The Colorful History of Dodge Ram Pickup Trucks

 

 

With the amount of used Dodge Ram trucks for sale, it’s no wonder that these trucks have a fascinating history. The well-respected 2016 Ram 1500 that you know and love today was once a Dodge Ram D150. Let's not forget - Dodge and Ram used to be one company, which is why the trucks before 2009 have both Dodge and Ram logos slapped on their bodies. Since their split in 2009, and with how big they’ve become in the contemporary truck market, it only seems fitting to take a stroll down memory lane. 

I’m not going to hit every little detail or design tweak that happened, just the major events that helped further Dodge and Ram as companies, ultimately bringing the Ram truck lineup to where it is today.

 

1981: The Start of it All 

1981-1993 was the first generation of Dodge Ram pickup trucks. Dodge had technically been producing trucks since 1917, but their 1981 pickups were the first ones to sport the Ram name. In order to signify this, Dodge slapped a ram’s head hood ornament on the trucks after Lee Iacocca, Chrysler's President and CEO at the time, decided it was a good mascot.

Fun fact: the ram’s head logo was first used in 1933 to represent the trucks and rugged vehicles made by Dodge, but was no longer used after 1950. So Iacocca's decision in 1981 to resurrect the ram could actually be considered a vintage throw back.

 

Model Designations 

The model designations were slightly different than they are today - useful information if you plan on shopping around for an older Dodge Ram truck. 

A “D” on the truck designated two-wheel drive, and a “W” designated four-wheel drive. After this letter, a number was allocated: either 150, 250, or 350. These numbers designated the amount of weight that a truck was able to haul: 150 meant half a ton, 250 meant three-quarters of a ton, and 350 meant one ton. For example, a Ram D350 would signify the truck was a two-wheel drive, one-ton pickup. 

The four wheel drive vehicles were called “Power Rams,” and were known for their rugged and powerful capabilities.

 

Powertrains 

Under the hood, the first generation Dodge Rams were quite well-equipped. In fact, this engine series had served Dodge well for years, and so the brand decided to bring them on board to outfit the first generation of Dodge Ram pickups. There was a 3.7-liter 95-horsepower slant six, a 5.2-liter 140 horsepower V8, and a 5.9-liter V8 that produced 170 horsepower. These three engines ranged between the half-ton, three-quarter ton, and one-ton pickup trucks, and provided more than enough horsepower for these vehicles. 

Now that we’ve seen where they began, it’s time to take a look at where they went — and the significant changes that happened between then and now.

 

1988 and 1989: Electronic Fuel Injection and New Engines 

 

 

Nothing significant really developed for these trucks until 1988 and 1989, when the introduction of electronic fuel injection and new engines made a debut. 

The electronic fuel injection was offered for the 5.2-liter V8 engine in 1988, and then to other engines in 1989. It gave the engines better overall performance compared to the carbureted versions that were previously used. Now, the delivery of the fuel was more precise and efficient than before, which resulted in a smoother working engine. 

In 1989, Dodge introduced some new engines. A 3.9-liter V6, sporting electronic fuel injection and generating 125 horsepower replaced the 3.7-liter. The 5.9-liter V8 stuck around and also received electronic fuel injection, which bumped up the horsepower to 190. 

1989 also saw the introduction of the would-be-famous Cummins Turbodiesel engine. This engine started off as a 5.9-liter inline six-cylinder that put out 160 horsepower and a massive 400 lb-ft of torque. That torque is a monumental amount even by today's standards, and gave the Dodge Ram trucks legendary performance capabilities. 

In 1990, the availability of the Cummins Turbodiesel engine increased, due to its popularity.

 

1994: New Models, Trim Level Revisions, and Changes in Model Designations 

 

 

In 1994, new models of the Dodge Ram trucks were introduced, and they were an even bigger hit than the first ones. They took the rugged good looks of a truck and mashed them together with a car-like interior. Combined with the fact the engines had just received upgrades again in 1993, Dodge had created the perfect recipe for success. 

The model designations were also changed over, and now the half-ton was labeled 1500, the three-quarter ton became the 2500, and the one ton was designated the 3500. Also, 1994 marked the year that Dodge was able to brag about their Ram trucks being the largest full-size truck on the market, which also meant they had the most space inside the cab. 

Naturally, new model designations also meant a revamp in trim levels. Now, the trim levels were the Work Special, LT, ST, and Laramie SLT. The Work Special introduced in 1993 was a bare bones work-truck model, and the LT and ST trims added some aesthetic tweaks. The Laramie was the pinnacle of luxury, and packed with comfort and convenience features — much like it is today. 

Any of this sounding familiar, yet? 1994 marked the year that Dodge Ram trucks swapped over to the model designations that currently define them. 

 

2009: The Dodge/Ram Breakup 

 

 

In October 2009, Dodge and Ram announced that they would be parting ways. Not only did this make long-time enthusiasts sad, but some were also concerned. They worried that the two companies splitting up would harm both the trucks and cars that were made by their collaborative efforts. Thankfully, they were wrong. 

Since the split, Dodge has been able to focus exclusively on the car side, and Ram was able to focus exclusively on trucks. The result? Dodge and Ram are two of the best-selling companies of the 2015-2016 market, and have had numerous back-to-back successes. Dodge produced a redesigned Challenger in 2015, and it’s the fastest and strongest muscle car ever produced with a supercharged engine that puts out 707 horsepower. Ram was able to release a 2016 Ram 3500 truck, that’s currently leading the segment with a towing capacity of 31,200 pounds. 

Without the split back in 2009, do you think these companies would be doing as well as they are today? Probably not. After all, the whole reason Ram branched off was so they could focus on trucks and Dodge could focus on cars. And we're reaping the benefits from both...