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100 Years of Dodge Trucks

A Century of the Ram’s Head

G. R. Whale
Jun 3, 2019
Having examined both General Motors' and Ford's first century, it's now time to chronicle the Dodge side of things for vehicles that appear noteworthy for one reason or another. As usual, we don't expect you to agree with us, but as Dodge might say, tough Darts.
The Dodge Brothers built components long before complete vehicles, selling transmissions in 1903 to Ransom Olds for his curved-dash car, and they supplied engines to the military effort against Mexico's Pancho Villa, further developing a reputation for reliability. They built their first vehicle in 1914, a touring car with leather, a steel body and frame (not the usual wood), and 75 percent more power for 60 percent more money than a Model T. Even without the public asking, Dodge was first to offer trucks with a choice of box lengths and the Club Cab.
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Early Years
The Dodge Brothers' early commercial vehicles were, like competitors, based on cars with different bodywork. In the late 'teens, they built a 35hp, -ton panel van and production began on an ambulance and its civilian version Screenside Commercial car, with a 1,000-pound payload, like that shown. In following years, they absorbed Graham Brothers, which had been building heavier trucks using Dodge engines and gearboxes, and in 1925 a banking group bought Dodge Brothers for $146 million.
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This is a 1925 Dodge Brothers Canopy truck, built in-house, despite Graham Brothers planned expansion that fizzled out by 1929. But in 1928, the bankers were already bored with the automobile business, and sold the Dodge Brothers to Walter P. Chrysler's new company. In 1929 Dodge debuted a -ton, the last pickup designed by the Dodge Brothers company, with a 45hp Maxwell I-4 or 63- or 78hp Dodge I-6, and four-wheel hydraulic brakes unique in pickups. Dodge built the first unibody car six years before the Chrysler Airflow came out, in 1929 put the first downdraft carburetor on a US-built engine, and in 1936 passed Ford to become number two on the sales charts, a slot they held until 1952.
Glamour Years
In 1933, Dodge's naming system for the next 15 years used advancing letters to match years and C for truck. These got a ram hood ornament, used a cab and forward sheetmetal from a car, and a flat-cowl standard chassis (no bodywork) cost $340. Engines were switched to Chrysler corporate units modified for truck durability and installed on rubber mounts. Plymouth's flathead six was called "small-block" because it was 23 inches long while the DeSoto/Chrysler big-block was 25 inches; the basic design survived nearly 30 years. With full-pressure lubrication, downdraft carb, four rings per piston, and 5.5:1 compression, it made 70 hp @ 3,600 revs and 130 lb-ft of torque @ 1,200. In 1935, they added - and 1-ton variants. The MD-series switched from a car-style frame to a ladder-type truck frame in 1936.
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Photo 5/30   |   04 100 Years Of Dodge Trucks Dodge 100 3a
During its six-year run, the body would move forward eight inches for better balance when loaded, but Dodge wouldn't build an all-new truck until 1961.
Job-Rated
The "dependable, job-rated" trucks ran from 1939-1947 (1940 pictured). They carried streamlined, more aerodynamic styling, bigger brakes, ventilating windshield, a 4-inch wider seat, and an upgraded engine that was slightly smaller but still had 70 hp (up to 85 by 1941) and 148 lb-ft of torque. GVW was 4,000 pounds even and options included a $17.50 four-speed gearbox and $670 pickup box.
Photo 6/30   |   05 100 Years Of Dodge Trucks Dodge 100 4
Development on a four-wheel-drive military truck began around 1940, dubbed the WC/WD-series, and regular updating included 78 to 99hp 230 cubic-inch engines, single-speed transfer case, and a tandem rear axle six-wheel drive with a 3,300-pound payload rating. Popular Science said in 1942 of the Dodge trucks, "Bigger, stronger, higher road clearance, wider tread, splendid fordability of streams, and great tractive power" compared to a Jeep. By 1946 Dodge had the first light-duty factory four-wheel-drive pickup. It also made its first diesel heavy-duty truck with a Dodge engine.
Power Wagon
The WC- and related T214-series Army trucks led to the development of the Power Wagon that debuted in 1946. The Power Wagon adapted a civilian cab (enclosed) to a military chassis, using a military hood and radiator shell most likely from the T234 Burma Road Army truck. The 230-inch six made about 95 hp and it got a four-speed in 1949. This led to the 1950 M-37. The truck went to 12-volt electrical in 1956; in 1961 the 251 replaced the 230 I-6 and locking hubs were optional by 1962. In 1946, a Power Wagon cost $1,627 and in 1968 it was $4,623. Today, it starts at $55,000.
Pilot-House
Borrowing a nautical name in 1948, these trucks were roomer, easier to see out of, more comfortable (rubber cab mounts), fully weatherproofed, and had options like a factory engineered radio and vent wings that retracted the post with the window. The engines were carryover but got splash-proof distributors, coil on the block (for shorter lead/stronger spark), and straight-through mufflers.
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Photo 11/30   |   10 100 Years Of Dodge Trucks Dodge 100 6b
In 1950, Fluid Drive offered a three- or four-speed semiautomatic that required a clutch only for engine start; in 1951 turn signals and the hood ornament became options, and the 230 reached 103 hp.
Functional Design
These 1954-1956 trucks were so functional pictures are hard to find. Now a C-as-first-letter series, these trucks kept all the advantages of the Pilot-House design but with a lower entry, load deck, and hoodline to make them easier to live with. A wraparound windshield helped with a 19 percent increase in glass area, and while it took much longer to reach production, Dodge experimented with sliding rear windows on the C-series.
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However, the most notable change was the addition of V-8 engines, growing through the years from a 133hp 241 to a 172hp 331-cubic-inch engine. A two-speed Powerflite (with the RNDL pattern) replaced the Truck-O-Matic semiautomatic, and a two-wheel-drive Town Wagon and redundantly named four-wheel-drive Power Wagon Town Wagon addressed the big utility need.
Power-Giant
In 1957, sheetmetal was all-new from the doors forward, and the familiar D/W nomenclature was introduced: a K6D100 was a 1957 (K-series) six-cylinder D100
-ton. This series also introduced the Sweptside bed with box styling and rear lighting mimicking sedans of the day, a 204hp, 290-lb-ft, 315-cubic-inch V-8 (one of a dozen engines from Dodge), tubeless tires, power steering and brakes, pushbutton three-speed LoadFlite automatic to replace the Powerflite, and -ton GVW that went up by 1,700 pounds to 7,500.
In 1958, quad headlamps led the restyle, and a 10,000-pound GVW 1-ton four-wheel drive was offered with Spicer 70 axles (interchangeable differential, ring-and-pinion and wheel bearings front and rear), with up to 50-gallon fuel capacity.
The Sweptside was replaced by the fin-free Sweptline in 1959, and hanging pedals were adopted in 1960.
Sweptline
The first all-new truck in decades, the 1961 Sweptline used a standardized 34-inch frame width stronger than previous frames and half-foot longer wheelbases for the "Dart" pickup, adopting the popular Dart car's styling and low silhouette to pickups. Chrysler debuted the alternator to replace generators, and the Slant Six engines (101hp 170-cid or 140hp 225-cid), with a 318 V-8 optional. Power Wagons kept the old inline six but later offered a 200hp 318.
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In 1962, Dodge put a gas turbine in an MD truck and ran a 290-mile test to Chicago, pickups added a Crew Cab option, and the Warren, Michigan, plant built 66,000 trucks in 141 models from 1/2- to 5-ton. In 1963 the 225-2 Premium Slant Six replaced the 251 I-6.
For 1964 and 1965, Dodge offered a Custom Sports Special (shown) with $1,300 High Performance pack, a sleeper if you didn't catch the narrow stripes down the center. This offered a 365hp, 470-lb-ft 426 Wedge engine, with required options of power steering, HD instrument cluster and tach, LoadFlite automatic, rear axle struts, and dual exhausts. It is said fewer than 50 were built.
In 1966, the NP435 close-ratio four-speed was standard on 1-tons, optional on others, and a W300 Utiline cost $3,374. A new 258hp, 375-lb-ft 383 V-8 topped the lineup in 1967. Full synchromesh manuals were standard by 1970, when the LoadFlite became available on four-wheel-drive W100/W200.
A Van
Dodge was late to the van party in 1964, following VW and Corvair, but introduced the A100 van on a 90-inch wheelbase with more Slant Six power than competitors, and dropped the 174hp 273 in the next year, when all Dodge trucks switched to a five-year, 50,000-mile warranty. In 1966, the A108 long-wheelbase joined the line, alongside a 210hp LA-series 318.
Photo 14/30   |   13 100 Years Of Dodge Trucks Dodge 100 9a 1964 A100
Alexander Brothers of Detroit built the fully-functional, steel Deora concept car on an A100 (check out the Mustang taillamps on the side trim). Dodge bought the rights and it became a show car and a popular Hot Wheels offering.
Photo 15/30   |   14 100 Years Of Dodge Trucks Dodge 100 9b Deora
Another van, the B-series, began its 32-year run in 1971. Chances are if you ever took an ambulance, church bus, or airport shuttle you rode in one. Just as important, the B-van foretold the styling of the next pickup truck.
Adventurers and Clubs
The 1972 pickup arrived on slightly longer 115- and 131-inch wheelbases, and the basic body structure would run 21 years. This series brought coil-sprung independent front suspension to two-wheel drive, the 727 TorqueFlite automatic, and 180hp (net ratings now) 360 and 200hp 400 V-8s. But it was the 1973 Club Cab that stands out as the most noteworthy innovation, a back-of-cab stretch that went on hiatus for only three years—in the late 1980s, to avoid cannibalizing Dakota sales. In 1974, dual rear wheels and the 440 V-8 became available, and at one point the Adventurer trucks reached more than 13 percent of market share. By 1979, no 400-or-larger engines were available.
Ramcharger
To join Chevy's Blazer and other utilities, the Ramcharger debuted in 1974. With a standard 318, options included a front passenger seat and three V-8s up to the 440. In 1981, the sister-badged Plymouth Trailduster was dropped and coincided with the pickups' new sheetmetal. The AW150 brought something most competitors didn't have, fully-enclosed steel rear bodywork with glass and a big hatch for loading. The Ramcharger lasted until 1993, by then the last of its kind with leaf springs at both ends and axle articulation competitors couldn't match.
Photo 19/30   |   18 100 Years Of Dodge Trucks Dodge 100 11 85 Ramcharger Aw150 Rear Rt
Stacked
In 1978, more stringent truck emissions standards were on the horizon and gas prices were rising, so Dodge made two unusual moves. It offered a Mitsubishi diesel engine (approximately 105 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque) in lighter-duty pickups—the engine was fine and very economical but not enough to offset lack-of-power complaints. It lasted a year.
Photo 20/30   |   19 100 Years Of Dodge Trucks Dodge 100 12 78 Lil Red Express
The other move, to take advantage of certain exemptions for vehicles over 6,000 GVW, was to build the Li'l Red Express sport truck. A 360 sourced from the police bin got a lumpy 340 camshaft, roller timing chain, 850cfm ThermoQuad, dual 2.5-inch pipes with 440 Wedge mufflers, no catalysts, and exhaust stacks that probably didn't help power but looked and sounded cool. Output was 225 hp at 3,800 rpm and 295 lb-ft at 3,200. It also got a special 727 transmission, 3.55:1 limited-slip, modified suspension, and staggered 60-profile 15-inch tires (no spare).
Hot Rod tested a prototype in 1977 and recorded 14.7 at 93.0 mph in the quarter-mile, but the prototype probably ran a Holley 4160 on an aluminum high-rise and W-2 heads. The production 1978 model without those bits ran 15.77 at 88.06, still enough for Car and Driver to call it the quickest American-made production vehicle at the time. It continued through 1979 but by then had cats, an 85-mph speedo, and five LR60x15 tires.
D50
Dodge's next answer to fuel economy came from its alliance with Mitsubishi Motors, already supplying Colt and Challenger cars. The D50 came with a 2.0L or 2.6L balance-shaft I-4 of 93 or 105 hp (the latter more than a D-150's standard six), five-speed manual and 1,400-pound payload. In 1982, the four-wheel-drive PowerRam 50 arrived; in 1987, the Mitsubishi Montero-rebadged-Dodge Raider two-door ute was sold, and in 1990 a 143hp 3.0L V-6 was offered. The photographers at our sister publication Four Wheeler ran one for a year with zero service and zero trouble.
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Rampage
As VW had done with the Rabbit pickup, Dodge launched the Rampage in 1982. Built on the Omni platform with an open bed like the El Camino and Ranchero, the front-drive Rampage was arguably better-looking than the Rabbit. Its 84 hp 2.2 SOHC engine was stouter, and the sleeker cab had a lot more room. It had a three-year run; a GLHS version would have been fun.
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MidSize Dakota
With the Rampage gone and D50 handling the compact market, the midsize Dakota appeared in 1987. It came with a 96 hp 2.2L I-4 or a 3.9L 90-degree V-6, which was essentially a 5.2 V-8 with a couple of cylinders missing (it marked the end of Slant Six in D/W-series too). Two years later, the Dakota convertible arrived for a two-year run, and the Club Cab and rear-drive only pickup collaboration with Shelby (with a 175hp 318) followed. By 1992 the 318 was now a 230 hp 5.2L Magnum.
Photo 23/30   |   22 100 Years Of Dodge Trucks Dodge 100 15a 87 Dakota 4x4 Le Rc
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Cummins Power
After years of quiet tinkering, in 1989 Dodge put the Cummins BT5.9 diesel into the D/W HD pickups, with a five-speed manual or three-speed auto. Rated at 160 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque, it often put more than that through the rear wheels in period magazine dyno-testing and got 19-22 mpg unloaded. The B-Series engine's 60,000-pound-plus GCW was far head of competitors' light-duty diesels and the race was on to one million miles. The Cummins was Dodge's biggest upgrade since the Club Cab—in more ways than one with an option price of $3,600 or more—and helped keep the relatively aged D/W-series going until the 1994 T300, the design of which was already underway.
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Hall Effect
Two big names in motorsports, Rod Hall and Carroll Shelby, teamed up in the late '80s to offer the Rod Hall Signature Series Ram 150. These came with wallpaper, prerunner bumpers, lightbar and driving lights, aluminum wheels, 33-inch BFG Mud-Terrains, Rancho shocks, and a 3-inch lift. A 170hp 318 made them look faster than they were, unless you really were Rod Hall.
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The Big Rig
Dodge knew "love it or hate it" styling was what its new truck needed, and the 1994 T300 had more lovers than haters. Look hard enough and you can see styling cues back to the B-1 Pilot-House and crosshairs grille of the 1957 vintage trucks. Backing up the big-rig look were two Magnum V-8s, the Cummins BTA5.9, and a new 8.0L V-10 rated at 300 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque, restrained by engineering to keep it from grenading transmissions. In 1995, the Club Cab joined the line, followed in 1998 by the first-of-its-kind Quad Cab.
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Photo 28/30   |   27 100 Years Of Dodge Trucks Dodge 100 18b 1994 Dg Ram 3500
Durango
Borrowing heavily from the second-generation Dakota, the Durango arrived in 1998. Only four-wheel drive to start, the Durango matched a truck frame, 7,500-pound towing capacity, three-row seating, and V-8 power up to the 245 hp 5.9L Magnum in a segment that didn't offer the combo. The 4.7L SOHC V-8 debuted in 2000, and for 1999-2000 there was a limited production Shelby SP360 with a supercharged 5.9L giving 360 hp and 412 lb-ft of torque; it came with unique wheels, tires, bumpers, and suspension to contain it.
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SRT-10
Having already built a "motorcycle" around the Viper engine with the 2003 Tomahawk concept, fitting a V-10 into a pickup was comparatively easy. Hence, the 2004 SRT-10 pickup was the baddest sport truck in Dodge history. With 500 hp and 525 lb-ft of torque from its 8.3L Viper engine, a T56 six-speed manual, shortbed regular-cab sporting a functional hoodscoop and cladding, lowered five-shock suspension, and 305/40R22 Pirellis, an SRT-10 could reach 60 in around 5 seconds and cap at nearly 155 mph. Sport seats were standard, a 575-watt stereo with subwoofer aimed straight at the windshield optional, and an EPA rating of 9 city/15 highway mpg. In 2005, a Quad Cab with a 48RE automatic (EPA 9 city/12 highway) and larger front brake calipers was introduced. Production ended in 2006.
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