Dodge turns 100, with a vengeance


Dodge turns 100 this year and the anniversary finds the brand at a crossroads.

For the last couple of decades, Dodge been known as much for its minivans as it has for its Viper, but that’s about to change.

To start its second century, the signature of Dodge will be performance with an attitude and sportiness with a sinister face. To prove that, the minivan is departing the lineup in 2016, and Chrysler’s high-performance Street and Racing Technology (SRT) division is being folded back into the brand.

“Dodge strives to turn everyday vehicles into personal statements. Our vehicles are modern performance cars that deliver that visceral feel that reminds buyers why they fell in love with driving in the first place,” said Tim Kuniskis, President and CEO of the Dodge and SRT brands. Kuniskis refers to the changes at Dodge as a “purification” of the brand.

Leading off the second hundred years will be the 707-horsepower 2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat. Dodge claims that it is the highest horsepower American production muscle car ever made. It’s truly an impressive beast, designed to leave lesser cars quaking in fear.

Bicycle beginnings

Brothers John Francis and Horace Elgin Dodge were bicycle builders at the beginning of the 20th century but soon became major suppliers to the budding automobile industry. They built parts for early Oldsmobiles and assembled cars for the Ford Motor Company.

They gave up the Ford business to make their own car. On Nov. 14, 1914, the first Dodge was completed. In 1915, Dodge was ranked as the third-largest car company in America. Tragically, both brothers died from illness in 1920, just six years after the company was formed. In 1928 Dodge was purchased by the Chrysler Corporation.

Portlander Bob Osborn worked in product planning for the company after getting out of college. It was Dodge’s heyday of racing, and Osborn’s job was to represent Dodge at events while the company was preparing the 1970 Challenger for the market.

“We had a rival…we had Plymouth. They were a bigger rival than anyone else,” Osborn says. “We all spied on each other.”

According to Chrysler’s archives, the longest-serving current Dodge dealer in the Portland market is Ron Tonkin Dodge. The late Tonkin saw potential in the company and added the brand to his dealership portfolio in 1985. According to son Ed Tonkin, Ron was always one to support American brands. When Chrysler was on the ropes in 1979, he advertised that anyone “who didn’t buy a car from us should buy a Chrysler product.”

Now Ed Tonkin likes the brand for its performance aspect.

“We love cars, we love fast cars,” he says, adding that Dodge is doing very well for dealers with their styling, marketing and advertising.

Dodge enthusiasts are set for a great 2015. In addition to the awesome Challenger Hellcat the rest of the Challenger lineup has been updated, and there’s a revamped Charger arriving. They join a lineup that includes the Dart compact, Journey crossover and the best-in-class Durango SUV.

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