While Dodge has long been associated with the low-cost car market and looking back at its history, it has long been a leading innovator in the industry. Before Horace and John Dodge ever built a car bearing a Dodge Brothers emblem, the two men amassed a substantial fortune in the automobile industry as a parts supplier to other manufacturers. Their Detroit-based machine shop and foundry produced engines and gearboxes for Ransom E. Olds, and later, axles and other driveline components for Henry Ford’s rapidly expanding operation. But as Henry marched toward self-sufficiency, the brothers recognized they would need to divorce themselves from Ford if they wanted to continue their success. In 1914, the Dodge Brothers announced their first complete automobile. It was a top-notch effort that was high on value, with standard fittings including a folding top, leather upholstery, electric lighting, windshield, speedometer, and an electric self-starter. Starting at $785, it offered all that equipment for only slightly more than a $750 Model T Tourer.
Dodge continued to be an innovator, and by 1923, the company introduced the industry’s first mass-produced all-steel body. Powered by a 212 cubic-inch L-head inline-four, the car was mechanically rather conventional but well-built and robust. After the brothers’ deaths, their widows sold the company for $146M to investment bankers in 1925. By 1928, Dodge was under the auspices of Walter P. Chrysler, who worked to carry on the Dodge Brothers legacy of quality and value.
Representing the Dodge Brothers marque in the Kleptz Collection is this delightful 1923 Standard A Tourer. Offered with a marvelous patina and outfitted in the style of a depression-era dust bowl car, this Dodge is a wonderful display piece. Little is known of the car’s early history, though it appears to be a mostly original and unrestored example with an authentic patina. Frank acquired the Dodge from Sam Braen of New Jersey, who owned Braen Stone, a quarry and construction company that supplied many major infrastructure projects around the greater New York area. The car was displayed as-is in the Kleptz museum and remains virtually untouched since he acquired it. It is loaded with hundreds of antique and reproduction bits – from canteens to a shotgun, to a chicken coop – evoking the images of farm families fleeing the dust bowl in the early-mid 30s.
The Dodge has been a static display piece for many years and has not run, so it will need considerable attention if the next keeper chooses to use it as intended. As it sits, it is a charming piece that gives us a fascinating look back at an extraordinary period in American history, when more than a quarter-million people packed up their lives and fled the plains for the promised land of California.
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