Dodge B-series Vans: Sportsman, Ram Van, Ram Wagon, and Voyager
The first modern Dodge vans were Forward Control A-vans. Wider and higher (but not heavier) than the Chevrolet and Ford vans, they could seat 9 passengers or provide 213 cubic feet of cargo space. This generation of Dodge vans, light pickups, medium-duty trucks lasted until 1970; their success led the company to quickly invest in a follow up series (as it would turn out, the only follow up series). The first series (1964-1970) were named A100, A200, and A300; the second series were named B100, B200, and B300, but are usually referred to as the B-vans. They were made in Fenton, Missouri and Windsor, Ontario until 1980, when falling sales led Chrysler to centralize production in Windsor.
The B-vans, phased in over 1970 and 1971 (as 1971 models), were radically different from the A-vans, responding to customer requests. Wind resistance was cut, lowering noise and increasing highway mileage; the windshield was made full length and curved, replacing the old separate sheets of plate glass and the center windshield pillar; the instrument panel, seats, and trim were brought upscale to match or beat passenger cars (some parts came from passenger cars); and the front suspension was switched to an independent design with coil springs. Power steering and brakes were available across the board, with optional air conditioners and fresh-air heater/defrosters under the hood. Standard features included a single sun visor, two-speed wipers, single driver's seat, turn signals, heat, painted hubcaps, backup lights, and some other items considered essential today.
Comfort was increased, with more supportive, better-padded seats; and there was much more space, especially if the buyer skipped the 109 inch wheelbase and went for the 127 inch wheelbase (or a Maxivan, which appeared in calendar-year 1971, and had 18 inches of additional length for a total 212 inch length). Side doors were now hinged, with an integrated step, near the center of the body for better access; up to 15 passengers could fit into the lengthened Maxivan, and school-bus versions were available. The maximum gross vehicle weight was 7,700 pounds. The heavy vans had a standard 198 cid slant six, with engines topping out at the 318 V8.
The B-vans, despite their much longer wheelbase, were just five inches longer than the A-vans (176 and 194 inches), and had more interior space (206-246 cubic feet). Part of the reason for this was keeping the engine inside the van, rather than under the new, short hood, which was mainly there to allow access to the front of the engine, as well as the radiator, alternator, air conditioning, etc. The engine was moved forward, but remained mostly in the passenger compartment, under a large, more purposeful plastic cover which, when removed, allowed surprisingly good access for repairs. Engines were limited to the 198 and 225 cubic inch slant sixes, and the 318 V8 in these earlier years; the B-vans would end up with 400 and 440 cubic inch V8s, albeit briefly, but the 318 would always be available.
Throughout their life, the B-vans had rear leaf springs and shock absorbers, with an independent coil front suspension. Steering was power recirculating ball, with a tight turning radius for most of the B-vans’ lifespan (ending with the 1998 changes).
Chris Coleman added, “The B-van was a unibody design that used two full-length open U-channels welded to the floorpan to reinforce the body structure. Although the B-van shared components with the Dodge truck line, such as suspension, brakes, driveline, and steering components, it never used a true frame. Like most unibody vehicles, it had a separate bolt-on front K-member to carry the front suspension, steering, and engine.”
In 1971, the Royal Sportsman, Custom Sportsman, and Sportsman came with windows all around and with driver and front passenger's seat plus a rear bench seat as standard for 5-passenger seating. Optional seats increased the passenger capacity to 8, 12, or 15 passengers. The 8-passenger version could be on either the 109-inch or the 127-inch wheelbase; the 12-passenger was available on the 127-inch only. The 15-passenger was on the Maxiwagons only - which were 18 inches longer. If the standard van was selected, there were many window combinations available, including windows all around. A passenger's front seat was an extra-cost option. All seats were covered in vinyl. Deluxe driver and passenger bucket seats were optional at extra cost in Van models. (Read more about the 1971 squad cars including Sportsman vans.)
The 127-inch-wheelbase Sportsman, Custom Sportsman, Royal Sportsman, or Van were suited for multiple use as personnel carrier, emergency vehicle, or cargo van. With just under 10 feet of length in the 127-inch wheelbase and with almost 11 feet in the Maxi versions from the back of the driver's seat to the inside of the rear doors, there was more than enough room for two stretchers to be placed in the back. In all Sportsman and Van models, double cargo doors were standard on the right side and rear.
1971 was also the final year for its ten year old standard trucks, which got cosmetic upgrades for the year along with an evaporative emissions system on D100. A new D100 Sweptline Special was also added, as a bargain model, with no options. There was also a Custom and Adventurer series, with Sweptline and Utiline models. Just 2,835 diesel trucks were sold -- none with a Cummins engine yet. The LoadFlite automatic, a TorqueFlite for truck, had just been launched in 1970; and 1971 was the last year of the two-year Dodge Dude, a moderately embellished truck that paved the way for the 1978 L'il Red Trucks and the 1977 Warlocks.
The D100 pickups, available in Sweptline and Utiline models, had bodies ranging from a simple cargo cover of canvas or aluminum to stationary or collapsible slide-ons. Maximum payload with 1,400 rear springs and G78-15-D tires was 1,500 pounds. The D200 pickups were the most popular slide-on camper size due to their heavier capacity; they could take up to a 10.5 foot, cabover camper, and with special equipment, could handle a payload of 3,100 pounds. (A W200 pickup option was available with four wheel drive, and a maximum payload of 3,100 pounds; options on this included automatic transmission, front locking hubs, and a front winch with manual transmission).
|1971 Sportsman Wagons||109" wb||127" wb||Maxiwagon|
|Door opening-side door height*||47.2"||47.2"||47.2"|
|Door opening-side door width*||49.2"||49.2"||49.2"|
|Door opening-rear door height||47.2"||47.2"||47.2"|
|Door opening-rear door width||49.2"||49.2"||49.2"|
|Height-Maximum passenger area||53.9"||53.9"||53.9"|
|Length-rear door to seat-back||95.2"||113.2"||131.2"|
|Length-rear door to engine cover||117.3"||135.3"||153.3"|
|Overall height||80.8 "||80.8"||80.8"|
|Turning Radius: B100||36.5'||41.6'||41.6'|
|Turning Radius: B200||37.9'||43.3'||43.3'|
|Turning Radius: B300||40.7'||49.5'||49.5'|
* These figures were the same as in 1992 - but other figures were all different.
|Size||Cyls / Carb||Compression||HP (Gross/Net, 1971)||Torque|
|225||I6, 1-barrel||8.4: 1||145/110||215/185|
|318||V8, 2-barrel||8.6: 1||230/155||320/260|
The D300 could also carry six passengers with four doors in the cab, taking the same length cabover unit but, when ordered appropriately could handle a payload of 3,295 pounds. Most slide-on interiors had a dinette, kitchen, water, and electric systems, and could sleep five or more people.
The D300 Chassis-Mount system had a three-man cab and provided more room than the largest slide-on campers; they were sent to a body builder for permanent mounting of the camper body, and, with the 159 inch wheelbase, could take a camper 12 to 14 feet long. A special equipment package with 165 inch wheelbase could go up to 16 feet long. These interiors had more floor space, sometimes had a pass-through to the cab, and generally had a side entrance; they also came with kitchens and dinettes.
Full-fledged motor homes were also available, using chassis built by Dodge, in wheelbases from 104 to 178 inches. Standard features included power steering, power brakes, three-speed automatic, and a 318 V8 engine (the 413, but not the 383, was optional). Most motor homes had a complete kitchen, a converting dinette, shower, and optional air conditioning and generator. The motor home chassis had heavy duty axles, and a rugged carbon-steel frame with deep, heavy-gauge straight side rails reinforced at stress points. Dual rear wheels were standard.
In 1972, the 225 was made standard, with the 198 dropped; the powerful 360 V8 became an option. Engines gained electronic ignition in 1973 - standard on B100 and B200, which also got standard power brakes; and optional on B300; and a heavier 8,200 gross vehicle weight was brought out.
The popular Kary Van, which had an extended height (6 feet, 2 inches), was also added; it let people walk in the cabin, and was available in 10 and 12 foot body lengths, two body widths, and single or dual rear wheels; it was also available as a chassis for motor-home installation.
1974 saw the first sliding door, available with the 127 inch wheelbase Maxivans; the grille was also replaced, and a new plant in Windsor, Ontario (Pillette Road, or Plant #6) was completed to help fill demand. Vacuum booster brakes were standard on B200 and B300, optional on the B100. An optional one-piece rear door was added in 1975 for better visibility and loading; a durable hard-service interior was brought out as an option; and a set of "GVW" packages were offered to make it easier to build up the van to a desired capacity.
The vans were so successful that Plymouth got a version, the Voyager (1974-1983); it was identical to the Dodge Sportsman, except that Plymouths were expected to be used for passengers rather than cargo, and the Dodge MaxiWagon was called the Extended Body Voyager. The Plymouth’s sales were never high, due primarily to building capacity; the vans were one of the few Chrysler Corporation vehicles to be constrained by production capacity, rather than customer demand.
For 1976, there was an optional noise insulation package, and suspension tweaks improved the ride; a warning light appeared when the transmission fluid was too hot or low; and the Street Van, designed to look (and be) customized, was introduced. Two new engines were optional on B200 and B300: the new 400 and the standby 440. No B or RB engine had ever been available on the A-vans or B-vans. For better gas mileage and lower highway noise, a four-speed manual transmission was finally made available — before Chevy or Ford had four speed manuals in their vans. This was introduced late in the 1976 model year and was available for 1977 and later years as well.
In 1976, sales were up to 184,583 vans; in 1977, they hit 226,066 vans, making the B-van Dodge’s best selling truck group (all light-duty conventional pickups were just 215,409, combined). In contrast, Ford sold just 179,820 Econoline vans in 1976.
In 1977, Dodge, still the market leader, refreshed the vans with high-back swivel seats, upgraded carpet, quick-release bench seats, privacy glass, and the fuel pacer option; the Van Clan Club was created for owners, and a four-speed overdrive was optional on B100. The popular single rear door was made standard, with the dual rear door now optional. Five new metallic colors--light green, medium blue, medium green sunfire, russet sunfire, and black sunfire--and four straight shades--light tan, light blue, yellow, and harvest gold--were available in addition to continuing white, bright red, russet, silver cloud metallic, and bright tan metallic. Maxiwagon and maxivan models continued Chrysler's exclusive 15-passenger capacity for wagons and the longest interior cargo length for vans. The single piece rear door was now standard on wagon models, and dual rear doors were a no-cost option.
Among the new convenience and comfort features available for 1977 were swivel high back bucket driver and passenger seat option in Royal Sportsman and Royal Sportsman SE, Tradesman van and Street Van; quick release mechanism for wagon bench seats which allowed for fast, easy removal of the seats, and new bench seat construction for improved ride. Dark gray privacy glass (as well as normal tinted glass) was a new option on Sportsman five and eight passenger wagons and vans; the darker glass increased interior privacy, and reduced heat for cooler interiors. Perhaps more to the point for many people, the big 400 and 440 cubic inch V8 engines were made optional; they would only be available for three scant years, 1977, 1978, and 1979, and the payback on the engineering to fit them into the engine bay must have been negligible. Still, the rationale is not hard to find: there were fewer cars sold with those engines, and management must have figured that using them in vans would at least keep the factories running.
The refresh continued for 1978 with a rear and interior reskin. A lower beltline and moving the doors forward (on the 127 inch wheelbase vans) allowed for bigger windows; the new roof could have vents or a sunroof, and a new instrument panel with a spring-loaded swing-up glove compartment door and easier to reach fuse block were added. The optional air conditioning system now had integrated center and outboard outlets. A woodgrain appliqué was standard on high line and premium vans.
Nicer trim and seats, including a color-keyed formed-steel seat riser, and two-tone paint added to the package. Front door vent windows got a positive detent latch and release button. On Sportsman and Tradesman vans, even the climate control panel was replaced with one taken from the car lines, on models; cars with air conditioning got four fan speeds. The new color-keyed steering column included an ignition switch and steering column lock, with new two-spoke, deep-dish steering wheels similar to those in cars, and woodgrain appliqué on higher trim levels. A 16½ inch wheel was used with manual steering, for leverage, and a 15-inch wheel was used for power steering.
Under the hood, a redesigned heater/vent system had an air-blending temperature control system, which had faster temperature response than the older system along with better air distribution.
Thanks to the noise reduction and ride improvement of 1976 and the 1977-78 refreshes, the B-vans were now much more civilized, and quickly became the institutional van of choice, seeing duty in hotels, churches, smaller schools, and other venues.
But they were also starting to be used as recreational vehicles, and Dodge helped by creating a “travel seat” option (to be resurrected for the 2008 minivans) for the Dodge Royal Sportsman. The second row seat could be faced front or rear, with an optional table between the second and third seat rows; the seats could be laid flat for sleeping, as well. Even the front seats could recline and swivel, if buyers of the Sportsman model chose to buy the Command Chairs. They included the dual armrests that would be a hallmark of Chrysler minivans, and swiveled through 360° wtih positive detents for full-forward and full-rear positions; they were upholstered in textured velour.
Those wanting to get in on the CB craze could do it with a choice of an AM-40 channel CB transceiver, or an AM-FM stereo 40-channel CB transceiver. Both used a digital vacuum-fluorescent display and a six-bar signal strength display. Those who did not care to converse with truckers could buy a plain AM or AM/FM radio, or opt for AM/FM stereo or the AM/FM stereo with 8-track tape player.
The Maxivan appeared, 220 inches long, with room for 15 people; and a new optional wraparound rear quarter window greatly increased rear visibility. Radio options were also expanded, and a 9,000 GVWR model was developed. The longer body allowed for respacing of the seats, and more usable space was provided for all 1978 wagons and vans by moving the passenger seat inboard by one inch; two new engine covers, each one four inches shorter, helped as well. The smaller cover (used on the slant six, 318, and 360) was also two inches narrower on the passenger side.
1979 was a difficult year for Chrysler as a whole; sales of the vans were down a whopping 48% due to gas prices, and RV sales fell off a cliff, so that Dodge was forced to shut down its industry-leading RV and camper operations. Sales plummeted to 151,070; it dropped behind even GMC. Part of the problem was a general slump in the domestic market; another was Chrysler’s increasingly obvious financial problems, which may have caused fleet managers to think twice.
The Sportsman wagon was officially reclassified as a truck (it had been a car before) so Chrysler could meet CAFE standards; to be fair, it had always been more truck than car. Quad rectangular headlights (replacing the standard single round headlights), Tuff steering wheels, and AM/FM stereos with either 8-tracks or CB radios were added as options, but the 440 V8 engine (and its smaller and less long-lived first cousin, the 400) were both dropped with customers finding them too thirsty. A four-speed manual overdrive transmission was brought out for the B100 and B200, to increase mileage.
In 1980, the three-speed manual transmission was finally dropped, leaving a standard four-speed manual for B100 and B200, and TorqueFlite on B300. Single large vented windows replaced dual windows on the sliding doors; a vented rear door window was optional, along with power windows and a trip computer, reading lights, halogen headlights, and a Dolby-enabled cassette stereo.
1980 sales fell to 80,183 Ram Vans, 22,840 Ram Wagons, and 7,264 Plymouth Voyagers.
For 1981, the names were all changed: Sportsman was replaced by Ram Wagon, model designations were upped by 50 (B150, B250, B350), and a new Mini-Ram van was added on a 109.6 inch wheelbase (with more brightwork, big chrome rearview mirrors, and a 36 gallon tank); its weight ranged from 3,274 to 3,646 pounds. The Wagon was similar to the van, but added windows, fresh air heater/defroster, ten inch inside mirror, padded sun visors, low-back bucket front seats, and a quick-release three-passenger vinyl rear bench seat (with three seat belts). The Long Range Van was added with a big gas tank. The (CB350) Kary Van was still available in 10, 12, and 15 foot lengths. The base engine across the board was the slant six, now with 95 horsepower at 3,600 rpm; the 318 had 140 horsepower at the same revs, and a 360 four-barrel was sold with 180 hp, again at 3,600 rpm. Two years later, in 1983, the 318 was dropped to 135 hp but a new four-barrel 318 was added with 160 horsepower, more than the pre-smog two-barrel 318s.
1981 sales were even lower than those of 1980: 48,702 vans, 18,548 wagons, and 4,849 Voyagers.
On the lighter side, 1982 sales rose, but not nearly enough: the company sold 60,870 Ram Vans, 34,614 Ram Wagons, and 4,715 Plymouth Voyager vans— a total which was slightly lower than GM’s 101,932 Chevy Van production, and their Sportvans combined. Ford came in with the top sales, 125,476 Econolines plus 33,668 Club Wagons. Ram Vans gave up another 20,000 sales in 1984 to Ford.
In 1984, the Mini-Ram Van, sold for only a few years, was dropped, with the name transferred to the new minivan platform; it was powered by a 101 horsepower 2.2 liter engine. The Ram Van now had computer-selected front springs, a bigger 60 amp alternator (replacing the 48 amp model), and a Value Wagon edition with a 36 gallon fuel tank, more gauges, and more chromework.
Dodge's Ram Wagons had extra seating capacity and trailer-hauling ability in a space-efficient design that was shorter than traditional station wagons. They had the industry's only single rear door. Vinyl high back bucket seats, a deluxe heater, bright surround moldings on all vented rear quarter windows, and tinted glass in all Ram Wagons were among new standard equipment. On the Ram Van, tinted glass and a vinyl low back bucket seat for the driver were standard.
From 1984, as the company dove into efficient front wheel drive vehicles, the Ram was increasingly neglected despite comfortable fleet sales; it was no longer a star, with attention and retail sales focused on the minivans, and few non-institutional takers for the various vans.
For 1986, Dodge bumpers and grille were revised and restyled.
1988 brought the first major powertrain change in many years: the newly developed 3.9 liter V6, created for the Dodge Dakota mainly by taking two cylinders off the 360 V8 and adding fuel injection, replaced the venerable slant six, providing a superior 125 horsepower and 195 foot-pounds of torque (to be fair, a fuel injected slant six could probably have done as well). Also, a new user-friendly, dual airbag equipped instrument panel was installed; a longer new front moved the engines forward, shrank the doghouse (interior engine bay), and improved front-to-rear access. The tires brakes were enlarged, the suspension was refined, the body was made stronger, stiffer, and more accurately assembled. The front doors had better seals; a passenger airbag shutoff was added for cargo vans; the spare tire moved under the floor to increase usable cargo area; audio was upgraded, and adjustable seat belt turning loops were added.
Carburetors came off the 318 at long last, nearly ten years after fuel injection first started to be used in popular cars, and, with a new roller cam, that venerable engine - rebadged 5.2 liter - produced quite a bit more power: 170 hp, 262 lb-ft of torque. A five speed manual transmission replaced the four-speed manual, but only if you got the 3.9 V6; and, mid-year, a four-speed automatic transmission was available with the 3.9 and 5.2. The 360 (now 5.9) continued with a carburetor, but only for one year: it got the fuel injector and roller cam in 1989, pushing it up to 190 hp and 292 lb-ft of torque. A single fuel injector was used, following corporate dictates that the absolute minimum cost be put into pollution control devices, though multiple point fuel injection was not uncommon elsewhere by this time.
In 1990, rear wheel antilock brakes were made optional, along with a heavy-duty four-speed automatic transmission.
|1971 Van||1987-1997 Ram Van|
|Hinged door opening (height x width)||47.2 x 49.2||47.2 x 49.2|
|Sliding door opening (height x width)||n/a||47.2 x 39.8|
|Max. interior width||72.2|
|Width between wheel-housings||50.0|
|Max inside height||53.9”||53.2|
|(1992 figures)||Extended Caravan C/V||109.6 Van||127.6 Van||Maxi Van|
|Length: rear door to driver's
seat back (in rearmost position)
|Length: rear door to engine cover||120.1||138.1||162.1|
Things started to pick up with the “new Chrysler” in the early 1990s; just as the lists of revisions to the various cars grew by leaps and bounds, the vans were studied and improved. In 1992, Dodge finally brought the two base engines up to modern times, with sequential multiple-port fuel injection, a tuned intake manifold, and other changes; the “Magnum” engines now produced 180 hp, 225 lb-ft (V6) and 235 hp, 285 lb-ft (318 V8). Three-point seat belts were also added to outboard positions of the rear seat. At this time, a one-inch diameter front stabilizer bar was used with gas-charged shocks in front and back. Front brakes were power disc (11.75 x 1.25 except B350) and rears were power drum (11.0 x 2.5 except B350). Steel 15 x 6.5 inch wheels were used (except B350 which used 16 x 6). Optional 15 x 7 steel-spoke wheels were optional, again except B350. Front payloads ranged from 1,175 to 4,450 lb (the maximum with the school bus package). The alternator was up to 75 amps.
The compressed natural gas version of the Ram Van and Wagon appeared in 1992, for selected fleets; it would be generally available starting in 1995. The Ram Van and Wagon, still running off their basic two-decades-old design in 1992, but with more modern sheet metal and interiors, were given minor upgrades; a one-inch diameter front stabilizer bar was used with gas-charged shocks in front and back. The alternator was up to 75 amps, and three-point seat belts were added to outboard positions of the rear seat.
In 1993, the 360 got the same treatment for 230 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque; it also got returnless fuel injection, which was added to the other engines in 1994. Other 1994 changes included revised camshafts to broaden the torque curve of the 3.9 and increase the torque of the 5.2 (by 10 lb-ft); non-CFC refrigerant; optional four-wheel antilock brakes; front side door beams; better roof crush protection; new body panels; and standard automatic transmissions. For 1995 a driver-side airbag and knee bolster were made standard, and four-wheel antilock brakes were available on heavy-duty 3500 models up to 9,000 pounds GVWR; a CNG (natural gas) engine was available on 3500 Maxi-Van and Wagon (this would continue through 2000 at least). Then, for 1996, an electronic-control four-speed automatic was added; ventilation was improved for vehicles without air conditioning; and the base GVWR was raised to 6,010 pounds.
|5.9 (360)||Ram 1500 and 2500, Van, Wagon||230@4,000||330@3200|
|5.9 (360)||Dodge Ram 3500||230@4,000||330@2,800|
|5.2 (318)||Dakota, Ram Van, Ram Wagon||220@4400||295@3200|
|5.2 (318)||Ram Pickup||220@4400||300@3200|
|3.9 V6||Dakota, Ram Van, Ram Wagon||175 @4800||225@3200|
|3.9 V6||Ram Pickup||175 @4800||230@3200|
Antitheft protection was increased, the side and rear cargo doors opened wider, a power connector was added for easier van conversions, and underhood service points were marked more clearly. Cloth reclining bucket seats were available as an option; a redesigned Rear Plumbing Group with underhood quick disconnects was added; door check straps were redesigned; and a cassette stereo was made standard.
Gas mileage in 1997 ranged from 15/17 with the 3.9 to 11/14 with the 360 3500 Wagon (the 1500 or 2500 wagon were rated at 12/17 with the 360). The 318’s dizzying variety of powertrains and models varied mileage from 12/14 to 13/17. Automatic transmissions in 1997 were the 32RH and 36RH three-speed automatics and the 46RE four-speed overdrive automatic. The alternator was now 117 amps for the van and 136 amps for the wagon, and a 35 gallon tank was standard.
||109.6 WB||127.6 WB||MaxiVan|
|Rear to seat back*||91.2||109.2||135.2|
|Rear to engine cover||119.6||137.6||163.6|
|Frontal area**||36.27 sq ft|
|Turning radius**||40.5 ft||46.2 ft||52.4 ft|
|* (in rearmost position)
** 2000 figures; earlier not available.
For 1998, numerous changes were made, resulting in higher market shares. These included a power boost for the 360 (5.9) engine to 245 horsepower and 335 lb-ft of torque; suspension refinements and larger standard tires with better brakes; a stronger, stiffer, more accurate Unibody construction; new front doors with better seals; cosmetic changes; driver and passenger airbags with lower force; a passenger airbag shutoff for cargo vans; and underfloor spare tire to increase usable cargo area; a new instrument panel with built in vents; better driver controls and audio systems; adjustable seat belt turning loops; and a “GVWR realignment.” In addition, the engine compartment was moved forward to meet safety standards and improve walk-through access (see Tannon Weber's review for more on this.)
In 1999, the 5.9-liter Magnum V-8 engine met Low Emission Vehicle requirements in California, Massachusetts, New York and Northeast Trading Region states.
In 2000, gas mileage with the 3.7 was the same, but the 360 went up to 13/17 and the 318 was 13/19 for the van, and 12/16 for the wagon (for the 3500 model), substantial improvements. The 36RH automatic had been dropped, leaving the 32RH and 46RE. Dodge wrote:
Instead of a body-on-frame chassis design, Dodge Ram Vans and Wagons are built with Unibody construction [the 1997 press release incorrectly claimed body on frame] that allows increased payloads and cargo room on most models -- all the way up to 4245 lbs. and 299.5 cu. ft. on the 3500 Maxivan and the 15-passenger 3500 Maxiwagon -- the most available payload of any full-size van. Magnum engines deliver the power for big loads: a 175 horsepower (230 lb.-ft. of torque) 3.9-liter V-6, a 230 horsepower (300 lb.-ft.) 5.2-liter V-8 or a 245 horsepower (335 lb.-ft.) 5.9-liter V-8 that -- when properly equipped -- tows trailers weighing as much as 8600 lbs. [Equipped properly, Dodge itself listed the maximum trailer weight as 13,500 pounds!]
Double-sealed front doors have a new laser-welded inner panel, as well as side-guard door beams for side impact protection. Improved sealing shuts out weather and noise. More room was created by moving the engine forward and mounting the spare tire under the floor. Heavy-duty gas-charged shock absorbers and a wishbone-type independent front suspension with a stabilizer bar are computer matched to the Ram Conversion Van's independent front suspension, delivering a smooth, yet controlled ride.
For advanced safety, Ram Van and Wagon come with next-generation driver and front passenger air bags, improved standard rear-wheel and available four-wheel anti-lock brakes.
For 2000, Ram Vans and Wagons get new hood-mounted windshield washer spray nozzles and chrome-clad wheels. Ram Vans get a six-speaker audio system as standard equipment.
Many Rams were used for wheelchair-dependent people, given the ease of adding a wheelchair lift (minivans were also used for this); the roof could be raised and a wheelchair lift added, with custom seating and provisions for medical equipment. The Automobility program allowed for cash rebates for certain “adaptive driving devices” on conversion vans. The old idea of different interior packages for people in different trades was also present in 2000, now named Tradesman Groups; they could include Crown Slide-Down™ ladder racks, shelving units, and a full-width metal partition behind the seats and rubber floor mat.
The B-vans, put into production in 1970, were mainly neglected from 1979 until the company recovered its spirit, fleetingly, in the mid-1990s; but by 1999, the money was gone, and the writing was on the wall. Cosmetic changes were made, features were added, and engines and transmissions came and went (except the 318 and 360, which were constant from 1972), but after 1976 the core architecture remained pretty much as it always had been. By the end, with ever-slower sales, the old lines and tooling may have hurt the vans’ once-leading quality, much as the final Diplomats were said to be less than their predecessors. Perhaps their end was inevitable, in a world with far fewer van sales and “good enough” vehicles from GM and Ford.
It seems odd that the new Ram trucks never spawned new vans (as the A100 was a van, pickup, and medium-duty truck), or that the Durango was never taken that one step further. But Robert Eaton was too scared to invest much in new product; after Iaccoca left, plans from new subcompacts to supercharged Neons to revitalizing full-sized vans all fell apart, in favor of stacking up emergency cash, which disappeared not long after the company sold itself. In 2003, the B-vans finally ceased production, and were replaced by the “Dodge” Sprinter, a Mercedes van built in Germany and assembled from knock-down kits in a Southern Freightliner facility.
The Street Van was a specially designed model for do-it-yourselfers, brought out in 1976 and selling through 1980. Robert H. Kline, Chrysler Corporation's manager of truck sales, said, "This model, the first of its type offered by a major manufacturer, has a special appeal to the motorist who wants to convert a unit to his individual tastes, needs, and life style. Our special Street Van provides a custom interior and exterior while leaving a great deal of latitude for plain or fancy conversion of the area between the seats and the rear door." The Street Van came from the dealership with a custom interior in the driver-passenger area. Standard equipment included high-back bucket seats, carpeting in the forward compartment, woodgrain insert on the instrument panel, and bright trim around the instrument cluster, door trim panels and horn bar. The exterior was unique with H70-1S-B raised white letter tires, a choice of five slot chrome or painted spoke road wheels, and a Street Van nameplate. In addition, the special model boasted bright front and rear bumpers, bright moldings around the grille, windshield and taillamps, and bright 5x7 sideview mirrors.
A detailed set of customizing instructions, plans and templates were provided each purchaser. The Street Van, available on 109 and 127-inch wheelbases in either B100 or B200 models, was designed by Dodge to be the base for individual creative expression, Kline pointed out. "Dodge has been the leader in the compact van and wagon market since 1973, outselling both Ford and Chevrolet as well as the Volkswagen mini-bus. The van which took over the top sales position and the one most often used for conversion was the Dodge Tradesman, a model we originally considered a work vehicle," he said.
The customizing kit furnished with each Street Van included step by-step photographs and instructions detailing installation of customized features such as port holes, sun roof, and roof vents. A list of manufacturers of these items was also furnished.
"Everything in the kit will make it easier for the do-it-yourselfer to finish the van in an expert, professional manner," Kline said. There were full-size templates for cutting side panels, headliner, and floor covering for the interior. There were also instructions describing the best methods for attaching the material to the inside of the van and illustrations with dimensions showing six alternate graphic schemes; and a membership in the Van Clan and an associate membership in the National Street Van Association (NSVA) along with a subscription to NSVA's publications on van activities.
“valiant67” wrote: “1976 models should have had a Street Machine decal on the doors, later years used an emblem that supposedly is quite valuable.”
Conversions of Dodge vans into campers and “lifestyle vehicles” were always popular. As late as 2000, Dodge wrote:
Conversion vans, available from Dodge dealers, offer a broad selection of entertainment and comfort features important to a family's travel and recreational needs. Buyers can choose video players, TV monitors, game-ready electronics, rear air conditioning and front and rear power seating. Ram Conversion Vans can also be equipped as a van motor home, with onboard electrical power supplies that have 12- and 110-volt outlets for items such as microwave ovens and refrigerators. Fresh water hookups can also be added to camper vans and motor homes.
Dodge Ram Conversion Vans -- built by factory-approved conversion specialists -- are the only line of full-size vans available in three lengths (187.2 in., 205.2 in. and 231.2 in. Maxi) and three load ranges (1500, 2500 and 3500 lbs.). This wide choice allows customers to tailor their van to specific needs and requirements.
Common repairs (by Tannon Weber)
As far as repairs and failures go, they basically fall in line with the A through M body rear wheel drive platforms, as well as the trucks. They share the same engines, so other than a little bit of extra heat under the engine cover and a little different design on some of the air cleaners, one finds that the motors, transmissions, basic driveshaft components, springs, axles, and the like are all very Chrysler in their designs.
Having occasionally used B-series vans for parts in junkyards, I will acknowledge that it's sometimes a bit tough to get some things out. Pulling cylinder heads, for example, is tough, as getting the exhaust manifolds off the heads with the head still bolted to the engine is a very tight operation. The task, though, can be worthwhile, especially in light of the 302 and 308 castings that some of the heads used that made their way into the vans. One doesn't have to chase down trucks for some of these parts for their RWD cars.
One other downside that I saw with all three vans I've used at work is that their bumpers don't take well to some tow trucks. The driver might think that the bumper is solid enough to allow the hook+strap tow method to work, but it inevitably bends the bumper. The last generation vans lacking chrome bumpers are especially vulnerable, so there are lots and lots of vans used by tradesmen running around looking like they've been on a bumper cart track when they've probably just hit the occasional parking space post or trash can, or had the wrong towing method used. Oh, I've also seen plenty of B-vans pre-98 with mirrors that don't stay in place because the plastic retainer under the cover is broken or stripped.
Reviews: Tannon Weber
I've driven three B-series vans at work for extended periods of time: a 1984 Dodge Royal 350 extended length with all of the seats taken out for cargo, a 1997 Dodge Ram 2500 Cargo Van, and a 1998 Dodge Ram 3500 Passenger Van of extended length with the seats removed for cargo. I've also driven a smattering of other Dodges that we have at work, along with other American brands, and they each have their strengths and weaknesses.
Having driven the 1984 and the 1997 B-van, it's clear that they didn't really change a lot other than the front frascia. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Both vans still shared the same interior design, with the same dashboard/gauges/radio placement, the same seat designs that still went back through the seventies, and the same interior door and window frame paneling. These vans were incredible in traffic as they could U-turn in the same space as your average modern mid-size sedan. The smallest engine of the bunch was in the 1997, which had a 318 mated to a 727 Torqueflite (that's right, no overdrive), but as a Magnum motor, probably outperformed the 360 with the Quadrajet in the 1984. The 1998 has a 360 with an A518, and easily moves itself plus a cargohold full of equipment.
The downside of these vans in my eyes is entry and egress. They were no worse than the GM product for decades, but I find that I still have to take care as to where I place my left foot when I attempt to step in and swing my right leg in. If I don't position myself right I end up awkwardly attempting to avoid the door jamb. This is especially bad on the '98 though, due to a 1998 redesign that moved the driver and passenger seats back, along with the dash and steering wheel, while leaving the doors in the same relative position. At least I finally have a tilt-wheel in the '98, so I theoretically can alleviate some of the entry/egress problems when I remember to use it.
The 1998+ design also has some other issues, especially in windowless cargo configurations. The driver and passenger sit really, really far back in the van. It's very hard to see to the right behind the van, and it's even difficult on the left. There are certain driveway angles that pose problems for attempting to safely enter traffic. Additionally, the relocation of all of this came with a change in the steering that removes the tight turning of the previous van, so U-turns are to be avoided as they won't be successful. I know that some of the redesign was for front crash safety, of which the new design does much better than the old, but the steering change requires a lot of getting used to.
The '98+ models at least gained a lot of creature comforts. The seats finally left the old E-body designs and went to a high-backed, comfortable, bolstered design that includes folding armrests on the van I'm driving, and the engine cover's redesign finally has a decent cupholder for 44 ounce drinks. The side mirrors are better too, and don't tend to adjust themselves due to wind resistance on the freeway like the older design does, and the one advantage that the driver's seating position in the van offers is that the sun visors almost never need to be used.
Unfortunately for Dodge, their vans fell short once GM and Ford finally figured out what they needed to do. The GM redesign in the late nineties gave their vans car-like ride and extremely easy entrance and egress, and while many of their fleet vans are underpowered, the Fords, as new vans, were made to be extremely comfortable as well. I like my van, but I know it's not perfect, and I'm glad that it has the power that it does, as that's one of its most redeeming qualities.
Other Dodge van reviews and notes
Stephen Boswell wrote: I have owned a 1977 B-200 Sportsman SE pop-top camper van with a 360 since new, and it is a great vehicle! The only problem I ever had with it was that the original "silent" timing chain stretched and had to be replaced after 90,000 miles. Although I also have a 22' travel trailer with a Ram tow vehicle, I seldom use it because the camper van is so convenient, faster, easier to drive and offers almost all of the same creature comforts as the travel trailer.
“318a383” wrote: I'll likely be driving a carbureted B van as long as they are available and I'm able. I've got two; a 1979 B200 318 and 1981 B150 slant six, which are much better for me than my previous Chevyvan. I like the comparative ease of repairing the Dodge - try changing a wiper motor or heater core or fuse in a 1982 Chevyvan and you'll understand. The main consideration for me is gas economy and I doubt I'll ever see a Chevy or Ford equipped to outperform an old B with an overdrive four on the floor. The plastic gas tank alone makes it worth buying a Dodge.
The main drawbacks are that the turning radius is wider than a highway tractor-trailer b-train (though my vans were well-used when I got them and may have incorrect steering parts), and for us here in the rust-belt, the suspension is not as corrosion resistant as Chevs/Fords with their full frames; rear spring hanger mounting and front control arms could stand to be re-engineered to be less prone to rust failure. Also the springs, both coil and leaf, are weak.
We would like to thank Don Bunn for his article in the Plymouth Bulletin, which got us started.