by Terry Parkhurst
Look up the word “wayfarer” in the dictionary and you’ll find it means “a traveler, especially on foot; hence a transient patron of an inn or hotel.” The Dodge Wayfarer was the perfect way for someone to get off their feet and travel with style, albeit affordably, in Post-WWII America.
Like the other cars produced by Chrysler for the 1949 model year, Dodge wasn’t ready with its first all-new postwar cars in time for the fall 1948 new car roll-outs; as a result, 1948s were sold through April as “first series” 1949s.
The second series of 1949 model Dodges were all new, save for a re-rated 103-block horsepower in-line L-head six-cylinder. (The first series of 1949 model year Dodges, had a six-cylinder rated at 102 block horsepower.)
Thanks to the pent-up demand for new cars, that Detroit was still working to assuage, they sold in record numbers: nearly 257,000 for the 1949 model year. That was good for eighth in industry volume.
Dodge offerings were available within two series and prices ran the gamut from $1,611 to $1,738. The inexpensive group was the Dodge Wayfarer series, riding on a 115-inch wheelbase and coming in several variations: a notchback business coupe, a fastback two-door sedan and an offbeat three-passenger roadster – a true roadster, complete with side curtains.
The Wayfarer roadster is the most desirable to collectors, of all 1949 Dodges. Only 5,420 were built back then; and many of those have been restored. Prices for the roadster can range from $13,450 for a roadster in mechanically functioning condition needing minor reconditioning, up to $44,800 for one in excellent overall condition.
Dodge had new exterior design for 1949 that was very square and slab-sided. While a bright latticework grille favored the 1946-48 grille, it had a more massive appearance. The rear fenders were bolted on and capped by three-sided taillights; however, the front fenders were completely flush. While the public was demanding long, low, and wide cars, Chrysler president K.T. Keller promoted cars that looked low outside, but were high inside; the Wayfarer has been called the roomiest, most comfortable car in its price range, with seats fairly high up and relatively straight.
The in-line, five-main-bearing six-cylinder engine in the Wayfarers had a bore and stroke of 3.25 by 4.63 inches, giving a displacement of 230.2 cubic inches, with a 7.0:1 compression ratio and a Stromberg two-barrel carburetor. Horsepower output was 103 hp gross, with 190 lb-ft of torque at 1,200 rpm; the top speed was reportedly 75 mph, with 0-60 coming in roughly 25 seconds (the engine would have the same power until 1954).
Ride quality was said to be quite good, thanks to the Floating Power insulation techniques, with rubber insulators coming between road vibration and the cabin. The independent front suspension used coil springs and Oriflow shocks with a Hotchkiss drive, or semi-elliptic rear springs in back. Brakes were reportedly excellent for the time, with little or no fade from the drum brakes and Cyclebonded brake pads. Bodies were made by Briggs, which also made bodies for Packards; they are said to be tough and resistant to rust. These particular cars had a front-opening hood, though Dodge had used side-opening hoods until 1948.
Backing up the durable engine was the semi-automatic Fluid Drive transmission. It had two gear positions: low, governing first and second gears, and a “high” position for third and fourth. Fast starts or towing was where you wanted to use “low.” In most other driving situations, the driver simply shifted into “high,” pressed the accelerator and backed off the go-pedal at 14 mph. That’s when a discernable thumping sound told you that the transmission was shifting from third to fourth gear.
Stopping – or starting - the approximately 3,000 pounds of car required no clutching or shifting, which led Dodge to assert that 95 percent of all shift motions were eliminated. Today, of course, there would be a disclaimer: shift motions may vary with individual driver.
There was an actual clutch. However, it was only used to change between “low” or “high” or to go into reverse.
The Wayfarer roadster weighed 3,145 pounds; and it sold for $1,727, back in 1949, and without a heater or radio. A two door sedan, such as the one pictured here, weighed just slightly more – 3,180 pounds – and sold for only a few dollars more: $1,738. However, many more were built: 49,058. How many two-door sedans remain is the subject of conjecture.
Miss Kathryn M. French of Elk Point, South Dakota bought the Dodge Wayfarer pictured, according to documentation that came with the car’s most recent purchase. She owned it for many years; and then, it found its way to Texas, where it was part of a collection for over 30 years. It eventually sold as part of an estate.
It was stored in an inside facility during its time there. Then, it was sold to a man in Salem, Oregon, a minister to disabled Iraqi war veterans. That’s who car dealer David Goldenberg bought the car from. The Wayfarer’s odometer shows just 25,654 miles.
“Obviously in a car that's approaching 60 years old, there's no way to document mileage without a proper paper trail,” explained Goldenberg. He believes the miles to the entire car has ever traveled, that's based on how the car appears.
It is very straight and original; retaining what appears to be its entire original interior - with very slight wear. It apparently was repainted at some point in the color it came in: "Sportsman Green.”
It won a "Best of Show" first place award for the antique/stock class at a car show in Salem, Oregon, summer of 2007. As you might expect, it reportedly cruises effortlessly, while maintaining a 160 degree engine temperature on the freeway.
Options on Goldenberg’s include the (factory-installed) exterior windscreen visor and vacuum operated windshield wipers, which work like a charm. All lights – save the interior dome light – work. (This car was sold to a private party shortly after this article appeared.)
For 1950, Dodge restyled the Wayfarer, changing the grille and adding fender-mounted tail-lights and a chromem strip on the rear fenders; the Sportabout roadster was replaced by a convertible, still selling for $1,727, but now facing tough competition from the Nash Rambler, which was pricier and slower but got much better mileage. The charming little Rambler actually outsold the Sportabout by 3:1 in 1950 alone.
In 1951, the Wayfarer was given another, more complete facelift, with a long, sloping hood, a new ram’s-head hood ornament, and a lower, wider grille; a new dashboard was installed, with a big round speedometer dominating rectangular gauges. New to the Wayfarer was the Gyro-Matic semi-automatic transmission, which, like the Fluid Drive, had low and high gear ranges; but it was a better design, and 0-60 came in around 17 seconds, a massive improvement since the engine was the same.
In 1952, the Wayfarer continued for one last year, as a corporate review suggested dropping the short-wheelbase Dodges, which may have confused the Dodge and Plymouth images. The Sportabout was dropped, followed by the coupe, which ended in the middle of the model year. The entire Wayfarer line was absent when the 1953 models appeared, boasting a new Hemi V8 and unified bodies; after two years of low sales, and just three years of existence, the Wayfarer’s price point was replaced by a low-end Dodge Meadowbrook.
Some information in this feature was obtained from the Encyclopedia of American Cars from 1930 (by the editors of Consumer Guide). Pricing information courtesy of the National edition of the NADA (National Auto Dealers Association) Classic, Collectible, and Special Interest Car Appraisal Guide & Directory. Additional information from Fridrich Design.
More Mopar Car and Truck News
Chrysler’s market status • The role rental cars play in a customer's... • Wiper Issue '82 Dodge 400