Trucks, Jeeps

Kew Dodge: Dodge Trucks from the United Kingdom

The Kew Dodge truck story starts with Maxwell Motors’ assembly operation, using imported “kits,” in Kew, Surrey, England. Chrysler took over Maxwell, and kept the Kew operation going, giving the name “Chrysler Kew” to a 1930s Plymouth assembled in the plant.

dodge
100 trucks

Chrysler later moved Dodge Brothers (Britain) into the Kew plant; they made trucks with a slowly increasing number of domestic (UK) parts, including Perkins diesel engines, which became known as Kew Dodges.

Dodge Brothers had arrived in the UK in 1922, importing American car kits to build at a production line in Fulham and gaining a reputation for durability. Many of these Kew Dodges ran Canadian flat-head six-cylinder sidevalve engines, according to “Old Dodge Trucks UK.”

During World War II, the Kew plant produced a restricted truck range, and devoted most of its efforts to building R.A.F. aircraft, including Halifax bombers. Paul, of RustyTrucks, wrote that the UK wartime models were type 82a and 101a, both equipped with the six-cylinder flathead and Perkins diesel. He commented,

With a petrol 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.

Before the war, most of the trucks produced by Kew were built for the home market, but after the war, the emphasis shifted to export, with three quarters of the first year’s output shipped to Australia and New Zealand. Sold under the “Kew” or “Kew Dodge” name, these Dodge trucks were available in the Netherlands, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Turkey, and, of course, the United Kingdom. Kew Dodges were successfully sold through Premier Automobiles in India.

1954 Kew trucks

A new series launched in 1949 was clearly different in appearance from American trucks, though the basic design was similar. The company moved 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 launched in 1949, with the 103, 105, and 106, and 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, Dodge launched the 300 Series, with models in the 5, 7, 8, and 9-ton payload categories as well as 10 and 12-ton tractor models. Buyers could get a Dodge chassis specified for haulage, tipper, articulated, and bus work, or obtain a four wheel drive five-tonner for off-highway applications (including military uses). The 3135/3165 shared a cab with other British manufacturers and used Perkins diesel engines.

early Dodge Kew trucks

In 1963, the 200 series was replaced by the 400 series, which had an American-style cab; much of its production was sent abroad before it was discontinued two years after its launch. This included the Dodge 406/407 (U.S. cabs on an English frame). They had Perkins 4/236 or 6/354 engines.

At about the same time, Dodge Brothers (Britain) Ltd. developed the Dodge 500 series, which extended the 300 Series heavy duty trucks both up and down the gross weight/cargo capacity range for both UK and export sales. A cab-and-chassis with no body or trailer, the Dodge 500 was styled by Ghia, of Turin, their first truck project; it was engineered by the Kew staff, led by George A. Kozloff, the Director of Engineering of the plant.

A diesel powered forward control truck with a tilt cab, the 500 series had leaf springs in front and rear, and were sold in primer, with customers arranging for final painting. George Kozloff wrote, “The finished product was a joy to see on the road.” Some advantages included the fresh appearance; forward step entry in front of the wheel; roominess and comfort; visibility; and one-man tilt cab operation.

Dodge 500 truck

The Perkins 6-354 diesel engine was used for lighter capacities, but a serious heavy duty diesel was also needed, and that brought a problem — because Chrysler International said they needed to have a Chrysler-made engine. No engine maker was willing to license their design, but Cummins agreed to a 50/50 joint venture, using totally new designs developed specifically for Europe, the VAL (V6) and VALE (V8). Company veteran Derek Harling wrote, “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 [County Durham], in the north of England.”

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, all going through a five speed manual transmission. The next step would be to replace their lighter-duty range.

Dodge 100 water tender

In 1965, Chrysler bought a minority share in Rootes Group; Derek Harling wrote that they paid for it by “nominally ‘merging’ Dodge and Commer operations, though in practice they remained very much chalk and cheese for several years!” He added, “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 Product Planning.”

In 1967, Chrysler took full control of Rootes Group, and the same trucks were sold as Commers, Dodges, and Karriers. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Chrysler standardized on Dodge in most cases; and the Kew plant was finally closed, with assembly of Dodge trucks was moved to the Commer plant in Dunstable, with components made in Luton.

Bill Horn-Andrews wrote that the Dodge 100 line...

...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.

Dodge 100 tipper

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.

Derek Harling added, “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.”

The company looked into marketing the trucks in the US, but major changes would be needed to meet Federal rules, making the project unfeasible on cost grounds.

Dodge 100 Commando commercial truck

The 100 series used Perkins and Cummins diesels, depending on the capacity; plans to use 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, Chrysler started to use the Dodge name for all its commercial vehicles in Britain, although Commer was still used in some export markets.

The Dodge 300 replaced the K38 tractor from Spain 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

Dodge 50 van

The Dodge 50 (built starting in 1979) bore no resemblance to the American Ram 50; it 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 three and a half to seven and half tons, with different wheelbases, capacities, and left or right hand drive; like the 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 50 electric truck

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.”

Chrysler ran into heavy financial troubles at home, and had to sell its European operations to raise cash. Peugeot bought the company, and, as Hans Ensing wrote, “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.”

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The sale was made in 1981, and, in 1983, a Renault nameplate was added alongside the Dodge label. In 1985, with a Renault logo joined the nameplate, and in 1987, the trucks were officially and visibly Renaults. The Dunstable plant lasted until 1993, when it succumbed to low sales, and Dodge, Karrier, and Commer met their final end.

The last Kew Dodge trucks were from Chrysler Sanayi (later renamed Askam), a truck plant that started in 1964. The trucks mostly relied on US drivetrain parts and Perkins diesels, including the Phaser in the 1990s. The company, which sold trucks under the Fargo and DeSoto names, folded in 2015.

More: Commer-Dodge SpaceVanDodge 50 • Dodge 100Dodge 500KarrierBarreiros Trucks

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