Dodging Ahead

Dodge had to ship them out quickly after the war.
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A small portion of Dodge’s 1950 model-year production is loaded onto a Great Lakes steamer in this press photo from the automaker’s Detroit-based ad agency, Ruthrauff & Ryan. More than 500 cars were loaded onto the ship  destined for Buffalo, N.Y., to be delivered to dealers along the eastern seaboard.

A small portion of Dodge’s 1950 model-year production is loaded onto a Great Lakes steamer in this press photo from the automaker’s Detroit-based ad agency, Ruthrauff & Ryan. More than 500 cars were loaded onto the ship destined for Buffalo, N.Y., to be delivered to dealers along the eastern seaboard.

The pent-up consumer demand that followed World War II created a seller’s market wherein almost any new car would find a buyer. Sales remained strong as the country climbed out of the 1940s and moved into the next decade with millions of new cars sold each year.

Some worried that a postwar seller’s market was behind the strong sales numbers and that a sudden, steep decline was eminent. To get a better sense of what was going on, Business Week surveyed consumers during the summer of 1950 and found the record-setting totals were being caused by “normal replacement demand” and a strong economy. Consumers were simply replacing their early postwar automobiles with brand-new rides.

Many of those new car buyers visited their local Dodge dealer, and the company reported that it was producing more cars than at any time in its history. That summer, two assembly lines were operating on two shifts at the company’s Dodge Main plant near Detroit, and its assembly lines in San Leandro and Los Angeles, Calif., were humming along, as well.

“Recently we have been building and shipping even more cars than in our record-breaking days last fall,” said Edward Charles Quinn, general sales manager for Dodge, in a corporate press release that newspapers around the country published in June 1950. “With this high volume, our dealers can offer early delivery from one of the widest selections of body styles that Dodge has ever built.”

The 1950 models used the body of the previous year’s offering, but with styling changes that included new rear fenders to accept a rear tread width that grew by two inches. The extra width improved stability and made possible a larger rear window in the Coronet and Meadowbrook. The simpler grille design was reportedly easier to clean and repair –— no longer did the owner have to replace the entire unit if it became damaged while out on a Sunday drive. At the center of the grille was a massive Dodge crest logo. All of the company’s cars used the six-cylinder “Get-Away” engine with a 230-cubic-inch displacement and just over 100 hp.

Consumers could select from 10 different models in two wheelbases. At the top of the offering was the Coronet, riding on a 123.5-in. wheelbase that could be ordered in a choice of six different body styles: the Diplomat two-door hardtop, a four-door sedan, club coupe, convertible, station wagon and eight-passenger sedan. The Meadowbrook had the same wheelbase and could be ordered as a four-door sedan that was not as fancy as the Coronet. The lower-priced Wayfarer series had a 115-in. wheelbase and could be a two-door sedan, business coupe or a sports roadster, the latter designed for open-car enthusiasts.

Introduced in 1949, Dodge said the Wayfarer roadster was “America’s only roadster in a full-sized car. Low and sleek, with a minimum of ornamentation, here’s all the smartness of a convertible without the high price tag.” Its price was $1635.

When the roadster was announced, Dodge said it would be equipped with side windows that could be removed by hand and stored behind the seat, a feature that harkened back to the company’s final roadster built in 1932. Meanwhile, Coronet convertibles came with modern roll-down windows.

Quinn said the “decision to bring out a modern, low-priced roadster had been received enthusiastically by Dodge dealers.” The dealers predicted the model would be popular with young folks and as a second car in two-car families.

The company’s newspaper advertising for the time promised that consumers “could pay $1000 more and still not get all the new beauty… extra room ... smooth performance of this great new Dodge.” And they truly were a good value — they were bigger than most of the cars in their price class and they were reliable.

By the end of the year, a total of 332,782 Dodge cars found new owners, putting the automaker in eighth place on the United States car sales chart — and 2903 of those cars were the little Dodge Wayfarer roadsters.

1950 was a good year for Dodge and a good year for Detroit, as well. The Detroit Free Press reported on Dec. 30 of that year that the city’s overall production of goods of all types was valued at $9.8 billion, exceeding the earlier record year of 1944, when its factories were churning out war materiel. The Detroit Board of Commerce said automobile production was 28 percent higher than in any prior year and more than half again as high as in 1948.

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