How Dodge Works

1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1950 Dodge Cars

Dodge's 1949-model Wayfarer had a very square appearance.
Dodge's 1949-model Wayfarer had a very square appearance.

The facelift for the 1946-48 Dodges -- all but identical save serial numbers, like divisional siblings -- was created by A.B. "Buzz" Grisinger, John Chika, and Herb Weissinger, a trio soon to win fame at Kaiser-Frazer. Allowed bolt-on alterations only, they opted for a new grille with thick horizontal bars overlaid by thinner vertical ones. Square parking lights sat outboard of the bottom grille corners, and a prominent nameplate graced the hood. Technical improvements included dash-mounted pushbutton starter (replacing a foot pedal), front brakes with double wheel cylinders, revised transmission, inline fuel filter, and "Full-Flo" oil filter.

Like its corporate sisters, Dodge wasn't ready with its first all-new postwar cars in time for a 1949 announcement, so 1948s were sold through April as "first-series" '49s. The "second series" '49s were all-new save a rerated 103-horsepower six, and sold in record numbers: nearly 257,000 for the model year, though that was good for only eighth in industry volume.

Model offerings were considerably revised within two series. The inexpensive group was the 115-inch-wheelbase Wayfarer, comprising a notchback business coupe, a fastback two-door sedan, and a novel three-passenger roadster with side curtains. Prices spanned $1,611 to $1,738. The "volume" models were a new Meadowbrook sedan and top-line Coronet sedan, coupe, convertible, and -- new for Dodge -- a four-door structural-wood wagon.

All rode a 123.5-inch wheelbase and sported better trim and equipment than the Spartan Wayfarers. Exclusive to the four-door Coronet was an $85 "Town Sedan" option with luxurious Bedford cord upholstery. The $1,848 Meadowbrook sold for about $75 less than the standard Coronet sedan.

As with other Chrysler divisions, Dodge's new '49 styling was very square and slab-sided. A shiny latticework grille bore some resemblance to the 1946-48-affair, but looked more massive. Bolt-on rear fenders were capped by three-sided taillights, but front fenders were fully flush for the first time. Collectors judge the Wayfarer roadster the most desirable '49 Dodge, and many of the original 5,420 have been restored. The Coronet wagon was far less successful: only 800 were produced. After 600 more were built for early 1950, it departed for an all-steel Sierra wagon.

Gyro-Matic semiautomatic transmission became optional. This was an important sales point at a time when people were tiring of manual shifting. Fluid Drive with Gyro-Matic was a complex solution to a simple problem, combining a conventional clutch with a fluid coupling that multiplied torque like a torque converter; electrical shift circuits added to what one writer called a "full range of potential transmission trouble." The coupling performed the usual flywheel functions of storing energy, smoothing power impulses, and meshing the ring gear with the starter pinion.

Lacking a clutch-plate contact, a clutch was mounted in tandem. The fluid coupling was a drum filled with low-viscosity mineral oil. Running the engine rotated a set of vanes attached to the inner face that threw oil outward onto a facing runner with another set of vanes. The oil turned the runner to provide a smooth flow of power while avoiding any metal-to-metal contact.

Fluid Drive had two gear positions: Low, governing first and second gears, High for third and fourth. Low was mainly for fast starts or towing. In most other driving you simply shifted into High and pressed the accelerator, then let up at 14 mph, when a "thump" announced the shift from third to fourth. Stops and starts required no clutching or shifting, hence Chrysler's claim that Fluid Drive Gyro-Matic eliminated 95 percent of all shift motions. The clutch was there, but was used only to change between Low and High or to back up.

Unusually for an all-new Detroiter, the 1949 Dodge got a heavy facelift for its second season. Coronet now featured Dodge's first hardtop coupe, dubbed Diplomat, and the Wayfarer roadster gained roll-down door glass to become the Sportabout convertible (still with a single bench seat for three). Other offerings returned from '49, including a seven-passenger sedan on a 137.5-inch wheelbase in the Coronet line. This would continue in very small numbers through 1952, mainly for taxi and limousine use.

Dodge fared well in the early 1950s despite ho-hum cars and government-ordered caps on civilian production due to the Korean War. Division car output was just over 343,000 for 1950 and 290,000 for '51, good for seventh in the industry. The division maintained that rank with only 206,000 cars for '52 and a more-satisfying 320,000 for '53, then dropped to eighth on 1954 volume of only 154,000.

For more on the all-American Dodge, see:

  • Dodge New Car Reviews and Prices
  • Dodge Used Car Reviews and Prices