Car of the Week: 1924 Dodge Brothers roadster

Story and photos by Brian Earnest

Thanks to his grandfather, William Hupke had always been mostly a Dodge guy. About 10 years ago, his son William Jr. made sure pops was going to stay that way.

The father-son duo wound up traveling from their Wisconsin homes to the Twin Cities in Minnesota about a decade back to check out a pair of venerable Dodge Brothers cars they knew about that had both come up for sale. The both came home with a car — Jr. with a very nice black four-door business sedan, and Sr. with sweet red two-door roadster.

“We wound up buying both of them. My boy, that’s why he has so many cars!” Hupke laughs. “He didn’t have enough money, and so it was ‘Dad, you buy this one.’ He’s got four cars, but one of them is sitting in the corner of the shed in pieces. He’s got a REO and a Trumbull, and the rest are Dodges.

“My grandfather, he use to have REOs, and when he had a new car in ’38, it was a Dodge, and I still have that one. On the farm we had Model A’s, by my dad had a Dodge, too, in the ’50s, so I’ve always been around Dodges. We picked this car up just the way you see it sitting here.

Hupke knew about the roadster through a co-worker. The car had been showing up at the Iola Old Car Show for years. And since Hupke has been in attendance since the first Iola show in 1973, he had seen it more than once and knew it had been preserved.

“We knew the two cars were around, put it that way,” he says. “When [the owner] died, we pursued it a little bit… It was probably restored in the late ‘50s. I know the guy who had it, he’d never done a thing to it and he had it at least 25 years, if not more.”

Horace and John Dodge would no doubt be tickled to know that one of their automotive children was still on the road, as durable and reliable and ever, and serving its owner well and for a relative bargain investment. Producing quality, lower-priced cars that the common man could afford to buy and maintain were top priorities for the adventurous and innovative siblings, who first teamed up to run a successful Detroit engine and transmission building venture before turning to car building in 1914. The new company almost immediately established a reputation for building solid, sturdy machines that were reliable and built to last. The company was the first to mass produce cars with steel bodies, and helped pioneer the use of 12-volt electrical systems.

In 1920, Dodge Brothers had risen to second among U.S. car makers. When the founding brothers both died that same year, however, the company began to lose ground to its competition, and in 1925, the operation was sold to a New York banking firm. Just three years later, Walter P. Chrysler bought out the company and soon began turning the company’s fortunes around for the better. By the time the 1930s arrived, the “Brothers” part of the name was dropped.

Model year production for 1924 topped 207,000 units for Dodge, which produced three lines. The Standard line was the cheapest and included six body styles, ranging in price from $865 for the roadster to $1,385 for the five-passenger standard sedan. The Special lineup was one step up and also included six body styles, including Hupke’s lovely roadster, which carried a base price of $1,025.

Dodge also produced a limited number of six-passenger custom bodies, including four-door taxis — with both open and closed cabs — and a four-door landau sedan.

The 1924 model year saw a number of changes and updates on Dodge Brothers products. Appearance updates included a taller radiator and a higher hood line. The side hood panels now had vertical louvers. Drumhead lights were another new styling feature. The cars had a longer wheel-base and lower overall height. The former three-quarter elliptic springs were replaced with those of semi-elliptic configuration. Inside, the seats were lowered. Gear and brake levers were moved forward, providing more useable leg room. Budd-Michelin steel disc wheels were now available for the roadster, as well as the closed body styles. All closed cars had a flat, slanted sun visor supported by curved corner brackets. A rear brake light was made standard equipment for all models and balloon tires were optional, as were solid steel wheels.

The new line of “special” models came with deluxe equipment features like nickel-plated radiators, bumpers, automobile windshield wipers, Motometer type radiator caps and bright metal runningboard step plates.

The cars were also equipped with a clever and practical “starterator”, which combined the starter and generator into one 12-volt unit. The change had actually come two years earlier and made Dodge the high-volume car builder to offer self-starting vehicles. The carry-over 212-cid inline four-cylinder produced 35 hp and was viewed as one of the sturdier and most reliable power plants around for the money. As far as Hupke knows, the engine in his red roadster is the same one that his car was born with, and it is still running strong.

“I like driving it. I really do. It runs good to about 35 mph,” he says. “The transmission is geared low and I don’t like to overspeed the motor, so I don’t go too fast. You don’t have very much room. My wife likes to ride in it, too. She hollers at me if I go too fast on a rough road.

“The only thing I don’t like is you don’t really have any front brakes of any kind, so you have to drive accordingly. It doesn’t have any brakes on there.”

Hupke generally keeps the folding top up. The car has got wind wings and a folding windshield to help control the wind inside. Hupke also has the snap-on side curtains, although he never uses them. The roadster only comes out of the garage on nice days. “The curtains are still in the box,” he laughs. “I’ve never had them on.”

Inside, the pleated black vinyl seat is functional if not fancy, and looks great with the black folding top and bright red paint. The dash has all the important features of its time — a speedometer, ammeter and oil pressure gauge. A hand brake lever is located on the floor next to the three-speed manual shift lever. For Hupke’s money, the most interesting feature of the interior is the little metal match holder attached to one of the spokes on the steering wheel. It’s not an accessory you see every day. “The guy who had it before me liked to smoke cigars, so it’s got a ‘cigarette lighter,’” he jokes.

“The Dodge brothers worked for Ford before they started their own business, and the four-cylinder engine is almost like a Model A engine, but the transmission shifts opposite of a Model A. I don’t know why the Dodge Brothers changed that. And it also has a 12-volt system and 12-volt systems were used only for a couple years back in those days, and then they went totally to a 6-volt batteries, thorough the whole industry… The fuel pump is in the back, so it has a Stewart Warner vacuum fuel pump and that was used on a lot of cars — Buicks, Studebakers and them used that back then. It just has a splash system for oiling the motor. It doesn’t have a high-pressure system, but it works.”

Hupke’s 1924 Dodge hasn’t been in the family nearly as long as the ’38 that his grandfather bought new, but he is probably equally attached to it. The car is simply a wonderful little machine, a quintessential 1920s time machine with a cheerful red appearance. It’s a car that is easy to admire, fun to own, and appreciated at almost any old car gathering.

“I’ll keep it as long as I can. Most of the time it’s only out for about three car shows a year,” Hupke concludes. “Then it goes back into its place and stays there until next year.”

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