Chrysler, Plymouth, and Dodge Ambulances

Numerous ambulances were made using the “Dodge” Sprinter bodies, which, being tall and thin, and available with relatively efficient engines for city traffic, were popular for a time. However, since this Freightliner-Mercedes design was only sold briefly by Dodge, and was a “badge engineering” feat, these ambulances are not covered here.

Minivan based ambulances

Dodge and Jeep truck based ambulances

During World War II, many ambulances were built at the Dodge factory, using the standard Dodge truck chassis (as modified for the Army.)

In Egypt, the long wheelbase Jeep Wrangler (made before the Unlimited) was converted into an ambulance, complete with roll-out bed (courtesy DesertBuzz). Power Wagons were also converted for military use.

More recently, according to Anthony Brockbank, “In Saskatoon, we had, until about 2 years ago, Dodge Ram 3500 pickup ambulance conversions. They had the 8.0L V10. Although I couldn’t find any pictures, I have talked to ambulance drivers and they have said they are much faster and easier to work on than the Ford E-Series vans.” Anthony provided these photos of one of their 5.9-liter Cummins diesel-powered Dodge Ram ambulances (both at Advanced Response Vehicles Inc., in Saskatoon).

The 1975 Power Wagon conversion below was provided by Warren Swaney.

The 1987 ambulance shown below was a one-off experimental package which was not adopted by the British Columbian government. Warren Swaney wrote, “This was an experimental unit for use in rough country, which the province of BC has a great deal of, but it did not work out as expected and only one was built.”

The interior was surprisingly spacious and well finished given that it was essentially loaded onto the back of a 4×4 pickup truck.

Starting in the 21st century, with the Ram chassis cabs available in classes 3-5, Ram-based ambulances started to become far more popular, particularly after 2010.

Dodge van-based ambulances

At one time, Dodge vans were the best sellers, so there were many Dodge-based ambulances. When minivans came out, those were adapted too.

Warren Swaney, of Tisdale, Saskatchewan, provided a small Dodge-based Superior ambulance brochure; he said, “The first on is exterior and interior views of their standard width Type II vans. The second is an exterior shot of their ‘61’ van which was cut down the middle and had the entire body widened by 16 inches.  The widened vans had ample room in the back but they tended to wallow on the road and were a handful to drive.” Superior’s 61-S ambulance, based on the Dodge 300 Maxivan, had 61 inches of headroom – the name referred to headroom rather than width – and could be made to order.

The Superior ambulance roof had a steel frame under the fiberglass to maintain structural integrity. The standard interior featured a walk-through partition and cabinetry with see-through glass doors (as pictured above).

Warren Swaney sent in numerous ambulance photos, and we plan to show more later. Let’s start with this 1982 Dodge KaryVan conversion:

Warren wrote, “All public ambulances in BC are owned and operated by a division of the provincial government and from 1975 until some point in the 1990s, they built their own units in a small plant on Vancouver Island. They attempted to standardize units throughout the province and this was what they used from 1975 until 1982. These units could carry up to 5 stretcher patients.”

Bill Anderson sent in a host of ambulance photos. Photo A was converted by Summers Coach Sales in Duncanville, Texas. It was built from leftover van stock at Summers Dodge. The base was a 3/4 ton van, 360 2-barrel carb, with a steel raised roof. The company was better known for their line of Suburban ambulances. The photo was, with most of Bill’s others, taken in August, 1980. Photo B is a 1984 B-350/National Conversion used by MedCare ambulance in Irving, Texas. Photo C 1980 is a B-350/Osage conversion unit, loaned to Transtar EMS in Silsbee, TX in 1995 while waiting for new units. The truck had its siren in the grille and no insulation; it sounded like the speaker was in the cab.

Photo D is a 1978 Dodge B-300 converted by Custom Coach International, in Tuksa, Okla. It originally had two Deitz four bulb beacons on the roof. We modified this one because the two lights were ineffective. This is one of two that we had. They had sequential VINs.

Photo E was taken at Summers Coach Sales in August 1980. Williams was a small company that operated in the Dallas area in the late 1970s to early ’80s. This unit was used by Paramed (Ray Crowder) Ambulance in Fort Worth.

There have also been minivan-based ambulances (see below), as well as a Chrysler-sponsored PT Cruiser ambulance shown at SEMA but probably not used by any medical services. For the most part, Dodge-based ambulances faded out when the B-van’s fate was announced; upfitters would not want to spend their limited resources developing for a vehicle that was soon to be discontinued.

Car-based ambulances

Dodge set up a series of “Amblewagon” ambulances based on its 1960 Dodge Dart, a small car for the purpose. The advantage of the Dart-based Amblewagon was mainly that it did not change the body, so it could be priced lower. (Amblewagon itself was an established firm which produced ambulances and hearses). Options included oxygen and emergency equipment (such as resusicators), sirens and rotating beacon lights, patient cots, collapsible stretchers, flower trays (for hearses), and extra partitions. (Thanks, Ewald Stein, for the source materials.)

For a simple hearse, Amblewagon would convert the Dart wagon for $485, including a casket rack, waterproof rug, cot holder, drapes, floor-level tailgate with casket rollers, special lighting, and name plates. An ambulance conversion ran $800, including a split second seat for the attendant, floor-level tailgate, cot holder, window inserts and shades, snap-in washable carpets, siren and rotating and flashing lights, warning switch, rear fan, and nameplates. For $1,185 buyers could hedge their bets and get both conversions to the same car.

Steve sent over some photos taken by professional photographer Trevor Burkitt (who took these for personal use) of a Dodge ambulance for sale in Lethbridge.

Briggs Body Plants and Chrysler

Walter O. Briggs’ started working as a laborer on the Michigan Central Railroad, where his father was an engineer. He worked his way up to becoming foreman of the upholstery department at the car shop, was hired away by C.H. Little, and then moved to B.F. Everitt’s upholstery shop. Everitt, in addition to being an upholstery supplier, was one of three creators of the E-M-F car (which became Studebaker) and the Everitt car. Over the years, Briggs worked his way up to becoming president of the firm; so when Everitt sold the company to raise capital for car work, Briggs bought it and renamed it Briggs Manufacturing Company.

Briggs Manufacturing was already a major player in auto bodies and upholstery, and under Walter Briggs, it acquired Sterling Auto Top Company and the Murphy Chair Company as well. In 1922, Briggs launched their Essex closed coach body, at roughly the same price as the less desirable open coaches; that was the beginning of the end for open cars.

In 1923, with sales booming, Briggs bought the Michigan Stamping Company, another major supplier to Ford, with a plant on Mack Avenue (built in 1916) that was to serve Briggs and Chrysler through 1979. In 1925, Briggs made over 500,000 car bodies, with an $11 million profit, and bought its chief competitor’s plant. Late in the year, Briggs started making bodies for the Willys-Overland Whippet.

In 1927, Walter Briggs acquired body maker LeBaron, which was based in New York City. That provided Briggs with a considerable amount of talent in stylists and designers, as well as an established name; one of LeBaron’s designers and leaders, Ralph Roberts, reportedly created the Model A Fordor sedan bodies, which were built by Briggs. (LeBaron still made bodies in Bridgeport, but moved to a bigger plant there.) Briggs also built Ford’s open cab pickup bodies and many closed-cab bodies from 1925 to 1932; and bought Phillips Custom Car.

The New York and Connecticut LeBaron operations were finally shut down in 1930, with a LeBaron plant in Detroit picking up the slack. Briggs could now count as customers Stutz, Chrysler, Packard, Hudson, Pierce-Arrow, and Lincoln, as well as Ford and others — in some cases, short runs of specialty or custom bodies. Briggs was the designer of the 1946 Chrysler Town & Country, which had a steel body with wood panels bonded to it for aesthetic reasons.

While Briggs rewarded its investors well, it did not reward its employees particularly well; they were very poorly paid even by the standards of the day, and in 1933 went on an impromptu strike, started when a single man was to get a pay cut but instead went to his union committee head and then to all the other workers in his plant. From 450 men the strike spread to all 10,000 or more employees, shutting down Ford and Hudson as well. At issue was a 15% pay cut, rescinded within 3 days of the strike being called. (Local newspapers conspired with Briggs to keep the strike secret.)

The strike ended on the end of the pay cut, but Motor Products then went on strike against a similar cut, and also won. Then workers at Briggs’ Highland Park plant went on strike both against their low wages and against the practice of not paying people for time at work between busy periods or when they were going from one part of the plant to another. All of Briggs again joined in, with various demands; workers at their chief competitor, Murray, also then went on strike, and were locked out. Hayes workers went on strike next.

Briggs’ next steps were to make concessions provided the workers would not bargain collectively, and when that failed, to declare the strike the work of communists; and to publicly lie about how much people were paid, saying the minimum wage was 25¢ per hour (in fact it was around 3¢). After Briggs unsuccessfully attempted to restart production with scabs, in the absence of skilled workers and under pressure from Ford (an anti-union company, but one that wanted to restart production), the company finally recognized the UAW.

In 1935 Walter Briggs acquired full ownership of the Detroit Tigers; he refused to allow blacks to sit in the boxes at the stadium, and would not allow black players to join the team (the Tigers were the second to last team in the major leagues to sign a black player — doing so after Briggs died). Unlike his own employees, the team was well paid, and won American League pennants in 1940 and 1945, though they declined afterwards

With car sales low during the Depression, Briggs started stamping out sheet metal for bathtubs, which were covered in procelain; these were far lighter than cast iron tubs, and cold be stacked. Strong sales of these “Brigsteel Beautyware” pieces led to diversification into plumbing fixtures and colored porcelain; in 1946 they bought Abingdon Sanitary Manufacturing. Briggs never sold this division to Chrysler, but it was purchased by CISA of South America in 1997. The division is now called Briggs Plumbing Products.

Over the next decade, Briggs would assist in engineering the Chrysler Airflow cars, and in styling the Ford Zephyr, Packard LeBaron, 1935 Ford, and Chrysler Airstream, as well as the Chrysler Thunderbolt and Newport concept cars’ tops. Chrysler stylist Ray Dietrich worked with Briggs and LeBaron through 1940. Indeed, as time went on, Briggs was increasingly pressed into Chrysler’s service, and did less and less work for penny-pinching Ford; they went from supplying 66% of Ford’s outsourced bodies in 1936 to 27% in 1939, as Budd built commercial bodies and Murray built short-run bodies.

As car companies started their own styling departments, Briggs’ services in that area were less important, and the LeBaron division in particular suffered. Packard remained steadfast, buying all their bodies from Briggs until 1953.

The war stopped automotive work, but like every other auto-related concern, Briggs turned to military supply, making aircraft and vehicle parts.

Walter O. Briggs died in 1952, and Chrysler offered to buy the entire company.

Briggs under Chrysler Corporation

When Chrysler acquired Briggs’s American car body operation in 1953 for $35 million (as well as paying $27 million for Briggs’ inventory), they acquired 12 plants with some 6.5 million square feet of floor space and 30,000 employees. Briggs had built Plymouth bodies; Dodge, DeSoto and Chrysler bodies were built in-house by Chrysler, for the most part. Over the years the majority of the plants were closed and sold off.

Briggs’ biggest customer, at that point, was Plymouth, which alone produced half of Chrysler’s cars.

A Briggs stamping operation in Detroit, on Mack Avenue, became a Chrysler stamping plant until 1979, when the long obsolete facility was closed. Thieves tracked PCB-contaminated oil from transformers through the site, while water made its way into the stamping pits and underground passages. The City of Detroit bought the site in 1982, but was unable to resell it. Eight years later, in 1990, the EPA demanded that Chrysler clean up the plant’s asbestos and PCBs; Chrysler (helped by the city and EPA) did so, removing and cleaning 11 million gallons of water from the stamping pits. 18 acres of walls and floors were washed and more than 10 million pounds of contaminated materials were removed, as well as 16 million tons of nonhazardous dirt and debris. As much as possible was recycled; brick and concrete was crushed and used to fill the drained pits. The Dodge Viper started production in a new Mack Avenue factory (“New Mack”) in 1992, the same year Chrysler started tackling the interior of the old plant.

A number of other Briggs facilties were used. The Conner Avenue body plant had been dedicated to building bodies for Packard, and it was sold to that company; for the 1955 model year, Packard moved all body/chassis operations there. Packard’s 4.5 million square foot Grand Boulevard plant, used for 50 years, was replaced by the 1 million square foot Conner plant — which also made Packard bodies. To say Packard had problems would be an understatement.

The big move for Briggs came with Chrysler’s change to unibody construction. With unibody, all body operations moved into the assembly plants. The Evansville body plant was closed in 1959, replaced by the St. Louis plant. The Briggs Youngstown (OH) stamping plant was replaced by a bigger and much more modern operation in Twinsburg, Ohio, in 1956. The body plant was closed with the expansion of the Newark and Lynch Road plants.

Other plants remained, though some were repurposed: these included the Mound Road Engine Plant, Mt. Elliott Tool and Die, and Mack Avenue Engine Plant.

The LeBaron and Briggs names were dropped in 1953, but LeBaron would re-appear in 1958 as a model of Imperial; it would remain on Chrysler’s top cars until 1975, when Imperial itself finally ended. It then moved to become a Chrysler car name starting in 1977, on a much lower-end car, essentially a cosmetically altered Plymouth. The name LeBaron finally ended with Chrysler changed their front wheel drive from the K architecture, having outlasted Briggs by decades.



Spring is one of the four temperate seasons, the transition period between winter and summer. Spring and “springtime” refer to the season, and broadly to ideas of rebirth, renewal and regrowth. The specific definition of the exact timing of “spring” varies according to local climate, cultures and customs. At the spring equinox, days are close to 12 hours long with day length increasing as the season progresses.



In spring, the axis of the Earth is increasing its tilt toward the Sun and the length of daylight rapidly increases for the relevant hemisphere. The hemisphere begins to warm significantly causing new plant growth to “spring forth,” giving the season its name. Snow, if a normal part of winter, begins to melt, and streams swell with runoff. Frosts, if a normal part of winter, become less severe. In climates that have no snow and rare frosts, the air and ground temperature increases more rapidly. Many flowering plants bloom this time of year, in a long succession sometimes beginning even if snow is still on the ground, continuing into early summer. In normally snowless areas “spring” may begin as early as February (Northern Hemisphere) heralded by the blooming of deciduous magnolias, cherries, and quince, or August (Southern Hemisphere) in the same way. Subtropical and tropical areas have climates better described in terms of other seasons, e.g. dry or wet, or monsoonal, or cyclonic. Often the cultures have locally defined names for seasons which have little equivalence to the terms originating in Europe. Many temperate areas have a dry spring, and wet autumn (fall), which brings about flowering in this season more consistent with the need for water as well as warmth. Subarctic areas may not experience “spring” at all until May or even June, or December in the outer Antarctic.

While spring is a result of the warmth caused by the turning of the Earth’s axis, the weather in many parts of the world is overlain by events which appear very erratic taken on a year-to-year basis. The rainfall in spring (or any season) follows trends more related to longer cycles or events created by ocean currents and ocean temperatures. Good and well-researched examples are the El Niño effect and the Southern Oscillation Index.

Unstable weather may more often occur during spring, when warm air begins on occasions to invade from lower latitudes, while cold air is still pushing on occasions from the Polar regions. Flooding is also most common in and near mountainous areas during this time of year because of snowmelt, accelerated by warm rains. In the United States, Tornado Alley is most active this time of year, especially since the Rocky Mountains prevent the surging hot and cold air masses from spreading eastward and instead force them into direct conflict. Besides tornadoes, supercell thunderstorms can also produce dangerously large hail and very high winds, for which a severe thunderstorm warning or tornado warning is usually issued. Even more so than in winter, the jet streams play an important role in unstable and severe weather in the springtime in the Northern Hemisphere.

In recent decades season creep has been observed, which means that many phenological signs of spring are occurring earlier in many regions by a couple of days per decade.

Spring is seen as a time of growth, renewal, of new life (both plant and animal) being born. The term is also used more generally as a metaphor for the start of better times, as in the Prague Spring. Spring in the Southern Hemisphere is different in several significant ways to that of the Northern Hemisphere. This is because: there is no land bridge between Southern Hemisphere countries and the Antarctic zone capable of bringing in cold air without the temperature-mitigating effects of extensive tracts of water; the vastly greater amount of ocean in the Southern Hemisphere at all latitudes; at this time in Earth’s geologic history the Earth has an orbit which brings it in closer to the Southern Hemisphere for its warmer seasons; there is a circumpolar flow of air (the roaring 40s and 50s) uninterrupted by large land masses; no equivalent jet streams; and the peculiarities of the reversing ocean currents in the Pacific.



Durango squad: it’s official

As far back as July 2011, Allpar predicted the coming of the Dodge Durango special service vehicle. Norm Layton found and photographed a Durango squad at the Los Angeles police car tests, and in August 2011, Marc Rozman snapped one set up as a fire and rescue vehicle at the Safe Families Expo.

Dodge officially announced and opened ordering for the Durango Special Service. Deliveries are expected to begin in the second quarter of 2012. The announcement creates a full range of range of fleet sedan, SUV, and truck options to law enforcement and government agencies, with the recent addition of the Ram Special Service pickup.

“The standard Durango has several class-leading attributes, such as power, towing and a driving range of more than 550 miles, so it is a natural to become a great utility tool for law enforcement and general fleet customers,” said Reid Bigland, President and CEO – Dodge Brand. It carries all of the SUV’s class-leading utility, such as available 7,400-pound towing capacity, and optional 360 horsepower 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 engine. Available in rear- or all-wheel drive, the Dodge Durango Special Service adds a heavy-duty brake package, heavy-duty battery, larger-output 220-amp alternator and heavy-duty water pump and engine oil cooler. A 5-year/100,000-mile transferrable powertrain warranty is standard.

Dodge Durango Special Service also adds a customizable rear cargo area with under-floor storage compartments and additional storage in the side compartments, a revised interior dome lamp and headliner, spot lamp wiring prep, and the deletion of the third row of seats for more cargo capacity (the second row still has separate air conditioning and heat controls).

The Confusing Presence of Dodge at NASCAR’s Phoenix Race (2012)

I attended the NASCAR event in Phoenix March 4, 2012, largely because of a package that included a Q&A session with Jeff Gordon. After purchasing the package, I was informed that California Speedway is offering an identical package. Fontana is much closer, but is it really racing when 4 cars abreast doing 200 mph enter a turn and everybody makes it? I have had season tickets at both and much prefer Phoenix.

I counseled myself on the drive over, “You are not buying another tee shirt.” I bought a “Sin City” shirt; let your imagination run wild. It is in slightly better taste than one bearing the message, “If you are going to race you need two of these.”

I entered the midway and started toward The Corporate Village where the Q&A session was held. There was a void where Polaris hung out in the past. Speed Channel was in the usual spot.

A tall tower with SRT on the top got my attention. What? Why now? Several adages ran through my mind. I held season tickets here for several years and Dodge was never here. Roger Penske had just announced a change to Ford for the 2013 season. The Dodge population had dwindled to two and next year there will [editor’s note: may] be none. It is well recognized that NASCAR is all about money, lots of green stinky money.

In the Q&A session, all questions were ask by the moderator. I wanted to know about last week’s engine failure and that question was asked. Jeff might be the best driver in NASCAR with regard to taking care of the car, but I don’t entirely buy his answer. He said, “There was a slow coolant leak that allowed engine temperature to read normal until most of the coolant was gone.” This problem could have been discovered by a routine pressure check of the cooling system.

Back in the Dodge compound I asked someone the pointed question, “Why are you here now, as there will be no Dodges on track next year?”

He replied, “Oh, there will be Dodges on track, we just don’t know who.”

This place was a beehive of activity. The Fiat Abarth was constantly surrounded, but I didn’t see the girl and it was my first time. The new Dart with a carbon fiber hood was getting a lot of attention, so was the Dodge SRT8. The Challenger and the Jeeps were getting their share of looks. The Ram and the Chrysler must have felt lonely. Every day we make choices about who we are and when we go to NASCAR races it appears we are not interested in trucks or luxury cars.

Mr. SRT was asking the audience pertinent questions with prizes for correct answers. Someone correctly answered the question, “What does SRT stand for?”

Later I told him, semi-privately, for me, “SRT was short rocket trip.”

Mr. SRT comes out with ten shirts for the first ten people who can show Dodge keys. I snagged the first one followed by three Jeep Wranglers, one Jeep Cherokee, another Charger, a couple of trucks, and a Chrysler LeBaron.

I was talking with one fellow who raved about the new interiors. I tried to get in the Charger but it was too busy. I was perfectly happy with my interior until Ralph Giles described it as “rat fur gray.” I had previously talked with people that owned the 6.1 L and traded for the 6.4 L and they assured me the 6.4 was a lot more performance. My turn is coming. The entire SRT line up will be available for driving at Spring Fest coming up March 24th.

This production is going to be present at 19 NASCAR events. The vehicles on display will vary because many are borrowed from local dealers.

I got some of the above information from Ms. Fiona McKenna who works for J. R. Thompson. This company also takes care of the logistics for SRT track days. We can’t blame her for everything.

I came back home after the race and at one of the multiple Border Patrol stops between Phoenix and San Diego, a Brilliant Black Charger caught my eye. It was obviously an unmarked agency car. It had the police package steel wheels and no side moldings. It seemed to be prancing, saying, “Look at me, look at me.” Now which agency owned this car?

NASCAR Updates, March 2012

On March 11, 2012, Ralph Gilles acknowledged that Dodge was looking at range of options after the Penske bombshell, from leaving NASCAR entirely to tripling their investment; he also said they were getting numerous inquiries from other teams. Robbie Gordon Motorsports, a single-car team, is still with Dodge. Richard Petty Motorsports has expressed some interest in switching from Ford/Roush to Dodge, but this interest might be a negotiating tactic, as their contract with Ford is coming up for renewal.

NASCAR at Allpar

Once…as Jerry Olesen wrote…“The cars were production line models, which were reinforced at key points…These days, they race ‘cars that never were,’ so to speak, and much of the relevance to actual automobiles has been lost. “