The Dodge brothers, Horace Elgin and John Francis, grew up in Niles, Michigan, about 11 miles north of South Bend, Indiana. The two worked as machinists throughout Michigan and in Windsor, Ontario. They put their mechanical knowledge to use when they designed and built their first bicycle, which featured Horace’s patented dirt-resistant bearing. In 1897, they mass produced bicycles alongside Fred S. Evans for the Evans & Dodge Bicycle Company in Windsor. Four years later, the brothers left the bicycle business and started their own machine shop in Detroit.
While building their business, they became a major supplier of transmissions, engines, and axles. After a while, the Dodge brothers received their first automotive customer, Ransom Eli Olds, who was searching for machinists to work on his curved dash Oldsmobile. Soon, the brothers invested in another automotive business—one with Henry Ford. They stopped all other business, borrowed $75,000 for tooling, and made the production drawings and mechanical parts for the newly established Ford Motor Company. All 135 workers of the Dodge brothers’ machine shop were employed, and Ford employed 12 workers for the venture. The brothers later accepted a 10 percent share in the Ford Motor Company’s stock.
When 1914 hit, the Dodge brothers decided to stop working with Ford and manufacture a vehicle under their own nameplate. Dodge ranked as the third best selling automaker in the United States the following year. At the Dodge Brothers assembly plant was the first on-site automobile test track of any vehicle manufacturer, which the company used for quality testing.
In January 1920, both of the brothers contracted influenza and pneumonia while in New York for the auto show. John passed away that same month, and Horace died later that year, in December. Five years later, a group of New York bankers bought the company from the brothers’ widows for $146 million. On July 30, 1928, the Chrysler Corporation bought the brand for $170 million.
The 1914 Dodge Brothers Motor Car was the first car with an all-steel body. The first one left the line on November 14, 1914, and 249 were built by the end of the year. It was priced more than the Ford Model T, but it had an electric starter instead of a manual one like the Model T’s.
In June 1922, Dodge Brothers introduced the first all-steel closed car in the industry, the 1923 Business Coupe. The Business Coupe’s body had a baked black enamel finish. Its design was approved by the company’s board of directors on December 15, 1921, and they described it as “a type of enclosed roadster designed to meet the needs of doctors, salesmen, collectors and all persons needing an inexpensive enclosed car carrying two passengers.”
Dodge Brothers introduced a newly redesigned model line in 1934, with heavier and longer platforms, new engines, and a new independent front suspension. The 1934 DR was attractive with its teardrop-shaped headlight housings, skirted fenders, and hood louvers. The L-head straight-six engine, with a cast-iron block and head, produced 82 horsepower.
The first all-new Dodge after World War II, the single bench 1949 Wayfarer Roadster had snap-in Plexiglas windows instead of roll-down ones. Under the hood was an L-head straight-six producing 103 horsepower and 190 pound-feet of torque. Only 5,420 of the Wayfarer Roadsters were built in 1949.
The Custom Royal was the brand’s flagship model for 1955 and featured the “Forward Look” design by the new chief designer, Virgil Exner. It was available as a four-door sedan, a two-door hardtop, and a two-door convertible. The interior featured chrome trim and painted rear window weatherstripping that matched the headliner.
The new, redesigned 1968 Charger debuted with its “Coke bottle” styling and B-body platform. It was aerodynamic and had a truncated rear end and a small rear spoiler that produced a Kamm effect. Inside, there were vinyl bucket seats and a padded dashboard. The base engine was a 318-cubic-inch V-8, while a 383, a 426 Hemi, and a 440 Magnum were optional.
“The family car of the future,” the compact 1976 Aspen replaced the Dart and had the same engines as its predecessor—a 225, a 318, and a 360. According to engineers, its drag coefficient was reduced by 10 percent compared to the Dart’s. Rust issues arose for the ’76 Aspen, and as a result, the automaker began using a new seven stage autophoretic coating system instead of the asphalt-based rustproofing previously used.
Efficiency started to become a priority in the 1980s, and Dodge produced the front-wheel-drive Aries. The compact 1981 Aries was one of the first of the K-cars and helped Chrysler Corporation’s sales for several years. Underneath the car were MacPherson struts up front and a beam axle and trailing arms in the back. The Aries also had Chrysler’s new overhead cam, 84-hp four-cylinder engine; a Mitsubishi 2.6 Hemi was optional.
In the 1990s, performance made a comeback. The Viper became available to the public for the 1992 model year. Its 8.0-liter V-10 engine put out 400 horsepower, and later a GTS Coupe version produced 450 horsepower. A pre-production version of the Viper was the pace car for the 1991 Indianapolis 500.
Dodge revived the Charger after nearly two decades. On Chrysler’s LX platform, the 2006 Charger had a stamped hood and side panels that were reminiscent the Charger’s heritage and four doors. All-wheel drive was also introduced on the ’06 Charger, and engine choices included a 340-hp 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 and a 425-hp 6.1-liter Hemi V-8.
With 707 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque coming out of its 6.2-liter Hemi V-8, the 2015 Challenger SRT Hellcat had a claimed 10.8-second quarter-mile time. It has a unique front fascia, front splitter, rear spoiler, and large Brembo brakes. In place of the driver’s-side inner headlamp lens is an “Air Catcher” cold air intake, which feeds directly into an eight-liter air box right behind the headlight.