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14 Forgotten Classic Dodge Models You Probably Never Knew Existed

Vukasin HerbezOctober 25, 2017

Established by John and Horace Dodge in 1914, the Dodge car company became a major automobile maker in the U.S. The combination of high quality, dependability and affordability was the trademark of Dodge cars. In the early years, Chevrolet and Ford dominated the market, but Dodge soon showed there was space for a third high volume car manufacturer. In 1928, Dodge became a valuable part of the newly-formed Chrysler Corporation. It has played a pivotal role in this conglomerate ever since.

The rise of Dodge as a brand started after WWII when America needed dependable, affordable cars. And Dodge fitted that profile perfectly. Constantly producing quality automobiles, Dodge occupied the top of the car industry in terms of sales and popularity. During the 60’s, Dodge was on the forefront of the industry. They offered a wide range of powerful, memorable muscle cars, as well as family sedans, wagons, pickups and vans.

Even during the boring, highly-regulated 70’s and 80’s, Dodge surprised the automotive world with bold creations and concepts. One was the original Dodge Viper, which later became a production model. Over the years, Dodge has had its ups and downs, like the whole Chrysler Corporation. However, it has always stayed among the most relevant domestic companies.

Most people are familiar with well-known Dodge cars from the past like the Charger, Challenger and Viper. But what many people don’t know is Dodge produced millions of other cars over the years. Some of them were left in the margins of car history. So, keep reading to become familiar with those lesser-known Dodge models only the most educated car enthusiasts know about.

  1. Dodge Wayfarer

Dodge introduced the Wayfarer back in 1949 as the first fully new Dodge design since the end of WW II. The Wayfarer featured fresh styling with rounded fenders, a 3.8-liter six-cylinder engine and 103 HP. The basic technology was standard like other Chrysler, De Soto and Plymouth products. But the most interesting thing about the Wayfarer was the cool-looking Sportabout version.

This was practically a roadster with a front only seat and no rear seats. In those days, this was the only roadster style model available in North America by a domestic manufacturer. The Wayfarer was a solid success. So, by 1952, they produced over 215,000 versions. They included over 9,000 Sportabouts, which collectors prize in rare versions and models.

  1. Dodge La Femme

The La Femme, which is French for “woman,” was an interesting one-year model from Dodge. They designed it just for lady buyers. It featured feminine equipment and color choices that other Dodges didn’t. Basically, the La Femme was a regular 1955 to 1956 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer. However, it came with a special purse to accommodate makeup, a pack of cigarettes and a mirror, since these were the obligatory contents of a lady’s purse back in the day.

The color choices were pastel colors to match the dresses of that year and women’s taste. The seat upholstery was specific, featuring a specially designed pattern. The reason for creating this model was that Dodge management realized women buyers were becoming more common. At the time, they only designed and marketed cars with men in mind.

The La Femme looked appropriate, but even if it was a winner, Dodge didn’t invest in marketing, TV or magazine ads. For that reason, most buyers never realized they had the option of the La Femme model. Even some dealers didn’t know about it. Dodge produced a small number of La Femme models and discontinued the line after 1956.

  1. Dodge Matador

As a one-year offering, people soon forgot the Dodge Matador, even though it was popular with consumers. They equipped it with a powerful 361 V8 engine as the standard power plant. The Matador was the base trim level for full-size Dodges. In 1960, the Polara was the upscale model. But if you wanted the bare bones model, the Matador was your best choice.

It came in several body styles including a four-door sedan and a wagon, as well as a two-door coupe and convertible. In just one year, the Matador line sold over 23,000 copies. You could consider that a success, but Dodge decided to retire this model entirely. They retained the Polara as its sole full-size offering. Today, Matadors are rare cars and only true Dodge aficionados know about them.

  1. Dodge Lancer

Dodge used the name, “Lancer,” just three times. The first time was in the 50’s when they presented it as a full-size model. Then in the 60’s, they offered it as a compact, basing it on Chrysler’s A platform that Lancer shared with the Plymouth Valiant. The third time was in the 80’s as a front-wheel drive economy model.

But for car fans, the Lancer from the 60’s is the most interesting. Not only was this the first truly compact Dodge, but it also featured a wild design. Dodge built the 1961 to 1962 Lancer in America, as well as in other countries including Switzerland. It was a rare occurrence to build an American car in Europe and then sell it locally.

The Lancer was available as a two and a four-door sedan as well as a wagon. Dodge offered two six cylinders in the Lancer. For selected markets, they produced the Lancer in a right-hand drive configuration. After 1962, Dodge retired the Lancer name and re-introduced the Dart as their entry level, economy model.

  1. Dodge Monaco

The Monaco nameplate was quite popular between 1965 and the late 1970’s when Dodge discontinued it. This was a full-size top of the line model available as a two and four-door hardtop, as well as a convertible and sedan. The Monaco was above the Polara and represented the best Dodge had to offer in given model year.

The favorite for Dodge fans was the first generation, which they produced from 1965 to 1968. What makes this model special was the design. It featured sharp lines in the rear end with massive stop lights. The coupe version was particularly good looking with a semi-fastback roofline. But the best thing about the Dodge Monaco was the engine choices.

The base engine was a 383 V8 with 325 HP, and the mighty 440 V8 with 375 HP. The Monaco wasn’t a muscle car, even though it produced a lot of power. However, it was a luxury car. The most famous Dodge Monaco was the 1974 model featured in the legendary Blues Brothers movie.

  1. Dodge Charger 500

Most muscle cars fans know the Dodge Charger lineup well, including the wild Charger Daytona from 1969. But the Daytona’s predecessor, the Charger 500 was far less known and not as successful. In the late 60’s, Dodge was desperate to race at NASCAR, and the Charger was their perfect candidate. Since NASCAR cars already approached high speeds of almost 200 mph on newly constructed superspeedway tracks, aerodynamics played a key role in the car’s performance results.

The standard Charger with the deep grille and concave rear glass wasn’t aerodynamic. Despite a powerful engine and experienced drivers, it couldn’t achieve the speeds required to win. So, Dodge decided to introduce a limited-edition Charger 500. They named it the 500 because they produced it in that many copies. They gave it a flushed grille, fixed headlights and regular rear glass to improve the aerodynamics of the car.

The 500 was better but not quite as good, so Dodge decided to present the Daytona. They offered it with two engines, a standard 440 and an optional 426 Hemi. Since the Daytona was much more successful and interesting, most people soon forgot the Charger 500, except for hardcore Mopar muscle fans.

  1. Dodge Magnum

The model name, “Magnum,” may sound familiar to you since Dodge used it in a successful line of station wagons. Although they produced it between 2005 and 2008, it’s production goes back to 1978. The original Dodge Magnum was a luxury muscle car coupe they produced for two years, 1978 and 1979. Back in the late 70’s, the American performance market was practically dead.

The insurance companies, as well as strict environmental and safety laws killed the muscle car culture. This meant any new cars had embarrassingly low power figures. The muscle car market wasn’t extinct. However, there weren’t any cars consumers could buy with performance numbers like the late 60’s.

As a prominent muscle car company, Dodge wanted to introduce a model with more power. However, they wanted to offer it in a luxury package to appeal to a wider audience. This is how they came up with the Dodge Magnum. It was a cool looking coupe with all the right ingredients. They included rear-wheel drive, a long hood, a short deck and a thumping V8 in the front.

The biggest engine that consumers could order was a 5.9-liter V8 with 195 HP. That is diminutive by today`s standards, but back in 1979, this guaranteed respect. Unfortunately, high prices affected sales, so they discontinued the Dodge Magnum for the 1980 model year.

  1. Dodge St. Regis

Dodge produced the St. Regis from 1979 to 1981. It was a luxury full-size sedan they built on a rear-wheel drive platform. They powered it with a V8 engine. It was an elegant offering with a distinctive front end, a two-tone body and chrome trim. The St. Regis was a continuation of the luxurious Monaco models from years before it. It was also Dodge’s attempt to enter a market Buick and Oldsmobile dominated.

The first-year sales were respectable, so it looked like Dodge fans received this model well. However, the next two years were disappointing, so after 1981, Dodge discontinued the St. Regis. The Dodge St. Regis was a good car in every way, but it wasn’t the right car for the times. Unfortunately, it featured outdated technology and a classic appearance, but car fans wanted more modern, fuel-efficient models.

  1. Dodge 400

Chrysler had a near-death experience in the late 70’s and early 80’s, but made a miraculous recovery. In fact, they have redesigned all their model lineups according to current trends in the car industry. That meant switching to front-wheel drive platforms, smaller, four-cylinder engines and downsizing their offerings. The success of the compact Dodge Omni showed the way.

For the 1981 model year, Dodge presented the 400. It came in a two-door coupe or four-door sedan, and for the first time after 1976, a convertible. The 400 convertible was the first domestically-produced convertible after Cadillac discontinued the 1976 Eldorado convertible.

It was an upscale compact model featuring two four-cylinder engines, a 2.2 liter and 2.6 liter that Mitsubishi produced in partnership with Chrysler. Even though the Dodge 400 was the right car for the time, sales were disappointing. The model lasted just two years and in 1984, they merged it with the Dodge 600 series.

  1. Dodge Rampage

Dodge was always a strong SUV and pickup truck brand in the Mopar world. Despite having a successful line of trucks, they always explored possibilities for introducing new models. One of those experiments, although not especially successful, was the 1982 to 1984 Dodge Rampage. Everything started when Subaru introduced a model called the BRAT. It was a small, but fun pickup with four-wheel drive.

At that time, the Dodge passenger car lineup had similar platforms they could transform into small, lifestyle trucks. This meant they didn’t need to make a big investment into new tooling and production. Plymouth had its version of a little truck called the Scamp with the same design and technology. Despite the good idea behind the project, the two models were a failure because they sold in relatively low numbers until Dodge discontinued them.

The reasons were simple. The front-wheel drive passenger car platform was not tough enough for any serious tasks. The diminutive 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine with 96 HP was not powerful enough to tow. This clearly marked the Rampage and the Scamp as fun vehicles or beach buggies, but distanced them from serious truck buyers. At the end, 41,000 found new homes and today people have scrapped or forgotten them.

  1. Dodge Dynasty

The late 80’s Dodge Dynasty is one of the most forgotten car, and with reason. It was nothing special with its front-wheel drive platform and compact dimensions. It also had boxy styling, but came with three engine choices. Under the hood, buyers could get a 2.5-liter, a 3.0-liter V6 by Mitsubishi, or a 3.3-liter V6 engine.

The Dynasty was a mid-size model to replace the Dodge 600 series, but it didn’t offer much to customers. Dodge introduced it in 1988 and discontinued it in 1993. The Dynasty appeared at a strange time in Dodge’s history. It was the end of the 80’s, so Dodge was getting ready to introduce new models for the upcoming decade.

The Dynasty was an economy car with some luxury details, but it failed to hit the target. At the end, they sold most Dynasties to rental companies or fleet car services. For this reason, the Dynasty is a rare sight today mostly forgotten by everybody.

  1. Dodge Raider

Dodge was always big in the SUV and truck market, offering various models over the years. The Ramcharger SUVs and Ram trucks were popular, well-received cars. That is why it is strange that the company decided to clone the Mitsubishi Pajero as the Dodge Raider in 1987.

They produced the Dodge Raider in Japan and imported it to America as a Dodge. The only real difference between the Raider and the Pajero are the badges. It was also available in a shorter, three-door version with a 3.0 V6 engine. The Dodge Raider handled and drove like the Pajero, but sales weren’t good. So, in 1989, they discontinued the model and not many people remember it.

  1. Dodge Spirit R/T

The Spirit was a compact, front-wheel drive model Dodge introduced in 1989. In its base form, it was popular with consumers since it had a modern design. It was also of good quality and had up to date features at an affordable price. However, the R/T version was far more interesting. It is a shame most people have forgotten about it, except for the most dedicated Dodge fans.

Since the performance and power output of the base Spirit was nothing to write home about, Dodge decided to introduce a hot rod version. They called it the R/T to resurrect the famous moniker they used in the muscle car era.

The base 2.2-liter four-cylinder motor only produced 90 HP, so they gave it a turbo upgrade. After that, it produced an impressive 224 HP and 218 lb-ft of torque. For the 1991 model year, this was hefty power level from an economy car. This newfound power raised performance to a whole new level. In fact, the Spirit R/T could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than six seconds, which made it enter Corvette territory in 1991.

At over $17,000 it was expensive, but it offered fantastic driving dynamics and sublime performance for an economy sedan. Unfortunately, the market didn’t understand this car, so Dodge made less than 1,500 in the two years the Spirit R/T was available. Today, most people have forgotten those hot little cars. But if you find one for sale, you may want to buy it. It is an interesting cool piece of Dodge performance history.

  1. Dodge Ram 1500 SRT Night Runner

Most people know about the over the top Ram SRT-10. It is a truck that features the Viper V10 engine that delivers 503 HP. It can go to 60 mph in just five seconds. Even though Dodge introduced it in 2004, it is still one of the most famous Dodge products ever. However, did you know they produced a Night Runner version?

The Night Runner was a special, limited version of the SRT-10 truck. Dodge only produced 400 of them. The differences between the regular SRT-10 and the Night Runner were in appearance. The Night Runner featured a blackout paint job and black 22-inch wheels. It also came with unique Night Runner badges, a black center stack and a center console bezel overlay.

Interestingly, all Night Runners had a plaque on the dash with their serial number. The Night Runner option was available in 2006, but only as the production of the SRT-10 came to an end. This is why not all dealers were aware it was available. Today, the Night Runner is quite unknown to the public even though it was a part of the Ram SRT-10 model they publicized highly.

Dodge produced many famous and not-so famous cars and trucks. For car enthusiasts, the rare ones on this list are highly-coveted, yet hard to find. So, if you can get your hands on one of these beauties, consider yourself lucky.

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