RICHARD JOHNSON

Dodge touted 'old lady,' then kicked her to curb

COMMENTARY
Richard Johnson is print editor for Automotive News
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When I was installed as a reporter in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1986, one of the big stories was General Motors' attempt to revitalize Opel, which had an unwanted reputation as "Europe's Dodge."

Opel, you see, had an impressive following among Germans of advanced age. I understood the Dodge reference because my grandmother drove a Dodge in the early 1960s in Indiana. So did my stepgrandfather and several of their friends. Born in the 1890s, they were a demographic hot spot for Dodge.

So when muscle car enthusiasts refer to Dodge -- now celebrating its 100th anniversary -- as one of the great brands of the '60s and '70s, I have a different kind of "60s and 70s" in mind.

Face it, some brands are just geezer pleasers. Buick has the big numbers today (in average age of buyers). But in the '50s and early '60s, people who had a lot of mileage on them were putting a lot of miles on Dodges.

I always assumed that was the inside joke in Jan & Dean's 1964 smash, "The Little Old Lady from Pasadena."

"Parked in a rickety, old garage is a brand-new, shiny-red, super-stock Dodge"

The old gal was the street-racing "terror of Colorado Boulevard."

Why Pasadena? The city was filled with the widows of Midwestern men who had moved their families to California during the Depression.

The "super-stock Dodge" was probably a 1964 330 model, which could be had with the Max Wedge 426.

The hit record was inspired by a 1964 Southern California Dodge dealers TV ad campaign. The commercials starred 72-year-old actress Kathryn Minner as a granny in a red Dodge. Minner was a sensation at SoCal personal appearances and appeared with Jan and Dean on the cover of their "Little Old Lady from Pasadena" album.

So heading into the 1960s, Dodge was a car for old people. Coming out of the decade -- with the 330, the 1968 Charger and the 1970 Challenger -- it was a youth brand. Talk about a turnabout.

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