The History of Dodge
Dodge is one of the older automakers in the world, with a history of innovation and market-leading performance. From the company’s meteoric rise in its early days, to the iconic muscle cars of the late 60s and early 70s, to today’s vehicles like the 710-horsepower Durango SRT® Hellcat, Dodge has an exciting history. We’re going to take a look at that history in order to give you a better idea of how Dodge came to be the company it is today.
The Early Days
Dodge started off as the Evans & Dodge Bicycle Company, which was founded in 1897 by John and Horace Dodge. Innovators from the beginning, E&D bicycles used a revolutionary wheel bearing design, patented by Horace, that was made to be dirt resistant. This design was so successful that the brothers soon opened a machine shop, the biggest in Detroit, to manufacture parts for the automotive industry. They started off making major components, like engines and transmissions, for Oldsmobile, then for Ford. In 1914, the brothers sold their stake in Ford and decided to start selling cars with their own name on them.
The first Dodge Brothers Company car had an all-steel body, a first for the industry. It was economical, but the brothers made a point of positioning it above the Ford Model T. The car had 35 horsepower to the Ford’s 20, meaning that Dodge has recognized the importance of selling a more powerful car since the beginning. The brothers both died in 1920, and control of the company went to their widows, who greatly expanded the company’s truck lineup, which proved wildly popular. When they sold the company in 1925, it had become so successful that the sale was the largest cash transaction in history, at the time. The company was sold again in 1928, this time to Chrysler, and a new era began for the company.
Dodge continued to innovate under Chrysler ownership, debuting its first 8-cylinder engine just two years after the acquisition, in 1930. During WWII, the company shifted to producing radar units and B-29 bomber engines. After the war, Dodge became interested in motorsport, with the first Dodge being entered into a NASCAR race in 1950, just two years after the racing organization’s founding. In those days, stock car racing actually used stock cars, with showroom models hitting the track as a means of drumming up public interest. So customers and race spectators alike were excited when Dodge unveiled its first HEMI® engine in 1952, the Ram Red.
It was in the mid-60s when Dodge debuted the legendary 426 HEMI® engine. This would later make its way into other Chrysler producers, but it was Dodge that first introduced it. The 426 was available in the newly-introduced Charger, which was also available with the 440 V8, a less expensive but still highly sought-after engine. Dodge would make a racing version of the Charger, known as the Daytona, starting in 1969. These became famous for their aerodynamic nose cone and huge rear spoiler. NASCAR required cars to be available to the public in order to qualify for racing, so 503 Daytonas were produced and sold to the public. Plymouth had a similar car, the Superbird, which was still produced in limited quantities, but the Daytona remains the rarer of the two. Especially rare are the Daytonas with a 426 engine, of which only 70 were built. The final evolution of the Dodge muscle car of this era was the Challenger, which debuted in 1970 and was a gigantic hit.
The Challenger as a full-on muscle car didn’t last long, with changes to emissions regulations, all of Chrysler shifted to focusing on luxury and economy. A partnership with Mitsubishi helped to produce much more efficient compact cars, and a partnership with Shelby meant that these compact cars could still be seriously exciting.
The modern incarnation of Dodge could be said to have been born in 1992, with the debut of the Viper. The partnership with Shelby in the 80s produced some really cool sport compacts, but the partnership reached its peak with the Viper, seen as a spiritual successor to the Shelby Cobras of the 60s. With this V-10-powered beast of a car, Dodge was once again banking on huge horsepower numbers to sell cars. The Viper was a big hit, and the Intrepid would debut later that year, signaling that even mainstream Dodge cars were moving away from specializing in compact K-platform cars and towards more advanced cars with more power.
Chrysler merged with Diamler in 1998, and the first car produced under that partnership was the 2005 Magnum, a popular rear-wheel drive wagon that also served to revive the HEMI® V8. The Charger and Challenger nameplates were revived too, and became huge hits, rivaling the sales figures of the original, but over a longer period of time. Massively powerful Hellcat variants would follow, all of them exceeding 700 horsepower. Then additional limited-production variants pushed the number even further. Most recently, the SRT Demon 170, which produces a massive 1,025 horsepower. Dodge is looking to electrification for the future, and the Charger Daytona SRT Concept introduced the world to the concept of an electric muscle car, and the huge power numbers they can produce. It’s the beginning of a new chapter for a brand that has always offered some seriously impressive thrills.