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History of Dodge Pickup Trucks, 1921-1953

1940 dodge pickup

The Dodge brothers (John and Horace) got their start making parts for Oldsmobile, Ford, and others; then they struck out on their own, with the first Dodge Brothers automobile in 1914 instantly earning a strong reputation and good sales. They did not build a truck until World War I — and that was a panel van, not a pickup - with a half-ton capacity and a 35 horsepower engine. The underlying chassis was likely almost unchanged from their cars.

1918 panel van

In 1921, Graham Brothers started selling one-and-a-half ton pickups through Dodge dealers, using their own bodies on Dodge chassis. A one-ton showed up later in the 1920s, powered by that same four cylinder engine. Dodge Brothers bought Graham Brothers over 1925 and 1926 — and thereby made their first civilian trucks. (The Grahams moved on to bigger ventures.)

In 1928, Chrysler acquired Dodge Brothers, after giving Plymouth dealers a line of Fargo trucks (see our separate history), which sold in the US from 1928 through 1930, and continued for decades as an export brand; they had nothing in common with Dodge trucks, sharing parts with Plymouth and DeSoto instead.

1929 Dodge Brothers pickp truck

Dodge launched a half-ton pickup for 1929 just after its acquisition by Chrysler, the last truck designed by the old Dodge Brothers company. Three engines were available - two Dodge engines with six cylinders (63 and 78 hp), and a Maxwell four cylinder that produced just 45 hp. The trucks had four wheel hydraulic brakes, a major safety feature unique among pickups.

The second series: Chrysler Dodges

Beginning in 1933, Dodge trucks abandoned the old Dodge Brothers engines and used Chrysler Corporation engines instead, modifying them for durability. The six cylinder engine was the flat-head six used in Plymouths, which continued through 1960.

1934 Dodge KC pickup truck

Origin of the Dodge Ram hood ornament

The 1933 Dodge trucks were designated HC; the second letter, C, remained up until World War II, while the first letter moved up, culminating in the WC.

In 1935, Dodge increased its range by selling 3/4 ton and one ton trucks based on the standard 1.5 ton pickups.

1934 Dodge KC truck

Fore-Point (cab forward) series

In 1936, Dodge entered the large truck arena with “D” series trucks (as in “MD.”) They had “Fore-Point load distribution,” similar to Cab Forward, in that the front axles were moved forward so they carried more weight, increasing stability. Moving the engine and cab forward increased the usable bed space.

ram hood ornament

Dodge started to use a modern truck-style frame was adopted in half-ton pickups for the first time, with side rails welded to cross members, dropping the old car frames.

The engine was unchanged, producing 70 horsepower from 201 cubic inches, with a unsynchronized three-speed manual transmission (a synchronized three-speed was optional). Performance was aided by steep rear axle ratios. The 3/4 and one ton pickups stayed in production, moving to the new platform, and selling for the same price as the big truck.

1937 brought a “safe” instrument panel, with nothing sticking out to avoid stabbing the driver during a crash; and a new 3/4 and one ton truck series, with the same styling as the half-ton trucks and two wheelbases. The six cylinder was expanded to 218 cubic inches, producing 75 horsepower.

Another redesign for 1939

1939 brought a complete redesign, with streamlined styling. In 1940, engineering started on a military four wheel drive truck, leading to the first stock light-duty four wheel drive pickup in 1946; these were made in a massive new truck plant. Dodge also made their first diesel truck, using their own diesel engines, joining Mack as the only two American automakers to use their own diesels before World War II.

1930s Dodge truck building

Dodge had good reason to brag about their trucks; while some competitors upgraded their smaller, lighter vehicles to create 2-ton-and-up models, Dodge made many more changes to make their bigger trucks tougher and more durable.

In 1939, Dodge introduced the concept of Job Rated, aimed at getting the customer the truck that fit the job that he was buying it for.

1941 Dodge truck

Truck production lines had barely stopped when military orders poured in. Dodge had established its successful four wheel drive combination in 1934. Between 1942 and the declaration of peace in 1945, Dodge built some 255,195 T-model trucks (e.g. T214). This chassis became the basis for the largely unchanged, civilian Power Wagon. These were job rated as WC for half ton and WD for one ton.

The 1939 styling continued through 1947 as the focus went on engineering and production.

1941 dodge pickup

1929 Dodge Merchants Express pickup

dodge engine

Dodge WC truck

1943 fire truck

1941 dodge truck

The revolutionary new postwar B series Dodge trucks

Dodge Power Ram pickup trucks, not part of the regular progression of Dodge pickups, are detailed in a their own Dodge Power Wagon page. The legendary tough trucks, descended from 15,000 designed for China’s horrific Burma Road, ran from just after the war to 1978.

The rest of the Dodge trucks moved to meet customer tastes. As Curtis Redgap wrote:

Dodge joined the planned obsolescence era in 1948 with new designations and a styling studio for trucks. This studio brought the “pilot house” styling with the model B-1. These were popular and well-thought-out, stylish small trucks. Even the big jobs looked good. After that only the number changed as each new year model came along. 1951 was the B-2. 1953 was the B-3.

1951 dodge route van

The postwar B-trucks leapfrogged GM and Ford; the B-series had a superior cab with taller seats and larger glass areas, named “pilot house” for its visibility. Rear quarter windows became optional to avoid other blind spots. The front axles, wheels, and engine also moved, shifting payload to the front axle so the truck could carry more on the same axle and springs. Dodge took advantage of their increased capacity by deepening the cargo boxes.

Ram hood ornament, 1948 dodge trucks

Cross steering allowed for much tighter turns; and longer springs and shocks made the ride more comfortable while improving handling. Many favor these trucks because of their appearance, as well; while the 1993 and newer Rams took many cues from big rigs, they also resemble the B series in many ways.

The B series continued through 1953. After that, the C series Dodge pickups picked up where they left off, with major power boosts.

Dodge pickup truck history 1954 and onwards

job-rated 1951 Dodge pickup

Dodge pickups

1953 Dodge pickup trucks

truck dashboard

1951 flathead engine

1953 flathead six engine

pickup truck interior

Go to Dodge pickup truck history 1954 and onwards

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