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Friday, May 17, 2013

1948 Dodge Custom

The tartan-weave grille made the 1946-1948 Dodge easy to tell apart from the 1942 models. The number '9' at the beginning of the serial number indicates that the vehicle was built by workers at Chrysler Canada in Windsor, Ontario.

As the 20th Century opened, Horace and John Dodge were already well-established Detroit City machinists, parts suppliers to railroads and of auto parts to a very young industry.

John and Horace Dodge

Noted for their flawless work, one of their first automotive customers was Ransom Olds. Olds ordered transmissions for his new horseless carriage, the Oldsmobile. Soon the brothers were selling entire running gears to Henry Ford for his self-propelled creations.
The 1914 Dodge Brothers Tourer

John Dodge once said laughingly, "Someday people who drive Fords are going to want an automobile." When the red-headed brothers got around to putting their own name on car in June 1914, it was a hot ticket. They would give Ford a run for his money. Closer than two peas in a pod, John and Horace called the car--fittingly--Dodge Brothers.

Three Dodge Brothers cars were used by the US Army in 1916 to capture Mexican bad guy, Pancho Villa.

In building their car, the boys had a hurdle to overcome. They were naturally at ease with all things metal and mechanical but body and coachwork was a new area for them. The Dodge boys did not like or understand wood, the main component of automobile bodies. They settled on a novel idea borrowed from the railroads--an all steel body--and got Edward Budd of railway renown to build them.

A total of 60 Benham Six cars would be built from 1914 to 1917 when the company ceased manufacture.

Only one of more than 100 new makes to be introduced in 1914, within two years Dodge Brothers had jumped to number four in the American sales game with a vastly superior product. Business was pretty good for the boys who incorporated themselves as a Canadian company in 1917. By the end of World War One, Dodge Brothers was solidly in the big leagues Stateside as an inexpensive automobile, second only to the low-price king, Ford itself.
1921 Dodge Brothers Three-passenger Coupe.

Business boomed to the point where in June of 1921 Dodge Brothers rented a dockside building from the Canadian Pacific Railway in Windsor, Ontario for use as their distribution point. Final assembly on cars for the Canadian dealers in the rented CPR wharf building. In February of 1924 the company moved to nearby Walkerville into a much larger facility. Thirteen months later Dodge Brothers moved again, this time into a full-scale factory on Dufferin Street in Toronto, which it shared with Graham trucks (in which the Dodge Brothers held substantial interest).

The 1925 Dodge Brothers Four-door Sedan

The brothers died in 1920 and in 1925 their widows sold the company to their bankers for $146 million. Dodge Brothers became a division of Chrysler Canada in 1928 when Walter Chrysler's fledgling corporation bought the huge independent automaker lock stock and barrel for a cool USD$126 million. Newspapers reported the deal as 'the minnow that swallowed the whale.' That price included the Canadian subsidiary. The new Toronto factory didn't fit in with corporate plans as Chrysler had already purchased a large tract of land in the country outside of Windsor where a factory was already under construction. When the enormous plant opened in 1929, the Dodge Brothers factory in Toronto was phased out.

The 1929 Dodge Brothers Six, DA

Slotted just above entry-level Plymouth in the divisional lineup, Dodge Brothers was twinned with the more expensive DeSoto at dealerships. The match was good. DeSoto dealers would have a crack at the volume market. Chrysler guarded the good name of the brothers Dodge most zealously. It was only in 1934, a good decade after their deaths, that the word 'Brothers' was allowed to be de-emphasized and deleted from the car's crest and insignia in 1939--in the United States.

The Canadian market was tiny in comparison to the United States but Chrysler wanted all of the market share it could get in Canada, in the most efficient way possible. In the days before AutoPact,  what was built in Canada was sold in Canada and the British Empire. There was virtually no exportation of Canadian-built cars into the US and while American cars ere shipped into Canada on a regular basis, they tended to be high end of the sale models or outright luxury models commanding top dollar. In order to maximize factory efficiency, Chrysler Canada engaged in some clever badge engineering.

Starting in 1933 a small Dodge for Canadians only was built in Windsor. In essence it was a Plymouth shell and mechanics decorated with Dodge trim. Purists often refer to them as "Plodges."

The 1939 Dodge for Canadians
In 1939 the difference between 'real' Dodges and the homegrown variety became very noticeable when the small Dodge got square headlights like Plymouth. Only by walking up to read the brand name on the brake light was Dodge distinguishable from a Plymouth's backside.

Of course Chrysler manufactured big Dodges in Canada, too. Along with the small homegrown Dodge, Chrysler Canada produced and sold a small number of larger, higher priced American-look Dodge Custom models.

Canada declared war against Germany and Italy in 1939. Workers at Chrysler Canada built many weapons for the war.

When victory came in 1945, the Canadian auto industry was slow to reconvert its factories for civilian production. A mere handful of Dodge cars--22 to be exact--left the factory gates during the 1945 calendar year. The Dodge product was pretty similar to its 1942 namesake although the heavily-ribbed grille was replaced by a steel tartan weave. Parking lights were placed lower in in the front fenders which now flowed into the door line.

The design would continued as was, without change for 1946, 1947, 1948 and the 1949 First Series. Dodge officials in the US made no attempt to tell them apart, often referring to them in press releases as sthe "1946 to 1948 models". The only difference between a '47 and a '48--besides higher prices--was new, smaller  3812-millimetre (15-inch) tires.
The massive seven-passenger Dodge Custom sedan was 457.2 millimetres (18 inches) longer and  226.7 kilos (500 lbs.) heftier than the Custom Coupe. Safety glass was standard on all Dodge cars in 1948.

There had been little for Canadians to buy during the war. Manufacture of most consumer goods was suspended completely or rationed. Conversely, the labour force was virtually tapped out. Folks worked around the clock to beat the Axis powers. By war's end in 1945, the average Canadian had money to burn by the fistful. Goods returned to the market and a monumental inflationary spiral kicked in as consumers went on the wildest spending spree in living history.
Corporate styling on all ChryCo products from 1946 to 1948 was the centre-mount brake light that cleverly incorporated the license plate holder.

The base price of a Canadian Dodge had been traditionally $12 more than Plymouth. In 1948 Ottawa began to take a hefty bite in consumer taxes, causing an increase of a whopping $30 more for Dodge than for cousin Plymouth. Thanks to a hugry federal government, Dodge's new price range accordingly jumped from a new base price of $1,570 to $1,840 in the domestic market.

A Dodge duo at the filling station. The gas tank held 14 imperial gallons and featured a sediment collecting sump.

There were the usual "Junior" Dodges but in the senior class of 1948 there were three Custom models: the four-door sedan, the six-passenger convertible and the long wheelbase seven-passenger sedan. Billed in advertising as "The Big Dodges", these Windsor-built models were an important prestige addition to the line as small volume but steady sellers.
In 1948 Dodge cars for the Canadian market used a 3.7-litre (228.1-cubic inch) six-cylinder engine. This differed from its American cousins.

While visually similar to its American cousins, there was a big difference under the hood of a Canadian-built Dodge--a powerplant never seen in the US. Dodge was given a 3.7-litre (228.1-cubic inch), six-cylinder, unique to Canada. Stroke was 85.7 millimetres (3.375 inches) and the bore was 107.95 millimetres (4.25 inches) which resulted in a compression ration of 6.8.1 giving it a slightly higher than the American motor which had 50.8 millimetres (two inches)  more  displacement. Horsepower was a respectable 105 @ 3500 rpm on the rubber-mounted L-head engine. Another quirky difference shows up under the hood, too. For the final time in the marque's history the firewall plaque read, "Dodge Brothers of Canada."

Symmetrical instrument panel made use of non-glare lighting for improved vision. The "Safety Signal" speedometer changed colours as road speed increased.

Unlike the small Dodge, the big Dodge Custom offered Gryol Fluid Drive, engineering's attempt at a pre-automatic transmission. Not a true self-shifter, the power was  generated by two oil-forced rotors each with fan blades emanating from the centre. The rotor attached to the crankshaft was called the impeller and the other one, connected to the clutch and transmission was called the runner. As the impeller rotated, it would throw fluid across the gap into the runner which transmitted engine power to the runner and on to the rear axle. Not a true automatic, it was an improvement over conventional driving. Engaging the clutch was not necessary from the starting position, only between low and high ranges of gears.

"Tailored upholstery" gave a rich appearance to interiors and advertising promised rise in "...armchair ease as the renowned Dodge Floating Ride smooths out the roughest of roads."

When ordering a radio as an accessory, Canadians got a Philco, the fancy model being the eight-tube Transitone. (Americans got MoPar radios.)  Other options included a dual heater, trim rings to dress up hubcaps and for the first time since the war ended--whitewall tires. A second brake light was also available as well as fog lamps.

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There was an unusual standard equipment item, a  manual windshield washer, operated by a floor-mounted button. A small feeder pipe carried fluid from the reservoir, through the instrument panel delivering the fluid to  the windshield's metal centre divider (the windshield was a two-piece affair in 1948).

While Chrysler in the US lumped its 1945 to 1948 production all together, Chrysler Canada broke out production numbers. The Windsor plant turned out 9,474 Dodges in calendar year 1946 and 18,509 units were built in 1947. Things got even better in 1948 when 20,416 scooted out the doors. Dodge was the third best-selling car in Canada in both 1947 and 1948.

1949 Dodge Coronet

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Copyright James C. Mays 2000
All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

1958 Lincoln

When planning the Lincoln lineup for 1958, stylists wanted to set the luxury field on fire with an edge that the competition—namely Cadillac--didn’t have. It was decided early on that Dearborn’s flagship would be built on a Unibody design. It was a bold decision because no large prestige automobile had ever been manufactured using monocoque construction. 

While Nash had pioneered the concept in mass production back in 1941, its largest automobiles rode on a 3073.4-millimetre (121-inch) wheelbase. Engineers and stylists at Lincoln would stretch that envelope and the imagination by a full 254 millimetres (ten inches)!

1957 Nash Ambassador Country Club hardop.
 In theory, a frameless Lincoln would be lighter and more powerful. An early prototype buckled badly when it hit a pothole. Lincoln engineers promptly purchased a new Nash Ambassador, the largest unit-body automobile in production, for intensive study. As engineers took the Nash apart, the new Lincoln was quick to benefit from many more welds and reinforcements but each one added weight. On top of that, the new engine being developed for Lincoln caused the car to vibrate badly. That problem was resolved by adding even more weight. This was going to be a very heavy piece of machinery.

This  full-sized Lincoln mock-up was rejected.
Now, if these engineering challenges weren’t enough, the entire corporate structure around Lincoln changed abruptly. One morning the Continental Division was folded into a new Lincoln-Mercury Division. Jobs were scrambled. John Reinhart, former boss at Continental, found himself working under Bill Najjar. Reinhart quit. So did Bill Schmidt who was in charge of the 1957 Lincoln. Management hated his finned design and ordered newcomer Najjar to make major changes late in the game.

Najjar and the team scrambled like mad to finish the 1957 Lincoln before getting to work on the upcoming 1958 models that sorely needed attention. The entire department sweated bullets, working virtually around the clock to get the task finished. The heat was on as rumours ran rampant within the company that Ford was running out of money for new tooling. To add to everyone’s woes was the fact that the new Lincolns were going to be built in a factory that was still under construction 32 kilometres (20 miles) away in Wixham.

The Lincoln Typhoon was nixed by management.
Two completely different Lincoln designs were developed at the same time in the four Lincoln studio bays. Theme 2 made use of split bumpers, heavily hooded headlights and a flattish,  open-ended appendage that hovered over the rear window glass. It was far less graceful than Theme 1 and was finally abandoned. 

The chosen design was gloriously rich in textured surface detail and met management’s edict that it not employ fins. These automobiles were not just long, low and spacious, advertising bragged that the latest Lincoln offerings were “the longest, lowest, most spacious cars in the fine car field.”   

Quad headlights were recessed in deeply Vee’d chrome pods at the fenders’ ends. A wide and ever so gently Vee’d meshwork grille filled the front. The bumper carried tasteful Dagmars and the ends wrapped around to the side where they fluidly fluted to greet and match the elegant lines accenting the front wheels. The hood carried a centre crease that became a tasteful prow-shaped pedestal for the stand-up hood ornament.

From the side, Lincolns were given a mid-line body crease that ran from stem to stern. A lower crease rose at the rear wheel well and traced the majestic car’s form to the fluted rear bumper wraparound. An almost imperceptible swell in the beltline rose in the rear quarter panel to ride to very end of the graciously canted, briefly chrome-capped rear fender. Premieres were distinguished with a chrome spear on the lower body, set off with a gold starburst.

Majestic describes the rear of the Lincoln. The massive bumper rose gracefully to envelop a deeply recessed, chrome-framed housing in which was set a meshwork panel, embellished by the Lincoln symbol at its centre. The four Continental Mark IIIs carried a trio of round taillights at the edges, the lesser Capri was given a set of semi-elliptical lights with built-in backup lenses.

Designers employed a tastefully restrained windshield that not only wrapped around to the sides but over the top, “to let you sight overhead traffic lights without craning your neck.”  The roofline was simplicity itself, its fluid lines ending in a breathtaking reverse-cant C-pillar, offset with the Lincoln symbol in gold. The rear window opened on Continentals. “Just a flick of a switch on the driver’s armrest control panel and the rear window slides out of sight-to give you open-car ventilation.” And that was true of the convertible, too!

The open Lincoln featured a fully retractable roof, a concept borrowed from Ford’s Skyliner. When the top was down the lines were extraordinarily clean and breathtakingly low. To no one’s surprise, the convertible weighed in at more than 2 267 kilos (5,000 pounds).

Rare in Detroit was a new vehicle with a new power plant but Lincoln would have both for 1958. The engine was rated at 375 horsepower and was mated to the three-speed Turbo-Drive Automatic transmission. Despite its weight, Lincoln but was no slouch. A driver could zip from zero to 100 kph (60 miles per hour--in ancient Canadian units of measure) in less than eight seconds.

Befitting one of the world’s most beautiful automobiles, interiors were appointed in soft, supple leather from none other than Bridge of Weir in Scotland. No expense was spared “if it could add to your comfort and ease of mind.” Each and every Lincoln had five ash receivers with individual lighters. A “keyboard” of electric window switches for the driver, included a novel new “lockout” feature to prevent children from tampering with the windows. A discrete button under the radio could be pushed to lubricate the front suspension and steering system. When the job was done, a light glowed a soft green. The instrument cluster was set up on what was referred to by styling staff as a TV screen-like tableau.

Every automobile needs accessories and owners could order their lovely Lincolns with the new Travel-Tuner Radio or the FM radio Tuner, dual automatic radio antennas, the new Single-Control Heater and Air Conditioner, Venetian sun visors, a sealed beam spotlight, an automatic headlight dimmer, six-way power seats, seat belts, power vent windows, the Push-Button Power Lubrification System, electric door locks, tinted glass, nylon cord tires, an electric trunk release, an automatic starter (!)  and  Curb Buffer Mouldings.

A few of the colours offered were Starmist White, Presidential Black, Arrowhead Blue, Shasta Blue, Sunset and Matador Red. Yes, there were tasteful two-tone colour combinations for those who desired them.

1958 Ford Anglia from Britain was popular with Canadians.
As beautiful and desirable as Lincoln was, it did not sell. It was a recession year and consumers were drawn to practical little Vauxhalls, British Fords and Ramblers. Records show that only 1,543 of the lithe and lovely Lincolns were imported and sold throughout the Dominion during the 1958 calendar year. Be-finned archrival Cadillac found favour with 3,632 buyers while in its final year the once proud Packard drew only a handful of owners.


Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!
Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!
Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!
Copyright James C. Mays 2004 All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

1928-1931 Ford Model A

The 1928 Ford Model A
The last Model T Ford rolled out of the factory doors on May 26, 1927. Henry Ford turned to his chief engineer, Eugene Farkas and said, “We have to do it now.” By ‘do’ he meant was, they would have to find a replacement for the four-wheeled legend. There was no plan in place and no replacement on the horizon. They would begin from scratch.

Months went by with no word from Dearborn. Ford’s golden silence only added to the mystery and mystique of the moment. It was as good as the highest priced publicity.  After months of open speculation by the press as to what Ford’s heir apparent might be, the long awaited Model A was finally unveiled on December 2, 1927. Eager to be part of automotive history, tens of thousands lined up in the cold and snow at dealerships to be among the first to catch a glimpse of Henry’s latest creation.

Styled by son Edsel, this Ford carried beautiful lines and was as modern as a Marcelle hair wave. It boasted such up-to-date technology as Houdaille shock absorbers. Henry personally insisted that rustless steel be used for the radiator shell, headlamps and exterior trim. Electric windshield wipers, a Bendix starter, four-wheel mechanical brakes, safety glass in the windshield (an industry first) and even bumpers were thrown in to the base price.

Under the hood loafed a 205-cubic inch, four-cylinder engine that generated 40 horsepower. Its pistons were made of aluminum. The planetary transmission used in the Model T was replaced with a conventional three-speed manual shifter. The peppy little car could hit 25 miles per hour in eight seconds. That was fast enough to embarrass Packard owners. No slouch on the roads, the Model A was capable of 65 miles per hour on good paved highways.

1929 Ford Model A Cabriolet

Sales were brisk. The total of Model A Fords sold throughout the 48 states during 1928 reached 633,594 units. In 1929 that sales figure hit 1,507,132 units. Then the stock market crashed. Sales for 1930 reflected the downward turn in the economy as domestic sales dipped to 1,155,162 units delivered.

Though there was very little change from last year, for 1931 there were no fewer than 23 models to choose from. The sales theme was “Value Far Above the Price.” The Roadster was described as being “smart” and “alert” and “as capable as it looks. It sold for the rock bottom price of $430. There was a Tudor Sedan, Fordor Sedan, a Coupe, a Sport Coupe, and a Phaeton. New this year was a Convertible Cabriolet. Models could be had in base form or for a few extra bucks one could upgrade to the Deluxe trim version. These were much more popular than the base models and salesmen were told to push them hard. Special displays of Deluxe Fords were sent out on tours.

Hollywood actress Joan Crawford poses with her Town Sedan.
The stylish Town Sedan arrived partway through the selling season. It had bodies built by Murray or Briggs, both well-known custom coach houses. The luxurious automobile was carefully depicted in lush, upper class settings to appeal to consumers who still had a few bucks and wanted something a little better than basic transportation. Upholstered in Mohair or Bedford Cord or optional cost genuine shark-grain leather, it offered a folding armrest in the centre of the back seat as well as rear side arm rests. The window moldings were finished in wood. The Town Sedan was easy to spot; it sported the latest styling rage, a raked windshield. It carried a list price of $590.

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The watchword to the consumer was the improved economy realized by buying a Ford. Salesmen were taught to emphasize the low purchase price, the low cost of operation and the minimal upkeep. The simplicity of the design, the high quality of the materials used and the accuracy in manufacturing and assembly were all strong selling points. These cars were fairly trouble free according to owner surveys and that certainly helped to sway consumers to part with their dollars in the dark days of 1931.

Unsolicited testimonials didn’t hurt, either. One satisfied customer wrote, “I purchased a Model A Ford Coupe on May 8, 1928, and at this writing have run it 75,888 miles. After I had driven 44,400 miles, I spent $45 in repairs and at 61,000 miles had an additional amount of work done costing $25. I have never had the brakes relined. My tire mileage has averaged more than 18,000 miles.” His words were high praise, indeed. Oh, the Ford fan who wrote the letter was a travelling salesman.
Ford of Canada's headquarters in Ford (Windsor), Ontario.

Two big milestones occurred for Ford that year. On March 24, 1931 workers at Ford of Canada finished the one-millionth vehicle to be built in that country. A week later workers in Dearborn built the 20 millionth Ford to be assembled in the USA. Both  cars were turned into rolling advertisements and sent on tours throughout their respective countries.

Few cars are as loved as the Ford Model A and there is many a miniature available for the enthusiast. The National Motor Museum Mint has a 1:18 scale Roadster with more than 100 parts. Motor City offers a Tudor police car in 1:18 scale, as well. In the 1:64 scale is a Ford Woody from Hot Wheels and in the 1:24 scale we are treated to an exquisitely detailed Ford Woody with side curtains from Danbury. This one even features a removable rear seat with springs. Minicraft has a 1:16 scale High Boy V-8 Roadster in plastic and Revell offers a two-in-one 1931 Ford Sedan hot rod kit in the 1:25 scale.

Signature offers this 1931 Ford Model A Panel Police Van in 1:18th scale.
All the hoop-la didn’t do much for sales in 1931. It turned out to be a tough year for Ford. Only a total of Ford 541,615 passenger cars in the United States. That figure was down by nearly two thirds of the units sold in 1930. Correspondingly, employment at Ford dropped from 100,000 to 30,000. The company was still sitting on cash reserves even though there was no light at the end of the tunnel for the sales slump, at least not yet. It’s a good thing that the boys at Ford didn’t have access to a crystal ball. Despite an all-new V-8 car, domestic sales would slide even further downhill in 1932.

Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!

Copyright James C. Mays 2002
 All rights reserved.