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Was it a family-sedan maker or a "muscle-car" developer? Humdrum and sedate, or flashy and exciting? Actually, Dodge has been all of these and more during its history, which dates back nearly a century.
John and Horace Dodge had plenty of experience building engines, especially for Ford, before they established Dodge Brothers. Dodge automobile sales began in 1914 with a four-cylinder model. A six-cylinder "Senor" Dodge debuted in 1927. By then, Dodge had scored as the first mass-produced car with an all-steel body (except for the roof).
Chrysler Corporation issued new Plymouth and DeSoto brands in 1929, and also took over Dodge. During the Depression, Dodge issued a series of family-focused automobiles, largely unremarkable but popular enough. Early postwar Dodges had a Fluid Drive coupling between the engine and transmission, which soon evolved into a semi-automatic transmission as the cars gained a rather boxy redesign for 1949.
One of the new body styles was a Wayfarer three-passenger (single-seat) roadster, with side curtains instead of roll-up windows, but a pillarless hardtop coupe arrived in 1950.
Launching a 140-horsepower Red Ram Hemi V-8 in 1953 signaled the start of emphasis on performance, overtaking Dodge's stodgy image. Dodges got stylish "Forward Look" bodies for 1955, inspired by Virgil Exner and including three-tone color schemes. One version was a curious LaFemme hardtop; pink/white inside and out, complete with a folding umbrella and fitted purse. Clearly, the forthcoming women's movement had not yet begun in 1955-56.
In 1960, Dodge issued the "Slant Six" engine that would last into the 1980s. By mid-decade, a "Street Hemi" could squeeze into midsize models, cranking out an estimated 425 (gross) horsepower. Meanwhile, starting in 1963, the new compact Dart captured a sizable slice of the family-sedan market, and also came in convertible form.
Muscle cars were prominent in Dodge's Sixties lineup, led by such hotties as the 1969 Charger Daytona and the Challenger coupe. Subcompact sales started in 1970 with the Japanese-built Colt. Sales of Colt models lasted into 1994. As the Seventies ended, new products included a compact front-drive Dodge Aries sedan, dubbed the K-car, soon followed by a convertible.
Dodge, Chrysler, and Plymouth badges went on the first minivans, issued for 1984 and soon turning into a sales phenomenon. In addition to imaginative new models, Dodge continued to rely on relatively ordinary sedans, such as the Diplomat, which saw service in many police fleets. For 1993, Dodge introduced a full-size Intrepid front-drive sedan, one of an LH-sedan trio from Chrysler Corporation.
Despite Dodge's reputation for muscular models in the Sixties, a surprise arrived for 1992 in the form of the brutal Viper sports car, unleashing V-10 power. By then, Dodge dealers also had a Stealth sport coupe on sale, but that was an offshoot of the Mitsubishi 3000GT. Dodge took a serious stab at the compact-car market for 1995 with the new Neon sedan, built in Illinois, which displaced the little Shadow and garnered considerable attention during its first few seasons. At the same time, an Avenger sport coupe hit the road for half a dozen seasons. Before that, a smaller Daytona coupe vied for attention in the sporty-car department, including some IROC-Z variants.
A compact Caliber took over the spot left by the departed Neon. Meanwhile, Dodge offered a Magnum model, kin to the revitalized Chrysler 300 sedan, but only in wagon form.
Pickup trucks have long been a major part of the Dodge picture, led by the big, long-lived Ram. Finally, in 2011, Dodge initiated a separate Ram brand for trucks, leaving Dodge strictly in the passenger-car business. Ever since 1987, too, Dodge has offered a smaller Dakota pickup. Four-wheel-drive Ramchargers were available as far back as 1974; but stronger-selling SUV offerings began with the Durango in 1998, adding Journey and Nitro wagons a decade or so later.
In recent years, Dodge has brought back several model names from the past: Challenger, Charger, Avenger. Late in 2011, Chrysler LLC announced that the Dodge Grand Caravan would soon expire.
Partnership with Daimler-Benz early in the 21st century didn't affect Dodge so much. But the tie to Fiat, established after the corporation's financial distress and subsequent bankruptcy/bailout, is making a considerable difference in renewed development of quality products. Next mission for Dodge: introduction of the new compact Dart, reviving another old name for the 2013 season.