Kew Dodge: Dodge Trucks from the United Kingdom
The first Chrysler cars to be tagged “Kew” were actually English Plymouths, sold as the Chrysler Kew in the 1930s. The name came from Maxwell’s knockdown-kit-assembly operation on the bank of the Thames in Kew, Surrey. Chrysler took over Maxwell, and kept the Kew operation going.
After Chrysler bought Dodge Brothers, Dodge Brothers (Britain) was moved into the Kew plant. The trucks made there slowly gained more domestic (UK) parts, including Perkins diesel engines, and became known as Kew Dodges.
Dodge had arrived in the UK in 1922, importing American Dodge build ups to build at a production line in Fulham; the local assembly moved to Park Royal and later to Kew. As with their American counterparts, they gained a reputation for durability. Many of these Kew Dodges ran Canadian flat-head six-cylinder sidevalve engines, according to “Old Dodge Trucks UK.”
Paul of RustyTrucks wrote that the UK wartime models were type 82a and 101a; at that time the only engines available were the six-cylinder flathead and Perkins diesel. He commented,
With a gas engine these trucks were seriously fast - much faster than the Brit equivalent, and those haulers who needed speed (e.g. to move fish or fruit and vegetables to the early morning markets in the big cities) swore by either Dodge or Reo. I have seen 70 mph on the speedometer of my own 101a (with my father driving) and it could, and still can, out-drag the average family saloon.
During World War II, the Kew plant produced a restricted truck race and devoted most of its efforts to building R.A.F. aircraft, including Halifax bombers. Before the war, most of the trucks produced by Kew were built for the home market. But with the resumption of civilian production at Kew, the emphasis shifted to export. No less than 75 percent of the first year's output were shipped overseas to Australia and New Zealand.
A new series was launched in 1949, following World War II; these were clearly differentiated in appearance from their American relatives, though the basic design was similar. The company started moving upward in the commercial range, going up into the 28 ton range with the Dodge 500 and the highly successful Dodge 100 Commando. The 100 series, the first post-war range, was introduced in 1949. There were 103, 105, and 106 models plus an articulated tractor unit. A 7-tonner was added in 1953. The 1957 movie Hell Drivers used Perkins-powered Dodge 123 dump trucks, built at Kew (and owned by a construction company in London which loaned them to the production).
In 1957, the 300 Series was introduced, which had models in the 5, 7, 8, and 9-ton payload categories plus 10 and 12-ton tractor models. Dodge chassis could be specified for haulage, tipper, articulated and bus work and there was also a four wheel drive 5-tonner for off-highway or military applications.
Hans Ensing wrote that early models included the Dodge 406/407 (U.S. cabs on an English frame) with Perkins 4/236 or 6/354 engines; these lasted only 2 years); and the 3135/3165 which shared a cab with other British manufacturers and also used Perkins engines.
These Dodge trucks were sold under the "Kew" or "Kew Dodge" name in the Netherlands, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Turkey, and, of course, the United Kingdom.
In 1963, the 200 series was replaced by the 400 series, with an American-style cab, must of whose production was sent abroad before it was discontinued two years after its launch.
In the early 1960s, Dodge Brothers (Britain) Ltd. developed the Dodge 500 series, which extended the previous (300 Series) heavy duty trucks both up and down the GVW/GCW. The Dodge 500 was designed for both UK and export markets. The lightest planned models, KL500 and KL600, never happened because of the Rootes acquisition. (The truck series were always referred to as 500 Series, 400 series, etc.)
Dodge sold the cab and chassis, and operators bought bodies or trailers. The styling was done by Ghia, in Turin, which had never done a truck before, but reportedly did an excellent job. Engineering was done at Kew, led by George A. Kozloff, the Director of Engineering of the Kew plant. The final product was a diesel powered forward control truck with a tilt cab, and leaf springs in front and rear; the trucks were sold in primer only, and customers made arrangements for the final painting. George Kozloff wrote, “The finished product was a joy to see on the road.” Some advantages included the new, fresh appearance; forward step entry in front of the wheel; roominess and comfort; visibility; and one-man tilt cab operation.
The engines were an interesting feature, because Chrysler International said they needed to have a Chrysler-made diesel; while other manufacturers were not enthusiastic about licensing their designs, Cummins agreed to a 50/50 joint venture, and the Chrysler-badged Cummins V6 and V8 engines were made in Darlington, County Durham. The Perkins 6-354 diesel engine was retained for lighter truck usage. With payloads ranging to 16 tons, and tractor GCW going to 67,000 pounds, the engines went from 248 to 328 lb-ft of torque, and from 120 to 170 horsepower. Five speed manual transmissions were used.
Derek Harling added: “The Chrysler Cummins engines were totally new designs developed by Cummins for Europe - known as the VAL (V6) and VALE (V8). Cummins could not get the program going until we, Chrysler, also needed new engines; and the Chrysler-Cummins partnership, headed by Fred Clem, a Chrysler man, was formed. The factory was in Darlington, in the north of England.”
Hans Ensing wrote that Kew Dodges were successfully sold through Premier Automobiles in India, and that you can still see some in use there.
In 1965, Derek Harling wrote that Chrysler made their first investment in Rootes Group, buying a minority share, and paying for it by “nominally ‘merging’ Dodge and Commer operations, though in practice they remained very much chalk and cheese for several years!
“George Kozloff became Director of Product Planning and Engineering for the new Commercial Vehicle Division - the first joint Chrysler/Rootes department - and Tony Ainslie and I (both Chrysler people), with help from Jack Charipar from Chrysler International, initiated the Product Planning function.
“There were some initial plans for the new truck series within the old Commer Engineering department but the real planning, definition and approval of the 100 Commando Series happened within this new organization - little was left of the initial Commer-only plans. Mike Kemp came on board after George, Tony and I had moved elsewhere in Chrysler - and he and his team did an excellent job of controlling the development and launch of the Commando.”
Two years later, in 1967, Chrysler took control of Rootes Group. The same trucks were sold as Commers, Dodges, and Karriers, but in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Chrysler standardized on Dodge in most areas. The Kew plant was closed, and assembly of Dodge trucks was moved to the Commer plant in Dunstable; some components were made in Luton.
Bill Horn-Andrews wrote about the creation of the Dodge 100 line:
...the new range of trucks had to complement the newly introduced Dodge 500 Series. The ultimate aim was to produce a range of vehicles ranging in weight from 7.5 tons GVW up to 32 tons GCW (the latter being the maximum weight allowed in the UK at that time). This was to be achieved using three different cab widths and heights, but essentially using the same styling.
The Dodge - Commer 100 Series Commando was developed by Commer Cars Ltd as a concept in 1965/66; it was intended as a replacement for the aging Commer VC and CE range of vehicles, which ranged in weight from approximately 8 tons to 24 tons GVW/GCW. The truck was Chrysler’s (and Rootes’) most competitive truck in Europe, in its era. Chrysler UK’s Mike Kemp was the product planner for the project.
At one stage an investigation was carried out to determine what the implications would be if the range were to be marketed in the USA. However, major changes to the design would have to have been made in order to meet the FMVS requirements. These changes made the project unfeasible on cost grounds.
The trucks used Perkins and Cummins diesels, depending on the weight range; the Rootes Group TS3 and TS4 were intended to be used, but new noise legislation ruled them out. In the end, Chrysler acquired Barrieros, limiting Dodge 100 production to 4x2 rigid vehicles of 7.5 tons to 16 tons GVW and 24/28 tons GCW tractor units. A 6x4, 24 ton tipper vehicle was introduced into the range in the late 1970s. The Barreiros 38-ton tractor was marketed in Britain as the Dodge K38 from 1973 until 1977.
In 1976, the decision was made to apply the Dodge name to all the commercial vehicles marketed in Britain by Chrysler, although the Commer name was retained for vehicles sold in certain export markets.
The K38 tractor from Spain was replaced by the Dodge 300 series in 1978. It consisted of 3 models: a 36-ton day cab, a 38-ton sleeper cab, and 38-ton drawbar unit with a sleeper cab. A tractive unit was added in 1980.
The Dodge 50
The Dodge 50 (built starting in 1979), unlike the American Ram 50 (a rebadged Mitsubishi pickup), used a British truck chassis to support a cab similar to that of the American Tradesman van, but modified for European operation with different lights and features (including headlight wipers). The vans were sold in capacities from 3½ to 7½ tons, with different wheelbases, capacities, and left or right hand drive; like the domestically engineered Spacevan, they were popular in the commercial trade, and like the Spacevan, they lasted for more model years than one might have expected, and sold well (Dodge 50 / Renault 50 truck and van page). There was also an electric version for city deliveries. In the 1980s, the truck was rebadged Renault 50.
Dodge Trucks pass to Renault
In the late 1970s, according to Hans Ensing:
Chrysler tried to set up a major truck company in cooperation with International Harvester (which owned the Spanish Pegaso, a Barreiros competitor) but International Harvester backed off because they got in a dramatic agricultural equipment crisis. The American involved in this was Bill Storen.
When Peugeot acquired Chrysler, they investigated many strategic options for Dodge Trucks (e.g. with DAF) but finally Peugeot passed Dodge Trucks to Renault, basically because the French government did not want Peugeot to create a new competitor to Renault Trucks.
In 1981, Renault purchased Dodge Trucks UK; the trucks were slowly rebadged (in 1983, a Renault nameplate was added alongside the Dodge one; in 1985, with a Renault logo joined the nameplate; in finally, in 1987, the Dodge was refreshed and renamed to Renault 50). The Dunstable plant was kept going until 1993, when low sales brought about its closure; Dodge, Karrier, and Commer met their final end.
The last Kew Dodge trucks were from Chrysler Sanay, the third world truck plan that started in the mid-1960s. The trucks had mainly US components like Rockwell-TRW-Spicer etc. and Perkins diesels, including the Phaser in the 1990s. The Dunstable plant where the Dodge 50 and 100 were made was reportedly (we do not have confirmation) sold to Sanay in 1994, and the entire plant was shipped to China at that time.