Dodge / Ram
The B-series pickups had been popular; but between fashion and function, Dodge chose a new look for their new 1954 C-series pickups. The change of series wasn’t just for show; they were redesigned from the ground up, with a new frame and better wheel clearance for tighter turns.
The cab was lower, with more glass, including a new, single piece curved windshield. Inside, the pedals were mounted directly to the frame to cut vibration; gauges were directly in front of the driver; and control buttons were clustered on the driver’s right side. The glove compartment was moved to the center of the dash, making it easier to use while driving.
Six-cylinder engines carried over, but new optional Hemi V8s (then called “double rockers”) appeared midyear on the lighter duty trucks. At that point, the 218 six was eliminated, making the 230 six standard on light-duty trucks. The efficient, expensive-to-build Hemi engines overpowered the competition, from the 133 horsepower 241 (220 lb-ft torque) and to the 172 horsepower 331 (294 lb-ft).
The company made a number of cosmetic changes — moving nameplates to the fender, shrinking the grille and moving the parking lamps away, adding a round emblem. The wheelbases were the same as in 1953 (108 and 116 inches); the Town Panel was only available on the shorter wheelbase. Beds were 6½ and 7½ feet.
For 1955, Dodge decided to confuse the names a bit; the first letter was still the series (e.g. C), but now there was a letter to show the weight capacity. The half-ton was “B,” the 3/4 ton was “C,” and the one-ton was “D” — for names like C-1B, C-1C, and C-1D. They also increased power ratings on the flathead six to 100 or 110 hp, depending on the displacement. They also made it easier to see out the window, with new wraparound windshields.
The PowerFlite automatic also debuted in 1955, with two gears; half-ton pickups could get an overdrive unit on the manual three-speed.
1957 was a huge year of change for the Dodge truck line; it had become clear that style sold cars better than function, so the company started looking to see what it could do with its trucks. The “hooded headlights” look of Chrysler’s carlines was moved over to their Dodge pickups, which also gained car-style duotone color schemes. Dodge started calling their trucks “Power Giant,” justified somewhat by their new 204-horsepower 315 “double rocker” (Hemi) V8. The biggest six-cylinder moved up to 120 horses, too.
The legendary Power Wagon name was applied to the 1957 four wheel drive pickups, in W100, W200, W300, and W500 series (starting in 1957, that would be the “WM” series). These pickups bore no serious relation to the original Power Wagon, which had just stopped selling in the US; they had modern cabs and bodies, but at least four wheel drive was standard.
Again in the service of styling, a small run of Dodge Sweptside pickups was launched; these would last through 1959, and mainly consisted of fins tacked onto the sides of the bed.
On a minor note, Dodge began to use industry-standard names, calling its half-ton pickups the D100 series; individual models started with a letter for the year (K for 1957) and the number of cylinders of the engine, so the 1957 half ton would be the K6D100 and a 3/4-ton-rated V8 with four wheel drive would be K8-W200. This lasted until 1965. The top of the line for this year appeared to be the 700 model cab-over-engine tractor, shown below with a 35-foot trailer.
Dodge now had nine available engines with 12 horsepower ratings. Other 1957 additions were a hood that opened completely, power steering and brakes, tubeless tires, a push-button three-speed automatic (replacing the two speed), and a 12 volt electrical system.
1958 trucks were similar, except that the hooded headlights were replaced by dual headlights, which were now all the rage; the annual style changes from cars now afflicted pickups as well.
The 1959 trucks “Sweptline” cargo box was wider, following the dimensions of the cab rather than narrowing. They also had a new grille, running boards concealed under the doors, and a new grille and headlight treatments which were likely influenced by Virgil Exner’s “floating headlamps.” The Hemi was replaced by a cheaper-to-make, easier-to-maintain A-series 318 engine with 205 hp. The Utiline “one-ton” truck had a maximum gross weight of 9,000 pounds with its optional dual rear wheels.
1960 brought the new-style pedals, which hang from above rather than connect through the floor. The 318 V8 was downgraded to 200 hp, losing five horsepower, but other powertrain elements were similar. The Sweptline boxes were redesigned to follow the cab dimensions more closely, making them four inches wider. See our 1960 Dodge truck section.
1921-1953 • 1961-93 • The inner story of 1957-59 Dodge Sweptside trucks
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