Chrysler Group had its annual new product preview last week at its Chelsea, Michigan proving grounds. The highlight of that event was the introduction of the new 2015 Ram Promaster City a small van to compete with the Ford Transit Connect and the Nissan NV200. On the second day, the gaggle of automotive journalists and analysts was transported to Meadowbrook Hall north of Detroit and near Chrysler’s headquarters in Auburn Hills. This event was to celebrate the Dodge 100th Anniversary. We were given a brief history of the brand and description of ten historic concept Dodges on display from the first Viper concept to the Dodge Demon concept from 2007. Following the presentation of these concepts we were given the opportunity to drive and/or ride in 26 Dodges from the past ranging from 1915 through 2008.
When all the cars were cranked up there was probably more air pollution rising from Meadowbrook Hall’s auto court than was emanating from the Los Angeles freeway system. Ah, memories.
The first car I was drawn to was the 1956 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer powered by a HEMI V8 and dripping with chrome. This coupe was grey metallic over coral reminding us of a time when contrasting two-tone color schemes were very popular (remember the 1956 Ford Crown Victorias in black and yellow or black and red?). In any event, a brief lap of the Meadowbrook estate (now home to Oakland University) demonstrated how great the package was in the old cars, but also what a challenge they could be to drive. Even though “Power Steering” and “Power Brakes” were pressed into the horn ring and brake pedal respectively, the car steered like a truck without power steering and braking took forever. The package of the car was amazing probably because the interior was designed for when people wore hats – huge headroom in the rear seat. So, the 1956 Dodge was my favorite.
The most surprising vehicle was the 1984 Dodge Caravan – the first of the minivans. It was surprising how small it was. It even deserved the moniker “minivan” because, compared with today’s minivans, the original Caravan was very small. The seating position was great and visibility outstanding. No wonder they sold so well, but the driving dynamics were very reminiscent of cars from the ’70s and early ’80s. How quickly vehicles have evolved for the better.
As I was cranking up a 2003 Viper for the lap around the estate a woman approached and asked if she could ride along. Certainly! She mentioned “family” a couple of times and when I asked what she meant, she volunteered she was the great granddaughter of Horace Dodge – one of The Dodge Brothers – the founders of Dodge. She seemed to get a real thrill out of the sound and power of the Viper. It was her first chance to ride in one. Maybe later in the day she got to drive it.