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History of the Dodge pickups, 1981-1993: D-series Rams

Fargo and Dodge pickup trucks, 1921-1953 | 1954-1960 Dodge trucks | 1961-1979 Dodge trucks

dodge ramchargerDodge’s second run of D-series pickups, launched in 1972, were restyled in 1981. Once again, they were given new interiors, sheet metal, and grilles; more body panels were galvanized for rustproofing, following the Volare/Aspen debecle.

Chrysler and Borg Warner developed automatic locking hubs for four wheel drive. The Ram symbol (including a hood ornament; Iaccoca loved ’em) was added with the phrase “Ram tough;” it had been used from the 1930s through the 1950s, and was made part of the naming system (two wheel drive trucks were Rams, four wheel drive trucks were Power Rams).

The 1981 pickups also gained a four-barrel carburetor on the 318 V8 to help make up for lost power, electronic spark advance on all slant six engines, more radios (with an FM option), cruise control with slant six engines, more accurate speedometers, a more efficient seat belt system, an optional electronic navigator, intermittent wipers, better air conditioning and heaters, more reliable electrical systems (including, at long last, a shunt ammeter and bulkhead connector to prevent bulkhead failure and fires), and an electronic monitor (on some models) with warning lights for various problems. The slant six gained hydraulic lifters.

The Ramcharger and Trail Duster gained a permanent steel roof integrated with the body side panels to eliminate rattles and leaks.

1984 Dodge D-100

1982 saw Dodge’s first car-based pickup; this concept had been around for decades, the best seller probably being the El Camino, but Dodge (like Volkswagen) used a front wheel drive version (the Rampage), based on the European-design Omni but powered by the American-Chrysler 2.2. The Rampage was good for carrying bulky objects, but with a payload of just 1,140 pounds, it would have to be moderately light bulky objects.

1987 Dodge Ram 250

transfer case

In addition to the Rampage, Dodge introduced its D150 Miser, with a slant six and four-speed manual overdrive. It proved to be very popular, combining size with torque and gas mileage, and lasted in various names through 1988. The Miser had an optional step-type rear bumper, all Dodge light-duty trucks could be ordered with a sliding glass rear window, and cabs got more rustproofing with both sides of the hood (along with numerous other parts) now being galvanized. 4x4s had a graphic display to show the drive mode.

Mitsubishi added an efficient turbodiesel to its D50 pickup, improved its vents, and reduced steering effort by using needle bearings intead of sleave bearings.

1982 Ram W150

See our full 1983 Dodge truck section.


The 1984 lineup of Dodge trucks included light duty pickups, Ram wagons and vans, the Ramcharger SUV, and the Ram 50 (imported from Mitsubishi), as well as the Omni-based, front-wheel-drive Dodge Rampage pickup.

The Dodge Ram pickups were basically carryovers from the 1981 redesign. The Ram symbol now symbolized the entire lineup. Dodge Ram continued the popular slant-six-powered Ram Miser, in rear and four wheel drive; Ram pickup models included a three-man cab on a 115- or 131-inch wheelbase with two box styles and the Crew Cab for six passenger capacity. Four-wheel-drive pickups were called Power Rams; they were available in 115 and 131 inch wheelbases (six and half foot or eight foot beds); Dodge-made Rams started at the D100 full-sized pickup (W100 with four wheel drive) and continued with the D150, D250, and D350 (two wheel drive) or W150, W250, and W350 (four wheel drive); chassis cabs (medium duty trucks) were also sold as the D450/W450. The 250/350 were available with crew cabs. The club cab was no longer made.

Engines were the usual 225 cubic inch slant six (3.7 liters) with single barrel carburetor, 318 V8 with two-barrel carb, and 360 V8 with four-barrel carb.

power ram

The Mitsubishi-made Ram 50 had a 109.4 inch wheelbase; the base economy model and Ram 50 Custom had a payload of 1,503 pounds, while the Royal had a payload of 1,556 pounds and the Sport had a payload of 1,534 pounds. The Ram 50 was probably one of the best Asian pickups, and it was carried by Chrysler until 1993; to date it has not been replaced by a Chrysler vehicle.

Power Ram

The big news for the 1987 was the Dodge Dakota, billed as the first mid-sized pickup truck. To build it in the same plant as the full size pickups, Club Cab production was dropped in 1982, crew cab and Utiline pickups were dropped in 1985, and Ramchargers were moved to Mexico. For its first generation, the new Dakota - available with two or four wheel drive, and with two wheelbases - had the standard 2.2 liter engine and a new "cut off two cylinders from a 318" 3.9 liter V6, gaining a 318 in its 1989 Shelby version. Reportedly, the design of the first generation Dakota was contracted out (not to International, in case you wondered); but when it was redesigned, Chrysler took engineering in-house.

first generation dakota pickup

1989 dodge ram dieselIn 1989, Dodge garnered another industry first by shoving a massive Cummins turbodiesel - designed for tractors and big rigs - into their full size pickups. Far more advanced than the diesels used by Ford or GM, it required a greater truck infrastructure. The Cummins was turbocharged and used direct injection for greater efficiency and lower emissions; at the time of its launch, though, neither Ford nor GM had diesels with those features.

Horsepower was rated at 160 hp @ 2,500 rpm in 1989, with stunning torque of 400 lb-ft at 1,700 rpm. The end result was a truck with 16,000 pounds of conservatively estimated gross cargo capacity. These massive engines helped Dodge by creating a niche market for its pickups, by then over two decades old and not especially popular - Chrysler had a seven percent market share, and half of those were diesels. [More detail and press releases on the 1989 Dodge Ram with Cummins diesels]

For 1992, the Dodge Ram got both new engines, the 3.9 liter V6 and the 318 V8, as well as a new heavy duty manual transmission; and the Club Cab was no available with the diesel. A dual rear wheel option was also given to the Club Cab. The Ram 50, imported from Mitsubishi, was cut back to two series with a single 2.4 liter engine. Only around 80,000 Rams were sold in 1992, with a large proportion being Cummins-equipped models (sold largely on the strength of the engine); just about 5,000 Ram 50s could be added to that. Ram vans were down to about 70,000 units, including the wagons. Ramchargers were still going but in very small numbers, with the only trucks to sell over 100,000 units being the then-hot Dakotas - selling at nearly double their 2007 rate.

These were the final D-series Rams.

After the D-Series: 1994 and newer Rams

Ram x500: first generation

In 1993, Dodge dropped a bombshell in the industry: the 1994 Dodge Ram 1500. Boasting the most powerful engines in its class, higher strength bodies, superior towing and hauling capabilities, and the first cabin designed around users’ needs in some years, the Ram 1500 seemed to combine the interior of a high-end sedan with the strength of a heavier-duty rig. It was all wrapped in a surprisingly aerodynamic package that resembled a big rig, with a hood that lifted up with the grille for easier servicing. The 1994 Ram changed the rules of the game and tripled Dodge’s meager market share as soon as the company was able to build enough to satisfy demand. They also changed the names, adding a zero to the end, and dropping the “D” from the front. In 1995, a club cab was added; in 1998, a quad cab.

The Rams were redesigned for 2002, with a stiffer body structure using new frames and fully boxed side rails; the trucks had a new V6 and new entry-level V8 engine, a five-speed automatic transmission (four speeds plus a "kickdown" gear), optional electric-shift transfer case on 4x4s, rack and pinion steering, standard four wheel disc brakes (the largest in the industry), and other features. (For details, see our 2002 Ram page.) The ancient 360 (5.9 liter) engine was replaced by the game-changing Hemi engine in the next year; the 545RFE transmission, with five forward speeds, replaced the 45RFE on the V8s.

The 2005 model year brought a switch from the NV3500 five-speed manual transmission to the Getrag 238 six-speed gearbox (3.7/4.7 engines), and a low lockup speed and turbine damper added to the 545RFE with 4.8 V8. The 3.7 engine was treated to numerous economy and idle-quality changes, with a new cam profile, lash adjusters, rings, and a 9.7:1 compression ratio; and the 4.7 got EGR and knock sensors.

2006 saw the first application of the MDS system to the Hemi on trucks, increasing gas mileage around 20% by switching to four cylinders when eight were not needed; using variable line pressure on the four-speed automatic helped mileage and longevity. A front axle disconnect on 4x4 increased gas mileage. The frame was re-engineered and hydroformed for greater rigidity and strength. Numerous cosmetic and feature changes were made at this time.

In 2008, the 4.7 liter V8 engine was revised, boosting horsepower by 31% (310 hp) with better gas mileage; the steering linkage was improved on 4x4s; trailer sway control was added to the stability control; and tire pressure monitors were optional.

Ram x500: third generation

2009 saw another major makeover, with coil springs replacing traditional leaf-springs to improve cornering and ride, with only a minor impact on capacity (heavy duty Rams continued to use leaf springs). New compartments in the steel walls of the bed provided secure, dry storage. The Hemi was upgraded to 390 horsepower, but manual transmissions were largely dropped. 2009 Dodge Ram details.

The heavy duty pickups and chassis cabs were modified for the 2010 model year, with more powerful gas engines, better cooling, interiors resembling the 2009 Ram, and numerous new features for longevity, comfort, and utility.

Dodge D-Series Trucks (Detail Pages): 1966197519771983

Fargo and Dodge pickup trucks, 1921-19531954-1960 Dodge trucks • 1961-1979 D-Series

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