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Dodge's first compact trucks - the A100 “Forward Control” line - were brought out in mid-1964. The A-100 vans and wagons appear to have been far more popular than the pickups based on them. For all of model-year 1964, the company made 11,046 A-vans, wagons, and pickups, and 7,852 of these were wagons, according to the Standard Catalog of American Trucks. Vans and pickups were not broken out separately, and in following years, Dodge did not break out sales except by wheelbase and engine. From 1965-1968, Dodge usually built around 30,000-40,000 vans and pickups per year.
The Forward Control name presumably came from the cabover design, where the driver was close to the edge of the front bumper. These trucks and vans were sold under both Dodge and Fargo brands. The engine was between the driver and passenger, where it would remain in the B-vans; the vans themselves were short (90 inch wheelbase), but packaging kept them useful, with a seven-foot-long cargo box that was over five and a half feet wide and nearly two feet deep. There were stake pockets for side panels or roof bows, and storage space in the cab, behind the passenger seat.
In 1964, the pickup cost under $2,000 and weighed around 2,770 pounds. The Standard Catalog of Trucks wrote that the driving position “was termed excellent,” with “firm and form-fitting” front bucket seats. They had drum front and rear brakes, par for the course; self-adjusting brakes (with dual hydraulic channels); a 53 amp-hour battery (later upgraded); a standard dome light, coat hook, and painted front bumper; standard turn signals and backup lights; variable-speed electric wipers; dual padded sun visors and a padded dashboard; and standard bucket seats with seat belts.
In the A-trucks’ first year, they were solely slant-six powered, with a choice of 170 or 225 cubic inches, the latter likely producing around 100 net hp (the 170 was rated at 101 hp, gross, and 145 lb-ft; the 225 at 140 hp, gross, and 215 lb-ft). Buyers had a choice between a dash-shifted “LoadFlite” three speed automatic and a three-speed manual. These early slant sixes had four main bearings, with sold valve lifters. They were a popular choice for the full-sized pickup line, too.
In 1965, Dodge launched V8 versions of the A-100 pickups, powered by the 273 cubic inch LA-series V8 engine. Again, pickup figures were not broken out separately — and in this year, neither were vans and wagons. The price fell by around $200 while the weight grew by around 140 lb. The gross vehicle weight was listed as 4,600 lb except Sportsman (5,200 lb). These trucks had alternators, unusual for the time (though only rated at 30 amps), and still had oil-bath air cleaners. Rear axle ratios were 3.55:1 or 3.9:1. Later, the alternators would be boosted to 30 amps (I-6) and 37 amps (V8).
Closely related to the A series trucks were medium-duty L-series tilt cabs, the company's biggest trucks to date, made from 1966 to 1970 or 1971. These trucks used A-100 bodies, with a short 89 inch wheelbase and a choice of a Perkins 6-354 diesel, 318 V8, 361 V8, or Cummins V8 engines (the latter only in 169-1970). The L-series cabs could be used to create dump trucks, box trucks, fire trucks, and other hard-working vehicles; they were available in two forms, L-600 and L-700, and engines varied by capacity.
A 108 inch wheelbase model, the A108, was brought out in 1967; it was popular as the basis for camper conversions. The 318 V8 replaced the 273; the 170 continued with an A903 three-speed manual, while the other engines had an A745 manual. (All three had an optional LoadFlite.) Despite the small size of the trucks, the front axle in late models had a 2,500 pound capacity, with the rear axle taking 3,000 lb.
One of the original 16 Hot Wheels cars, brought out in 1968, was based on the Deora show car, which was derived from the A-trucks; the trucks also gained the distinction of being animated in the movie Cars, with a voice-over by one of the Click and Clack radio-program brothers. Production rose quite a bit, to around 54,000 trucks, a new high. This boost carried on, to a lesser degree, into 1969, with around 48,000 made.
Bill “Maverick” Golden drove a modified A-100 truck with a nitro-powered 426 Hemi and discovered it would stand up on its rear wheels, as the power overcame the weight of the chassis; he created “wheelstanding,” a popular exhibition act that lasted for decades. (Full story of the Little Red Wagon.)
No actual Hemi A-100 or A-108 trucks were ever sold; most were powered by the slant six engine, ranging from 101 to 145 hp (gross, topping out at perhaps roughly 110 horsepower net), with the LA V8 becoming an option in 1965 (first the 273, later the 318).
The final year for the A-trucks was 1970, during which they gained a new, fully synchronized three-speed manual transmission, and had the 170 base engine replaced by the new 198 cubic inch slant six. They were dropped in April 1970, replaced by the 1971 B-vans. This final year was, not surprisingly, poor for sales, with fewer than 19,000 made.
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