1981 - 1988

The restyled pickups for 1981 were the first new Dodge pickups developed during the tenure of Lee Iacocca. They were the same basic trucks as before, but with all new sheetmetal, interiors, name badges and grille. Dodge engineers specified the use of additional galvanized steel body panels to make the pickups last longer and look good longer. An engineering improvement of note was the new standard equipment automatic locking hubs for 4WD models developed by Chrysler engineers and manufactured by Borg Warner. The Ram hood ornament had been dropped by the mid-fifties, but Mr. Iacocca and his marketing /advertising firm deemed it was time for the Ram to return as a symbol of the Dodge pickups' toughness. A 2WD pickup was designated a Ram and the 4WD pickup was designated a Power Ram. Dodge's pickup lineup for 1981 consisted of D150, D250 and D350 2WDs and W150, W250 and W350 4WD models. D/W450 chassis cabs were also offered. The imported D50 mini-pickup also continued. It may well have been the best of the mini-pickups imported from Japan. Standard cab and Club Cab models were offered in all series; 3/4 and one-ton crew cabs were also standard models. Club Cabs could be ordered with either 6-1/2 or 8-foot cargo boxes. Engine options included the 3.7 liter (225 cubic inch) Slant Six, the 5.2 liter (318 cubic inch) V-8, and the 5.9 liter (360 cubic inch) V-8. 1982 saw the creation of the Rampage mini pickup, the first front-wheel drive pickup by the Big Three. On the van side, the Ram nameplate replaced both previous names in 1981, changing to Ram Van and Ram Wagon respectively.

In 1983 management began a series of steps which would enable them to continue building full size pickups and add the midsize Dakota to the plant's mix in 1986 as a 1987 model. The first move was to drop production of Club Cab pickups at the end of the 1982 model year. Dakota pickups went on sale in July 1986 as 1987 model year trucks. Ramcharger production was taken out of the Warren, Michigan, plant and moved to Mexico in 1985 where the vehicle eventually died in 1993. Crew cab and Utiline pickups were dropped after the 1985 model year. The hot Shelby Dakota pickup, powered by a 318 was new in 1989 along with a Dakota convertible.

1989 saw the introduction of the Cummins Turbo Diesel and forever changed the light-duty pickup truck market. This engine was better than GM and Fords diesel V-8 in every measurable way. 1990 saw the return of the full size club cab along with the addition of a Dakota Club cab.

1994 - 1998

The Dodge Ram was redesigned for 1994. With the new bold styling that was reminiscent of an over the road semi, you either loved it or hated it. America loved it, and soon four assembly plants were needed to meet demand as Dodge garnered 20-percent of the truck market. For 1996 a special Indy Ram version was done to celebrate the Dodge Viper coupe as the Indy 500 Pace Car. Painted in Viper Blue with white stripes and equipped with the 5.9 liter (360) engine approximately 2,802 were built. The 1997 (3711 built) and 1998 (2567 built) model years saw a similar version called the SST that had a similar stripe package and same rims but came in four colors; white, red, black and green. The Mopar Nationals is celebrating the tribute to the Dodge Ram truck and van this year and we felt the need to put a year limit on the tribute. So 1998 seemed to be a good point as a 15 year old vehicle rather than having all the new trucks on display.

Heading On

In 1929 a rising young sculptor named Avard T. Fairbanks arrived at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor to head up the sculpture department. He needed a more reliable car than his 1928 Willys-Knight that would not start in the cold Michigan winters. Unfortunately this was during the Depression, and he didn't have any money not unlike everyone else. He came up with the idea that he could use his skills and design a radiator cap ornament in trade for a new automobile. Chrysler Corporation, in nearby Highland Park, was an up-and-coming auto maker, with innovative engineering and designs. He felt their radiator caps, with their small Viking wings needed improvement, and he was just the artist to create a new sculptural masterpiece. At Chrysler headquarters, he was told they were about to introduce an all-new Plymouth, the PA series, featuring Floating Power (which meant shock-absorbing engine mounts). "The Smoothness of an Eight with the Economy of a Four" was going to be the advertising pitch. He was challenged to symbolize that in a radiator cap ornament

Fairbanks designed a little mermaid coming up out of a swirling wave. He also gave her the wings of an eagle. The mermaid turned out to be a hit. In return for his work on the little mermaid, Fairbanks was paid with a handsome, red 1932 Chrysler Royal Eight. Over the years these radiator caps came to be known as the Flying Lady, even though she's a mermaid. The 1931 Plymouth was a runaway success. It pushed Buick out of third place in national sales and thrust Chrysler Corporation into the Big Three of auto makers. Walter P. Chrysler probably thought the success had to do with his engineering features, but Avard, who was never averse to taking credit, always said, "Everyone just loved my little mermaid". By 1934 Plymouth ornaments had become sailing ships, and DeSoto got winged ladies of various designs until 1949. Avard Fairbanks was influenced by the styles of the era in which he worked, most notably the Art Deco motifs popular during the 1920s and 1930s. One evening he got an urgent call from the engineers at Dodge asking him to meet them in ten minutes. They explained that they had 10,000 cars that needed hood ornaments and that they wanted something as attractive as the ornament on a Rolls Royce, but for the cheapest car! He took his clay with him and an animal book and spent the next several days at their headquarters. They brought in food and a couch for his stay.

He suggested a mountain lion, a tiger, a jaguar and other animals. Finally he started modeling a mountain sheep. When the engineers read that the ram was the "master of the trail and not afraid of even the wildest of animals" they became enthusiastic about the symbol. Walter P. Chrysler wasn't as convinced. Avard explained that anyone seeing a ram, with its big horns, would think Dodge. Walter looked at him, looked at the model, scratched his head and said, "That's what I want - go ahead with it". This is the story as it appeared in Southwest Art magazine. The Fairbanks family recalls it slightly differently: "For two weeks, father worked on all sorts of models from mythology creatures to various powerful animals. Finally, he called the designers and Mr. Chrysler in to see three models of a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. He proposed the charging one. They asked, "why a ram?" Father responded, "It's sure-footed; it's the King of the Trail; it won't be challenged by anything." They nodded their heads. Then father, with a bit of corny humor, added, "and if you were on the trail and saw that ram charging down on you, what would you think?-DODGE!" Walter Chrysler excitedly replied "That's it! The ram goes on the dodge"! The story is Avard left his models at Dodge headquarters for a few months. When he returned he was surprised to see an assembly-plant parking lot full of new Dodges with rams on their hoods. He immediately sought an audience with K. T. Keller then President of Dodge Division, who explained that in his absence, they had to move ahead so their own designer modified the ram ornament for production. They had tilted the head down a bit more and pulled the horns away from the head, a suggestion Avard had made but thought would be too costly for production. In fact, it was an expensive item but so beautiful that new Dodge owners were constantly troubled with thefts of their rams. Thousands had to be produced as replacements.

Avard reminded Mr. Keller that copyright laws do apply to sculpture and artistic designs and Mr. Keller very quickly offered to pay him with another new car. But with the big red Chrysler already at home, he asked instead for a royalty on the design. They finally settled on a check for $1,400-- the full retail price for a top-of-the line Dodge Eight. For that amount, Dodge got one of the most enduring corporate symbols in American history.