Automotive History: Shockingly Low Volume Production Cars – The Dodge Edition

(first posted 6/6/2017)         For this latest installment of exploring low volume production cars, let’s take a look at Dodge, the sometimes mid-priced sometimes low-priced brand in the Chrysler Corporation.

Each of these installments is examining cars made from 1946 to 1995 and whose production is less than 1,000.  From what we’ve seen so far, there is a wide way in which makers reported sales volumes as some broke it down by engine (Chevrolet and Oldsmobile) while others break it down by body style (Ford).  If there are fewer than 1,000 examples based upon how it’s reported, that model is nominated for inclusion.  Over time, Dodge has reported both ways.

While this list isn’t necessarily all encompassing, it’s certainly an adventure.

1949 Coronet wagon 9 passenger

Production:  800

The 1949 model year is a confusing one at Dodge.  It also bears a strong influence on the production volume of the wood-bodied wagon.

Any Dodge built on or after December 1, 1948, was classified as a 1949 model.  There was no physical change in appearance, so the 1948 seen here is identical to the initial 1949 models.  Some sources list the 1949 models as Series One and Series Two to reflect the profound differences in 1949 Dodges.

What is referred to as the “regular” or Series Two 1949 Dodge was introduced in April 1949 with wagons coming on board sometime later.  So not only was the model year split into two different eras, wagon production began quite late.  Combine this with it having a wood body, something seen throughout this series as not being popular, and an explanation starts to form.

Interestingly, Dodge put their wagon in the top trim series; conversely, others such as Oldsmobile, had it in the bottom trim level.

1950 Coronet wagon; Coronet Sierra 

Production:  600; 100

These were both wagons but there is one fundamental difference – the lower production Coronet Sierra had an all steel body.  The volume for the wood-bodied Coronet isn’t atypical as no wood-bodied cars were popular due to their expense and perpetual maintenance needs.  The steel bodied Coronet Sierra replaced the wooden Coronet during the course of the model year.  Sadly, details beyond that are enigmatic.

1951 / 1952 Wayfarer Sportabout Roadster

Production:  1,002

This appears to exceed the magic threshold of 1,000 yet it doesn’t as this 1,002 represents combined production for both the 1951 and 1952 model years.  That’s just how Dodge reported things at that time.

The Wayfarer was the lowest-tier Dodge in 1951 and 1952, with Meadowbrook and Coronet being above it in hierarchy.  The Sportabout Roadster was a Wayfarer with only a single bench seat, allowing for three passengers.  At $1,884 (or $40 more according to another source), this was a cheap way for a person to have the thrill of topless motoring as this price was $650 less than a Coronet convertible and within $20 of the Wayfarer two-door sedan.

It was quite the alluring proposition for some, especially those with the youthful exuberance of the couple seen in the ad.

1954 Meadowbrook Club Coupe V8

Production:  750

It was a mixed bag at Dodge in 1954.  On the positive side was the introduction of the new Red-Ram V8 during the 1953 model year.  The flip-side saw poor sales partly attributable to somewhat dowdy styling.

For 1954 overall, the lower line Meadowbrook was nowhere near as popular as was the Coronet and Royal series.  Factoring in the price of the V8 on a Meadowbrook club coupe, for an additional $77 one could slip into a Coronet club coupe.  Dodge would only sell 4,200 Meadowbrook club coupes in both six- and eight-cylinder configurations.

The mixture of a V8 in a low-line Meadowbrook just wasn’t an enticing formula.

1954 Coronet Sierra six-cylinder wagon 

Production:  312 (six- and eight-passenger combined)

There is an old adage that cylinders sell.  Well, in this case of the 1954 Dodge wagons it needs to be revamped to saying doors don’t sell.

The six-cylinder model is getting picked on here as it’s the most pronounced in not selling.  The eight-cylinder version, while selling over three times as much at 988, still doesn’t break 1,000 sales.

For 1954, two-door wagons were the flat roof commodities in the Dodge showroom.  If looking at two-door wagons, there were 3,100 with a V8 that went to a loving new home with nearly 6,400 six-cylinder versions doing the same.  The market just hadn’t yet transitioned to four-door wagons.

1954 Coronet convertible and Sport hardtop 

Production:  50 and 100, respectively

Trimming can make all the difference.  For 1954, the Coronet was the mid-level Dodge as the Royal had supplanted it atop the food chain.

Despite the roughly 10% premium, these two body styles sold well enough in Royal trim with both exceeding 2,000 units.  Having so many entries from 1954 also emphasizes how Dodge sales slipped that year.

1957 Coronet D-500 coupe and convertible

Production:  101 combined

According to the Standard Catalog of American Cars:

The D-500 was actually a high-performance engine option for all series.  However…we are listing it in series format….Dodge D-500s included all features of the base series models, plus the high-performance 285-, 310-, or 340-hp V8 engines.

These are simply too desirable to not include.

1958 Coronet I-6 hardtop coupe

Production:  715

It all boils down to the engine, proving that cylinders were starting to sell in 1958.  In the base model Coronet series, Dodge sold 21,000 hardtop coupes equipped with a V8 – meaning the only difference was two extra pistons pumping away for your delight.

And, let’s face it…when having the choice between an ancient flathead six or one of a series of V8s advertised as Red-Ram, Ram-Fire, D-500, or Super D-500 which is more appealing?

1959 Custom Royal V8 convertible coupe

Production:  984

This is likely a simple reflection of the market.  Dodge fielded two convertibles for 1959, the Custom Royal and the lower trimmed Coronet.  With not quite 1,000 convertibles sold in the Custom Royal series, the Coronet fared better but sold only 1,840 copies.

The convertibles were simply the poorest selling body style, something that only became more pronounced throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s.

1970 Polara convertible

Production:  842

Dodge sold roughly 60,000 Polaras in 1970 with only 842 convertibles.  That is simply a reflection of the dwindling popularity the full-sized convertibles were experiencing during that time.  Yet the full-sized cars weren’t the only ones…

1970 Dodge Coronet 500 convertible and Coronet R/T convertible

Production:  924 and 296 respectively

With around 110,000 Coronets of all varieties produced for 1970, less than 1% were convertibles.  That is the market speaking.

1976 Royal Monaco two-seat wagon

Production:  923

This article would be incomplete without a mid-70s C-body although this only made the list by strictly applying self-imposed rules.

Dodge reported on three levels of Monaco wagon for 1976 – base, two-seat Royal Monaco, and three-seat Royal Monaco.  Perhaps the two Royal Monacos could be rolled up into one, but based upon the way Dodge reported sales, they are separate.

Regardless, none of them sold well with the three-seat Royal Monaco being the most populous at 1,429.  This is quite the discrepancy from Ford, who was selling in excess of 80,000 similarly sized wagons every year during this time.

1985 Aries shown

1987 Dodge Aries base model two-door sedan

Production:  204

This particular example doesn’t seem quite right.  How so?  In The Plymouth Edition of this series, the base 1987 Plymouth Reliant two-door also reported having sold exactly 204 copies.

Let’s just leave it at that.

1983 shown; the base 1987s were identical

1988 Diplomat base sedan

Production:  444

As was the case with the identical Plymouth Gran Fury, a base model was created below the Salon and SE trims for 1988 only.  Perhaps intended for fleet use, these are a fluke in the history of Diplomats as the rest of the Diplomat line sold around 19,000 copies that year.

Stay tuned for the rest of this series as there is still an abundance of ground to cover.