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The First 5.9L-Powered Ram Pickup

How Cummins Saved Dodge Trucks

Mike McGlothlin
Feb 1, 2011
Photographers: Mike McGlothlin
Here at Diesel Power, we try to cover every aspect of the engine that defines a great majority of the enthusiast segment-the B-series Cummins. We bring you high-pressure common-rail tech, showcase modifications for the either loved or hated VP44 trucks, and indulge in all-out horsepower builds for the P-pump'd and VE-equipped, old-school Rams. But this month we're giving you some insight as to how the trucks we so love to celebrate came to be.
Photo 2/4   |   When we visited Cummins' Midrange Engine Plant (CMEP) last July, we took a ride in the first Cummins-powered production truck (the first first-gen): this '89 D250 equipped with the TorqueFlite 727 three-speed automatic. The truck only has 42,653 original miles on it, with the majority of them racked up during public relations and promotional endeavors back in the late '80s. However, we were told it was used quite a bit for testing-including towing trailers through the mountains of Colorado.
We're sure the story of how Chevy's C/K-series and Ford's F-series became diesel-powered is provocative, but the Ram's story is particularly significant. In short, the Dodge truck line was crumbling in the '80s and may have even ceased to exist had the Cummins option not come along.
Downfall
Following the discontinuation of Chrysler's 440ci big-block V-8s in 1978, D/W-series Dodge pickup (they technically weren't called Rams until 1981) sales began to plummet. In 1982, the Club Cab option was dropped, and in 1985 Chrysler scrapped Crew Cab models as well (apparently in an effort to simplify options on the showroom floor). The fact that Dodge trucks received very few upgrades and retained the same, squared-off body from the '72 to '93 models didn't help matters, either.
The Cummins Connection
Thanks to the members of Chrysler's management team who believed a diesel-powered Ram would sell, Cummins was given the go-ahead to outfit a truck with a non-running diesel engine in 1984. After the mock-up, a list of modifications required to make the engine fit were presented to Chrysler's engineers-and the potential that it could indeed work was realized. The following year, the first operational prototype was put together by Cummins (a two-wheel-drive model with the TF727 three-speed automatic) and soon after, road testing began with the truck. After a 1 year delay (due to completing some final engineering duties), the diesel-powered Rams debuted in mid-1988. Knowing how vital it was that the diesel program be a sales success, Chrysler's top management officials decided to put Cummins Turbo Diesel badges on each truck in order to advertise the powerhouse under the hood.
Sales Revival
Obviously, we know the diesel Rams were a success. But leading up to the '89 model year launch in June of 1988, Chrysler's marketing department was convinced that less than 10,000 trucks would be sold. However, it didn't take long to prove them wrong. Apparently, Chrysler sold so many trucks by early 1989, that it actually had to stop taking orders from dealerships. In the end, Chrysler sold a supply-limited 16,750 diesel Dodge Rams that first year. And after a little more than three years of production, it built truck number 100,000 on December 12, 1991. As they say, the rest is history.
Photo 3/4   |   The B-series 5.9L was a joint venture between Cummins and Case (called Consolidated Diesel Corp.), and production of the engine began in 1984. The inline-six mill's original purpose was to power off-highway equipment such as loaders, cranes, crawlers, tractors, and gen-sets. Although the '89 Dodge Ram came with a 160hp rating, an even more conservative 90hp rating could be found on some of the smaller equipment the 5.9L was powering (example: Case's popular 855D track loaders).
A Mutual Success Story
Chrysler was indeed fortunate to be able to do business with Cummins. Did you know that Cummins essentially acted as Chrysler's outside contractor? Did you know that it set up an engine dressing facility solely to ease Chrysler's assembly plant complications? These are tasks normally left up to the vehicle manufacturer, but Cummins provided the vital resources needed to make the program happen. To be perfectly fair, it should be duly noted that Cummins was lucky to have gotten involved with Chrysler. The engine builder had been looking to break into the OE light-truck market for some time and saw the potential to do great things with Chrysler, as well as help revive its dying truck brand.
Did Cummins save Dodge trucks? We think so. We also believe no other engine would've been able to turn things around for Chrysler. After all, it had dabbled with the idea of pursuing International's 6.9L and GM's 6.2L before Cummins came along. Had it chosen either V-8 diesel as its powerplant, it still would have had its dated exterior, interior, and chassis-reason enough to just buy a Ford or Chevy. Simply put, Chrysler needed something new and fresh.
Photo 4/4   |   Thanks to a 4.72-inch stroke, the 5.9L found in Dodge Rams made 400 lb-ft at 1,700 rpm. Composed of an iron block and head, steel crankshaft, assembled camshaft, and forged I-beam connecting rods, it's easy to see why these engines are durable enough to hit the million-mile mark in Ram pickups without needing an overhaul. The B-series wasn't considered overly expensive in its day, either, as the Cummins engine option only cost an additional $2,043.
When the second-generation Ram launched in 1994, it didn't take sales figures long to double. By 2000, diesel Ram production had multiplied to 116,000 units per year. We think the author and Dodge truck expert, Don Bunn, said it best: "The addition of the Cummins engine in Dodge pickups accomplished far more than any other single event in promoting Dodge as a serious builder of heavy-duty light trucks."

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