1981-2009 Dodge Ram Pickup Truck History: Chrysler, Crosshair Grille, Cummins, Chassis, Engine, and Performance

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There is much to discuss between the debut of the 1981-2009 Dodge Ram and the original Dodge truck, which was introduced in 1917. Named the “commercial car”, the pickup truck has seemingly been around since the availability of the automobile to the American public. The solid sided version panel truck (perhaps the original “Dodge” Ram Van) was instantly popular and used by Allied forces in World War I, but it took the innovations of two brothers from southeastern Michigan to truly make the truck a regular, useful, production vehicle.

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John and Horace Dodge began their automotive careers with ties to
Oldsmobile and Ford Motor Company (having provided everything except
for the body and wheels of Ford products from 1903 to 1908); their 1913
departure from Ford Motor Company launched the company that shares
their surname. The Dodge brothers passed away during the Spanish Flu
epidemic of 1920, and their widows would sold the Dodge brand to Dillon
Reed and Company in 1925. Three years later Walter P. Chrysler
purchased the Dodge brand, which would become a stable branch of the
Chrysler Corporation thanks to high performance muscle cars in the 60’s
and 70’s. And of course, Dodge would also be well known for their
rugged and dependable trucks.

The First Generation
It would be over 60 years before the Dodge truck would carry the name
which would become known for rugged trucks, but with the release of the
1981 Dodge truck, the Ram was born. Based off of the Chrysler’s AD
platform, the first generation of the Dodge Ram was basically a
rebadged version of the Dodge D-series trucks, which had begun in 1961,
and in 1972 the D-series got a facelift to the look that would carry
over into the first generation of the Ram, with the wrap around tail
lights and square headlights. When introduced, the Ram was offered as a
standard cab, a club cab (extended cab with 2 doors) and the crew cab,
which was a 4 door model. Like other brands of trucks during this time,
the new Dodge Ram was a bulky looking, boxy vehicle with a flat front
end and fairly upright front glass section. The trim lines were the
150, the 250, and the 350 which were half ton, three quarter ton, and
one ton vehicles respectively; and each were offered with either a 6.5
or 8 foot bed. There were three engines offerings introduced in the
early years of the first generation Ram. The base model engine was the
95 horsepower 3.7L inline six engine, the mid level was a 5.2L V8
making 125 horsepower, and the premium engine was a 5.9L V8 making 170
horsepower. Very little changed in the first few years, and the first
alteration to the lineup was a minor one, with the addition of the
D100, a low performance, manual transmission entry level. The next
change was the addition of the new “Ram-Trac” transfer case which
allowed for a change on the fly from 2- to 4-wheel drive. Also, the
crew cab was dropped in 1985.

1986 brought about a minor cosmetic change, but that change would mark
the introduction of a symbol of not only the Dodge trucks, but the
Dodge brand as a whole.  That change was the new Dodge “crosshair”
grille, and that grille style is still evident today, from the 2007
Dodge Ram to the 2007 Dodge Viper SRT-10. There were no changes for
1987 and in 1988 the only change worth mention was the addition of an
electronic fuel injection system to the 5.2L engine which increased the
horsepower output to 140. A year later, the other two engines received
upgrades of sorts. The slant six was removed in favor of a 125
horsepower, 3.9L V6, and the 5.9L V8 got a similar fuel injection
system to that of the 5.2L, and with it also got a jump in power, to
190. This would be the standard lineup until 1992 when Dodge introduced
their new “Magnum” engines. The Magnum engines held the same engine
displacement as the prior year, but with the new engine design, the
5.2L now offered 230 horsepower and the V6 3.9L made 180 horsepower.
The 5.9L would not be receive the Magnum label until 1993, at which
point it also got the same 230 horsepower as the 5.2L, but with more
torque, as well as more potential. Along with the upgrade in horsepower
in 1989 to the 5.9L and the introduction of the 3.9L V6, there was also
the introduction of a new engine, the mighty Cummins Turbo Diesel.
While this new smoke spewing diesel only offered 160 horsepower, the
torque output, of 400 lb/ft made the Cummins powered Rams to be real
beasts when it came to the needs of hauling or towing. This where an
era where trucks did not have “luxury items”, and they were typically
viewed as being vehicles used for work, but the market was shifting, as
trucks because a more popular vehicle for people who did not need the
ability to haul or tow a lot, or the ability to go anywhere. While the
Ram was popular, it was not as good of a seller as the comparable
models from Ford or General Motors, and the engineers at Dodge knew
that it was time for another facelift; the first real facelift since

Second Generation

1994 marked the release of the second generation of the Dodge Ram, and
this new look to the Ram proved to be in instant success. Built on the
new BR/BE chassis, this new Ram had a much sportier look and feel with
its round front fenders, curved body lines along the bedside, and the
large grille. Unlike the previous Ram, and many other trucks during
this time, the hood was not flush at the sides with the fenders, and
instead, the sat up above the fenders. The headlight assembly, which
contained the corner markers on the outside, wrapped slightly around
from the front of the truck into the fenders, giving the truck that
much more of a rounded look. This new Ram not only lent itself to the
needs of the old truck buyer, who needed hauling and towing capacity,
but this new, more aerodynamic shape made the truck attractive to those
who wanted a big, sporty truck. In 1993 Ford debuted their Ford
Lightning, which was a sporty 2 wheel drive truck based on the regular
F150 series, and in rebuttal to that, the second generation of the
Dodge Ram Sport offered the 5.9L engine with 230 horsepower. However,
the new Dodge Ram was not just a sports truck.

Offered in a 1500, 2500, and 3500 (which replaced the 150, 250, and
350), and with the options of a regular cab or new “quad cab” which had
two standard doors and a set of “suicide” doors and no pillar, as well
as the option of either a 6.5 or 8 foot bed. New Ram buyers who did not
need the power of a V8 still had the option of the 3.9L V6 which made
175 horsepower. Those who opted for a V8 could choose from either the
220 horsepower 5.2L or the aforementioned 5.9L. The 3.9L and 5.2L
engines would remain the same throughout the life of the second
generation Rams. There was also the option of the incredibly powerful
5.9L Cummins turbodiesel for those who needed a great deal of torque
for pulling or hauling, and these Cummins powered Rams quickly gained a
reputation for being among the strongest pickup trucks offered in the
United States. The big news for the second generation of the Dodge Ram
was the addition of the V10 option. Following the release of their new
Supercar, the V10 powered Dodge Viper, Dodge decided to use a
differently tuned version of the V10 in the new Ram. Named the Ram
Tough V10, this 8.0L engine made 300 horsepower and 450 ft-lb of
torque, making this engine as capable as the Cummins engines, but the
V10 was not easy on the wallet at the pumps, and was not a great
seller, although it would remain the same throughout the run of the
second generation Ram. This was your engine lineup for 1994 and 1995,
with an increase in power for the Cummins models in 1996, no real
changes for 1997, and in 1998 the Cummins remained the same, but in
1998 the 5.9L V8 got an increase in horsepower to 250, and that would
be the rating through the end of the generation in 2001. The only other
drivetrain change was another upgrade to the Cummins engine. The prior
Cummins engines had all been 12 valve engines, but the new Cummins,
named the ISB, was a 24 valve cylinder head design, and made 230
horsepower and 460 ft-lb of torque when mated to a manual transmission.

This new Dodge Ram was huge success, with sales in its first year
increasing from 100,000 units in 1993, to 240,000 units in 1994. The
new Dodge Ram, which came along with the slogan of “the rules have
changed”, made such an impact on the market that Car and Driver named
it the 1994 Truck of the Year, and although sales gradually declined
over the next few years, this generation embedded the Ram as a leader
in its field. However, by 2001, Ford and General Motors had reworked
their trucks in order to keep up with the Ram, and thanks to copying
some of the cues that made the Ram so popular, they cut into Dodge’s
sales…and it was time for another redesign.

Third Generation
When the 2002 Ram, built on the DR chassis, rolled off of the assembly
line, it was a whole new truck with a new frame, new interior, a new
exterior look, and most importantly, the installation some new engines,
and the return of a legendary engine, the Chrysler Hemi. While this new
Hemi was smaller and less powerful than the fabled 426 Hemi of the
muscle car era, its 345 horsepower and 375 ft-lb of torque made this
one of the most powerful engines placed into a Dodge Ram, with only the
torque specifications being lower than the Ram Tough V10. The other new
engines fitted into the 2002 Rams were the 215 horsepower 3.7L
PowerTech V6, similar to the one found in the Jeep Liberty, the 4.7L
Magnum V8 which makes 235 horsepower, and the 245 horsepower 5.9L
Magnum, which was only offered in 2002. Combined with the 5.7L Hemi,
these four engines made up the powertrain lineup for the 1500 series.
The 2500 and 3500 series models come standard with the 5.7L Hemi
engine, and the optional 5.9L Cummins ISB, which offers 325 horsepower
and 610 ft-lb of torque, making the heavier duty Rams among the
strongest work trucks in the world. One of the few complaints about the
new Ram equipped with the 5.7L Hemi was that they were hard on fuel,
and in late 2005 the Hemi received Chryslers Multi-Displacement System,
or MDS. This system effectively shuts down cylinders during points of
steady cruising to help improve fuel economy.

The engine lineup of the new Dodge Ram has gotten a great deal of the
attention, but the styling of the new trucks has a great deal to do
with the high sales volumes as much as the engines do. The new Rams
have maintained the sporty feel, but have done so with a bigger, more
muscular looking body. While smaller wheels are available, the new Rams
are easily recognized by their huge polished 20 inch wheels as well as
their semi-circular headlight lenses. The DR chassis Rams provided
solid work truck ability with the 2500 and 3500, the versatility of the
2005 released Power Wagon provides some excellent options such as
locking differentials, automatically disconnecting sway bars, larger
tires, a winch, and wider fender flares, but to the displeasure of
many, no Cummins was offered, with the Hemi being the only option in
the Power Wagon.

Even with this Power Wagon option, it seems as though the emphasis of
the 2002 and newer Rams were placing the spirit of a sports car in a
truck body. There were four options which back up this theory. The
first is the Rumble Bee, which was named based on the Super Bee sport
packages found on Dodge muscle cars of the 60’s and 70’s. Available
only on regular car/short bed models, the Rumble Bee was essentially an
appearance package added to the Hemi Ram. The package included cladding
around the base of the body, a hood scoop, an improved exhaust system,
and interior upgrades with include a serial number plate. The Rumble
Bee Ram was offered in either black with a yellow stripes or yellow
with a black stripe. While some new Dodge Ram buyers may like the
sporty look of the Rumble Bee, but need the room of the quad cab, the
HemiSport Ram was the truck for them. Wearing similar body cladding to
the Rumble Bee, the HemiSport was offered in black, red, or silver,
with the option of four wheel drive. The next special edition model was
the Ram Daytona; another take off of a vintage muscle car name. Like
the Charger Daytona of 1970, the Ram Daytona has a high rear wing, and
was offered as either a regular cab or quad cab. Like the Rumble Bee,
the Daytona features sportier body cladding, the “SRT-10” hood, Borla
dual exhaust, and a serial number plate. Like the Rumble Bee, this is
basically just an appearance package.

While the HemiSport, the Ram Daytona, and the Rumble Bee afforded some
sporty options to truck buyers, the final upgrade package proved to be
the new standard for sport trucks around the world. That package was
the Dodge Ram SRT-10. Developed by Dodge’s Street and Racing Technology
group (SRT), the Ram SRT-10 was meant to be nothing shy of the fastest
production truck intended for street use ever built, and it was just
that. Like the other Ram models introduced with the third generation of
the Ram, the SRT-10 model had an engine that demanded immediate
attention. That engine was the 8.3L, 505 horsepower V10 which was also
found in the Dodge Viper SRT-10, and it was mated to the same 6-speed
transmission found in the Viper. Originally offered only as a regular
car, the SRT-10 truck was able to set the “Fastest production truck”
record with an average lap speed of 154.587 at the DamilerChrysler
Proving Grounds in Auburn Hills, Michigan. The SRT-10 Ram comes with a
functional scoop on the hood, as well as a wing at the rear of the bed,
which helps this beast of a truck safely maintain control at high
speeds. The SRT-10 model also comes with a much sportier front fascia,
and tucked under the fenders are massive 22″ aluminum alloy wheels
wrapped in Pirelli high performance tires. Everything about the truck,
including the suspension, has been specially designed for this high
performance model, and even with a price tag of over 50,000 USD, the
Ram SRT-10 is easily one of the baddest trucks ever built. However,
there was one complaint. The transmission of the Viper, which was
fitted into this sport truck, was not capable of towing, and many
people wanted to tow with their SRT-10, so for 2005, Dodge released a
quad cab version of the SRT-10, and that model was offered only with a
much sturdier automatic transmission, offering the power of a Viper
with the towing ability of a light truck. Sadly, Dodge ended the
production of the Ram SRT-10 mid year of 2006, but there are rumors of
an upcoming SRT Ram, with an engine based off of one of their high
performance crate motors, such as the 510 horsepower 6.4L Hemi.
However, rumors of this new SRT-8 Ram are only rumors, but time will
tell what Dodge has in store for high performance minded truck

2006 brought about a slight cosmetic change for the Ram, with larger
headlights and a “smoother” front end. There were very few other
changes, aside from the aforementioned addition of MDS to the 5.7L
Hemi, helping to improve fuel mileage, and the added option of in-dash
navigation to the Ram. The “big news” of the 2006 refresh was the
addition of another new trim line. The new “Mega Cab”, as it is badged,
features a 6-foot cargo box, and 4 full sized doors, and 20 more inches
of cabin spaces over the quad cab. This added room allows comfortable
seating for six, with the rear seats having the ability to recline,
giving this large truck the seating capacity of a large SUV, with the
hauling ability of a pickup truck; which is another fine innovation
from Dodge.

Since John and Horace Dodge began offering their Commercial Car,
through the D-series trucks of the 1970’s and into the 1980’s with the
official introduction of the Ram name, Dodge trucks have always been
powerful work ready vehicles, and with the market shift toward sportier
trucks, Dodge has responded in offering a group of the most sport
minded trucks in the world, all without losing their hard working
ability. The Dodge Ram is one of the best selling trucks in the world,
and with the addition of new high performance engines, as well as
strong work trucks, and fuel saving features like MDS, it is likely
that the Dodge Ram will stay atop the truck market for years to come.

– Patrick Rall

The Ram is an important part of Dodge in the modern era, and part of a greater history. What’s your history with the Ram? Which ones have you owned? Tell us some stories about your Ram. Looking to stay with Dodge forever? Or are you tempted to go for an F-Series for your next truck? Which is truly the better truck?

Wanna talk about the Ram? Tons of threads waiting to be read by you or heard from you!

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