1945 Dodge

Wartime studies had produced many interesting proposals for the postwar 1945 Dodges featuring smooth, wraparound grille work and bumpers, thin door pillars, integral fenders, and wide expanses of curved glass. But 1942 body tooling wasn't amortized in 1945, and the public was willing to buy most any car as long as it was freshly built. Chrysler, therefore, did what most Detroit manufacturers did right after the war: It simply reissued its 1942s with mild face-lifts.

Fewer than 4,700 Dodge Custom club coupes were made in 1942.
Fewer than 4,700 Dodge Custom club coupes
were made in 1942.

Dodge's postwar freshening was created by stylists Arnott "Buzz" Grisinger, John Chika, and Herb Weissinger, all of whom would later migrate to -- and do splendid things for -- Kaiser-Frazer.

Allowed only bolt-on alterations, they conjured a shiny checkerboard grille composed of wide horizontal and vertical bars, flanked at the lower ends by larger, newly square parking lights. A block-letter Dodge nameplate rode above the grille and below a large coat-of-arms crest.

Capping this ensemble was the latest iteration of Dodge's familiar ram hood ornament, designed by Professor Avard Fairbanks of the University of Michigan back in 1930. Also retained from previous years was the single large stoplight above the license plate, a period Chrysler feature not unlike the center high-mount stoplamp decreed by Washington in the late 1980s.

Mechanical updates included changing the starter from a floor pedal to a dash button, double wheel cylinders for the front brakes, and standard inline fuel and oil filters. The same two series returned from 1942 minus the DeLuxe club coupe and the Custom limousine and two-door brougham.

Fluid Drive, Dodge's best-known postwar innovation, actually dated from 1938, though relatively few prewar cars had it. Chrysler and DeSoto also offered this semiautomatic transmission, but Dodge was the lowest-priced American car with anything like it.

Fluid Drive eliminated 95 percent of shifting by combining a conventional clutch with a torque converter and electrical shifting circuits -- or, as one critic put it, "a full range of potential transmission trouble."

The 1942 Dodge Brougham was essentially carried over for 1945.
The 1942 Dodge Brougham was essentially
carried over for 1945.

Actually, Fluid Drive was fairly reliable. Instead of a normal flywheel, a fluid-coupling torque converter performed the usual flywheel functions of storing energy, smoothing power impulses, and carrying the ring gear that meshed with the starter pinion. There was no clutch plate contact, so a clutch was mounted in tandem.

The coupling itself was a drum filled with low-viscosity mineral oil. As the engine ran, a set of vanes on the inner drum casing rotated, throwing oil outward onto a facing runner with its own set of vanes. The oil turned the runner, allowing a smooth "fluid" flow of power and avoiding metal-to-metal contact.

Fluid Drive had two forward ranges: Low, covering first and second gears, and High, for third and fourth. In practice, Low was used mainly for fast starts or towing. Drivers typically moved off by engaging High and pressing the accelerator, which prompted a shift from third to fourth at 14 mph, accompanied by an audible "clunk."

The clutch pedal was still there, but was used only for changing ranges or selecting Reverse. Not every driver knew what to do, however; some never felt comfortable letting unknowing whirring devices handle the shifting, so they did it themselves every time.

To follow the Dodge story into the postwar era, continue on to the next page.

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