From 1949 through 1951, softtop Wayfarers were usually placed where people could see them, up front along with the deluxe Coronet convertible and Diplomat hardtop. Dealers called them "traffic builders": eye-catching models that got people into the showroom, most ultimately to depart with sales slips for workaday sedans.
The Dodge Wayfarer was designed as a stylish car for the
masses. Shown here is a 1950 model.
See more pictures of Dodges.
Then as now, glamour sold. At one point Dodge even contrived to have a Wayfarer star in an episode of I Love Lucy. Topless cars grabbed people. This was the Wayfarer's lure -- coupled to its status as the lowest priced open car on the market. In 1949 and 1950, just before the postwar buyer's market evaporated, you could buy a Wayfarer ragtop for $1,727, more than $100 less than the nearest Big Three competitor, the Chevrolet Styleline convertible. If you bargained hard at the end of the model year you could nail one for $1,600 flat.
The difference seems piddling in today's depreciated dollars, but to put it in perspective, $1,727 in 1950 was like $13,000 today. (Can you buy a '96 convertible for that little?) And saving $100 then would be like saving nearly a grand now. This is important when you consider that per capita personal income in 1950 was $1,500 in 1996 dollars and federal taxes took five percent of it. Glory, that was a long time ago.
The 1951 Dodge Wayfarer was considered one
of the best-looking Dodges of its time.
Even when new car prices started to rise in 1951, the Wayfarer "Sportabout," as it was then called, undercut its nearest competitors by about the same margin. For people inclined to buy Chrysler products, this meant that you could own an open Dodge for more than $600 less than the Coronet convertible and $300 less than the softtop Plymouth: Dodge prestige at a bargain price. This was far more important 35 years ago than it is today. Since the 1920s, when Alfred P. Sloan had pioneered the concept or marque-hierarchy at General Motors, Americans had generally followed a strict brand-name pecking order. GM people would start with a Chevy and move up to Pontiac, Olds, and so on; Chrysler folk would start with a Plymouth, go on to a Dodge, and then a DeSoto.
In planning his first all-new models after World War II, Chrysler Corporation President K. T. Keller experienced the recurring impossible dream: a new car for everyman. Former GIs, young folks just starting out after settling down from the war, could not afford to buy the traditional Dodge or Plymouth brand new -- so why not build one they could afford? The same quest impelled Henry J and George Mason to unveil the Nash Rambler in 1950.
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