1949-1952 Dodge Wayfarer

1949 Dodge Wayfarer Performance

Dodge Division proclaimed its 1949 Dodge Wayfarer model a "daring new car," explaining that it was "lower outside, higher inside, shorter outside, longer inside, narrower outside and wider inside." In retrospect that probably was pretty daring, since the public manifestly preferred cars longer outside, wider outside, and never mind the interior dimensions. In the Fifties, management realized this was the wrong approach and began building longer, wider Dodges. But in 1949, it didn't much matter because the postwar seller's market was still roaring.

The 1949 Dodge Wayfarer became a sales success as buyers responded to its solid performance.
The 1949 Dodge Wayfarer became a sales success as
buyers responded to its solid performance.

Freshly redesigned, all Chrysler products sold briskly that year, including the Wayfarer roadster, which found more than 5,400 buyers -- twice as many as bought Coronet convertibles. It was part of a splendid across-the-board sales performance that constituted Dodge's second best year in history to that time. The entire Wayfarer line enjoyed a stunning success, scoring nearly 64,000 sales, better even than the lower-priced, shorter-wheelbase Plymouths (which included an all-steel two-door station wagon in place of the convertible), many bought by people who had never been able to afford a new car. To this extent K. T. Keller's hunch had, for the time being, proven correct.

You're probably wondering what this winsome little turnip was like to drive. We might as well admit that the sensation was something short of orgasmic. In the midst of the strongest buyer trend ever for speed and acceleration, Dodge had elected to offer solid transportation with a little style, and your choice of a 103-bhp six or a six with 103 bhp.

Peak horsepower came at 3600 rpm; torque topped out at 190 pound/feet just 1200 rpm into the effort. The Wayfarer's top speed was 75 mph, although it could cruise happily at 70. Accelerating from 0 to 60 with the column-shifted three-speed Fluid Drive transmission took 25 seconds, if you were good. A passing sprint from 30 to 60 in high gear took a quarter-minute; downshifting to second was problematic because second gear was pretty much all through around 50. Look, there's only so much available from 230 cid. Yet, because the roadster weighed 3,145 pounds unladen (compared to 3,065 for the runt of the litter, the business coupe), gas mileage didn't provide much of a payback. Most road tests barely squeezed out 20 miles per gallon at a steady 30 or 40 mph.

This doesn't sound very exciting, but there are some positive points worth making. For its time and class, the Wayfarer had excellent readability. The body, beefed up for the open model, was mounted on a large cross-section, thin-wall box frame; the chassis featured coil spring independent front suspension combined with Hotchkiss drive, in which driving and braking torque are absorbed by semi-elliptic rear springs.

Steering was relatively quick, just four turns lock-to-lock. Ride quality was good, although body roll was pronounced. Chrysler's well-trumpeted Oriflow shock absorbers capably hauled the car down on its chassis and Dodge's brakes -- possibly because the Wayfarer was so light -- were the best of the drum-brake genre. Motor Trend failed to produce fade after an hour of repeated hard applications, pronouncing Dodge's rivetless Cyclebonded brakes "among the very best" they had tested.

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