Dodge pickups, 1981-1993: D-series Rams
Dodge’s second run of D-series pickups, launched in 1972, were restyled in 1981, regaining the Ram symbol, complete with a hood ornament on some trucks.
Once again, the pickups were given new interiors, sheet metal, and grilles; and more body panels were galvanized for rustproofing. Chrysler and Borg Warner developed automatic locking hubs for four wheel drive.
The Ram symbol, created in the 1930s, was used with the phrase “Ram tough” in advertising, for the first time since the 1950s; and it was, for the first time, 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 trip computer, intermittent wipers, better air conditioning and heaters, more reliable electrical systems (including, at long last, a shunt ammeter and new bulkhead connector to prevent failures and fires and avoid voltage drop), and an electronic monitor (on some models) with warning lights for various problems. The slant six gained hydraulic lifters, ending the need for valve adjustments; Honda would continue with mechanical lifters for many years afterwards.
The Ramcharger and Trail Duster gained a permanent steel roof integrated with the body side panels to eliminate rattles and leaks.
1982 saw Dodge’s first car-based pickup; the concept had been around for decades, the best seller probably being the El Camino, but Dodge and Volkswagen both 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 its payload was just 1,140 pounds.
Given the recent fuel crises, Dodge also introduced the D150 Miser, with a slant six and four-speed manual overdrive. It proved to be popular, 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. For 1982, cabs also 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 the D50 pickup, improved its vents, and reduced steering effort by using needle bearings intead of sleave bearings. The D50 was hot; the diesel was not. Dodge never did create their own small pickup to replace the D50, which had itself replaced the A-series pickups; instead, they eventually brought out the Dodge Dakota, a midsize, between the D50 and D-150, and years later, dropped the D50 entirely.
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.
For 1984, the Ram symbol symbolized the entire lineup; most of the trucks were essentially unchanged. Dodge Ram pickups included a three-man bench-seat cab with two box styles and the Crew Cab for six-passenger capacity. Four-wheel-drive pickups were called Power Rams.
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 (except D50) 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.
The Mitsubishi-made Ram 50 had a 109 inch wheelbase; the base economy model and Ram 50 Custom had a payload of 1,503 pounds, not much more than the Rampage, while the Royal had a payload of 1,556 pounds and the Sport had a payload of 1,534 pounds. The Ram 50 was one of the best Asian pickups, and it was carried until 1993.
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, crew cab and Utiline pickups were dropped in 1985 (club cabs had already fallen in 1982), and Ramchargers were moved to Mexico.
For its first generation, the new Dakota was sold with two or four wheel drive, and with two wheelbases. It had a 2.2 liter engine and a new 318-based 3.9 liter V6, eventaully gaining a 318 in its 1989 Shelby version. The design of the first generation Dakota was contracted out; but when it was redesigned, Chrysler took engineering in-house.
In 1989, Dodge shoved a massive Cummins turbodiesel, meant for tractors and big rigs, into their full size pickups. Far more advanced than the diesels used by Ford or GM, it required more structural integrity, too. The Cummins was not only turbocharged, but used direct injection; at the time of its launch, neither Ford nor GM had diesels with those features.
Horsepower was rated at 160 hp @ 2,500 rpm in 1989, with 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 created a niche market for Dodge pickups, by then over two decades old and eking by with a tiny market share. In 1989, half of Dodge’s seven percent market share were diesels. [More detail and press releases on the 1989 Dodge Ram with Cummins diesels]
For 1992, the Dodge Ram got two 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 longer available with the diesel, but gained a dual rear wheel option. The Ram 50 was cut back to two series with a single engine.
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, including the wagons. Ramchargers were selling in very small numbers. 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
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.
It did not take long for the company to make similar revisions to its heavy duty trucks, which shared similar styling and interiors, the first time that heavy duty pickup cabs had been made as plush as those of passenger cars. The main selling point was still the Cummins diesels.
The Dodge Dakota was redesigned for 1997, an entirely in-house engineering project which dramatically improved the truck’s suspension, interior, and capabilities, even as it modernized the sheet metal. Under the hood, buyers could choose from an AMC 2.5 liter four, the carryover 3.9 liter V6, a related 318 cubic inch V8, or, starting in 1998, the 360 (5.9 liter) V8, for the Dakota R/T. The 125-horse AMC four-cylinder replaced the first generation's 100-hp Chrysler engine.
They were the most popular Dodge Dakotas ever made, consistently out-selling the first and third generations alike.
The Dodge 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 Hemi MDS (cylinder deactivation) system 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 both mileage and longevity. A front axle disconnect on 4x4 increased gas mileage. The frame was re-engineered and hydroformed for greater rigidity and strength. The trucks were also “facelifted,” though many preferred the 1994s.
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.
The Ram 2500/3500 pickups were also transformed, and Ram chassis cabs — 3500, 4500, 5500 — were brought out, the first new chassis cabs in many years. Sales started out fairly strong for the segment, thanks to being best in class in numerous areas.
For more, including the sales rebirth caused by the 2009 redesign, see the main Dodge and Ram trucks section.