1940-1948 Dodge


The development of the 1940 Dodge had its roots in the company's history. From the time of its absorption into Chrysler, the Dodge lineup began to change and evolve.

Dodge Image Gallery

Period Dodges, like the 1941 Custom Town Sedan, were very down-to-earth automobiles.
Period Dodges, like the 1941 Custom Town Sedan, were very
 down-to-earth automobiles. See more pictures of Dodges.

The hard-drinking Dodge Brothers, John and Horace, who had set out to build a Ford-beater in 1914, found their logical successors in the hard-driving Chrysler team: Walter Percy Chrysler, K. T. Keller, and the engineering triumvirate of Fred Zeder, Owen Skelton, and Carl Breer.

Stories abound of Chrysler's taking over Dodge in July 1928 from the New York banking firm of Dillon, Read & Company, which had bought the Hamtramck, Michigan, carmaker three years earlier. The best one is how Keller had the factory signs changed overnight to read "Chrysler Corporation-Dodge Division."

The next morning, Clarence Dillon, representing the sellers, phoned Walter Chrysler to assure him that Dodge was in good shape, and would "run itself for three months." Chrysler replied, "Hell, Clarence, our boys moved in yesterday." Still, Dillon must have been delighted, since W.P. Chrysler had paid him $170 million.

Though the Dodge Brothers badge didn't disappear until 1939, there was little doubt the business belonged to Chrysler from 1928 forward -- and that it had been a good buy. Under John and Horace, Dodge would have considered a 100,000-car year phenomenal.

After a year without a convertible, the 1940 Dodge lineup resumed the style.
After a year without a convertible, the 1940
Dodge lineup resumed the style.

After weathering the Depression, Chrysler was able to start producing more than 200,000 Dodges a year starting in the late 1930s. But while Chrysler and DeSoto were occasionally innovative with products like the Airflow, Dodge remained resolutely conservative.

This was no less true of the 1940-1948 models, which maintained the traditional Dodge virtues of practical durability and honest dollar value. There was no question of daring designers risking all on a radical styling departure, or madcap racing drivers trouncing the opposition, or a fervent "engineers' car company" blowing everybody else away with some technical breakthrough.

What we have here are good, solid cars, probably the best Dodges built to that time, cars that made Dodge-Plymouth dealers rich beyond their imaginings.

In those days, every Chrysler, DeSoto, and Dodge dealer sold Plymouths too, but the Dodge-Plymouth stores easily did best because Dodge always outsold Chrysler and DeSoto. Even now, Dodge is a Chrysler -- well, Daimler-Chrysler -- powerhouse, with annual sales volume that would have been unbelievable in the 1940s. Plymouth, meanwhile, is vanishing after some seven decades, apparently in the name of progress.

1940 Dodge DeLuxes featured bright trim on the beltline and running boards.
In 1940, Dodge DeLuxes featured bright trim on the
beltline and running boards.

Dodge changed more in the early 1930s than it did in the 1940s, beginning with market strategy. Four-cylinder cars were swept aside under Chrysler, which presided over introduction of the first Dodge Six, in 1929, followed by an Eight a year later.

Then W.P. Chrysler decided to imitate the successful General Motors formula of strict price territories for each make in the fold. Thus, from a market position both above and below DeSoto's, Dodge in 1934 became a less-expensive product one rung above Plymouth. The only engine was a 218-cid six that churned out 87 bhp until 1941, when it was bumped to 91. A longer stroke for 1942 produced 230 cid and 105 bhp.

Division marketers dreamed up imaginative names for most of the yearly lineups with hopes of making the ordinary seem special: "New Standard" for 1934, "New Value" for 1935, "Air-Styled" for 1936, "Luxury Liner" for 1939.

Wheelbases ran 115-117 inches, but Dodge also built handfuls of limousines and long sedans. Among them was the first Dodge Caravan; a 1935-only, five-passenger, trunk-back sedan on a 128-inch chassis.

Briefly, Dodge was poised to take a more interesting course. Like their Ford and General Motors colleagues, Chrysler engineers pursued a number of radical concepts in the early 1930s, including streamlined compacts, front-wheel drive, and five-cylinder radial engines.

But they also developed Airflow-styled Dodges and Plymouths to follow the Chrysler and DeSoto versions and complete a planned all-Airflow corporate line. The smaller Airflows got as far as full-scale mockups ready for tooling, only to be killed at the last minute by the senior models' poor public reception in 1934. With that, Chrysler Corporation beat a hasty retreat to safe, middle-of-the-road design, and wouldn't stray from it for 20 years.

Yet Dodge was not without innovations in the 1930s. Overdrive, steel artillery wheels, independent front suspension ("Floating Cushion Wheels") and "Draft-Free" ventilation all arrived for 1934.

The following year saw a kind of precursor to today's "Cab Forward Design," as the engine was shifted eight inches ahead and the front seat almost as far to create a capacious rear compartment that put occupants well ahead of the rear axle (all rather like the Airflow).

For 1937 came no-snag outside door handles, lower drive-shaft tunnels, built-in defroster vents, "safety" recessed dash knobs and flush-mounted instruments, and-famously-rubber body mounts. The 1938s introduced an important new transmission, Fluid Drive.

Continue on to the next page to read about the developments in the 1940-1942 Dodge.

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1940-1942 Dodge

The 1940-1942 Dodges had their styling roots in the silver-anniversary 1939 Dodges, designed by Raymond H. Dietrich of coachbuilding fame. Dietrich later commented that the engineers who then ran Chrysler prevented him from doing everything he would have liked to do.

The most popular model of the low-line 1940 Dodge Special series was the $815 two-door sedan.
The most popular model of the low-line 1940
Dodge Special series was the $815 two-door sedan.

Still, there were new bodyshells that year with sleeker profiles, integrated trunks, and two-piece vee'd windshields. Dietrich gave Dodges a fresh, Art Deco look via flush headlamps astride a rounded prow dividing a lower-profile horizontal-bar grille.

The 1940 models continued this basic theme on a new 119.5-inch wheelbase (up 2.5 inches), and looked cleaner despite having more chrome, including a larger grille stretched across the prow.

For 1941 came fuller, squarer fenders, a broader divided grille swept outboard to surround the headlamps, and the first use of the Dodge family crest (within a winged nose medallion).

The new grill design on the 1941 Dodge incorporated the full-width look that was coming into vogue at the time.
The new grill design on the 1941 Dodge boasted
the full-width look that was in vogue at the time.

A major face-lift gave the 1942s elongated fenders and a more elaborate full-width grille with an eggcrate center, plus a handsome new symmetrically arranged dashboard with metal wood graining.

Dodge had revived a multi-series lineup for 1939, its first in five years, with price-leading Specials and upmarket DeLuxes. Long-wheelbase cars were absent that year, but a seven-passenger sedan and division-window limousine returned for 1940 on a new 139.5-inch chassis, the longest in Dodge history.

These were part of the DeLuxe group along with Dodge's only convertible, a business coupe, four-passenger coupe, and two- and four-door sedans. Prices were $803-$1,170. Specials comprised just the sedans and business coupe starting at $755.

This essential lineup repeated for 1941, but DeLuxe moved down to replace Special and the pricier models were renamed Custom. The business coupe became a three-window, long-deck style available only as a DeLuxe; the four-seat version remained a five-window type (called club coupe after 1941) open only to the Custom range.

A four-door Town Sedan, with a blanked-out rear roof panel, was new for the 1941 Dodge.
A four-door Town Sedan, with a blanked-out rear
roof panel, was new for the 1941 Dodge.

DeLuxes got standard electric windshield wipers and "Airfoam" seat cushions like Customs, while the upper series added a fancier Brougham two-door sedan. Also new was a four-door Town Sedan with closed rear quarters and rear-door ventwings instead of the regular sedan's single large door window and separate glass in the C-pillar.

Turn signals remained optional for any model, as did running boards. The limousine and long sedan were still around, but on a two-inch-shorter wheelbase. The 1942 roster was identical, save for the addition of a club coupe to the DeLuxe series.

Apart from the long-wheelbase seven-passenger models, the rarest and most expensive 1942 Dodge was the Custom convertible.
Apart from seven-passenger models, the rarest and
priciest 1942 Dodge was the Custom convertible.

Though not cheap for the day at $1,000-$1,200, early-1940s Dodge ragtops were fairly popular. Respective 1940-1941 production was 2,100 and 3,554; the 1942s numbered 1,185 despite the early shutdown of civilian car production following Pearl Harbor.

Convention still ruled when peace returned, with volume, not innovation, the order of the day in car-starved America. Dodge made a slow start, building barely 400 cars in 1945, but quickly hit its stride, usually finishing fourth behind Chevrolet, Ford, and Plymouth in the early postwar production races.

For more on the 1945 Dodge, continue on to the next page.

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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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1946-1948 Dodge

The 1946-1948 Dodge was virtually unchanged, though Professor Fairbanks' hood ornament got a little more detail starting in early 1947. This means there is no way to distinguish model years except by serial numbers, which are therefore worth setting down:

  • 1946: 30645001-30799737 (Los Angeles 45000001-45002145)
  • 1947: 30799738-31011765 (Los Angeles 45002146-45022452)
  • 1948: 31011766-31201086 (Los Angeles 45022453-45041545)
  • 1949: 31201087-31141628 (Los Angeles 45051546-45045426)
The last are for the so-called "first series" 1949s, produced from December 1948 through the following March. In April, Dodge introduced completely restyled "second series" 1949s, its first entirely new postwar products.

The 1946 Dodge was essentially a 1942 with a new grille and fenders.
The 1946 Dodge was essentially a 1942 with a
new grille and fenders.

Other Chrysler divisions followed the same schedule. Dodge built about 42,000 first-series cars. Although rare today, they proved bad investments for those who bought them new, as they were considered 1948 models when it came time to trade, and depreciated accordingly.

Speaking of prices, Dodge was no less immune to postwar inflation than anyone else. The Custom four-door sedan, for example, listed at $1,389 as a 1946, $1,507 as a 1947, and $1,788 as a 1948. That was the single most popular model, with nearly 334,000 sales through early 1949. The Custom club coupe came a distant second and at 103,800 combined, followed by the DeLuxe two-door sedan with 81,399.

With so few changes from 1942, the 1946-1948 Dodges were not very different to drive. They all weighed about the same, had the same barely adequate 102 bhp, and boasted no suspension or transmission improvements, though Fluid Drive was more common postwar, at least on Customs.

This 1948 Dodge Custom convertible had a base price of $2,289, $540 higher than the same model two years before.
The 1948 Dodge Custom convertible had a base price
of $2,289, $540 higher than the same model in 1946.

Unlike Chrysler and a few other makes, Dodge didn't go in for woody sedans and convertibles to liven up showrooms after the war. There was simply no need in the hot seller's market of the time.

New ideas like the Wayfarer roadster were being planned, but they would only materialize with the second-series 1949s. V-8s weren't even on the horizon, though when they did arrive in 1953, Dodge almost instantly achieved its still-standing reputation as a performance Detroiter.

Dodge did build two division-window limousines in the early postwar period, apparently just experiments, plus a handful of chassis for the "professional car" trade. Among those building on Dodge chassis was Superior Coach of Lima, Ohio, which offered many handsome funeral vehicles that are now sought by collectors.

This restored 1948 Dodge is one of 333,911 Series D-24 Custom sedans built in the early postwar years.
This restored 1948 Dodge is one of 333,911 Series
D-24 Custom sedans built in the early postwar years.

Like other Chrysler Corporation cars bracketing World War II, these Dodges were short on excitement but long on room, comfort, and mechanical toughness. Interiors are positively cavernous by today's standards, and trimmed with quality, understated materials that belied original prices.

Performance is naturally sedate, but Dodge's L-head six is smooth and quiet, anvil simple and reliable, and runs seemingly forever with only moderate attention. No wonder so many of these cars saw long service as taxicabs.

In fact, there's a granitic heft to these Dodges, the kind of high-class, all-of-a-piece feel one now associates with the likes of Mercedes-Benz, aptly enough. Three cheers for the benefits of conventionality.

For models, prices, and production numbers of the 1940-1948 Dodge, continue on to the next page.

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1940-1948 Dodge Models, Prices, Production

Possessing proven engineering features and wrapped in straightforward styling, what Dodges of the 1940s lacked in excitement they made up for in comfort and durability. Here are the specifications for the 1940-1948 Dodge:

The Dodge limousine wasn't cataloged after World War II, but this is one of two specially built 1948 limos.
Dodge limousines weren't cataloged after World
War II, but this is one of two specially built 1948 limos.

1940 Dodge Special Models, Prices, Production

Special (wheelbase 119.5)
Weight
Price
Production
business coupe
2,867$75512,001
2-door sedan
2,94281527,700
4-door sedan
2,997855 26,803
Total 1940 Dodge Special


66,504

1940 Dodge DeLuxe Models, Prices, Production

DeLuxe (wheelbase 119.5; 7-passenger, 139.5)
Weight
Price
Production
business coupe
2,905$80312,750
4-passenger coupe
2,973855 8,028
convertible coupe
3,1901,030 2,100
2-door sedan
2,990860 19,838
4-door sedan
3,028905 84,976
4-door sedan, 7-passenger
3,4601,095 932
limousine, 7-passenger
3,5001,170 79
chassis
---- 298
Total 1940 Dodge DeLuxe


129,001
Total 1940 Dodge


195,505

1941 Dodge DeLuxe Models, Prices, Production

DeLuxe (wheelbase 119.5)
Weight
Price
Production
business coupe
3,034$86222,318
2-door sedan
3,10991534,566
4-door sedan
3,149954 49,579
Total 1941 Dodge DeLuxe


106,463

1941 Dodge Custom Models, Prices, Production

Custom (wheelbase 119.5; 7-passenger, 139.5)
Weight
Price
Production
club coupe
3,154$99518,024
convertible coupe
3,3841,1623,554
2-door Brougham sedan
3,16996220,146
4-door sedan
3,19499972,067
4-door Town sedan
3,2341,06216,074
4-door sedan, 7-passenger
3,5791,195604
limousine, 7-passenger
3,6691,26250
chassis
---- 20
Total 1941 Dodge Custom


130,539
Total 1941 Dodge


237,002

1942 Dodge DeLuxe Models, Prices, Production

DeLuxe (wheelbase 119.5)
Weight
Price
Production
business coupe
3,056$8955,257
club coupe
3,1319953,314
2-door sedan
3,1319589,767
4-door sedan
3,171998 13,343
Total 1942 Dodge DeLuxe


31,681

1942 Dodge Custom Models, Prices, Production

Custom (wheelbase 119.5; 7-passenger, 139.5)
Weight
Price
Production
club coupe
3,171
$1,045
4,659
convertible coupe
3,476
1,245
1,185
2-door Brougham sedan
3,171
1,008
4,685
4-door sedan 3,206 1,04822,055
4-door Town sedan
3,2561,1054,047
4-door sedan, 7-passenger
3,6931,395201
limousine, 7-passenger
3,798
1,475
9
Total 1942 Dodge Custom


36,841
Total 1942 Dodge


68,522

1946 Dodge DeLuxe Models, Prices, Production

DeLuxe (wheelbase 119.5)
Weight
Price
Production
business coupe
3,146$1,229--
2-door sedan
3,2361,299--
4-door sedan
3,2561,339 --
Total 1946 Dodge DeLuxe


--

1946 Dodge Custom Models, Prices, Production

Custom (wheelbase 119.5; 7-passenger, 139.5)
Weight
Price
Production
club coupe
3,241$1,384--
convertible coupe
3,4611,649--
4-door sedan
3,2811,389--
4-door Town sedan
3,3311,444--
4-door sedan, 7-passenger
3,7571,743 --
Total 1946 Dodge Custom


--
Total 1946 Dodge


156,080*

1947 Dodge DeLuxe Models, Prices, Production

DeLuxe (wheelbase 119.5)
Weight
Price
Production
business coupe
3,146$1,347--
2-door sedan
3,2361,417--
4-door sedan
3,2561,457 --
Total 1947 Dodge DeLuxe


--

1947 Dodge Custom Models, Prices, Production

Custom (wheelbase 119.5; 7-passenger, 139.5)
Weight
Price
Production
club coupe
3,241$1,502--
convertible coupe
3,4611,871--
4-door sedan
3,2811,507--
4-door Town sedan
3,3311,577--
4-door sedan, 7-passenger
3,7571,861--
Total 1947 Dodge Custom


--
Total 1947 Dodge


232,216*

1948 Dodge DeLuxe Models, Prices, Production

DeLuxe (wheelbase 119.5)
Weight
Price
Production
business coupe
3,146$1,587--
2-door sedan
3,2361,676--
4-door sedan
3,2561,718--
Total 1948 Dodge DeLuxe


--

1948 Dodge Custom Models, Prices, Production

Custom (wheelbase 119.5; 7-passenger, 139.5)
Weight
Price
Production
club coupe
3,241$1,774--
convertible coupe
3,4612,189--
4-door sedan
3,2811,788--
4-door Town sedan
3,3311,872--
4-door sedan, 7-passenger
3,7572,179--
Total 1948 Dodge Custom


--
Total 1948 Dodge


232,390*

* Calendar-year total. The factory combined production numbers for Series D-24 cars from 1946 through 1949 "first series." Model-year production estimates are: 163,490 (1946), 243,160 (1947), and 243,340 (1948 and 1949 "first series"). Total D-24 DeLuxe production by body style included 27,600 business coupes, 9,500 convertibles, 333,911 four-door sedans, 27,800 Town sedans, 3,698 seven-passenger sedans, two prototype limousines, and 302 chassis for a total of 479,013 Customs.

Sources: Encyclopedia of American Cars, by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Publications International, Ltd., 1996; Production Figure Book for U.S. Cars, by Jerry Heasley, Motorbooks International, 1977.

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