1949 Dodge Wayfarer Design

For 1949, Plymouth brought out the P-17 DeLuxe on its little 111-inch wheelbase, and Dodge the 1949 Dodge Wayfarer on a 115-inch stretch -- substantially smaller than any Plymouth or Dodge in a generation. The close-coupled, three-passenger Wayfarer business coupe sold for only $1,600, the P-17 business coupe for not quite $1,400. A two-door sedan cost $1,738 as a Dodge and just under $1,500 as a Plymouth. Then Dodge General Manager Tex Colbert, who would soon replace the retiring Keller as corporate president, took this concept one step further: He created an open model at a price far below that of the typical convertible.

The 1949 Dodge Wayfarer roadster shared the same massive eggcrate grille and heavy bumpers as the Coronet.
The 1949 Dodge Wayfarer roadster shared the same
massive eggcrate grille and heavy bumpers as
the Coronet.

It must have seemed like a darn good idea at the time. No other Chrysler division, indeed no other rival manufacturer -- except perhaps Willys-Overland, whose Jeepster was not really a car in most people's eyes -- had anything like the Wayfarer. But in order to sell it at such a low price, Dodge engineers had to crop out a lot of things convertible buyers had come to expect.

The top, though permanently attached to roof stays, was strictly manual, albeit with aluminum stays to keep it light. And in its first incarnation, which probably put off some buyers, the 1949 Wayfarer ragtop wasn't even a convertible. It was a roadster, meaning that it lacked roll-up windows. Halfway through the model run its lift-out windows, which proved unpopular, were replaced by conventional roll-up glass.

In the meantime. Dodge's 1949 brochure made a virtue of the reality: "Dodge brings back the Roadster!," it crowed, calling it "a three-passenger 'honey' for young people of all ages. Its soft, one-man top [women weren't then expected to have anything to do with tops except keep them on] is quickly raised or lowered. Easily installed plastic side windows are stored back of seat. And best of all, you'll like its low price!"

You begin to glean how Dodge's product elves were able to build a ragtop for so little money. But there was more to this formula, and there had to be. For one thing, they left out the back seat. For another, Wayfarer interiors were as spartan as those of troop carriers, with rubber floor mats fore and aft and dashboards painted the body color to avoid the more expensive woodgraining of the Coronet/Meadowbrook lines. Like all convertibles, cloth upholstery was shunned, but Dodge chose a heavy leatherette to avoid the cost of conventional leather.

To keep the price low, options were purposely left out when Wayfarers were shipped. Dodge even maintained a cheap accessory heater primarily for Wayfarers, with 40 percent less output than the standard unit and a much lower price.

In the days when it really was cheaper to build small cars than big ones, the Wayfarer was considerably smaller than other Dodges, though marginally longer than a Ford or Chevy. But because it used the same flathead six as the Coronet, it was livelier than its stablemates. Although its taillights were cheap affairs unique unto the bottom-of-the-line, it carried the same massive eggcrate grille and heavy bumpers as the Coronet.

Above all, it bore the good, upmarket name of Dodge. To some buyers the best thing about it was that it wasn't a Plymouth.

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