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Although Dodge had produced trucks since 1917, the 1981 pickups were the first to sport the Ram name. Dodge actually used a Ram's head hood ornament back in 1933 to characterize its trucks as rugged vehicles. The symbol was dropped in the 1950s and then resurrected for 1981 when Lee Iacocca (then President and CEO at Chrysler Corp.) and Dodge's marketing team decided to name Dodge's trucks after the tough beast and brought back the old mascot.
The 1981 pickups kept the previous year's model designations, i.e., a "D" for two-wheel-drive trucks and a "W" to signify four-wheel-drive trucks. The numbers after the letter indicated what the truck was rated to haul: 150 meant half ton, 250 meant three-quarter ton and 350 meant one ton. Thus a Ram D150 was a two-wheel-drive, half-ton pickup. Four-wheel drive versions were called Power Rams.
As before, Dodge's pickups could be had in a variety of cab and bed configurations. Standard cab, extended cab (called Club Cab) and four-door Crew Cab styles offered various passenger-toting ability with wheelbases that ranged from 115 inches (for a standard cab with a 6.5-foot bed) to 165 inches (for a Crew Cab with an 8-foot bed). Bed styles consisted of the nostalgic Utiline (that featured separate rear fender pods and a narrow bed) and the more modern and smooth-sided Sweptline models.
Sporting fresh sheet metal, the 1981 trucks weighed less, were more resistant to rust and had a more aggressive demeanor with slightly bulging fenders and a large egg-crate style grille flanked by single headlights. A new instrument panel updated the interior and improvements to the air conditioning and heating systems made them more efficient.
Under the new skin, the same choice of powerplants that served Dodge well for years continued, ranging from the reliable but tepid 3.7-liter (225 cubic-inch), 95-horsepower slant six that dated back to the Kennedy Administration, through a 5.2-liter (318 cubic-inch), 140-horse V8, up to the 5.9-liter (360 cubic-inch) V8 that kicked out 170 horses. The Power Ram trucks received automatically locking front hubs.
Buyers had a choice of four trim levels ranging from the base Custom models that were about as luxurious as a taxi cab, to the Custom SE (which had various chrome accents on the body and a more plush interior with cloth upholstery and carpeting), the Royal (which added more body trim around the tailgate and roof areas, woodgrain interior accents and a dome light for the pickup bed) and on to the top-of-the-line Royal SE (which added even more bright exterior trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and oil pressure and engine temperature gauges).
1982 was rather uneventful, except for the introduction of the Ram D150 Miser, a vehicle aimed at those who needed a pickup truck but wanted decent fuel mileage. The Miser lived up to its name with its frugal powerteam setup comprised of the slant six engine hooked up to a four-speed manual gearbox. Gold pinstripes and a Ram's head hood ornament spiffed up this economy-minded model.
A four-wheel-drive version of the Miser debuted for 1983 and Power Ram 250 and 350 models were fitted with the previously optional, three-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission as standard equipment. Club Cabs were dropped this year.
In 1984 the Miser name was dropped. The new D100 and W100 series trucks essentially took its place, having the same powertrain configurations as the '83 Miser.
The 1985 Power Ram was made more user-friendly via a Ram Trac transfer case that allowed shifting in and out of the four-wheel-drive mode while traveling as fast as 55 mph. Other than this mechanical upgrade, no changes occurred for this year.
A new grille with four large rectangular openings marked the 1986 Ram pickups. Dodge pared down its full-size pickup truck offerings by dropping both the old-fashioned Utiline as well as the huge Crew Cab body styles.
1987 brought minor refinements for the Ram. New textured switches for the power windows and door locks allowed operation by their feel, and a new paint process that used an anti-chip primer along with a clear top-coat increased the longevity of the truck's luster. A hydraulic clutch for six-cylinder models reduced effort, noise and vibration from this component.
Electronic fuel injection debuted in 1988 for the 5.2-liter V8 and offered improved overall performance as compared to the previous carbureted version. A new trim level, the luxurious LE, debuted this year, replacing both of the previous Royal editions.
New and improved engines were the big news for 1989. The ancient 3.7-liter slant six was retired and replaced by a virile 3.9-liter V6 sporting fuel injection and 125 horsepower. The 5.9-liter V8 jumped on the injection bandwagon as it received this modern induction system and a bump in output to 190 horsepower. The 5.9 also had redesigned cylinder heads, and all the gas engines got beefed-up push rods and rocker arms for increased longevity. Offering big rig pulling power was the newly optional Cummins Turbodiesel engine option. The Cummins engine was a big (5.9-liter) inline six-cylinder engine that put out 160 horsepower and 400 foot-pounds of torque. Included with the Cummins option was a host of other features, such as heavy-duty upgrades to the starter, battery, alternator and cooling system. Transmission choices for the Cummins were a five-speed manual and three-speed automatic. A 30-gallon fuel tank also came with the diesel engine. Helping to rein in the extra power from the new engines was a rear-wheel Antilock Braking System (ABS) that was standard on all Rams.
Availability of the Cummins turbodiesel engine was increased for 1990, allowing more buyers to enjoy this powerful workhorse. Answering the need for more passenger (or in-cab storage) space was the return of the Club Cab. The entry-level Ram 100 designation was replaced by the Ram 150S nomenclature, ostensibly to elevate the status of Dodge's base truck.
An overdue facelift took place in 1991, highlighted by a larger grille with Dodge's now signature cross-hair design, and wide lower bodyside moldings. A redesigned rear bumper and tailgate applique completed the exterior update and new cloth upholstery made the interior more inviting. Engine choices were unchanged with the 3.9-liter V6, 5.2-liter V8, 5.9-liter V8 and 5.9-liter Cummins Turbodiesel handling propulsion and towing duties.
A serious boost in power for 1992 earned the 3.9- and 5.2-liter engines the Magnum name and horsepower ratings of 180 and 230, respectively. Sequential, multipoint fuel injection and larger exhaust systems were two of the many tweaks that accounted for these two engines' increased muscle. A pair of new transmissions debuted as well: a heavy-duty five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic (for gas engines only). Cruise control was now made optional for diesel engines.
The last year of this generation, 1993, saw the 5.9-liter V8 catch up to its smaller siblings with the adoption of sequential multipoint fuel injection, more horsepower (now at 230 ponies) and the Magnum name. Although peak horsepower was the same as the smaller 5.2-liter V8, the 5.9 boasted more torque (325 ft.-lbs. versus 280) and hence greater payload and towing capacity. Ram 150 models could now be ordered with the 5.9-liter V8 as well as the 30-gallon fuel tank. A Work version of the Ram 150 debuted and trim levels were revamped to now include Base, Work, Work Special and Super LE models. Base trucks were just that, as they had neither rear bumper nor carpeting. The Work added a rear bumper, the 30-gallon fuel tank, bigger mirrors and intermittent wipers. A Work Special had a more luxurious interior with cloth (versus vinyl) seating. And the Super LE featured air conditioning; power windows, locks and mirrors; cruise control; and a plush interior.
An all-new Ram was introduced for 1994 and was an immediate hit with its combination of rugged looks, powerful engine lineup and car-like interior. Available only in a standard cab, the Ram's model designations changed to 1500 (half ton), 2500 (three-quarter ton) and 3500 (one ton). Dodge boasted that the new Ram was the largest full-size standard cab pickup available and, as a result, had the most passenger and in-cab cargo room. Wheelbases measured in at either 118.7 inches (6.5-foot bed) or 134.7 inches (8-foot bed).
Trim levels were revised and included the Work Special, LT, ST and luxurious Laramie SLT. As expected, the Work Special was bare bones, the LT and ST models added features such as a chrome (versus painted) grille, exterior clearance lights and a power take-off adapter (on 2500 and 3500 models), and the Laramie SLT was like the previous generation's Super LE: loaded to the gills. A 40/20/40 split front seat in the Laramie SLT had a center armrest/storage bin large enough to hold a laptop computer.
Engine choices in the new Ram were impressive in their variety and power output, and even though some of them lost a few horsepower to emissions tuning, they still had best-in-class payload and towing ratings. The engines and their output were as follows: 3.9-liter, 175-horsepower V6; 5.2-liter, 220-horsepower V8; a pair of 5.9-liter, 230-horsepower V8s (one rated as heavy duty with more low-end torque); 5.9-liter Cummins Turbodiesel (with 175 horsepower and 420 ft-lbs of torque for manual transmissions and 160 horses/400 ft-lbs for automatics); and a new V10 with a huge 8.0 liters worth of displacement. The big V10 debuted halfway through the model year and belted out 300 horsepower and 450 ft.-lbs. of torque, making it the most powerful gasoline engine available in a pickup. Transmissions now included a four-speed automatic option for the Cummins Turbodiesel as well as the V10.
Leading-edge upgrades in the area of safety also took place, with the Ram being the first full-size pickup featuring a standard driver airbag and the option of four-wheel ABS on 1500 and 2500 models.
1995 saw the debut of a Club Cab version of the new Ram. Available in either the ST or Laramie SLT trim levels, the Club Cab featured the 40/20/40 split front seat and swing-out quarter windows for rear-seat passengers. A Sport package (which required either the 5.2-liter or 5.9-liter V8) was now available and stood apart from the other Rams with its color-keyed grille and front bumper, chrome wheels, white-lettered tires, foglights and obligatory "Sport" decals. Pleasing audiophiles was an optional Infinity stereo with CD player and graphic equalizer.
In its ongoing effort to lead in the area of motive power, Dodge offered an optional Natural Gas version of the 5.2-liter V8, rated at 200 horsepower. And as if the 400 ft.-lbs. of torque that poured out of the Cummins Turbodiesel weren't enough, this engine (when hooked up to the five-speed manual gearbox) could now pump out as much as 430 ft.-lbs. of brute twisting force. Later in the year, ABS became optional on 3500 series trucks.
Mechanical upgrades continued for 1996, with the V10 acquiring sequential operation for its multipoint fuel injection system. The 5.9-liter, diesel six-banger grew stronger still, with ratings increased to 215 horsepower/440 ft.-lbs. of torque (for manual transmission versions) and 180 horsepower/420 ft.-lbs. of torque (for automatic transmission versions). A Camper Special package, consisting of a heavy-duty suspension, was introduced this year. Automatic transmissions were now electronically controlled for smoother operation and more intelligent gearshifting. 1996 Ram owners had an easier time locating underhood service points, as they were now highlighted in yellow.
A Ram Indy 500 Special Edition debuted this year and featured the same paint scheme; blue with two broad stripes down the hood and tail, as the car that paced Indy that year, Dodge's Viper GTS coupe. The Indy 500 S.E. was based on a two-wheel-drive Ram 1500 SLT Sport standard cab and featured 17-inch wheels/tires as well as a more powerful 5.9-liter V8 (with 245 horsepower) than one could get on any other Ram pickup.
1997 proved that Dodge wasn't one to rest on its laurels, as the company added detail refinements to its popular Ram pickups for this year. A few new options and features increased the luxury factor of the big trucks: available leather seating and woodgrain door trim (in the Laramie SLT), keyless/illuminated entry, a stereo with both CD and cassette decks and deep-tint quarter windows for Club Cab models. An optional upgrade (dubbed SS/T for Super Sport Truck) was offered for Rams equipped with the Sport package and 5.9-liter V8 and included 17-inch wheels/tires, a performance-tuned suspension, a throat-ier exhaust and a paint scheme sporting two big center stripes that echoed the look of the previous year's Indy 500 truck.
The Quad Cab debuted in 1998 and was basically a Club Cab fitted with reverse-hinged rear doors to allow easier ingress/egress for rear-seat passengers as well as easier loading/unloading of cargo. Other improvements included illuminated power window and door lock switches, new front seats with integral seatbelts (for Club Cab and Quad Cab models), a revised instrument panel and door trim and the option of a power driver seat with power lumbar adjustment.
Engine changes included more power for the 5.9-liter gas engine, now rated at 245 horsepower for all applications (except the Sport package, in which case, a full 250 horses were at the driver's disposal) and increased availability for the V10 and Turbodiesel engines, now optional for the short wheelbase 2500 series Club- and Quad Cab models.
The standard features list grew to include a 34-gallon fuel tank (previously standard on long-wheelbase models only), a chrome grille for the Work Special, power/heated exterior mirrors, an anti-theft system and a passenger airbag. On ST Club- and Quad Cab models, the rear seat could be deleted to allow greater in-cab storage capacity.
Changes for 1999 included increased power for the turbodiesel engine, now rated at 230 horsepower/450 ft.-lbs. of torque (manual transmission) and 215 horsepower/420 ft.-lbs. of torque (automatic transmission). Other upgrades took place this year, such as a one-touch-down feature for the driver window, slightly revised graphics for the Sport package, programmable keyless entry and optional steering wheel-mounted stereo controls. The top-dog Ram's name was shortened from Laramie SLT to simply SLT.
A rugged Off-Road 4X4 package for Ram 1500 four-wheel-drive pickups debuted for 2000, making these already tough trucks even more so with larger (17-inch) wheels fitted with aggressive LT275/70R17 all-terrain tires, beefed-up suspension, limited-slip differential, transmission oil cooler, skid plates, tow hooks and foglamps. Additional heavy-duty components for the Off-Road 4X4 included an upgraded radiator, alternator and battery.
All Rams benefited this year from upgrades to the front suspension, steering and braking systems that improved ride and handling characteristics as well as stopping
performance. Rear suspensions on 2500 and 3500 models were revised for a better ride when the truck was loaded and tires on these models were also upgraded for better handling.
For those seeking maximum luxury in their rig, an SLT+ option package was available that included leather seating, Infinity stereo with cassette and CD decks, heated/power driver and passenger seats, trip computer and steering wheel-mounted stereo controls.
2001, the eighth and last year of the second-generation Ram saw no changes.
Careful not to fix what wasn't broken, Dodge's completely revamped 2002 Ram 1500 keeps the "big rig" styling that helped make the previous generation so endearing to truck enthusiasts.
With two cab styles (regular and Quad), two bed lengths (6.3 feet and 8 feet) and three trim levels (base ST, mid-level SLT, luxury SLT Plus) available, there's a Ram for everyone. Additionally, a Sport package is optional on the SLT and SLT Plus.
Shortening the bed length by 3 inches and adding it to the passenger compartment gives the new Ram Quad Cab the expansive passenger room of a crew cab, while keeping the truck's length roughly the same as last year's truck.
Engine choices consist of two new units and an old standby. The new motors are a 3.7-liter V6 with 215 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque and a 4.7-liter V8 that produces 235 horses and 295 lb-ft. Only the 2WD Regular Cab Rams come with the V6, all others have the 4.7-liter V8, which has actually been around since 1999, when it debuted in the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Returning is the 5.9-liter V8 with 245 ponies and 335 lb-ft of twist. A five-speed manual is standard on the two smaller engines, with a four-speed automatic optional and standard on the 5.9.
The Ram 1500's big brothers, the 2500 and 3500 got their updates in 2003. In addition to the latest Ram styling, the heavies got more powerful engines (including a Hemi 5.7-liter V8 with 345 horsepower and 375 pound-feet of torque), greater towing capacities (up to 13,650 pounds) and increased safety via the upgrade to three-point belts for center seats and the option of side curtain airbags.
Though it was just redesigned, a number of key improvements for the Dodge Ram arrived for 2003. A five-speed automatic became optional for the 3.7-liter V6 and 4.7-liter V8 engines, promising better performance and efficiency compared to the four-speed unit. Later in the model year, the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 debuted to replace the old 5.9-liter Magnum. Boasting 345 hp, the Hemi cranked out 100 horses more than the Magnum. A couple of new packages, the Off-Road and the Work Special, debuted as well. The former had the expected skid plates, upgraded cooling and all-terrain tires while the latter was essentially a stripped-down truck that substituted painted components (such as the bumpers and grille) for chrome and did without fancy wheels. Lastly, the Laramie trim level returned to replace the SLT Plus.
The big news for 2004 concerned electronics, as both Bluetooth connectivity and a navigation system bowed. This year also brought a new full-time four-wheel-drive option while the Laramie was updated via styling tweaks that included a new grille and interior accents.
A six-speed manual gearbox became standard on the 3.7-liter V6 and 4.7-liter V8 engines for 2005 while the crew cab Rams gained the options of a power sunroof and Sirius Satellite Radio.
In addition to the debut of the massive Mega Cab crew cab model (its 20-inch longer cabin offered limousinelike rear room), an extensive midcycle refresh took place for 2006 that gave the Ram a number of style, luxury and hardware updates. A new front end design featured larger headlights and a more angular lower grille border while the cabin received a new dash, console and seats. A new navigation system as well as a rear-seat DVD system came on line, while under the skin was found a stiffer frame, a new independent front suspension (excluding the Mega Cab) and a front-axle disconnect system tied into a new electronic transfer case. Fuel-efficiency of the 5.7-liter V8 was improved slightly with the new multi-displacement system that, under certain low-load conditions (such as cruising on a level highway), shuts down up to four cylinders seamlessly.
Stability control became available for 2007, as did keyless remote starting. Other changes included the 4.7-liter V8 becoming E85 fuel compatible and the use of stain-resistant cloth upholstery.
Although 2008 would be the last year of this generation, it did not just fade away quietly. Making noise was a powerful new 4.7-liter V8 that packed 310 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque, significant increases over the previous 235 hp and 300 lb-ft. A Trailer Sway Control feature now came with the optional stability control and the four-wheel-drive models were fitted with a revised steering linkage.
As expected, the latest Dodge Ram offers more of everything — style, luxury and performance. However, it also offers something not typically seen in a traditional full-size pickup truck: a coil spring rear suspension as opposed to the old-fashioned (though certainly rugged) leaf spring design. Benefits include a smoother ride, lighter weight and improved off-road performance.
Beneath the handsome, sculpted lines is a more powerful 5.7-liter Hemi V8 making a healthy 390 horses. And thanks to an improved cylinder deactivation system and a more aerodynamic body, the big V8 rates the same gas mileage as the weakling base V6. The latter soldiers on with a four-speed automatic, while the 4.7-liter V8 (again paired with a five-speed automatic) offers better performance with virtually the same fuel mileage.
The cabin saw noticeable improvements in materials and build quality while storage spaces are plentiful — including, on crew cab models, watertight compartments under the rear floor.
Body style availability once again consists of a regular cab, extended ("Quad") cab and crew cab. The latter was a traditional crew cab that replaced the Mega Cab, which was evidently deemed too "Mega" by customers. Trim levels are traditional as well, with base ST, midlevel SLT and top-dog Laramie.
Key options, depending on trim level, include the "RamBox" (a pair of large built-in compartments atop the bed sides), a rearview parking camera, a navigation system with real-time traffic reporting, Bluetooth, iPod integration, and heated/cooled front seats. The TRX package is geared toward off-roaders with its skid plates, heavy-duty rear shocks, tow hooks, two-tone paint and fender flares.
Thanks to its well-rounded nature and strengths in key areas such as performance, comfort, build quality and even styling, Edmunds editors have agreed that the latest Dodge Ram stands tall as one of the top picks in the very competitive full-size pickup segment.