With Dodge celebrating its 100th Anniversary this November, it seemed like a perfect time to highlight the backstories behind some of the interesting model names used by this iconic American carmaker over the last century.
While it’s pretty much common knowledge today, any discussion about Dodge must begin with the origin of the marque’s name. A name derived from the company’s founders, Horace Elgin and John Francis Dodge, Dodge produced its first automobile in November of 1914.
Prior to breaking out on their own, the Dodge brothers worked as machinists for a number of companies including Olds Motor Works. They were also at one time a primary supplier for the Ford Motor Company before deciding it was time they try building a car of their own. The gamble paid off, and the brothers ran the company bearing their name until 1920 when both passed away of health complications.
The etymological base for the manufacture’s moniker is from the Anglo-Saxon name Hrothgar, which first morphed into the name “Roger” and the development of the nickname “Dogge” and, eventually, the surname Dodge.
Under new leadership, the Dodge Brothers company looked to revamp its image and push into new markets with a dependable, economical and technically innovative line of cars. Lead by owners Dillon, Read & Co., Dodge released new models in 1927 and 1928 as well as announcing that more new cars would be on the way. One of these was the Victory Six—the first American production car with unit body construction.
Historians believe that the name Victory is derived from a celebration of 10 years from the conclusion of WWI. This is both fitting and likely, as Dodge played an important role in their supply of dependable motor vehicles for the war efforts.
Additionally, ads from the period touted the Victory’s engineering accomplishments first and foremost. The Victory Six Radio Hour hosted by Will Rogers marked the announcement by echoing the words of Dodge president E.G. Wilmer who called the car “the most spectacular engineering triumph of the decade, and the only car of its kind in the world.”
The Victory Six moniker was retained for just one year. In 1929 the model was renamed to the Dodge Brothers Six. Walter P. Chrysler, the company’s new owner, changed the name of the Victory Six, to reestablish the brand with its more traditional populist image.
As the lavish styling trends of the ’50s began to crest at the turn of the decade, Dodge continued to incorporate Virgil Exner’s “forward look” and built one its most ostentatious cars to date—the 1960 Polara.
The Polara name is believed to have originated with the star called Polaris and coincides with the space-age craze that was suddenly sweeping the country. The car’s logo and emblem is of a starburst design. Polaras were fittingly adorned with jet-like fins, lights and trim pieces.
Although the Polara remained true to its outer space-themed name in 1961, it became a stylistically more mundane car as the model continued through the 1960s. The Polara shrunk in size in 1962, but it retained its optional big-block engine making it a formidable opponent on the drag strip and helped spur on the early muscle car years. Factory modified lightweights and special dealer equipped versions contributed even more to the hot-rod persona that was eventually applied to the model that began as a boulevard cruiser.
Whether it was the 1953 Red Ram Hemi, the 1960s Ramchargers drag racing team, the 1970s with the Ramcharger SUV, or today’s Ram pickups, the moniker and image of a bighorn sheep has played an important role in the heritage of the Dodge company.
The association of Dodge with “the ram” goes back to 1932 and an influential 20th century sculptor Avard Tennyson Fairbanks who began sculpting mascots for the flourishing Chrysler Corporation in 1929 while a student at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
As the story goes, Fairbanks approached Chrysler looking to secure a new car in exchange for sculpting work. Fairbanks later recalled that Chrysler engineers were looking for a new image for Dodge and chosen the majestic bighorn ram, an animal they considered “master of the trail and not afraid of even the wildest animal.”
Walter P. Chrysler and the engineers took hold of the icon and it adorned the marque’s hood until 1954 and became a mainstay in Dodge lingo.
In 1955, Dodge introduced the La Femme, an upmarket Custom Royal Lancer adorned with a flamboyant pink, “heather rose” paint job that executives thought might capture the attention of a growing legion of women drivers.
La Femme is French for “the woman,” an accurate albeit wildly chauvinistic moniker for what was the first car in American history to be specifically designed and targeted to 1950s era housewives.
A popular advertisement for the car declared, “By Appointment to her Majesty…the American Woman.” Another announced the La Femme as “… the first fine car created exclusively for women” before listing all the things about the car that made it so “female-friendly.” These included optional accessories including a matching pink handbag, rain hat, coat, umbrella and storage bins for all the little extras.
This mid-century automotive marvel definitely played into dated and condescending ideals of femininity. La Femme reflected Dodge’s desire to create a car for a more upscale market, a car with luxurious appointments and exotic overtones.