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Fargo and Dodge pickup trucks, 1921-1953 | 1954-1960 | 1961-1980 Dodge trucks
Dodge’s second run of D-series pickups were launched in 1972. The 1981 Dodge pickups were restyled inside and out, regaining the Ram symbol — in hood ornament form on some trucks.
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 so people didn’t have to stop and lock or unlock them.
In 1980, Dodge had brought back the Ram symbol, created in the 1930s, with the slogan “Ram tough” for the first time since the 1950s. In 1981, it was for the first time, made part of the truck’s actual model name. Two wheel drive trucks were Rams, while four wheel drive trucks were Power Rams.
The 1981 Dodge pickups also gained a four-barrel carburetor on the 318 V8 to help make up for lost power, with electronic spark advance on all slant six engines. The slant six gained hydraulic lifters, ending the need for valve adjustments. Engineers built more reliable electrical systems, including, at long last, a shunt ammeter and a new bulkhead connector, to prevent fires, failures, and voltage drop.
Added creature comforts included 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, and an electronic monitor (on some models) with warning lights for various problems.
The Ramcharger and Trail Duster were now made with a permanent steel roof, integrated with the 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 used a front wheel drive car (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; many ended up as parts runners.
As a somewhat late response to fuel crises, Dodge launched the D150 Miser, with a slant six and four-speed manual overdrive. A popular idea, it 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 a turbodiesel to the Dodge D50 pickup (Mitsubishi L200), which was not especially popular, and reduced steering effort by using needle bearings intead of sleave bearings. Dodge never did create their own small pickup to replace the D50, which had itself replaced the A-series pickups.
See our full 1983 Dodge truck section. Plymouth was briefly given a version of the Rampage, dubbed the Scamp, a fairly large deviation from the Valiant-based Scamps.
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, Dodge Ram pickups included a three-man bench-seat cab with two box styles and the Crew Cab for six-passenger capacity. 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 (but using dimensions very similar to an early International pickup). To make assembly room, Dodge dropped its crew cab and Utiline pickups in 1985; club cabs had already fallen in 1982. 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 — no V8 had originally been intended. 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 and far more powerful than the diesels used by Ford or GM, it required more structural integrity, too. The Cummins was used direct injection; at the time of its launch, neither Ford nor GM had diesels with direct injection or turbochargers.
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 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]
A redesigned 3.9 liter V6 and 5.2 (318) V8 were ready for the 1992 Dodge Ram, along with a new heavy duty manual transmission; 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.
Dodge sold around 80,000 Rams 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 barely selling. The only trucks to sell over 100,000 units being the then-hot Dakotas - selling at nearly double their 2007 rate. It seemed as though the line was petering out.
These were the final D-series Rams, and they may well have been the final Dodge Rams had executives not chosen to revisit past decisions. Fortunately for Chrysler Corporation, that was not the end of the story; the 1994 Dodge Ram would drop like a bombshell on a stagnant pickup market, with the most power engines, higher-strength bodies, increased towing and hauling, and the first cabin designed around users’ needs in some years — all wrapped up in “big rig” styling which was also surprisingly aerodynamic. They tripled Dodge’s meager market share as soon as the company was able to build enough to satisfy demand, and made Dodge (later, Ram) a serious pickup contender again.
For more, including the sales rebirth caused by the 2009 redesign, see the main Dodge and Ram trucks section.
Fargo and Dodge pickup trucks, 1921-1953 • 1954-1960 Dodge trucks • 1961-1980 D-Series • 1981-93 D-Series
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