The Dodge Brothers did not actually build a truck until World War I, and it was really a panel van and not a pickup. It did have half-ton capacity and featured a 35 horsepower (gross) four cylinder engine. With the deaths of the Dodge brothers in 1920, the Graham Brothers started selling 1-1/2 ton pickups through Dodge dealers. They featured Graham bodies with Dodge parts. It was not till the late 1920s that a one ton model showed up and it was still powered by that same four cylinder engine. The Dodge Company bought a controlling interest in Graham Brothers in 1925 and picked up the rest in 1926.
Walter Chrysler purchased the Dodge Brothers company in 1928, just after it had launched the DeSoto and Fargo truck brands, which competed directly with the Dodge Brothers. Fargo trucks were sold in the US from 1928 through 1930, and continued for decades as an export brand. They had nothing in common with Dodge trucks, sharing parts with Plymouth and DeSoto instead. Dodge introduced a half-ton pickup for 1929 just after its acquisition by Chrysler, which was the last "original" Dodge Brothers-designed truck. For this year, three engines were available - two Dodge engines (63 and 78 hp six cylinders), and a Maxwell four cylinder that was substantially smaller than the Dodge engine, but produced more power. The trucks had four wheel hydraulic brakes, a significant safety feature by no means standard on competing pickups. For 1933, Chrysler engineered the Dodge replacement truck and equipped them with Chrysler Corporation engines across the board, borrowing from Plymouth, DeSoto, and Chrysler, but modified them for better durability. The six cylinder engine was the flat-head six used in Plymouths, which continued through 1960. The 1933 Dodge trucks were designated HC; the second letter, C, remained up until World War II, culminating in the WC. In 1936, Dodge entered the large truck arena. Those models were given the designation D, as in MD.
The new 1936 D trucks brought "Fore-Point load distribution" – like Cab Forward, in that the front axles were moved forward so they carried more weight, increasing stability and decreasing overall length. In addition, a modern truck-style frame was adopted in half-ton pickups for the first time whereas previous models, like competitors, used car chassis. Moving the engine and cab forward increased the usable bed space. The six cylinder engine was unchanged, producing 70 horsepower from 201 cubic inches, coupled to an optional synchronized three-speed manual floor shift. Performance was aided by using steep rear axle ratios. The 3/4 and one-ton pickups stayed in production, moving to the new platform, and selling for the same price as the big truck.
1937 saw the introduction of a "safe" instrument panel, so nothing was sticking out to stab the driver during a crash. It also saw a new 3/4 and one ton truck series, which shared the same styling as the half-ton trucks, but with two available wheelbases. The six cylinder engine was expanded to 218 cubic inches, producing 75 horsepower. 1939 brought a complete redesign, with streamlined styling. After that, prewar changes started. In 1940, engineering started on a military four wheel drive truck, leading to the first stock light-duty four wheel drive pickup in 1946; these were made in a new, massive truck plant. Dodge also made their first diesel truck, using their own diesel engines. While some competitors upgraded their smaller, lighter vehicles to create two-ton-and-up models, Dodge made many more changes to make their bigger trucks tougher and more durable, thus adding to their reputation of durability. In 1939, Dodge introduced the concept of Job Rated. This was no gimmick or styling exercise. It was aimed at getting the customer the truck that fit the job that he was buying it for. Dodge Truck production lines barely stopped as military orders poured in. Since Dodge had established itself as a durable four wheel drive combination in 1934, for the war effort they built some 255,195 T model military trucks. This chassis became the basis for the largely unchanged civilian version called the Power Wagon. The 1939 styling continued through 1947. These were job rated as WC for 1/2 ton and WD for one ton. Not to be left out were the Dodge Power Ram trucks, which came with pickup beds. These were not part of the regular progression of Dodge pickups, but rather from the military efforts. These legendary tough trucks directly descended from the design parameters used to handle China's horrific Burma Road.
At the same time that Dodge was selling the tough, relatively unchanging Power Wagons, they also moved to meet customer tastes with styling and comfort features. So in 1948 Dodge created a styling studio for trucks. This studio brought the "pilot house" styling with the B-1 model. These were popular, well-thought-out and very stylish small trucks. Now, even the big trucks looked good. These postwar B-trucks were introduced at the same time as GM and Ford pickups, yet managed to beat both those larger companies in sales. Just like the 1993 Ram, which also leapfrogged GM and Ford, the B-series had a superior cab with taller seats and larger glass areas. Rear quarter windows became optional to avoid other blind spots. The front axles, wheels, and engine also moved, shifting payload to the front axle so the truck could carry more on the same axle and springs. Dodge took advantage of their increased capacity by deepening the cargo boxes.
In addition, cross steering was introduced, allowing for much tighter turns; and longer springs and shocks made the ride more comfortable while improving handling. Many favor these trucks because of their appearance, as well; while the 1993 and newer Rams took many cues from big rigs, they also resemble the B series in many ways. The B series continued through 1953. After that, was the 1954- 1956 C series which featured V-8 engines. The thoroughly modern lightweight, compact 241 cubic inch Power-Dome V-8 engine featured overhead valves, 145 horsepower and 215 lb/ft of gross torque at only 2,400 rpm. It was optional equipment for all light-duty trucks. The dependable Dodge L-head 218-inch, 100 horsepower six continued as standard equipment for half- and 3/4-ton models. The 230-inch, 110 horsepower L-head six was the standard engine for one-ton trucks. C-Series trucks featured all-new modern styling. The cab sat lower on the frame for easier entry and exit and featured vastly increased glass areas for excellent driver visibility. The single piece curved windshield was a modern styling touch.
1957 - 1960:
The four Power Giant years can easily be divided into two segments of two years each: 1957 to 1958 and 1959 to 1960. This division was due to the addition of the new Sweptline cargo box in 1959. The traditional narrow cargo box was continued without change. Dodge designers introduced an all new front appearance -- from the cowl forward for the 1957 pickups. The new look was part of Chrysler Corporation's "Forward Look" design for all Corporate vehicles. Other important new features included a full opening hood, power steering, power brakes, 12-volt ignition system, tubeless tires, and push-button LoadFlite automatic transmission. New were the Dodge Sweptside half-ton pickup and the Town Wagon, a Suburban-type cargo / people mover. The Sweptside was designed to give Dodge dealers something to sell against Chevrolet's Cameo and Ford's Ranchero.
After 13 years of highly maneuverable, short wheelbase, easy to drive trucks Dodge engineers reverted back to the traditional method of light truck chassis design. Dodge's new 1961 low-tonnage models featured three new wheelbase lengths: 114-inches for the short box D100; 122-inches for the long box D100 and D200 and 133-inches for the D300. These lengths compared to 108, 116, and 126-inch wheelbases of the previous 13 model years. Two important new 1964 trucks included the industry's first personal use pickup, the Custom Sports Special, and the A100 compact trucks. The CSS was an image pickup especially when equipped with the High Performance package consisting of the 365 horsepower, 470 ft-lb torque 426 Wedge V-8 with an automatic transmission, power steering and brakes, tachometer, dual exhaust, and rear axle struts. The A100 pickup only accounted for three percent of total compact truck sales, but the compact vans and wagons were Dodge Truck's most important new products ever. 1970 saw the B-Van version come into production. At the time, cargo vans were marketed as the Dodge Tradesman and Dodge Sportsman. The A100 line was a model range of American compact vans and trucks manufactured and marketed from 1964-1970 by Chrysler Corporation for the Dodge brand in the United States and the Fargo brand in Canada.
The A100 Van debuted in 1964. The nose was flat, with the engine placed between the driver and passenger, who sat above the front axle. The unibody vehicles used a short, 90-inch wheelbase. An A108 was also available from 1967-1970, with a longer 108-inch wheelbase. The A108 was popular with camper conversion companies. We all know the Little Red Wagon driven by Bill "Maverick" Golden, which ran at popular drag strips from the 1960s through the early 2000s, before his retirement.
1972 - 1980
Lifestyle Pickups. In the early 1970s, when Dodge engineers and designers developed this new pickup series the nation was deeply immersed in travel and camping. So the camping special came out and the interiors were upgraded to better suit travelers than construction workers. In 1973 Dodge introduced the best new idea in pickups since the fully-enclosed all-steel cab of the mid-1920s -- the Club Cab. The entire pickup buying public immediately embraced it. Dodge pickups got a huge boost in performance when the optional 235 horsepower 440 was added as an option for 2WD pickups in 1974. The 400 was brought back as an option in 1976, 1977 and 1978.
For 1977, performance was coming back in trucks and Dodge answered with the Warlock. It featured a short wheelbase that could be equipped with just about every engine offered-even the 440. A Street Van, a special version of the best-selling Dodge Tradesman full-sized van for individuals who want to do their own customizing and a Macho package for the four-wheel drive Ramcharger and Power Wagon.
The Dodge Warlock pickup started out as a concept, and stirred such interest that Dodge moved quickly to introduce it late in the 1976 model year as a limited production vehicle; its popularity when it first hit the street made it a regular production model in 1977. The Warlock came with either conventional two-wheel or fourwheel drive, with the D100 model (rear wheel drive) having H70-15 raised white letter tires and the W100 (four-wheel drive) having 10 x 15-inch tires. Optional equipment included five-spoke wheels, bucket seats, tinted glass, bright rear bumper, and power steering. All had black interiors accented by gold tape on the dash and the doors, and a Tuff wheel. Both models were available in Black, Dark Green Metallic or Bright Red the first year. Completing the custom look were solid oak sideboards above the box with gold accents, and chrome plated miniature running boards. The exterior had gold pinstriping that outlined the wheel wells and body lines; the pinstriping was continued inside, on the doors, dashboard, and the instrument cluster. The script word "Warlock" was emblazoned in gold on the tailgate.
The Warlock's oak-lined pickup bed was later used by the more popular L'il Red Express Truck, which had the same body panels and mechanicals. The Express also used the Warlock's standard step-side chrome bumpers and grille, though it had new, five-slot disc wheels instead of the Warlock's eight-spoke gold wheels. Those gold wheels only lasted for the first year, with the Warlock II of 1979 having chrome wheels. Six colors were available in 1979. 1978 and 1979 featured the fastest production vehicle, the Little Red Express with the 360 engine. It was faster than the Corvette. The Dodge L'il Red Truck was limited production (2,188 units in 1978, 5118 in 1979). Dodge did offer a diesel in 1978, the Mitsubishi built 243 cubic-inch. D150 pickups were added in 1978. In 1979 the big block V-8s were dropped, never to return. The Mitsubishi-built D50 mini-pickup was also new in 1979.
The Street Van package consisted of a "Street Van" logo on the passenger and driver's side door in lieu of the Tradesman logos, chrome trim on the grille and windshield, simulated wood grain inlays in the steering wheel horn cover and passenger side glare shield, five slot chrome wheels or white spoked "off-road" type wheels, chrome front and rear bumpers, chrome trim on the gauges, smaller chrome side view mirrors, patterns and plans to create custom interiors, and membership in the "Dodge Van Clan". This package was available from the 1976 model year until it was discontinued in the early '80s. This was not an overly popular option from the factory, and Street Vans are somewhat rare. The chrome metal Street Van emblems found on later Street Vans (emblems through mid-1978 were stickers) in good shape are quite valuable to collectors or restorers.
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.
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.