Nearly original Dodge Senior a rare treasure
There are many ways for someone to indulge a taste for historic automobiles. Some people like “drivers” because they feel cars were meant to be used and enjoyed and compromises have to be made to keep old technology operating. Others go the full restoration route and bring what can be nothing more than a basket case back to like-new or even better-than-new condition. Very often, this kind of restoration requires heroic expenditures of time and money to effect.
The rarest birds of all, though, are cars in excellent original condition. As Bill Gess of Calgary puts it: “They’re only original once.”
No matter how much money or expertise a restorer can deploy, there is no way a vehicle can be returned to original condition.
In 2001, at a national meet for collectors of Dodge Brothers automobiles, Gess saw something he’d never seen before— a lowmileage, original Dodge Brothers Senior Six Sport Sedan.
“I’ve always had an incredible soft spot for original, unrestored cars,” Gess says. “It wasn’t for sale, but I looked it over and even took quite a few pictures of it.”
Eight years later, at a meet in Kaiser, Ore., Gess heard that the car’s owner might be ready to sell it.
“He was quite apprehensive about selling the car to just anybody,” Gess recalls. “He really wanted to know where the car was going and what would become of it.”
After making inquiries, the owner determined that Gess would be an appropriate steward for the car.
In the meantime, Gess was having to decide what car from his own collection had to go in order to free up the money and space he would need for the Senior.
Things came together more quickly than he expected and Gess became the fifth owner of the ’29 in October of ’09.
In 1924, Dodge Brothers was the third-largest producer of cars in North America — behind only Ford and Chevrolet. Although the company was doing well making four-cylinder cars, management was convinced a six-cylinder line was going to be necessary to keep the brand competitive.
In 1928, the company introduced what they called the Senior Line. Powered by a 60-horsepower engine designed and developed by Dodge Brothers engineers but manufactured by Continental, the new cars gave the brand a strong entry in the mid-price market segment and sold for nearly three times the price of the average Ford or Chevy.
The 1929 Seniors had a longer wheelbase, presumably to produce an even plusher ride, and 18 additional horsepower.
Six different body styles were offered, including the Sport Sedan, a four-door car with a number of extra features offered as standard. Senior bodies were not steel-framed but wood-framed, and the bodies were made by Murray, an independent supplier.
As the ’29 Senior was going into production, something else was happening that would affect the future of the car — the Dodge Brothers company was bought by the Chrysler Corporation.
With the Chrysler brand already well-established in the midpriced field, there wasn’t room for the Dodge Senior in the corporate brand hierarchy and 1930 was the model’s last year.
Once Gess had his Senior, he didn’t get to sit back and enjoy the car — he set to work.
“I don’t want to call it restoration but, in this case, maintenance,” he explains. “It needed some maintenance items and I got busy doing all the fiddly little things. You do one thing, then you do something else and then, ‘Well, while I’m doing that, I’d better do this.’ ”
The car’s original distributor had been damaged and wrapped in electrician’s tape. The ignition cylinder had seized and it needed a new coil. Fortunately, Gess had the correct parts in his inventory since, although the Senior Six engine was unique to that line, all of the accessories were the parts used on other Dodge Brothers cars.
Other issues required more effort. The cracked engine manifold had to be sent to Minnesota to be repaired. The passenger assist straps were redone by a lady in Pennsylvania. One of the rear footrests had been shattered, but Gess pieced together the bits and had a replacement cast in bronze by an art foundry. “You have a wealth of people across North America who can do all these little things,” Gess says.
Other imperfections were left strictly alone.
“The paint’s not perfect, there’s little dings here and there. There are rubbed-through marks — the car’s been polished thousands of times in 80-odd years. You don’t ever touch things like that,” Gess says.
“The firewall was installed with machine screws and square nuts and the ends cut off with a bolt cutter. It’s as nasty as can be. There’s a blob of green paint on the firewall, probably indicating, as it went down the line, what colour the pinstriping was to be. Once you sandblasted or glassbeaded it, you’d lose that and chances are you wouldn’t put it back.”
Already a technical resource person for the Dodge Brothers collecting fraternity, Gess now finds himself fielding questions about his Senior.
“People ask where something goes and I can show them because it’s never been touched,” he says, smiling. “There isn’t another original Senior out there. It’s exactly how it was when it rolled off the assembly line.”