How Dodge Works

The 1931 Dodge Six, shown here as the 1931 DH Six station wagon, was the company's first six-cylinder car.

The Dodge Brothers Company was 14 years old when it was bought by Walter Chrysler in 1928. As a new division of his corporation, Dodge built 125,000 cars in 1929. Then the Depression turned the nation's economy from sunny to gloomy. Though most makes bottomed out in 1933-34, Dodge averaged a healthy 100,000 cars a year, good for fourth behind Chevrolet, Ford, and sister-make Plymouth.

Brothers John and Horace Dodge were traditionalists who believed in practicality and honest dollar value, so their cars never made any gesture toward sport. This continued under Chrysler, with nothing to suggest the high-performance Dodges to come.

Through 1954, Dodges were just solid, reliable, low-to-middle-priced cars. Famed World War I U.S. Army General John J. Pershing did as much as anyone to make "Dodge" synonymous with "dependable" by commanding a fleet of 250 Dodge touring cars during his Mexican border campaign against Pancho Villa in 1916.

Dodge changed rungs on the Chrysler price ladder in the early 1930s, sometimes standing above DeSoto, sometimes below. By 1933 it was decided that Dodge should occupy the attractive spot just above Plymouth and below DeSoto. Though the Great Depression delayed Chrysler's efforts to rebuild Dodge by several years, the division surged in 1935, reaching 159,000 cars for the model year. Dodge then soared to near 264,000 for '36 and reached its prewar peak with over 295,000 for 1937. A deep recession the next year temporarily ­halted the climb, and Dodge slipped out of the top five, but by 1941 it was back up to 237,000.

The Dodge Brothers (who both died in 1920) and their successors sold only four-cylinder cars through 1928, then announced their first six: 241.5-cubic inch L-head unit making 58-68 horsepower. Chrysler presided over the first Dodge Eight in 1930, which would continue through three different displace­ments for the next three years. Dodge then offered nothing but inline-sixes through 1952. That engine, a flathead cast-iron design introduced in 1933, ultimately evolved through displacements of 201-230 cid and rated horsepower of 75-138. And it wasn't finished even in 1952; it continued for seven years more.