Dodge Through the Decades – Great Depression to Recovery


Last week, we examined the 1920s and the pivotal milestones that shaped the brand in part of our ongoing series “Dodge Through the Decades.” This week we’ll look at the 1930s and how Dodge was able to survive the economic upheaval this nation faced, re-emerging as a powerhouse within the industry.


By 1930, the depression was in full swing, and the American auto industry was in deep crisis. Sales plummeted and workers were laid off as a result. Despite these trying times, Dodge still managed to hold on, and was still the 7th bestselling car in the country by the start of the 1930s. Many smaller manufacturers could not survive and eventually shut their doors for good. Innovation and engineering was still on the minds of the leadership at Dodge, and the company introduced a new line of eight-cylinder powered cars. Called the “Series DC, ” these stood out from the competition of the day with great styling and spirited performance. The 220.7 cubic-inch inline engine produced 75 horsepower at 3400 rpm. When unveiled to the automotive press, Motor Magazine said the Dodge Eight was “more attractive, more powerful, longer and roomier, ” and hailed it as “a star among cars!”


By 1931, a new, larger straight eight-cylinder was developed with a displacement of 240 cubic inches and it produced 84 horsepower. Also, a new body series was created, dubbed the “DG” and became the flagship for the brand. Other innovations during the early 1930s included fully rust-proofed bodies, upgraded cylinder heads with valve seat inserts and a fully automatic spark control ignition system.  The horsepower race had begun in 1933, when Dodge’s eight-cylinder hit 100 horsepower. The engineering innovation continued: silent helical gears were incorporated into the transmission, thus making it quieter and easier to operate. Dodge would wind up in fourth place in overall sales in 1933.


Throughout the 1930s, designers placed more emphasis on styling. The traditional flat radiator gave way to a more graceful curved grille that followed the bodylines. These endowed the cars with a more modern and streamlined appearance. Dodge also began using pressed steel spoke wheels instead of wire or wooden spoke rims. During the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, the Chrysler corporate display had a demonstration track in which spectators watched in amazement the abuse and punishment that Dodge cars could withstand from Barney Oldfield and his team of “Hell Drivers.”


Dodge continued to lead the industry throughout the decade with innovations such as “draft free” interior ventilation, front and rear synchronized springs and the first overdrive transmission. Other advances such as independent front suspension, “Finger-Tip” steering, and improved brake drums along with heavy-duty steel artillery wheels impressed the buying public. Robust sales reflected interest in the Dodge brand. In 1934, Dodge sold as many cars as Buick and Oldsmobile combined and outsold other major players such as Cadillac, Willys, Packard and Lincoln.


In 1935, the 3-millionth Dodge rolled of the assembly line. It only took 21 years to reach this production milestone as Dodge continued to be the 4th bestselling car in the U.S. In July of the year, Abram vanderZee, Dodge general sales manager had the novel and somewhat revolutionary idea to address the dealers and salesmen via the CBS radio network during the annual national sales meeting.


Sales remained strong throughout the latter half of the 1930s and Dodge continued add new features, such as defroster vents built into the windshield frame and improved dash controls featuring a new “Safety Light” speedometer that glowed different colors depending on speed. The Dodge Brothers medallion with the familiar triangles (used since 1914), was phased out by the 1939 model year. Continued emphasis on quality and durability spawned innovations like an all-steel safety body and insulated components, along with a new “Superfinish” for exterior metal surfaces.


As the decade drew to a close, the future was looking bright for Dodge. It celebrated its 25th anniversary and newly designed models featuring fastback styling with an integrated trunk were a hit among consumers. However, ominous war clouds were forming in Europe and over the Pacific. Once again the nation would find itself embroiled in a World War. Next week, we’ll look at Dodge’s contribution to the war effort and the role it played in liberating countries from oppression and tyranny, as well as the post war economic boom years.




  • TLF
    Posted July 11, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    I’m really enjoying these; please continue them.  🙂

  • Posted May 27, 2012 at 5:32 am | Permalink

    Good car not worth the pricetag tuoghh. It gets 33mpg not 40. It can get 40mpg if you drive 55mph on the hwy but the figures they give is not realistic. Waiting for a 2 door that actually gets 40mpg is peppy and costs around $10k not $19k? like this.

  • kyan
    Posted December 5, 2016 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    i love dodge

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