Monday, December 22, 2014

Dodge's Odd Early 1950s Grille Theme

During the late 1940s and through the mid-1950s, the fashion for automobile grilles in America was for large chromium plated bars and other shapes -- this opposed to eggcrate or mesh grilles that have been common since then.  Dodge, Chrysler Corporation's lower-mid priced line (slotted between entry-level Plymouth and DeSoto) was no exception.

What interests me about Dodge grilles is that for three model years, 1951-53, a rather odd-looking theme was offered to the buying public.


1950 Dodge
This is the previous grille design.  The entire Chrysler line was restyled for the 1949 model year.  The cars were boxy-looking and tall, unlike what most competing brands were offering.  Grilles on '49 Dodges were a combination of eggcrate and a heavy horizonal bars at the top and center.  For 1950, the eggcrate feature was dropped and a two-bar theme was put in place -- fairly conventional for its time.

1951 Dodge
All Chrysler brands were facelifted for 1951.  The main changes were curved hood fronts and restyled grilles.  The Dodge retains the loop-around-the-parking-lights theme from '50, but drops it down to bumper level.  At the top is something like a large air scoop (a fake hood-mounted version was used extensively on the 1952 Ford Motor Company line) with vertical bars that lean forward.  That lean meant that the chrome bars and surround would not reflect much light, creating a comparatively dark zone above the upper grille bar.  It was both visually and actually sunken, an oddity at a time when most American cars had grilles that boldly thrusted outwards.  Apparently the new grille theme didn't hurt sales, as Dodge moved from the eighth-ranked brand for 1950 to sixth for 1951.

1952 Dodge
The grille was essentially unchanged for 1951, the main difference being a body-color panel above the bumper.

1953 Dodge
The Chrysler line was restyled for 1953, Plymouth and Dodge sharing a basic body that was even shorter than the previous one while competitors featured longer cars.  One result was that Dodge dropped back to eighth place in sales rank.  The grille theme was carried over, albeit with some feature-swapping.  Again the parking lights are wrapped by grille bars, but now these are two floating horizontal bars, as we saw for 1950.  The forward-leaning vertical bars have been moved from the upper part of the opening down between those horizontal bars and the upper part is now open space.

1954 Dodge
Virgil Exner became head of Chrysler styling in 1953, and so might have had some say in facelifts for the entire 1954 Chrysler line that was now having serious sales trouble.  The 1951-53 Dodge grille theme was abandoned, being replaced a more conventional early-1950s theme comprised of heavy chromed shapes.  The center blob is a vague foretaste of the split-grille theme on the boldly restyled 1955 Dodges.

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