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A Short History of the Dodge/Ram Pickup Trucks: 1965 – 1996

20402-back cover

Here’s a look back on the Dodge D and Ram Series trucks, covering model years 1965 through 1996, and found in Chilton manuals 20400 (1967-1988) and 20402 (1989-1996)

Second-generation Dodge D Series Pickup: 1965-1971

1971 Dodge D100 DudeThis generation of the D Series truck (D denotes rear-drive, W denotes four-wheel drive models) began with an update in 1965, replacing the last of the first-gen trucks midway through the year. The new generation D Series dropped the quad-headlamps for a new grille with a single pair, gained a full width tailgate, a double walled bed, and long bed models had a new longer wheelbase. Under the hood they obtained power from the new LA series pushrod v8 engines, or the durable slant-six. A revision in 1968 included a split front grill with two rows of four oblong holes top and bottom.

Available trims included the Custom Sports Special through 1967, which was then replaced in 1968 with the Adventurer trim package. Two years later, the Adventurer trim was split into three: the base Adventurer, mid-line Adventurer Sport and top-tier Adventurer SE. And of course, who can forget The Dude? The Dude Sport Trim Package appeared for the 1970 model year D100 long bed, bringing black or white C-stripe side decals, dog dish hub caps, a Dodge decal on the flat tailgate and Dude decals on the box. Between 1,500 to 2,000 Dudes were made over the last two years of the second-gen D Series as the truck equivalent of the stripe packages on the Dodge Dart and Demon.

Under the hood, these trucks were powered by anything from a 170 cubic inch slant-six, and 273 cubic inch LA V8, or a big 383 cubic inch V8, withe. The engines were connected to either a three- or four-speed manual, or a three-speed automatic. Cab options were regular or four door crewcab, while beds could be had in straight-sided (Sweptline) or step-sided (Utiline) styles.

Third-generation Dodge D Series Pickup: 1972-1980

1976 Dodge D100 CoverThe third-gen D Series arrived with a more rounded look in 1972, taking cues from the 1971 Plymouth Satellite’s newly update appearance. A large amount of galvanized steel was used in the construction, providing owners with better rust and corrosion resistance. The new truck also introduced one of the first extended-cabs to the truck market via the 1973 Club Cab, which had two inward-facing jump seats as an option.

The new D Series lived through the two major energy crises of the Seventies, which saw muscle cars give way to personal luxury in the car market (along with smog and safety legislation snuffing out what performance remained). Trucks, however, were exempt from a lot of these rules, and Dodge delivered in 1978 and 1979 with a range of “lifestyle” pickups, including the most popular of them all, the Lil’ Red Express (and 1978 only the Midnite Express in black). This pair offered dual chrome exhaust stacks, chrome wheels with fat tires, gold trim over bright red paint, and real wood trim.

Power for the third-gen D Series came from a wide assortment of engines, including the 170 and 225 cubic inch Slant-Six motors, 318, 360 and 440 cubic inch V8s, and in 1978 and 1979, a rare diesel option from Mitsubishi. Transmission options included three- and four-speed manuals, and a three-speed column-shift automatic.

First-generation Dodge Ram: 1981-1993

1983 Dodge Ram TruckThough this generation still held the previous generation’s D/W designations, and more or less carried the previous generation’s styling, they officially received the Ram name and a new interior. The 1981 Dodge Ram truck also wore a Ram hood ornament, the first time a Dodge had since 1954. Other updates included wrap-around tail lamps, dual rectangular headlamps and squared-off lines on the bed and cab. The Club Cab was dropped in 1983 but returned in 1991, while the crew cab and Utiline step-side beds were gone for good in 1985.

Engine options were slimmed down to only three: the unkillable 225 Slant-Six and the 318 and 360 V8s. The Slant-Six was replaced in 1988 with a 3.9-liter V6 (basically 3/4 of a 318/5.2 liter V8), and all engines got throttle body fuel injection for 1989, and new “Magnum” designations for 1992. For 3/4-ton and larger trucks the legendary Cummins 6BT direct-injection 5.9-liter  turbodiesel straight six arrived in 1989 for those looking to haul more. Transmissions included three- and four-speed Torqueflite automatics or four- and five-speed manuals.

Compared to the Ford F-150 and the Chevy/GMC truck twins the Ram was not flying off the lot; Dodge sold just under 100,000 units nearly every year of production. The styling and chassis design, which dated back to 1972, plus dated interior and powertrain options, made the 80s Ram a tough sell to all but the thriftiest customers, but this would soon change.

The Chilton Manuals split this generation in two, with 1989 and up trucks combined with the redesigned 1994-1996 Ram. The reason for this is because while much of the chassis is the same in both generations of truck, the introduction of the Cummings in the 3/4-ton and 1-ton trucks required a significant addition to the manual.

Second-generation Dodge Ram: 1994-1996

1994 Dodge Ram truckThe 1994 Dodge truck was the Ram that changed everything. Back in 1986, Bob Lutz was set to approve a conventional redesign for the truck, which would have rolled out in 1991. Chief designer Phillip E. Payne wasn’t impressed though, stating, “It looks like nothing more than a rehash of everybody else’s truck.” Lutz then gave the order: present a better design in six months.

What rolled out was a Ram that lived to its name: bold, masculine styling reminiscent of the Studebaker E Series trucks of the 1950s and every diesel big rig tractor trailer on the road at the time. Ford and General Motors had no idea what hit them when the new Ram arrived, especially in sales: Ram jumped from not even 96,000 units in the first year to over 400,000 by 1996 (the same year a red Ram truck battled tornadoes in the film Twister). Models included the 1500 half-ton, and heavier 2500 3/4-ton, and 3500 dualie one-ton trucks, often with the Cummings motor. The 2500 was available as a light-duty truck with semi-floating rear axle, and as a heavy-duty model with full-floating rear axle. Regular, extended and crew cab body styles could be had, as well.

Engine options included those carried over from the first-gen Ram—from the 3.9-liter V6 to the Cummins 5.9-liter turbodiesel—as well as a V-10 related to the one in the Dodge Viper supercar. The introduction of the eight-liter V10 offered those who wanted more pulling power an option without going to a diesel. Four-speed automatics and five- and six-speed manual transmissions were available to deliver the power to the wheels.

The Dodge D and Ram Series gave truck fans an alternative to the Ford and Chevy wars, and it is still a favorite for those who want their trucks to stand out in the crowd.

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One Response

  1. Anne says:

    What a trip down memory lane! I love the new Rams – it’s funny to see the old designs. Makes me wonder what the owners of those fancy electric pickups, a generation or two from today will think when they look at photos of our 2018 pickup trucks…

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