Dodge B-series Vans: Sportsman, Ram Van, Ram Wagon, and Voyager
by David Zatz
The first modern Dodge vans, the Forward Control A-vans
, 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 new vans were named B100, B200, and B300, but are usually just called "the B-vans." They were made in Fenton, Missouri, at the start.
The B-vans were phased in over 1970 and 1971; they started as 1971 models. Radically different from the A-vans, the B-series were changed to meet customer requests. Engineers cut wind resistance to make them quieter and increase highway mileage, and dropped the old plate-glass, split windshield.
The interior was brought upscale, with some parts 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. The vans came with 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.
There was much more space than in the A-vans, especially if the buyer skipped the 109 inch wheelbase and went for the 127 inch wheelbase (or a Maxivan, unveiled in calendar-year 1971, which had 18 inches of additional length aft of the rear axle, for a total length of 212 inches).
Side doors were hinged, with an integrated step, near the center of the body; the Maxivan could take up to 15 passengers, and Dodge made school-bus versions (as they had with the A-van). The heavy vans had a standard 198 cubic inch slant sixes
, with an optional 225
six or 318 V8
in their early years; yet the maximum gross vehicle weight was 7,700 pounds.
The B-vans were just five inches longer than the A-vans (176 and 194 inches), despite the longer wheelbase, and had much more interior space (206-246 cubic feet). The engine was still kept inside the van, rather than under the hood; the hood itself was mainly used to get to the accessories and check the fluids. The engine was under a sturdier plastic cover than it had been in the A-vans, with better sound insulation.
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 (until safety-related changes to the 1998 vans increased the turning radius).
Chris Coleman added that the B-van was a unibody design, reinforced by two full-length open U-channels welded to the floorpan. It shared numerous components with Dodge trucks, but 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 Dodge Royal Sportsman, Custom Sportsman, and Sportsman versions of the B-van came with windows all around and five-passenger seating (with optional seating for 8, 12, or 15). The standard cargo van had many window combinations, but only one standard seat; all seats were covered in vinyl, with front bucket seats optional.
Dodge marked the 127-inch-wheelbase Sportsman series and "Van" to the local governments as personnel carriers, emergency vehicles, and cargo van.
* These figures were the same as in 1992 - but other figures were all different.
|1971 Sportsman Wagons||109" wb||127" wb||Maxiwagon|
|Side door height*||47.2" ||47.2" ||47.2" |
|Side door width*||49.2" ||49.2" ||49.2" |
|Max pass. area height||53.9" ||53.9" ||53.9" |
|Rear door to seat-back||95.2"||113.2"||131.2"|
|Rear door to engine cover||117.3"||135.3"||153.3"|
|Overall width||79.0" ||79.0" ||79.0" |
|Max width inside||69.9" ||69.9" ||69.9" |
|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' |
|1971 engine||HP |
For the 1972 vans, Dodge made the 225 standard, dropping the 198, and making the 360 V8
optional. Electronic ignition came in 1973, standard on B100 and B200, optional on B300; the vans also got standard power brakes, and a 8,200 gross vehicle weight option.
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.
The 1974 Maxivans (127 inch wheelbase only) saw the first sliding door; and Dodge replaced the grille. 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.
A new plant in Windsor, Ontario (Pillette Road, or Plant #6)
was completed to help fill demand.
The vans were so successful that a new version was added - the 1974 Plymouth Voyager, identical to the Dodge Sportsman, but expected to be used for passengers rather than cargo. The Dodge MaxiWagon was moved over as the Extended Body Voyager. The Plymouth's sales were never high.
The 1976 vans gained an optional noise insulation package, and suspension tweaks to improve the ride; a warning light appeared when the transmission fluid was too hot or low. Dodge also launched its Street Van, designed to look (and be) customized. Two new engines were optional on B200 and B300: the 400 and 440 cubic inch V8
, the first B-van engines bigger than the 318.
Late in the 1976 model year, Dodge added a four-speed manual for better gas mileage and lower highway noise, before Chevy or Ford had four speed manuals in their
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 (compare that to 215,409 light-duty conventional pickups). Ford sold just 179,820 Econoline vans in 1976.
Dodge refreshed the 1977 vans with high-back swivel seats, upgraded carpet, quick-release bench seats, privacy glass, and the fuel pacer option; they created the Van Clan Club for owners. The popular single rear door became standard, with the dual rear door optional, rather than the other way around. Five new metallic colors and four straight shades joined five continuing colors. Maxiwagon and Maxivan continued Chrysler's exclusive 15-passenger capacity for wagons and the longest interior cargo length for vans.
Dark gray privacy glass (as well as normal tinted glass) was a new option on Sportsman five and eight passenger wagons and vans.
The refresh continued for the 1978 vans, with a rear and interior reskin. Bigger windows were fitted, thanks to a lower beltline; the 127 inch wheelbase vans saw their doors move forward. The new roof could have vents or a sunroof, and a new dashboard had a spring-loaded glove box door and easier to reach fuse block. The air conditioner gained integrated center and outboard outlets.
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, with 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. Cars without power steering got bigger steering wheels.
Under the hood, a redesigned heater/vent system had an air-blending temperature control system, which had faster temperature response and 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.
The B-vans were also starting to be used as recreational vehicles, and Dodge helped by creating a second row "travel seat" option for the Royal Sportsman: it 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 opted for the Command Chairs. They included the dual armrests that would be a hallmark of Chrysler minivans, and swiveled through 360° with 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; the company also had AM, AM/FM, AM/FM stereo, and AM/FM stereo with 8-track tape players.
On the Maxivan, an optional wraparound rear quarter window greatly increased rear visibility, and buyers could go up to 9,000 GVWR . The longer body allowed for respacing of the seats; more usable space was provided for all 1978 wagons and vans by moving the passenger seat inboard by one inch. New engine covers, 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, dropping 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. 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 gone.
In 1980, the three-speed manual transmission was finally dropped, leaving a standard four-speed manual for B100 and B200, and the TorqueFlite on the 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. Production in Fenton stopped, with Windsor supplying all the B-vans until the end.
Paul Holm wrote that the original ads for Mini Ram Van portrayed it as a window van, a little lower than normal vans, with stock chrome bumpers; and emphasized the passenger van.
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 on a 109.6 inch wheelbase (with more brightwork, big chrome rearview mirrors, and a 36 gallon tank). The Mini-Ram van ranged in weight 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 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: 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. Dodge's dominance appeared to be at an end.
In 1984, the Mini-Ram Van was dropped, its name moved to the new front-drive minivan; it was powered by a 101 horsepower 2.2 liter engine. The Ram Van now had computer-selected front springs, a 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 the industry's only single rear door. New standard equipment included bright surround moldings on all vented rear quarter windows, and tinted glass; wagons had high-back seats and vans had low-back seats.
1986 Dodge vans only had restyled bumpers and grilles, but the 1988 vans had the first major powertrain change in many years: the newly developed 3.9 liter V6, created for the Dodge Dakota from the 360 V8, replaced the venerable slant six, providing 125 horsepower and 195 foot-pounds of torque, with fuel injection for drivability and economy. The vans also switched to a self-adjusting hydraulic clutch (with manual transmissions).
Carburetors came off the 318 at last, and, with a new roller cam, that venerable engine - rebadged 5.2 liter - produced much more power: 170 hp, 262 lb-ft of torque. A five speed manual transmission replaced the four-speed manual 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 the 1989 vans, with 190 hp and 292 lb-ft of torque.
The 1990 Ram Vans gained optional rear-wheel antilock brakes, with a heavy-duty four-speed automatic transmission. Compared to the 1971 vans, the 1987-97 had the same hinged door opening, a somewhat smaller sliding door opening, 2.3 more inches of interior width, and 0.7" less interior height.
|(1992 figures)||109.6 Van||127.6 Van||Maxi Van|
|Rear door to driver's |
seat back (in rearmost position)
|Rear door to engine cover||120.1||138.1||162.1|
Things started to pick up with the "new Chrysler" in the early 1990s. 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 in the 1992 vans 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 discs and rears were power drums. Steel 15 x 6.5 inch wheels were standard (B350 used 16 x 6). Front payloads ranged from 1,175 to 4,450 lb. The alternator was up to 75 amps.
The compressed natural gas version of the Ram Van and Wagon appeared in selected fleets; it would be generally available in 1995.
In the 1993s, the 360 got the same Magnum 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.
The 1995s gained a standard driver-side airbag and knee bolster, with four-wheel antilock brakes available on heavy-duty 3500 models up to 9,000 pounds GVWR. 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.
Dodge increased antitheft protection, had the side and rear cargo doors open wider, put in a power connector for easier conversions, and marked underhood service points more clearly. Reclining cloth bucket seats became optional, along with a redesigned Rear Plumbing Group with quick disconnects. The company redesigned door check straps and made a cassette stereo was standard.
Gas mileage in the 1997 vans 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|
|Drag coefficient**|| ||0.488|| |
|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.