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10 people who shaped Dodge after founders' deaths

John and Horace Dodge are chauffeured in the first production model, dubbed "Old Betsy."
DODGE 100TH ANNIVERSARY
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Editor's note: This article is part of a feature on the 100th anniversary of Dodge in the June 16 print edition of Automotive News.

DETROIT -- The Dodge brand was founded 100 years ago by two brothers who were confident that they could best the established competition.

John and Horace Dodge had become rich supplying parts first to Oldsmobile and later to a fledgling Ford Motor Co.

But at heart, the inseparable brothers were talented tinkerers. So they cut their lucrative ties with Ford and started building their own cars in 1914. 

Tragically, both brothers died in 1920, just six years after assembling the first Dodge Brothers car.

But their brand survived, thanks to critical assistance from a succession of auto giants, such as Walter P. Chrysler, Henry Ford and racer Richard Petty.

Here are 10 people who had an outsized impact on Dodge over the last 100 years.

1. John Francis Dodge

The older brother with keen business instincts, John Francis Dodge transformed what was a small machine shop in 1901 into the nation’s second-largest car company two decades later.

2. Horace Elgin Dodge

A mechanical wizard, the younger Dodge brother tirelessly improved the company’s vehicles, particularly the first production model, dubbed “Old Betsy.”

Ransom Olds

3. Ransom Olds

Founder of Oldsmobile, he provided the Dodge brothers with their first order for automotive parts.

Ford

4. Henry Ford

He turned to the talented machinists at Dodge Brothers to supply completed chassis for the Model T. When Ford couldn’t pay a bill in 1903, he granted the Dodge brothers a 10 percent stake in Ford Motor Co. in exchange for a $3,000 credit. The stock later would be sold in 1919 for $25 million, the equivalent of $343 million today.

5. Walter P. Chrysler

The Detroit auto titan acquired control of Dodge Brothers in 1928 from a New York investment bank for $170 million, the equivalent of $2.4 billion in 2014.

6. Virgil Exner

The famed Chrysler designer penned his first Dodge vehicles in 1953, including the Dodge Firearrow concept that would point to designs a dozen years later.

Richard Petty

7. Richard Petty

The stock car driver won the 1974 Daytona 500 in a Dodge Charger, cementing the brand’s performance heritage.

Sperlich

8. Hal Sperlich

The product planner and later president of Chrysler was the father of the Caravan minivan, a key Dodge vehicle. He brought the minivan idea to Chrysler from Ford, where it was languishing.

Gale

9. Tom Gale

The designer was responsible for many of Dodge’s highly regarded concept and production vehicles, including the original Viper concept in 1989. Gale and his design staff transformed Dodge design from dowdy to cutting edge with “cab forward” vehicles such as the 1993 Dodge Intrepid.

Lutz

10. Bob Lutz

As Chrysler’s president, he championed development of the Viper and restored the brand’s neglected performance identity. He also championed the radical “Big Rig” styling of the 1994 Dodge Ram.

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com.


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