Dodge Ramcharger trucks
The Dodge Ramcharger, a full-size, two-door SUV based on full-size pickups, was built from 1974 through to 1993 on a short-wheelbase pickup truck chassis; it was introduced with standard four wheel drive, and was paired with the similar Plymouth Trailduster through 1981. In essence, the early Ramcharger was a Dodge pickup with the cab extended and a very short bed which could be covered by a specially designed cap. Originally, the standard Ramcharger came with just a front seat for the driver; all other seats, including a rear bench seat, were optional, which is a bit odd for a vehicle whose main purpose for being was to have a larger cab. The Ramcharger, though, could also be used as a replacement for a commercial van for people whose trade needed large items, or as a hunting/fishing/camping supply vehicle, with its four wheel drive providing off-road capabilities not seen on the big vans.
The full-time four wheel drive used a special differential in the transfer case which compensated for variations in speed between the front and rear axles, constantly providing driving power to both axles. The vehicle was in 4-wheel drive at all times. The shift lever for the transfer case had a special low gear mode, and allowed front and rear axle lockup in both high and low ranges for off-road driving; both axles got equal power for maximum traction.
Standard Ramcharger features included power brakes (discs up front, drums in back), a bucket seat for the driver, electronic ignition, and a 24-gallon tank. Options included a tilting bucket seat for the front passenger, beverage cooler in the front console, skid plates, hardtop or soft-top roof, steel roll bar, cruise control, and 35-gallon gas tank. Thus, the Ramcharger was far from the “luxury SUV” of today, though still premium at the time.
The SE package in 1975 brought numerous cosmetic additions, deluxe bucket front seats, right-side sun visor, carpet, map pockets, cigarette lighter, day/night mirror, better interior lights, an inside hood release and a spare tire cover, among other features.
The Ramcharger boasted different suspension geometry which gave it a smoother ride (though that was transferred back to the full-size pickups in 1975). While a 225 slant six was available (and, in 1975, standard as the base engine), the most common powerplant over the years was the 318 V8.
The rear wheel drive Ramcharger added in 1975, had an independent coil spring front suspension. Also new for 1975 was an instrument panel from the revised Dodge pickups; it allowed buyers to specify options including a clock, tachometer, or vacuum and voltmeter gauges. The new cluster included a special, glare-reducing hood. Map pockets were added to the premium door trim. A new Sno-Fiter snowplow option was also available on four wheel drive models; and new AM and AM/FM radios were available.
For 1975, Dodge simplified ordering Ramcharger models for specific G.V.W. ratings by combining all required equipment into coded packages, avoiding the need to order springs, tires, etc. separately; though heavier duty versions of individual items could still be ordered separately. Equipment for snow removal was new for 1975 and grouped conveniently in the Sno-Fiter Package Code YC6 for 4-wheel-drive models. (6100 GVW was required.)
The wheelbase on the original Dodge Ramchargers was 106 inches, with a length of 184.6 inches and width of 79.5 inches. Height was just over 72 inches for 4x4, just under 70 for RWD. Ground clearance was 7.27” at the front axle, 7.0” at the rear. Turning diameter was around 37 feet. The following tables are for 1975 (more 1975 Ramcharger specs).
In 1976, the tie rods were moved for better ground clearance, and the spare was moved with an optional exterior mount. The suspension was re-engineered for better handling both on- and off-road.
Dodge Ramcharger for 1977 featured a new grille, which incorporated rectangular parking lights. Two new optional two-tone paint treatments and an optional upper moulding were designed to make the appearance sporty. Interior refinements included a new instrument panel appearance and new interior colors. Instrument panels were two-tone for a more luxurious appearance, and the instrument cluster on Ramcharger SE featured rosewood appliques. The Dodge Ramcharger and Plymouth Trail Duster Macho packages include special tape striping on the lower body with Four by Four spelled out in Super Graphics. The tailgates had two large 4s joined by an X. The 400 cubic inch V8 - an expanded 383 or shrunken 440 - was added.
In 1978, new bucket seats were added; tinted glass, heavy duty shocks, and a front bench seat were made optional. The Macho package gained a Husrt shifter. 1979 brought a new front clip and galvanized-steel roofs; new options were better sound insulation, electric locks, and tilt-wheel. The four wheel drive models moved up to the 318 as the base engine, and the 400 and 440 were gone. Various changes were made to the striping.
The new decade (1980) brought a new part-time four wheel drive system; the rear wheel drive model got a standard automatic; and the 318 was given a four-barrel carb. New cosmetic packages were available, along with power front windows, halogen headlights, and new radios, along with a folding rear bench seat. Rear courtesy lights and a suspended gas pedal were added as standard features, and power steering was made standard on the 4x4s.
The 1981 was the first year of the redesigned Ramcharger. A Royal SE package was added with more options; a Big Horn cosmetic/convenience package was added; and trailer towing was made optional with a light duty configuration or a heavy-duty four wheel drive configuration. Numerous convenience features were optional as the Ramcharger was pushed upscale by buyer demand. This was the first year of the nonremovable top, making the Ramcharger a true modern SUV, and wraparound rear quarter windows were integrated with the roof. The new liftgate was lighter weight, using fiberglass, and had two pneumatic helpers. The base engine was the 318 with two-barrel carb, putting out just 120 horsepower at 3,600 rpm - similar to the same engine in the Diplomat and actually less than turbocharged Dodge four-cylinder engines would be producing just a few years later (but with more torque). A four-barrel carburetor was optional, as was the 360 V8 with two-barrel carb.
In 1983, the Ramcharger gained more standard equipment. A new high back deluxe vinyl back seat was standard in the Ramcharger Custom; high-back buckets in Tuscon cloth and vinyl were standard on the Royal SE. Other standard features included a 35-gallon fuel tank, radial tires, new bright front bumpers, and automatic locking hubs on all four-wheel-drive models, and a maintenance free battery. After coasting for a year in 1984, the Ramcharger’s four wheel drive equipment was upgraded in 1985, with drivers able to shift into four wheel drive and back at speeds up to 55 mph without stopping to unlock the front hubs. This was a major event for those who seriously needed four wheel drive.
Bob Marks’ 1985 Ramcharger is pictured at right. This truck is exceptional partly because it has a rare option - the two-tone paint, with second paint delete! The side molding trim, which was only part of the two-tone option and normally was the color break, was added, but the second color paint was not.
In 1986, the grille was simplified and restyled, and the mirror was changed from the original three-point mount (which required the arm to hang down from the top of the door, and two holes in the door) to a single pad-mount style of mirror, introduced earlier by General Motors. The original mirrors were prone to damage, which dented the door as well. The head size and orientation were also improved. The original, small, single-mount stock mirrors had not been appropriate for towing.
For 1987, Dodge finally added clearcoat paints, greatly increasing Ramcharger’s ability to look new, and only eight years after the first clearcoats hit mainstream American brands. A new steering wheel, full-length door trim panels, and flow-through ventilation increased the interior’s appeal.
The Ramcharger D/W100 was launched in 1988, set up as a value leader akin to the Ram 100 and Power Ram 100 pickups unveiled the year before; the price was nearly $2,000 less than the 150 model. Ramcharger still sold fewer units than the year before, dropping from an already low 22,828 down to 19,955. In contrast, Dodge sold 91,850 Dakotas, 88,666 Ram pickups, and 83,279 B-vans/wagons. The 318 gained fuel injection, with two injectors (one per throttle body); Chrysler finally switched from standard hydraulic lifters (and matching camshaft) over to a roller hydraulic lifter and a new matching camshaft. The roller design allowed for a steeper cam profile, and thus a more precise valve-train actuation. Vince Spinelli noted:
The heads were different; the basic casting is the same, but the fine points were not. To make better use of the fuel injection, swirl intake ports were introduced. To accommodate a slightly changed pushrod angle (the new roller lifters were taller than the standard hydraulics), the push rod guide holes in the cylinder heads were changed from roughly 0.5 inches to a published 0.66 inches (Dodge DW Series Truck Factory Service Manual, 1988). Upon measurement, this was confirmed to within an accuracy of 0.01 inches. Push rod length changed from about 7.5” down to 6.78”, and diameter shrunk from 0.360” to 0.3125” (again to accommodate the changed push rod angle).
For 1989, the standard wheel increased to 15 inches, from 14; and the 360 engine (5.9 liter) was finally updated, with the same basic changes that the 318 had in 1988. Truck sales again fell, with Ramcharger dropping to 18,973. The Ramcharger 100 was renamed 150S in 1990, and antilock brakes were added (rear wheels only); a new, heavy duty A518 four-speed automatic became optional.
In 1990, Ramcharger continued in D100, D150, W100, and W150 trim; D was RWD, W was 4x4; while 100 denoted the 318 (5.2), and 150 denoted the 360 (5.9) engine. The 318 gained new-design head gaskets.
Ramcharger got a new grille in 1991, with relocated headlamps. Trailer towing for the rear step bumper rose from 3,000 to 5,000 pounds; the double-sided keys were now used on the glove box and liftgate locks, as well as the doors and ignition. New clock-spring type hood counterbalances were added, and some models had new frame rails, 8 inches deep, for higher rigidity and load carrying. The air conditioner hoses had new construction to prevent R12 loss. Ramchargers now had three point passenger restraints for the outboard rear seat passengers, with low-tension retractors. A new steering column was launched, in both fixed and tilt versions; it had new steering wheels, one with cruise control switches. As a running change, self-lubricating door hinges were added. Late in 1991, a new Canyon Sport Package included a color-keyed grille and two-tone paint, with front and rear painted bumpers.
For 1992, Ramcharger’s standard engine, the 5.2 liter (318) V8, was boosted to 230 horsepower at 4,800, and 280 lb-ft at 3,000 rpm. For 1993, Ramcharger gained the heavily redesigned Magnum 360 V8 engine, with a 230 horsepower at 4,000 rpm and 325 lb-ft at 3,200 rpm. Peak horsepower was the same as with the 318, but at a lower engine speed. Both engines now had sequential multiple-point fuel injection, a new intake manifold, new heads, and a new exhaust manifold. Ramcharger sales were now down to 3,687; Dodge, busily engineering a new generation of Rams for the 1994 model year, did not bother creating a new one. Ramcharger would have one more year before the end.
In 1993, the four-speed automatic became standard with both V8s, and the tow rating became the industry’s highest, at 7,500 lb (more than Blazer or Bronco). Standard features included power disc brakes with rear-wheel antilock, full gauges, 34-gallon tank, dual exterior mirrors, and front stabilizer bar. Buyers could opt for various conveniences, or a snow plow and trailer tow package. Other changes included modified steel wheels, new colors, and optional stereo with equalizer and cassette. Despite this, in its final year, Ramcharger failed to even have two thousand sales, settling in at 1,878 — versus around 76,000 B-vans, nearly 120,000 Dakotas, and nearly 100,000 Ram pickups. A year later, Ram sales more than doubled to 232,092 trucks — and Ramcharger’s absence was drowned in the popularity of Dodge’s first completely new pickup in decades.
In this final year, the GVWR was 5,600 on RWD and 6,000 lb on 4x4 models. The 3.55:1 axle ratio was standard, with 3.90:1 optional. The estimated curb weight ranged from 4,223 to 4,263 lb with RWD, 4,570 to 4,505 lb on 4x4; the 360 engine added just ten pounds to the 318’s weight. Ground clearance was 7.6 inches (RWD) or 8.01 inches (4x4).
The hood ornament
Bob Marks wrote: The gorgeous 3-D hood ornaments were great until the Satan cult worshipers discovered that they were held on by a spring-loaded single fastener of miniscule size. They would walk by the truck and quick-snatch at the ornament and the stud would snap off. Voila! They had acquired their new Satan-cult necklace ornament!
I lost four of them until the insurance company said "no more", at $80 a pop. I was able to get mine wholesale through the CPPA (Chrysler Performance Parts Association) for $55 each, but that was still very high then. Try to find one now! That's when the flat plastic Ram-head came into being.
The Mexican Dodge Ramcharger (thanks, Héctor Casarrubias López)
In México, the Ramcharger was not released until the mid-1980s, and it kept the same platform until 1996. From 1997-1998 there were no Ramchargers, and from 1999 to 2001 there was a Mexican-only Ramcharger built over the platform of the Ram Quad Cab without the extra 2 doors, just the extra space. These had the 318 or 360 (5.2 or 5.9) engines; the 360 seems to have been more popular, and more manuals appear to have been sold than automatics. SLT trim was available in these last models with the 360 or 5.9 Magnum. From 1994-96 the Magnum engines were used, with roller heads, real performers at the time with multiple-point fuel injection and electronic four-speed transmissions.
A new Ramcharger was sold in Mexico from 1999 to 2001; the two-door vehicle was, however, prone to quality issues. The Mexican Ramcharger was engineered by Chrysler of Mexico, and was based on the standard Dodge Ram pickup. In these models, the 360 engine was reportedly rare.
In their good times, 1989-96, they had no match in the SUV arena in Mexico; the bad points were mileage and lack of rear side doors.
Review (by Héctor Casarrubias López)
My father had a 1992 Ramcharger Limited Edition in Mexico City, two-tone mainly blue pearl with silver below, leather seats, rear air conditioning, CD player (Infinity Premium Audio), 360 (5.9) engine with TBI Electronic Fuel Injection, and a 4 speed auto transmission with the overdrive lockup at the dash board, an odd place for it but it made you feel like your truck was conceived by Mad-Max and you would get a NOS like acceleration. In reality, the RPM increased, so you had more peak power, and destroyed the already poor mileage if you were on the highway; in the city it worked better with just 3 speeds, for the quick moves you have to do in large cities like good old Mexico.
The ride was incredibly smooth, yet the engine was quite powerful thanks to the good low end torque of those LA engines. In a 0-60 or even 0-100mph runs the acceleration was relentless and no SUV at their time could match their 0-60 and 0-100 performance, however 110 mph was about all the juice you could get, even with the overdrive transmission (due air drag and the fact that the LAs do not work well on high RPMs). [Editor’s note: Mexico City has a very high altitude and other readers have reported getting up to 125 mph.]
ABS at the rear and front airbags were standard. It had power lock, power windows, and keyless entry. The power locks and windows were the fastest and strongest power windows I ever owned.
In the outside looked like five full size guys would be pretty packed, however in the inside the story was quite different, with tons of leg and head room, with the back seat the only issue, because it was placed between the rear tires, however it was still pretty wide. Minivans were not in the Mexican arena yet so most of the family haulers were station wagons or SUV, and the market share was quite respectable.
In 1995 we sold it because someone forgot to change the oil properly; a few days later we lost oil pressure and after that the engine started to give us thick smoke in the mornings.
We bought a 1995 Limited Edition (used) in 1998, the ride was improved compared to the 1992 even though the 1992 was brand new; this particular Ram had V8 Magnum signs at the sides, and when we opened the hood we realized was MPFI and the engine revved more easily, at the dealership we got a confirmation it was a Magnum 5.9 with roller heads putting out 245hp and 330 pounds of torque. No wonder the 0-60 times looked faster! I remember vividly how I outraced a Thunderbird SC in the mid-90s at the freeway, both at full throttle, if I was already hooked to the Rams, that made it a life sentence, the mileage was improved, though still bad, the two tone colors were white pearl and silver, easier to keep clean.
The transmission was the same as the 1992, with the same overdrive lockup at the middle of the dashboard, but it was almost never used.
Thanks to the new engine, the top speed got increased, it peaked at 122mph. The engine felt strong all the time we had the vehicle, I believe the roller heads not just improved the performance also the endurance of the engine.
The only mechanical problem we had was that one rear shock kept falling out of place from time to time and that was felt immediately; and a quick trip to the service would fix it for about 6 months or so, when time came to replace the shocks, we never had that problem again.
This one had to be sold for economic issues, the gas prices kept rising so the Ram had to go, all our cars mostly Mopars (the two Rams, an older pickup, and an even older Jeep) were daily drivers so we let her go with tears, the best truck we ever owned.
|1985 RWD||1985 4x4||1985|
|GVW||5,300||5,850||Front brakes||Power disc, 11.74 x 1.25|
|Max load||1,325||1,410||Rear brakes||Power drum, 11 x 2.5|
|Front axle||Chrysler||Spicer||Parking brake||Rear wheel, internal expanding|
|Front axle capacity||3,000||3,500||Battery||400 amp|
|Rear axle||Chrysler||Chrysler||Alternator||60 amp|
|Rear axle capacity||3,600||3,600||Standard engine||318 2-barrel|
|Axle ratio (std)||2.94||3.21||Optional engine||360 four-barrel|
|Optional ratios||3.21, 3.55||3.55||Standard shocks||1.0 inch diameter (f/r)|
|Clutch diameter / area||11” / 123 sq in||Front stabilizer bar||1.0 inch (opt on RWD)|
|Front springs||Independent coil||48 x 2.5 leaf||Steering type||Integral power steering|
|Rear springs||52 x 2.5 leaf||52 x 2.5 leaf||Tires||P235/75R15XL|
|Turning diameter||37.3||36.9||Wheels||15 x 6.5|
|Transmission||3-speed auto||4-speed manual
Opt 3-spd auto
|Transfer case||NP208 2-speed (4x4 only)|