Trucks, Jeeps

Dodge Ramcharger, the 1974-1993 truck-based SUVs

The Dodge Ramcharger was a full-size, short-wheelbase Dodge pickup with an extended cab and a short bed, which could be covered by a nicely blended cap, until 1981, when it became a modern “full roof” truck-based SUV. Launched in 1974, the Ramcharger stayed, in two generations, through to 1993. When launched, it had standard four wheel drive, but no passenger seats at all — just the driver’s seat.

1985 ramcharger

The original Dodge Ramcharger, paired with the Plymouth Trail Duster, did have optional rear bench and front passenger seats; the sole-occupant design made sense, since it could be used as a commercial van replacement, or as a hunting/fishing/camping supply vehicle, with its four wheel drive providing off-road capabilities not seen on the big vans.

The Ramcharger used different suspension geometry than pickups, for a smoother ride (the pickups ended up using Ramcharger suspension gemoetry starting in 1975). A 225 slant six was optional at launch, standard in 1975; but the most common powerplant over the years was the 318 V8.

1987 Dodge Ramcharger

The full-time four wheel drive system had a differential in the transfer case which compensated for variations in speed between the front and rear axles, staying in four-wheel-drive mode at all times. The transfer case lever had a low gear mode, and allowed front and rear axle lockup in both high and low ranges for off-road driving.

The Ramcharger came with power brakes (discs up front, drums in back), a bucket seat for the driver, electronic ignition, and a 24-gallon gas 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. The Ramcharger was far from the “luxury SUV” of today, though still premium at the time.

The SE package in 1975 brought cosmetic changes, 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. Buyers could now get a rear wheel drive Ramcharger.

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.

1975 dodge ramcharger

Dodge also simplified ordering Ramchargers in 1975, combining all required equipment into coded packages for various gross vehicle weights, though heavier-duty versions of individual items could still be ordered separately. Equipment for snow removal was new for 1975, with the Sno-Fiter Package Code YC6 for 4-wheel-drive models.

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.

1978 dodge ramcharger

For 1977, the Dodge Ramcharger had a new grille with rectangular parking lights, two optional two-tone paint treatments and an optional upper moulding for a sportier look, a new two-tone instrument panel, and new interior colors; the Ramcharger SE had rosewood appliqués. The Dodge Ramcharger and Plymouth Trail Duster Macho packages had tape striping on the lower body, with “Four by Four” spelled out. The tailgates had two large 4s joined by an X. The 400 cubic inch V8 - an expanded 383 or shrunken 440 - was added for just one year.

In 1978, the company added new bucket seats, tinted glass, heavy duty shocks, and an optional front bench seat. The Macho package gained a Husrt shifter. 1979 brought a new front clip and galvanized-steel roofs, with optional sound insulation, electric locks, and tilt-wheel. The four wheel drive models were now only sold with the 318 or 360 — no slant six — and the 400 and 440 were gone. Various changes were made to the striping.

1980 brought a new part-time four wheel drive system, a standard automatic in the rear drive version, and a four-barrel for the 318, along with new cosmetic packages were available, power front windows, halogen headlights, new radios, and a folding rear bench seat. Rear courtesy lights and a suspended gas pedal were added, standard, with power steering becoming standard on the 4x4s.

A new Ramcharger for the 1980s

The 1981 was the first year of the redesigned Ramcharger, which had a much more modern and upscale look. A Royal SE package was added with more options, as was a Big Horn cosmetic/convenience package; and trailer towing was made optional in more configurations. Numerous convenience features became optional as the Ramcharger was pushed upscale by buyer demand.

1981 Ramcharger Royal SE

This was the first year of the nonremovable top, making the Ramcharger a true modern SUV; wraparound rear quarter windows were integrated with the roof. The new liftgate was lighter weight, using fiberglass, and had two pneumatic helpers. To quote Chrysler, “Where Ramcharger and Trail Duster are radically different for 1981, is behind the doors. Both have a permanent steel roof integrated with the body side panels.” This also meant that rear visibility could be improved with more rear glass.

1981 Royal SE dash

The base engine was the 318 with two-barrel carb, putting out just 120 horsepower at 3,600 rpm. A four-barrel carburetor was optional, as was the 360 V8 with two-barrel carb. Dodge implemented more-accurate speedometers, within 4% accuracy, with tamper-deterrent odometers; and made the seat belts more efficient. The Ramcharger also took advantage of many changes to standard Dodge pickups, including new instrument panels, better electrical systems, improved air conditioning and heaters (lighter, four-speed, blend control, and better flow), and intermittent wipers.

dodge ramcharger

In 1983, the Ramcharger gained more standard equipment, including a high back vinyl back seat in the Ramcharger Custom and high-back buckets in Tuscon cloth and vinyl on the Royal SE. Other standard features included a 35-gallon fuel tank, radial tires, automatic locking hubs on all four-wheel-drive models, and a maintenance free battery; and the bumper was redesigned. New trim became optional.

1985 ramcharger

The Ramcharger’s four wheel drive setup was upgraded in 1985, so drivers could shift in and out of four wheel drive at speeds up to 55 mph, a major improvement over stopping to unlock the hubs.

Bob Marks’ 1985 Ramcharger is pictured below. 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.

1985 ramcharger

In 1986, the grille was simplified, 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.

1987 seats

For 1987, Dodge finally added clearcoat paints for durability. A new steering wheel, full-length door trim panels, and flow-through ventilation increased the interior’s appeal.

1987 Dodge Ramcharger

The Ramcharger D100 / 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 over to a roller hydraulic lifter, which allowed for a steeper cam profile with more precise valve-train actuation. Vince Spinelli noted:

The basic head casting is the same, but the fine points were not. To make better use of the fuel injection, swirl intake ports were introduced. To deal with taller roller lifters, the pushrod angle changed slightly, so the push rod guide holes in the heads were changed from roughly 0.5 inches to 0.66 inches (Dodge DW Series Truck Factory Service Manual, 1988). We confirmed this to within an accuracy of 0.01 inches. Push rods went from about 7.5” to 6.78”, and their diameter shrunk from 0.360” to 0.3125”, again because of the new push rod angle.

For 1989, the standard wheel increased from 14 to 15 inches; and the 360 engine (5.9 liter) was given the same basic changes that the 318 had in 1988. Still, 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. The Ramcharger continued in D100, D150, W100, and W150 trim; (D was RWD, W was 4x4), while the number was 100 for the 318 and 150 for the 360 engine. The 318’s head gaskets were redesigned for this year.

The Ramcharger got a new grille in 1991, trailer towing for the rear step bumper rose from 3,000 to 5,000 pounds, and double-sided keys were used on the glove box and liftgate locks as well as the doors and ignition. New hood counterbalances were used, and some models had new frame rails, 8 inches deep, for higher rigidity and load carrying. The air conditioner hoses were redesigned to prevent refrigerant loss. Ramchargers now had three point passenger restraints for the outboard rear seat passengers, with low-tension retractors. New steering columns and wheels were launched, in both fixed and tilt versions, 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 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. The Ramcharger would have one more year, though.

1993 Ramcharger

In 1993, Dodge made the four-speed automatic standard with both V8s; oddly, this year, 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 still opt for a snow plow. Other changes included modified steel wheels, new colors, and optional stereo with equalizer and cassette. The reason for making so many changes remains unclear, since the production lines had to be switched over to the 1994 Rams, and the company produced very few Ramchargers — 1,878 in all. That’s compared with around 76,000 B-vans, nearly 120,000 Dakotas, and nearly 100,000 Ram pickups.

In 1994, 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.

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 necklace ornament! I lost four of them, at $80 a pop, until the insurance company said ‘no more.’ I got mine wholesale for $55 each, but that was still 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 released in 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 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, 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, with leather seats, rear air conditioning, CD player (Infinity Premium Audio), 360 engine with throttle-body injection, and a four 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 three speeds, for the quick moves you have to do.

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. [Editor’s note: Mexico City has a very high altitude and “low-land” readers have reported getting up to 125 mph.]

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; the MPFI engine revved more easily (it put 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. The mileage was improved, though still bad. 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 increased to 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 six 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, and we let her go with tears, the best truck we ever owned.

Specifications

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. Now, the 225 was good for 105 hp, 175 lb-ft of torque; the 318 was rated at 150-155 hp and 230-255 lb-ft of torque, depending on duty cycle and Federal vs California (the heavy duty cycle resulted in lower torque). Buyers could also get a 175-horse two-barrel 360 V8 (285 lb-ft) or the big 440 V8 (235 hp, 340 lb-ft).

Axle ratios in 1975 were 3.55:1 with four wheel drive, except for the 440 (3.2:1); with the rear drive model, it was 3.55:1 for the slant six, and 3.2:1 for the 318 and 360 (there were options so buyers of anything but the 440 could get a 3.2, 3.9, or 3.55 axle, with some restrictions). 440 buyers had to get the automatic transmission and four wheel drive, with a 3.21 or optional 3.5:1 axle (more 1975 Ramcharger specs).

  1985 RWD 1985 4x4  
GVW 5,300 5,850
Max load 1,325 1,410
Front axle Chrysler Spicer
Front axle capacity 3,000 3,500
Rear axle Chrysler Chrysler
Rear axle capacity 3,600 3,600
Axle ratio (std) 2.94 3.21
Optional ratios 3.21, 3.55 3.55
Clutch diameter / area   11” / 123 sq in
Front springs Independent coil 48 x 2.5 leaf
Rear springs 52 x 2.5 leaf 52 x 2.5 leaf
Turning diameter 37.3 36.9
Transmission 3-speed auto 4-speed manual
Opt 3-spd auto

 

 1985
Front brakesPower disc, 11.74 x 1.25
Rear brakesPower drum, 11 x 2.5
Parking brakeRear wheel, internal expanding
Battery400 amp
Alternator60 amp
Standard engine318 2-barrel
Optional engine360 four-barrel
Standard shocks1.0 inch diameter (f/r)
Front stabilizer bar1.0 inch (opt on RWD)
Steering typeIntegral power steering
TiresP235/75R15XL
Wheels15 x 6.5
Transfer caseNP208 2-speed (4x4 only)

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).

We make no guarantees regarding validity, accuracy, or applicability of information, predictions, or advice. Please read the terms of use and privacy policy. Copyright © 1994-2000, David Zatz; copyright © 2001-2016, Allpar LLC (except as noted, and press/publicity materials); all rights reserved. Dodge, Jeep, Chrysler, Ram, and Mopar are trademarks of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.


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