Dodge Pickups and A-Series Dodge Trucks, 1961-1979
1961: the big D-series launches
The D series, introduced in 1961, were bigger and tougher than before. The wheelbase of each model grew by about six inches, while the frames grew stronger and added a cross member. Dodge also moved to the industry's standard 34 inch cross members and straight frame rails (presumably to help upfitters), and installed wider and longer leaf springs and stronger front and rear axles. This made the trucks harder to drive and hurt handling, but increased capacity and durability.
A pair of modern six cylinder engines helped efficiency: the tough, advanced slant six, producing 101 horsepower from 170 cubic inches or 140 horsepower from 225 cubic inches. The 170 was an option only for the lighest duty model (D100), while the 225 was standard across the board - meaning you could buy a one-ton truck with a 140 (gross; roughly 110 net) horsepower engine, which was an improvement over the L-heads.
In addition to the slant sixes, Chrysler's latest technological wonder, the alternator, was added to its trucks in 1961. This was a major advance, because it did not cook batteries like generators, yet were able to charge the battery during idle. New manual transmissions were added, as well, with greater capacities; a four speed automatic was also available.
In 1962, Dodge trucks sales rose sharply to 108,244 units, the best performance since 1956, partly due to the company’s announcement in May 1962 that improvements would be made as they were developed, rather than waiting for new model years; not to mention the new heavy duty six cylinder engine, four door six-passenger crew cab truck, new medium-duty Perkins diesel engine, and new wiring protection package. In August, the 5/50 warranty was brought out for trucks; on some heavy duty trucks, the company went up to 5/100 on powertrain. (There were numerous other changes — see our 1962 history page).
Another advance, this time in manufacturing, occured in 1963, when Dodge started making its own crew cabs in its factory, as competitors simply converted already-made crew cabs. (Crew cabs are four-door cabs with room for four to six passengers.)
The high-performance truck market began with Dodge's Custom Sports Special, a 1964 model which could include the formidable 426 Wedge engine - it preceded the "L'il Red Pickup Truck" by a good decade. This truck's high performance package included a 426 Wedge engine that generated 365 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque; it had a three-speed automatic, power steering and brakes, tach, dual exhausts, and rear axle struts. Not a big seller, it did generate a lot of buzz.
Ben Simons of the Custom Sports Special Registry wrote: The 426 Wedge was part of the $1300 High Performance Package and could be ordered on its own from the separate and distinct $235 Custom Sports Special trim package. The HP Package was only “officially” offered in 1964 and 1965 on D100 and D200 LWB trucks. The Custom Sports Special trim package was offered from 1964 thru 1967 and could be had on D or W 100, 200 Sweptline, Utiline or chassis cab in LWB or SWB trucks. Dodge management only authorized 50 trucks could be built with the 426 Street Wedge High Performance Package — according to former Dodge truck engineer Bruce Thomas of the Walter P. Chrysler Museum, who said that far fewer than 50 examples were actually produced. Currently the registry recognizes 31 trucks with these packages or combinations of them.
1965 and onwards: restyling, power, and consumer marketing
No changes to the D series trucks were made until 1965, when a major resylting brought a new grille and headlights, along with tougher new double-wall boxes that included a full-width tailgate. Wheelbases also increased for some models. The D-500, pictured above, had a maximum gross weight rating of 19,500 pounds; and could accommodate up to a 14-ton hoist with extension boom. The standard engine was the 225 slant six, with 318 and 361 V8s optional.
The tough, powerful 383 because an option in 1967 across the board, pumping out 258 horsepower and a stunning 375 lb-ft of torque.
1968 saw a new grille, 1969 a new hood and cab interior with a safer steering wheel, and 1970 the Dodge Dude cosmetic package.
The big news for 1970 trucks was the availability of the LoadFlite automatic transmission with the four wheel drive W100 and W200 models; and, for manual transmission lovers, a new three-speed, fully synchronized transmission was standard on the half-ton and three-quarter ton trucks, and on six-cylinder W100 and W200 models. A new "easy off" tailgate could be removed or installed by a single person without tools, helping camper owners. The Camper Special got a new electrical hookup, and a standard 25 gallon gas tank. Tools were moved under the hood.
By 1972, the 400 V8 was available with 200 net horsepower (roughly 250-260 gross horsepower), tuned for moderate emissions standards; the 360, with 180 horsepower, joined it. Even a 440 was available (starting in 1974): it produced 235 net horsepower when clumsily set up for modern emissions standards. The 440 would be popular in motor homes through its demise. The 170 slant six was gone, leaving the more suitable 225 as the base engine, while the modern 318 (160 hp) was now available as an economical V8. By then, the 727 TorqueFlite was the sole automatic choice, while a variety of three and four speed manual transmissions were available.
In 1971, Dodge introduced its "Lifestyle" pickups, designed to meet the needs of families who used them mainly for towing trailers on vacations. It was tough, yet comfortable inside and not too hard to drive. A popular option was the slide-on camper body (Dodge didn't sell the body, but did sell an option package which made them easier to install and use). Dodge still made tough trucks — indeed, the “lifestyle” trucks gave up little durability.
1972 (1973 in Canada) brought the Club Cab, to carry people in more comfort, or to store valuable equipment inside the truck, secure and out of the weather. Tim Vincent wrote, “The only difference I've come across so far [in the Club and regular cab] is the way the front spring hangers are connected to the frame, instead of rivets, there are bolts holding on the leading spring hanger.” The Club Cab had transverse seating for a third passenger (or two small passengers).
In 1974, the Ramcharger option was created; this was essentially a short-wheelbase full-size pickup with an optional hard or soft bed top and two doors with room for two rows of seats, and it lasted through to 1993 (the Plymouth version, Trailduster, only lasted to 1981).
The truck above is a 1975 Dodge Bighorn CNT950; according to Kyle Youngblood, it was bought new by Prouse, and is low mileage, with just around 200,000 miles now. Around 115 of the 261 built are still around.
In 1976 and 1977, new custom-van and "specialty truck" options were added; 1977 saw minor changes. These specialty trucks and other contemporary information are in our 1977 Dodge trucks page.
A handful of mid-1970s D-100s were fitted by an aftermarket firm with Mitsubishi diesels.
The tough years: fuel crisis and beyond
When the fuel crisis hit, Dodge was not prepared, and it took some time to fit pickups with a Mitsubishi diesel; that rare model appeared around 1978, the same year the D-150 and D-250 were introduced. The diesel engine used in 1978 (and possibly later) D150s, D250s, and Power Wagons was the Mitsubishi 6DR5, 3950 cc (243 cubic inches), with 105 hp at 3500 rpm; it was reportedly virtually identical to the Land Cruiser diesel engine of the time. This factory option (VIN code H) was a straight-six and came without a badly needed turbocharger, providing good mileage (reportedly over 20 mpg) but limiting top speeds. These engines do not appear to be listed in the Standard Catalog of American Light-Duty Trucks but are in the 1978 Dodge truck brochure.
The L’il Red Truck was introduced by Dodge in March 1978, following the release of such self-proclaimed “adult toys” as the Dodge Warlock. Engineered for speed, the Little Red Truck was built on the short-wheelbase (115 inch) Utiline-style half-ton D150 with a 6,050 pound gross vehicle weight, but the real attraction was the high performance 360 V8 breathing through a four-barrel carburetor.
For 1979, a Mitsubishi pickup was imported, finally replacing the A-trucks which had been gone since 1971. The Mitsubishi, sold as the D-50 and later as the Ram 50, was just an inch longer in wheelbase than the old A-series pickups, but used a technologically advanced four cylinder in place of the slant six.
The B-series V8s, the 383, 400, and 440 left production in 1979, the end of an era. Dodge, caught up in Chrysler's economic crisis, leaned on Mitsubishi for a compact pickup, selling the D50 as a Dodge even though it was designed and built entirely by the Japanese auto firm. The plan was originally for Chrysler to eventually buy Mitsubishi but this never materialized, despite efforts by Daimler to bring the two together.
1981 would bring major changes to the line — though not nearly as comprehensive as the complete 1994 model-year redesign. Perhaps the most important addition to the Dodge truck lineup, though, was the Cummins diesel engine, also introduced in the 1980s. Continue on to our 1980-1993 Dodge D-series pickup truck section...