Better Than Birthday Cake: A Day of Driving Vintage Dodges
It seems impossible that cars have come so far in just 100 years. But this year Dodge celebrated its centennial birthday.
Dodge invited a group of journalists to Meadow Brook Hall, the former Dodge Estate in Rochester Hills, Michigan recently to do something few ever get to do: Drive a fleet of vintage Dodges to celebrate the brand’s centennial. It was almost better than birthday cake (OK, it was better than birthday cake).
A Scandalous Start to A Venerable Brand
First, the juicy details of Dodge’s history: It seems the Dodge Brothers (Horace and John) were innovative automakers and infamous, boozy boors who died at the height of their careers. Machinists by trade, they began in 1900 forging parts for the burgeoning automobile business, but quickly came up with innovations including a four cylinder engine and steel body construction (a personal thank you for that…). Henry Ford liked their work so much he employed John as an executive.
But by 1913 the brothers decided they could build their own automobiles and in 1914, Dodge was born. The brother’s cars were an upscale alternative to Ford and Olds(mobile) Motor Company and quickly became a leading maker of popular cars and trucks, even building trucks for the US Army.
Despite their success, the Dodge brothers were not welcome in Detroit’s upper crust; their crude manners, partying ways and John’s multiple marriages (including a secret marriage to his sister-in-law and later, to his secretary) kept them on the outskirts of privileged society. So Horace built a waterfront mansion in Grosse Point right next to the yacht club that denied him membership, and John bought an expanse of rolling farm land in Rochester Hills where his widow built a mansion; the former estate is now the campus of Oakland University.
Good Times Come to An End
The fun took its toll when both men died less than a year apart in 1920—ostensibly of the Spanish Flu, but Horace’s death was also attributed to cirrhosis of the liver.
The brother’s widows sold the company to an investment bank a few years later and the company’s legacy eventually blended with Chrysler and became the Dodge we all know for its super-charged cars and macho trucks.
The Dodge 100 Anniversary Celebration
We gathered at Meadow Brook Hall, the former Dodge Estate, to see the company’s history lined up in the courtyard. Our first ride was in a car similar to the ones the Dodge Brothers may have driven. Here’s what it looked like (sort of) when they rolled up to the estate:
For a look at the other cars we drove that day, click here.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Chrysler, which provided my travel and accommodations for this event. Opinions expressed are all my own.