Ford Model T. Some of the “special” features included an all-steel body (which differed from the the standard wood-under-steel panel framings typically used in car production), a 12-volt electrical system (a significant step up from the previously-standard six-volt system), 35 horsepower (an upgrade over the Model T’s 20 horsepower), and sliding-gear transmission (an improvement on the less effective and less innovative transmissions featured in other vehicles).

The public soon started admiring these innovative vehicles, and Dodge quickly transformed into the second-best selling car brand in the United States. When Henry Ford refused to continue paying stock dividends on the construction of his River Rouge factory, the Dodge brothers filed a suit in an attempt to protect their yearly stock earnings. Ford was eventually forced to buy out the shares, which resulted in a $25 million payday for the duo.

The company also earned recognition during the Mexican revolution, when three Dodge Model 30s (along with 12 soldiers) raided a ranch house that supposedly held subordinate Julio Cárdenas. Three people died during the battle (including Cárdenas), with the bodies being tied to the hoods of the vehicles. The Dodge Model 30s were given credit for durability and dependability during the fight.

Pre-World War II

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After having dropped to seventh place in sales among car manufacturers, Dodge improved to fourth on the list with some interesting moves following World War II.

The company opted to reduce their selections, dropping their three-line, 19-model offerings to two lines and 13 models. With their prices placed somewhere in the middle of the market (Dodge was surely more pricey than DeSoto but a bit less than the “top-of-the-line” Chrysler brand), Dodge slowly started revising their designs. It started with the introduction of the eight-cylinder line (replacing the Senior six-cylinder), and the vehicles were “streamlined and lengthened” as Dodge looked to keep up with their rivals.

As the “Wind Stream” craze took control of the automotive industry during the 1930s, Dodge again switched up their design. While other companies’ attempts to build off of this popularity failed (Chrysler and DeSoto’s hopes for an Airflow styling system ultimately ended up being a dud), Dodge’s willingness to prioritize their audience’s desires resulted in booming sales. Improved safety standards also contributed to the company’s popularity.

The final pre-war change accompanied the 25th-anniversary 1939 models (otherwise known as the Luxury Liner series). Three new body-types were released between 1940 and 1942, and there likely would have been more if not for the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. At that point, the company was forced to shut down production on passenger cars and focus on producing vehicles for the war.

1973 Oil Crisis

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The oil embargo in 1973 resulted in the price of oil exploding in the United States, with oil barrels rising from $3 to $12. As car buyers continued to focus on fuel efficiency, many of Dodge’s vehicles experienced declining sales. The Colt and Slant Six, two of the brand’s more fuel conscious vehicles, were the two models that predictably saw no change (or even a slight increase) in sales. Otherwise, Dodge sales were dropping across the board.

The company managed to release the Omni subcompact relatively quickly, giving the customer’s another fuel efficient option. To compensate for the lack of additional production, they company also increased the number of models they imported from Mitsubishi (thus strengthening the relation between the two sides): the Colt (based on the Lancer) and a new Mitsubishi Challenger.

The brand’s bigger, gas-guzzling vehicles were soon replaced, and the Aspen and the Diplomat soon hit car lots. These cars received positive marks for their handling, luxury, and styling, further improving Dodge’s outlook. The company’s lone hulking vehicle, the Monaco, was eventually replaced by the St. Regis in 1979.

Despite this innovative strategy, Dodge was still struggling financially, and chairman Lee Iacocca requested and received federal loan guarantees from the United States Congress in 1979, all in an attempt to avoid the company from filing bankruptcy.

Dodge Caravan

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The Dodge Caravan not only transformed into one of the most successful vehicles in the brand’s history (there are stories that the Caravan reestablished Dodge as a “high-volume American automaker”), but it was also responsible for the creation and subsequent popularity of a vehicle that still exists today. Yes, that would be the minivan, and there’s no denying that the Dodge Caravan is a big reason why minivans are even around.

Introduced alongside the Plymouth Voyager in November of 1983, the vehicle had actually been in development since 1974, when the prototype was initially rejected by former Ford CEO Henry Ford II. Lee Iacocca and Hal Sperlich, the duo who had originated the idea, took their idea to Dodge, where they designed the T-115 minivan prototype. Beating out the release of the Renault Espace in 1974, the Caravan is regarded as the first vehicle of its kind.

Originally featuring the company’s S platform in a trio of trim levels (base, mainstream SE, and LE), the vans included three rows of seating and enough room for seven occupants. The adjustable seating could be configured into a number of different combinations, including a five-person seating area that could accommodate significantly more cargo room. Some of the notable safety features included a three-point seat belt and side-impact reinforcements, but airbags and antilock brakes were not available.

A pair of inline-4, 2-barrel carburetor engines were originally offered with the Caravan, including a base 2.2-liter engine that could produce 96 horsepower. The higher-performing Mitsubishi 2.6-liter engine could produce even more power, topping out at 104 horsepower. There was also two transmissions available, the three-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission and a five-speed manual transmission.

 

Dodge has certainly had to endure a lot throughout their 100-plus year history, and we barely touched the surface in our summary above. There were some ups (like Horace’s creation of the Dodge Model 30 and the creation of the Dodge Caravan) and downs (like struggling sales and the 1973 Oil Crisis), but Dodge consistently did what was best for the brand. If you’re questioning whether they made the correct decisions, just take a look at their success today.

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