(This article originally appeared in Hemmings Classic Car #122, November 2014)
It Speaks for Itself
While the view from Henry Ford’s vest pocket was great, the Dodge Brothers decided to venture out on their own as automobile manufacturers in 1913. Their first car wouldn’t roll out of the factory until November, 1914 but the Brothers would be the fourth largest auto producer by 1916. Their strong start was certainly due to their manufacturing background, financial strength and strong business acumen. Like the automobile production itself, sales literature for the Dodge Brothers car was somewhat limited in the beginning but quickly increased in quality and quantity.
Published during the last quarter of 1914, the first piece of Dodge Brothers sales literature ever produced was simply titled “It Speaks for Itself”. More of a teaser than anything else, it is a basic two-sided sheet of paper that is folded to 3 ½” X 6 ¼” and opens to 13 ½” X 6 ¼”. It features black and yellow ink and lists vehicle specifications and an illustration of the touring car. The title of the brochure says it all – there is no description of the car or the riding experience. The specifications described the Dodge Brothers offering by listing common features like steel springs, hickory wheels, and electric lights. The brochure did not capitalize on two notable features of the initial Dodge Brothers cars; a 12-volt electrical system and all-steel bodies.
I personally find the “It Speaks for Itself” approach to be quite bold. Sure industry insiders were aware of the Dodge Brothers reputation and quality but would the average car buyer make a connection between a brand new car name and its manufacturer’s connection to Ransom Olds and the Ford Motor Company? It is fair to assume, however, that the Dodge Brothers decision to leave the supply end of the industry and become a full-fledged automobile manufacturer left them with little time to worry about sales literature.
During the 1915 calendar year Dodge Brothers produced at least three catalogs to sell the company’s touring car and roadster. This year they finally used more than specifications to sell the car, relying much more on written descriptions than brief specifications. They assured buyers that “Dodge Brothers have brought…an extraordinary experience, immense production capacity, and complete financial independence.” One 1915 catalog, simply titled “Dodge Brothers Motor Car”, extensively uses the written word to describe the strength of the engine: “All vital parts which are subject to strain are made from Chrome Vanadium steel”, upholstery : “The real grain leather gives richness to the upholstery and the cushions are comfortably sloped” and overall refinement of the car: “Many qualities which cannot be shown in the specifications reveal themselves in a most satisfying way when the car is in actual use.” The literature produced in 1915 is good sales literature but for me it has one shortcoming – poor illustrations that are barely more than line drawings. I think the illustration used in the 1914 catalog was better than every drawing used throughout 1915.
While the first Dodge Brothers car was available in 1914 there were less than 400 cars manufactured that year. Most people consider cars produced in late 1914 to be 1915 models and Dodge Brothers gets credit for producing 45,000 cars during its first year; this is the highest production total for a first year manufacturer in the history of the industry. Their literature got off to a slow start in 1914 but finished strong in 1915. Of course there are 99 more years of consistent, quality Dodge literature just waiting for you to discover. Happy Birthday Dodge!