In 1965, Dodge built and sold a full line of trucks, from compact vans and pickups to heavy-duty cabovers. Dodges were gaining popularity as the basis for recreational vehicles (RVs), and buyers could get 14 different heavy-duty diesel trucks in the United States — a high for Chrysler Corporation.
Chrysler Corporation also bought its first minority share of Rootes Group in the United Kingdom, merging Dodge Truck and Commer. The joint operation would pay off much later with the Dodge 100, Dodge 500, and Spacevan.
In February 1964, Dodge had launched heavy-duty tilt cabs, including the LN-1000 tilt-cab shown above, in tandem and single axle models, with gasoline and Cummins diesel engines, in a variety of wheelbases, capacities, and components. The Cummins engines were in-line sixes; there were also Perkins diesels available.
The LN-1000 shown above had a gross weight rating of 76,800 pounds, and was powered by a 250 horsepower Cummins diesel hooked up to a five-speed Spicer transmission and a two-speed rear axle.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Dodge A-series van and pickup line, weighed under 3,000 pounds (with the base slant six engine). These could be optioned out to carry over a ton of payload, with an optional V8. The vans were far more popular than the pickups, which had also been launched in 1964.
The company’s full size pickup trucks were named D-xxx (e.g. D-100) in rear wheel drive, and W-xxx (e.g. W-200) in four wheel drive. These were relatively new, having been launched in 1961. Changes from the C series to the D (and W) series — the D was a sequence number, not a stand-in for “Dodge” — included a longer wheelbase, stronger frames with an extra cross-member, industry-standard 34 inch cross members and straight frame rails to help upfitters, and wider and longer leaf springs and stronger front and rear axles. This made the trucks harder to drive, but increased capacity and durability.
The base engine was the tough, advanced (for the time) slant six, producing 140 horsepower from 225 cubic inches. Chrysler's latest technological wonder, the alternator, had been added to its trucks in 1961.
The first changes to the D series trucks were made in 1965, with a new grille and headlights, tougher new double-wall boxes, and a full-width tailgate. Wheelbases also increased for some models. The D-500 had a maximum gross weight rating of 19,500 pounds, and could have a 14-ton hoist with extension boom. The standard engine was the 225 slant six, with 318 and 361 V8s optional. The new LA series 273 V8, lighter but as powerful as the old A-series 318, was optional.
The high-performance truck market had begun with Dodge’s High Performance Package, with the formidable 426 Wedge engine - it preceded the L'il Red Pickup Truck by a decade (though only available on long-wheelbase D100 and D200 pickups). The V8 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, and was sold in 1964 and 1965 only, with fifty authorized and fewer built.
The half-ton and three-quarter-ton models had a new 128 inch wheelbase option, and a choice of Sweptline or Utiline bodies. They came with dome light, a single sun visor, painted front bumper and hubcaps, seat belts, dual-speed wipers, a single outside mirror, and front and rear shock absorbers — unless you got a one-ton, which only had front shock absorbers. These were far, far more basic trucks than today’s “strippers,” even when fully optioned out.
The Dodge D-300 pickup above had a 140 gross horsepower slant six engine; the 300 horsepower 318 V8 was optional; it had a 9-foot stake body, GVW of 10,000 pounds, and payload of 5,240 pounds... all powered by a slant six with a roughly-estimated 110 net horsepower. Even in this level, the slant six held its own (in sales) against the V8 trucks.
Most of the lighter duty trucks had a base slant six, with a 273 cubic inch, 174 horsepower V8 option. The 413 was added to the lineup for some medium duty models, with 217 gross horsepower at 3,600 rpm and 373 lb-ft of torque at a low 2,000 rpm. The year 1965 saw two new diesel engine options: the V8E-235 and V8-265, both naturally aspirated four-cycle engines from Cummins.
In August 1965, Dodge introduced a new three-speed manual transmission for light duty trucks, which cut starting torque but added a more economical highway ratio and enabled faster highway speeds.
The company ended the 1965 model year with just over 130,000 domestic truck sales, a 36% increase over 1964 and close to Dodge’s record; from there sales fell year by year until making a resurgence decades later.
Still, given their success so far, Chrysler was investing for the future, creating a national network of truck branches and servicing centers. Field engineers were assigned to 23 regional sales offices to help customers order the right truck for the job. The new St. Louis plant, now closed, was designed to be able to build 100,000 light trucks per year, by late 1966.
In Europe, the Commer 100 Series Commando was shown as a concept in 1965 and 1966; presaging the Dodge/Commer 100, it was to replace the Commer VC and CE, and would be Chrysler’s / Rootes’ most competitive truck in Europe, in its era. Unfortunately, the trucks could not be economically converted for United States sale.
The Commer - Dodge 100 Series truck was Chrysler’s (and Rootes’) most competitive truck in Europe, in its era. Derek Harlingn wrote, “There were some initial plans for the new truck series within the old Commer Engineering department but the real planning, definition and approval of the 100 Commando Series happened within this new organization - little was left of the initial Commer-only plans.”
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