Ram Trucks Timeline: From Early '80s Refresh to Stand-Alone Brand

Symbol from Chrysler's Past Becomes a Modern-Day Icon

By Edward A. Sanchez

Chrysler received a lot of attention (and some criticism) for breaking off Ram as a stand-alone truck brand in 2009 but many may not realize that it wasn't the first time such a move took place. The first time around was shortly after Lee Iacocca took the helm at Chrysler. Starting with the 1981 model year, Dodge's D-series trucks were rebranded as the Dodge Ram line of pickups. Along with the name change came the prominent use of the Ram's head symbol that dated back to a 1930s-era design from Avard Fairbanks.


First Generation: 1981-1993

The Dodge D-Series trucks that the first-generation Rams were based on dated back to 1972 and the D-Series name itself went back to 1961. In 1981, the first year of the Ram badge, the pickups featured a styling update with single sealed-beam rectangular headlights and wrap-around taillights. The interior was updated with newer bench seat and gauge cluster designs. Initially, the Ram carried over most of the D-Series mechanicals, but major updates came in 1988, when the 3.9-liter V-6 replaced the storied but aging slant-six. That same year, the 318 cubic-inch (5.2-liter) V-8 got throttle-body fuel injection. In 1989, the 360 V-8 (5.9-liter) V-8 got throttle-body injection as well and all models got rear-wheel ABS.

1989 also marked the introduction of the Cummins turbodiesel inline-six engine. Although its output figures of 160 hp and 400 lb-ft seem modest by today's standards, the torque was by the highest of its peers, which at the time consisted of naturally aspirated V-8 diesel engines. Although the engine was capable of higher power and torque outputs, as its wide use in marine and commercial applications proved, it was deliberately de-tuned in order to work reliably with Chrysler's A727 three-speed automatic transmission.

Although falling far behind its peers from Ford and GM in terms of styling, Chrysler continued to improve the aging platform, adding port fuel injection to the 3.9-liter V-6 and 5.2-liter V-8 in 1992 and to the 5.9-liter V-8 in 1993, dubbing the newly-invigorated engine line the 'Magnum' engine series. At first glance, it seemed these upgrades were wasted on the two decade-old platform, but the truck-buying public would soon see these upgrades put to good use.


Second Generation: 1994-2002

The 1994 Ram marked a radical departure from its predecessor inside and out. Compared to GM's handsomely rounded but conservative full-size models and Ford's slab-sided F-Series, the 1994 Ram's prominent grille and dropped front fenders were evocative of big-rig styling. Considered controversial by many, the styling gamble paid off handsomely as sales of the 1994 model were more than double that of the 1993. The hot streak continued for several more years, with sales peaking at more than 400,000 units in 1999. When the new 2500 and 3500 models made their debuts, an 8.0-liter V-10 loosely based on the 5.9-liter V-8 that made 300 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque also bowed. This iron-block engine was the basis of the Dodge Viper supercar's engine, which featured an aluminum block for lighter weight.

While Ford and GM had already introduced three-door options on their extended-cab models, Ram was the first to offer rear-hinged doors on both sides of its extended-cab model with the Quad Cab in 1998. That year also saw the introduction of the 24-valve Cummins ISB engine, which raised power and torque output and is considered by many as marking the beginning of the modern diesel truck horsepower race since both Ford and GM fielded substantially more powerful engines just a few years after its launch.


Third Generation: 2002-2008

Having established itself as a legitimate player in the full-size truck arena, Dodge was in no way slowing down on innovations with the Ram. The new 2002 model was nearly as big a break from its predecessor as the 1994 was from the 1993.

The 5.9-liter V-8 carried on for one model year before it was replaced by the highly anticipated Hemi 5.7-liter V-8. Although slightly smaller in displacement than its predecessor, the new engine made 100 more horsepower and 40 more lb-ft of torque thanks to its performance-engineered high-flow heads with large valves and dual spark plugs. Combined with a new five-speed automatic transmission, the new powertrain was also more fuel-efficient than its predecessor.

Although the Ram did not offer a true crew cab model like its competitors, it split the difference with a new front-hinged Quad Cab that offered a reasonably roomy rear seat but lacked the stretch-out room its competitors offered. All rear-seat room shortcomings were rectified in 2006 with the introduction of the Mega Cab that added a truly cavernous rear seat at the slight expense of bed length (it was only available with a 6.5-ft bed). All Mega Cab models were based on the three-quarter-ton chassis, even the '1500' model, which was a 2500 with softer springs.

In 2004, Chrysler launched the Ram SRT-10. Powered by the Viper's 8.3-liter aluminum-block V-10, it was initially available as a regular cab with a six-speed manual transmission. A Quad Cab version was added in 2005 along with an automatic transmission. Launched at about the same time, the Rumble Bee and Daytona models applied some of the style and substance of the SRT in more affordable Hemi-powered packages.

The Power Wagon off-road version of the Ram 2500 also joined the lineup in 2005. It would go on to win numerous accolades and awards for its outstanding off-road capability.


Fourth Generation: 2009-Present

Never one to rest on its laurels, Ram continued to innovate with its fourth-generation models. The 2009 Ram 1500 models switched from the industry-standard rear leaf springs to coil springs. This completely bucked convention -- rear coil springs hadn't been used in full-size trucks for more than four decades -- but engineers were convinced the ride and handling benefits were worth the small sacrifice in payload and towing. 1500 models also received a legitimate Crew Cab option in addition to the Quad Cab, leaving the Mega Cab option to the 2500 and 3500 models.

The other big noteworthy innovation on the fourth-generation Rams was the RamBox lockable storage bins along the top edge of the bedsides. The compartments were both illuminated and featured drainage, which gave drivers the option of secured storage for important items that they didn't necessarily want to carry in the cab.

In 2011, in classic Mopar fashion, Ram introduced the Tradesman model that featured the Hemi V-8 in a stripped-down model with vinyl or cloth seats and vinyl or carpeted flooring. It didn't forsake comfort and convenience entirely, however, and came with standard air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, an iPod connector, and locking tailgate. The Ram 1500 Express applied a monochrome paintjob and 20-inch wheels to the basic packaging of the short bed Tradesman for a sportier appearance.

Although the 2013 Ram is not technically an all-new model, the addition of an eight-speed transmission and the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 as the new base powertrain, as well as a new optional air suspension, shows that Ram is continuing its tradition as an innovator in the full-size truck category. Indications of a turbodiesel V-6 option coming soon also count as a major change.