Today it is easy to forget that going into World War II, Chrysler was a larger and more successful automobile company than Ford. Old Henry had hung on too long with the Model T while Ford’s competitors were more nimble and quick to improve their cars. And as Old Henry aged, his pro-fascist political views and his abhorrent labor practices helped stunt the growth of his company.
On the other hand, Walter Chrysler’s company had successfully imitated GM’s “stepping stone” model strategy and had made a name for itself with engineering advancements. Chrysler’s Plymouth division was a successful player in the low price field. Dodge went up against GM’s Pontiac division in the lower middle segment. DeSoto went up against the lower-priced brackets of Buick and Oldsmobile offerings while Chrysler took aim at the high end Buick and Oldsmobile models and the Imperial was aimed at Packard and Cadillac.
In 1939 Chrysler’s Dodge division was riding high. Dodge celebrated its 25th anniversary that year and occupied the #5 position in industry sales. To mark its Silver Anniversary, Dodge brought out a new model, the Luxury Liner.
No definitive reason is cited for Dodge’s choice of the name “Luxury Liner,” but apparently a national hunger to put the Depression years behind and the public’s fascination with the two great luxury liner steamships that had entered service in recent years, French Line’s Normandie and Cunard’s Queen Mary were contributing factors to the name choice. ( Queen Mary’s sister ship, Elizabeth, had been completed, but her entry into service had been delayed because of the outbreak of war in Europe.)
1939 Dodge Luxury Liner
Dodge’s new Luxury Liner was longer, wider and more powerful than the regular Dodge cars. New styling made the headlamps integral with the front fenders. A two-piece, V-type windshield replaced the single-piece version from 1938 (the retrogression to a two piece windshield was done to allow for 23% more glass). The gear shift lever was moved from the floor to the steering column, and a new “Safety Light” speedometer had a lighted bead that would glow different colors based on the speed. The seats were wider and trimmed with more luxurious upholstery than in the 1938 Dodges.
Two series of Luxury Liners were offered – the lower-priced “Special” in three body styles and the “DeLuxe” which was offered in seven body styles. The new cars were well-received, the “Special” series having sold some 71,000 units and the “DeLuxe” totaling around 114,460 cars in the debut year.
Two of the “DeLuxe” cars had an extended chassis and 134 inch wheelbase (a seven-passenger sedan and limousine); but all Luxury Liners were longer and wider than the 1938 Dodges. In addition to the column-mounted gearshift they were fitted with coil-spring independent front suspension, dual tail-lights and steel disc wheels. The days of the beam front suspension and headlights that weren’t integrated into the fenders were rapidly drawing to a close.
1940 Dodge Luxury Liner in “Atlanta Orange.”
For 1940, the Luxury Liner got a makeover. The wheelbase was extended to 119.5″ and the cars were wider than the previously-widened 1939 models. Altogether, the 1940 models were more streamlined than the 1939s. An important safety advancement was that the 1940 models got sealed-beam headlamps, a Dodge first. For years, drivers had depended on old-fashioned six-volt bulbs to light their way at night – too weak for real safety. The new lamps, using high-energy bulbs vacuum-sealed in a reflective glass case, were a huge improvement, providing 120 percent more illumination. Sealed-beams remained the standard of the auto industry until the mid-1980s, when modern halogen lamps were introduced. The colors and names chosen for the colors for 1940 reflected the fact that the country was putting the Depression behind it: “Tropical Yellow” and “Shocking Blue” being two of the choices.
The 1941 Luxury Liners got another face lift and Chrysler’s Fluid Drive transmission was optionally available. That brings us to the dark blue Luxury Liner shown in the mosaic of photos at the top of the page.
My uncle Jerry in Lubbock Texas sent the photos of the 1941. He doesn’t know the origin of the car, but it had been bought by the Dodge dealer in Littlefield, TX to be driven in the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of his 1941 high school graduating class. At some point after that, it was driven into a barn and left alone. The photos show the bumpers are not attached to the car, but I’m told the bumpers are in the barn where the car was stored. This car, as you see from the emblem on the trunk, is fitted with Fluid Drive.
Note the engine. The photos show that the cylinders are “siamesed.” This despite Dodge’s touting of the improvements it had made to the engine with the introduction of the Luxury Liner series. Indeed, the pistons and rings had been updated to the then-most modern techniques, but the engine block had not yet been reconfigured to give equal spacing between the cylinders. “Siamesing” the cylinders was a throwback to the infancy of the auto industry. Casting techniques for engine blocks in the early days dictated that cylinders be cast in twos, then bolted together. It was just too tricky to cast the block as a whole. As the years went on, engineers and the foundries perfected casting techniques that eventually allowed equal spacing between the cylinders.
The 1941 Dodge Luxury Liner shown in Lubbock has been for sale locally. We hope that it goes to a good home and gets a proper restoration!
Strange Old Vehicles
(Hat tip: “Shirl”)
Peugeot amphibious car