Dodge Ram 50: Japanese pickup
After the A-series pickup and van were dropped in 1970, replaced by the successful B-series van, a gap appeared in Chrysler’s pickup truck line. Eventually that was filled by a Japanese import, the Mitsubishi-designed-and-built Dodge Ram 50.
Why Mitsubishi? Chrysler no longer had access to SIMCA and Rootes Group for small car design, and was itself inexperienced in producing small vehicles. In addition, Chrysler had severe quality problems that it was slowly working out, and Mitsubishi had more modern production methods, an embarrassing position for a company that had long prided itself on its technological prowess and engineering solutions. Already, the company was importing small Mitsubishi cars, with far more success than importing cars from their own European subsidiaries (the jointly engineered and very successful Omni/Horizon did not count).
With its limited engineering capacity filled with the upcoming and, again, highly successful K-cars and minivans, the company turned again to Mitsubishi to deliver a small pickup. While the D-50 was not a true Chrysler product, it gained numerous followers over the years and filled its role well until its eventual retirement during Chrysler’s short-lived 1990s renaissance.
In 1979, then, the D-50 arrived, using a 109 inch wheelbase — one inch longer than the A-trucks — and a 6.5 foot long bed, with a maximum payload of 1,400 pounds. The engines were Mitsubishi’s 2-liter and 2.6 liter four-cylinders, the latter to become familiar to K-car and minivan owners. The A-arm front suspension helped to provide a car-like ride, while a traditional leaf spring rear suspension helped it to maintain directional stability under load. The interior included standard bucket seats and carpet, a nice upgrade from the full-sized trucks of the time; a four-speed manual was standard on base models, with a five-speed on higher trim levels and an optional automatic either way. The whole truck weighed a mere 2,410 pounds, compared with the lightest D100 at 3,490 pounds (to be fair, the D100 had a far higher payload).
In 1980, the base engine was the 2.0 liter four, with the Sport model getting the 2.6 liter engine; both were carbureted using the MCA-JET system. A four speed manual was standard (Sport got a five speed) with automatic optional in both cases. The base model weighed 2,518 lb, the Sport 2,563 lb (heavier than the 1979 models). In both cases the box was 81.5 inches long, 64.2 inches wide; maximum payload was just over 1,500 lb. The overall length of the D50 was a modest 184.6 inches, close to the Colt wagon; the width was just 65 inches, narrower than the Colt wagon. Inside, the two-passenger D50 had 38.2 inches of headroom, 41.1 inches of legroom, 52.8 inches of shoulder room, and 4.6 cubic feet of storage behind the seat.
In 1987, the D-50 line was redesigned and named Ram 50; it had a 72-inch standard bed, with an optional bed 16 inches longer (both were 55.7 inches wide). Standard features included tinted glass, carpet, and an adjustable steering column; a Power Ram model had four wheel drive. They were joined by the Dodge Raider, with a standard 2.6 liter engine, automatically locking front hubs, front and rear tow hooks, skid plates, cargo hooks, and front and rear mud guards.