100 YEARS OF DODGE BROTHERS’ VISION DISPLAYED DURING THE APRIL 9-12 AUTOFAIR
CONCORD, N.C. (Feb. 23, 2015) – Started by two brothers who loved building cars, Dodge is now one of America’s oldest automotive institutions, with a history of performance, innovation, and milestones that will be celebrated with a special display at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Apr. 9-12 AutoFair.
“The Dodge brothers have not received nearly the credit they deserve for their roles as fathers of the American auto industry,” said Charlotte Motor Speedway President and General Manager Marcus Smith. “We have planned a special exhibit for AutoFair visitors that lays out Dodge’s automotive legacy, with iconic vehicles representing each of its 10 decades.”
John Francis and Horace Elgin Dodge were born in Michigan in 1864 and 1868, respectively, to a family of marine engine builders and repairers. The red-headed brothers were inseparable and learned the machinist trade in their father’s shop, eventually owning part of a bicycle business.
In 1902, Ransom Eli Olds—founder of Oldsmobile and the first automaker to use an assembly line—hired the Dodge boys to produce engines and transmissions for his hugely popular curved-dash model. Considering Oldsmobile represented 30% of the United States car market in 1903, the Dodge brothers profited nicely. Henry Ford, an engineer and race car builder with two auto company bankruptcies to his name, desperately needed the Dodge brothers’ cooperation, components, and investment dollars to start Ford Motor Co., so he agreed to give them a 10% stake in his venture and a contract that would eventually make John and Horace two of the richest men in America. In hindsight, it was a smart gamble for the brothers, but it meant cutting off other customer work and investing $75,000 of their own money in new tooling.
During the 15-year relationship, Ford wanted to build cars—especially his landmark Model T—as cheaply as possible, so he often ignored the Dodges’ suggestions for improvements. When the brothers ended their Ford contract in 1914, they turned their factory and resources toward building a medium-priced, high-quality car to be sold with a Dodge Bros. badge.
Their first self-named car rolled off the line Nov. 14, 1914, with a 35-horsepower four-cylinder engine, a 12-volt electrical system, and an all-steel touring body. It cost $785 (about $18,500 today), or $200 more than the cheapest Model T, but it was years ahead in engineering sophistication. Because of their reputation as smart businessmen, the brothers received 22,000 applications for Dodge dealerships before any cars were available to sell.
Dodge Bros. finished 1915, its first full year of sales, in third place for the U.S. market. That same season, the Dodge plant size tripled, the brothers built the first factory test track, and John Dodge drove one of their cars into a brick wall at 20 miles per hour so the ever-curious brothers could see how their designs held up. The following year, the U.S. Army bought 150 Dodge Bros. cars for its new mechanized cavalry in Mexico, and an ad campaign for the company coined the word “dependability” to describe their machines.
At the time of their deaths in 1920 (both from pneumonia, just three weeks apart), their combined wealth was $200 million, or about 0.2% of the U.S. gross national product. In July 1928, another self-made millionaire, Walter Chrysler, purchased the Dodge Bros. company from John and Horace’s widows for $175 million (about $2.4 billion today). Chrysler’s goal of creating an automotive empire to rival that of General Motors was complete; his portfolio now listed Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth, and DeSoto.
In the decades that followed the brothers’ death, Dodge engineers turned out one industry innovation after another, including the first all-steel roof, “Floating Power” engine mounting, fully insulated rubber body mounts, automatic overdrive transmission, and pushbutton transmission shifter.
There were countless racing victories and high-performance milestones, such as a fully realized aerodynamic race package (the 1968 Charger Daytona), the V-10 Viper sports car, and the 2015 Challenger Hellcat, with a 707-horsepower Hemi V-8 that makes it the most powerful passenger car ever offered by an American automaker. These exciting developments are why it is one of only six American nameplates to reach the century mark (after Cadillac, Ford, Buick, Chevrolet, and GMC).
To celebrate 100 years of Dodge cars and trucks, AutoFair’s Showcase Pavilion will be home to more than a dozen historic models, including a 1923 Dodge Bros. truck, 1951 Power Wagon, 1969 Dodge Daytona, and 1996 Viper.
The AutoFair features more than 50 car club displays and more than 10,000 vendor spaces offering an array of automotive parts and memorabilia. More than 1,500 collectible vehicles of all makes and models will be available for sale in the car corral that rings the 1.5-mile superspeedway. In addition, up to 200 cars will be auctioned by Dealer Auctions Inc., and kids can enjoy face-painting, bounce houses, and other games and entertainment in the Play Zone.
Hours for the Apr. 9-12 AutoFair are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday. Ticket prices are $10 per day for adults, and children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Fans who buy three tickets get the fourth day free. Parking for the event is $5. For more information on the four-day event, contact the speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.
To purchase tickets, call the Charlotte Motor Speedway ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS (3267), or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.
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