Segment Eleven: 1981 to 1988 Lifestyle Pickups Part II

Author: Don Bunn
The pickups restyled and repackaged 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, new cab interiors, new name badges and a new 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.
As a way to position Dodge pickups in the market as strong, tough trucks the company adopted the new Ram symbol and name for pickups and vans. The Ram symbol dates back to 1933 when the famous

This one-ton dually crew cab pickup's styling is typical of years 1981 through 1985. Power came from the 4-barrel 5.9 liter V8 (Don Bunn)

Dodge Ram hood ornament was first used.

The Ram ornament had been pretty much dropped by the mid-fifties. 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. A rather attractive Ram hood ornament was placed on the hood of all pickups and chassis cabs.

The car based Rampage pickup was new in 1982. It was powered by the 2.2 liter 4-cylinder engine. (DaimlerChrysler)

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 1-barrel (225 cubic inch) slant six; the 5.2 liter 2-barrel (318 cubic inch) V8 and the 5.9 liter 4-barrel (360 cubic inch) V8.

The 4WD Dodge Power Ram 50 model was added to the company's import offerings in 1982. An optional 4-cylinder 2.3 liter turbodiesel was new in 1983. (DaimlerChrysler)

Two interesting new pickups for 1982 included the Rampage, the first front-wheel drive pickup built by a member of the Big Three. Rampage was built on the FWD Dodge Omni's 104.2 inch wheelbase chassis and boasted of a payload capacity of 1,140 pounds. It was powered by the company's 84 horsepower 2.2 liter four cylinder engine. The other new pickup for 1982 was the imported Power Ram 50. It was powered by a 2.6 liter four cylinder overhead cam Hemi engine. All other pickup models continued without significant change from 1981.

Another new pickup in 1982 was the D150 Miser (Promotional) pickup. It was Dodge's 2WD price leader and featured as standard the slant six engine with a manual 4-speed overdrive transmission for maximum gas economy. It was built on either the 115- or the 131-inch wheelbase with a 6 1/2- or 8-foot Sweptline box. It proved to be a very popular truck for those who preferred a full-size pickup but one with an appealing low price and excellent fuel economy. It was so popular a 4WD version was added in 1983. The Promotional pickups were changed to the D/W100 series in 1984 and continued through 1988.

Beginning in 1983 Dodge 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. Ramcharger production

Dakota pickups went on sale in July 1986 as 1987 model year trucks. The author photographed this short-box Dakota in July 1986 in Rochester, MN. It was the first Dakota to arrive at local dealers. (Don Bunn)

was taken out of the Warren, Michigan plant and moved to Mexico in 1985.

Crew cab and Utiline pickups were dropped after the 1985 model year. Management had high hopes for the Dakota to fill the voids left by these changes. Dakota came out in 1986 as a 1987 model in two series, 2WD and 4WD configurations, on two wheelbases and with 4 or 6 cylinder engines.

The 1988 Dodge Power Wagon LE half-ton (top) and the 1988 Dodge Ram 150LE (bottom) are typical of Dodge pickup's styling for model years 1986 through 1989. (DaimlerChrysler)

Pickups were freshened up in 1986 with a new grille, headlights bezels and bumpers.

The three standard engines -- the 3.7 liter slant six, the 5.2 liter and 5.9 liter V8s -- for full-size trucks continued through 1988 without change. A sprightly 4 cylinder 2.3 liter turbodiesel was made an option for D50 2WD and 4WD pickups in 1983.

The hot Shelby Dakota pickup, powered by a 318 was new in 1989.


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1986-1993: Diesel Pickups