Dodge trucks have come a long way from their humble beginnings in the early 20th century. In 2019, over 630,000 brand new RAM trucks were sold in the U.S. alone, yet the brand has been at risk of discontinuation multiple times in the past.
Find out the story behind some of the most iconic American pickup trucks ever made, and Chrysler’s clever ways of staying relevant in the market and saving the brand from bankruptcy. What makes Dodge trucks such a solid piece of automotive history? Continue reading to find out.
Dodge Brothers – The Very Beginning
Henry Ford’s reputation plummeted following multiple bankruptcies in the early 1900s. He was desperately looking for a supplier for the Ford Motor Company, and the Dodge Brothers offered a helping hand.
With the Ford Motor Company on the edge of bankruptcy, Dodge Brothers were perfectly aware of the high risks. They demanded to own 10% of the Ford Motor Company, as well as all rights to it in the likely event of bankruptcy. The brothers also requested an upfront payment of $10,000. Ford agreed to their terms and the Dodge Brothers soon began developing cars for Ford.
The Partnership Turned Out Worse Than Expected
Dodge abandoned all of their other businesses to focus fully on Ford. In the first year, the brothers built 650 cars for Henry Ford and by 1914, more than 5,000 employees manufactured 250,000 automobile elements. The production numbers were high, but neither the Dodge Brothers or Henry Ford were satisfied.
Depending on a single supplier was risky for the Ford Motor Company, and the Dodge Brothers soon found out that Ford had been looking for alternatives. Dodge’s concerns grew even larger when they saw Ford building the world’s first moving assembly line in 1913.
How Ford Essentially Funded the Dodge Brothers
In 1913, Dodge decided to end the contract with Ford. The brothers continued developing Ford automobiles for another year. This was not, however, the end of problems between Ford and Dodge.
Ford Motor Company stopped paying Dodge’s stock shares in 1915. Of course, Dodge Brothers sued Ford and his company. The court ruled in favor of the brothers and ordered Ford to buy out their stocks for $25 million. This large sum was ideal for the Dodge brothers to start their own independent company.
The First Dodge
The first-ever Dodge car was built in late 1914. The brothers’ reputation remained high, hence there were over 21,000 dealership applications for their car even before the first sale. In 1915, the first production year for the Dodge Brothers, the company had over 45,000 sales.
The Dodge Brothers became extremely popular in America. By 1920, the company employed over 20,000 workers in Detroit who were able to assemble a thousand cars every day. Dodge became America’s number two brand barely five years after the first sale.
The Dodge Brothers Never Made A Pickup Truck
The brothers both died in the early 1920s, having sold hundreds of thousands of automobiles. Apart from the passenger cars, the Dodge Brothers only made one truck. It was a commercial panel van, not a pickup. The Dodge Brothers’ commercial van was introduced during World War I but never gained the popularity that the automobiles had.
The brothers never made a pickup truck, and the Dodge and Ram trucks sold today were born thanks to a completely different company.
The Graham Brothers
Ray, Robert, and Joseph Graham owned a very successful glass factory in Indiana. It was later sold and became Libbey Owens Ford, which produced glass for the automotive industry. The three brothers released their first truck body in 1919, named the “Truck-Builder.”
The Truck-Builder was sold as a basic platform consisting of a frame, cab, body and an internal gear drive that could then be specced by customers according to their individual needs. Customers often equipped the trucks with engines and transmissions from regular passenger cars. As the Truck-Builder gained popularity, the Graham brothers decided it was time to develop their own complete truck.
The Graham Brothers Truck
The Graham Brothers Truck became an immediate success on the market. The brothers were approached by Frederick J. Haynes, who was then the president of Dodge Brothers. Haynes saw a good opportunity to expand into the heavy-duty truck market without disrupting the production of Dodge automobiles.
In 1921, the Graham brothers agreed to develop trucks equipped with Dodge components, including a 4-cylinder Dodge engine and drivetrain. The 1.5-ton trucks were sold through Dodge dealerships and proved to be very popular among buyers.
Dodge Brothers Acquired Graham Brothers
Dodge Brothers bought a controlling 51% share of Graham Brothers in 1925. They bought the remaining 49% just a year later, acquiring the entire company and gaining new factories in Evansville and California.
Merging the two companies was good news for the three Graham brothers, as they remained a part of the company and received executive positions. Ray became the general manager, Joseph was now the vice-president of manufacturing and Robert became the sales manager of Dodge Brothers. The brothers became a part of a bigger, better-developed company. However, all three of them decided to leave Dodge Brothers just two years later.
Chrysler Acquired Dodge Brothers
In 1928, the Chrysler Corporation acquired Dodge Brothers, gaining Dodge automobiles as well as Graham-built trucks. Between 1928 and 1930, heavy-duty trucks were still badged as Graham trucks, meanwhile, the lighter trucks were badged as Dodge Brothers trucks. All Graham Brothers trucks became Dodge trucks by 1930.
As previously mentioned, the three Graham brothers left Dodge in 1928, having acquired Paige Motor Company just a year prior to their leave. They sold 77,000 cars in 1929, though the company went bankrupt in 1931 following the stock market crash in October 1929.
The Last Dodge Brothers Truck
Dodge introduced a half-ton pickup truck in 1929, just a year after the company was bought by Chrysler. It was the last truck developed fully by Dodge Brothers (the company, not the brothers themselves).
The truck was available with three different engine options: 2 six-cylinder Dodge engines that made 63 and 78 horsepower respectively, as well as a smaller four-cylinder Maxwell motor that made just 45 horsepower. It was one of the first trucks that came equipped with four-wheel hydraulic brakes, which drastically improved the safety of the vehicle.
Chrysler Dodge Trucks
From 1933 onward, Dodge trucks were powered by Chrysler motors as opposed to the Dodge engines that were previously used. The six-cylinder engines were a modified, more durable version of the powerplant used in Plymouth cars.
In the 1930s, Dodge introduced a new heavy-duty truck to its existing lineup. There were minor updates to the trucks throughout the ’30s, mainly improving the safety features. 1938 saw the opening of the Warren Truck Assembly Plant near Detroit, Michigan, where Dodge trucks are still assembled to this day.
The Dodge B Series
The replacement for the original post-war Dodge Truck was released in 1948. It was named the B series and was a revolutionary step for the company. The trucks, at the time, were very stylish and sleek. The B series was way ahead of competitors, as it featured a larger cab, taller seats, and large glass areas that were nicknamed “pilothouses” due to their great visibility and lack of blind spots.
The B series was more thought-out not just in terms of styling, the trucks also had improved handling, a more comfortable ride, and higher payload capacity.
The C Series Came Just A Few Years Later
The new C series trucks were released in 1954, just over five years after the debut of the B series. The introduction of the C series wasn’t just a marketing gimmick; the truck was completely redesigned from the ground up.
Dodge chose to keep the “pilothouse” cabin for the C series. The entire cabin was lower to the ground, and the manufacturer introduced a large, curved windshield. Once again, the comfort and handling were improved. The C series was the first Dodge truck that saw a new engine variant, a HEMI V8 motor (then called “double-rocker”) which was a lot more powerful than its competitors.
1957 – The Year Of Change
It became apparent to Dodge that style was a major factor for potential buyers. Therefore, the automaker decided to update the C series in 1957. The trucks made in 1957 featured hooded headlights, a stylish design that was brought over from Chrysler cars. In 1957, Dodge introduced duo-tone paint schemes to their trucks.
The trucks were named “Power Giants,” justified by the new V8 HEMI powerplant that peaked at 204 horsepower. The biggest six-cylinder variant received a power bump up to 120 hp.
The Light-Duty Power Wagon
The legendary Power Wagon was introduced in 1946 and the first light-duty civilian version was released in 1957, alongside the W100 and W200 trucks. Consumers wanted a mix of Dodge’s reliability found in their commercial trucks along with the 4WD and high payload capacity found in Dodge’s military vehicles. The Power Wagon was the perfect middle point.
The light-duty Power Wagon featured a conventional cab and a four-wheel-drive system that was previously used by the military. Aside from 4WD systems, the trucks didn’t have much in common with the original Power Wagon.
The Debut of The D Series
The successor to the C Series, the D Series Dodge truck, went public in 1961. The new D Series had a longer wheelbase, stronger frames, and more durable axles. Overall, the D Series Dodge trucks were tougher and larger. Interestingly, improvements to the truck’s durability worsened its handling compared to its predecessor.
The D Series saw the introduction of two new slant-six engine variants that peaked at either 101 or 140 horsepower, depending on the motor size. Additionally, Chrysler installed its newest high-tech component in the D Series, the alternator. The part allowed the battery to charge during idling.
The Dodge Custom Sports Special
Dodge redefined the high-performance truck market in 1964 with the debut of the Custom Sports Special, a rare optional package for the D100 and D200 pickup trucks.
The Custom Sports Special package included an engine upgrade to a powerful 426 Wedge V8 motor that generated 365 horsepower! The truck also came equipped with extra features such as power steering and brakes, tach, dual exhaust system, and a three-speed automatic gearbox. The Custom Sports Special has become a very rare collector’s gem and is one of the most sought-after Dodge trucks ever.
Adult Toys From Dodge
In the late 1970s, Dodge had to introduce an addition to the current lineup of trucks and vans to stop the number of sales from dropping year by year. For this very reason, the “Adult Toys From Dodge” campaign was launched.
The undebatable highlight of the campaign was the release of the Lil’ Red Express Truck in 1978. The truck was powered by a modified version of the small-block V8 that could be found in police interceptors. At the time of its release, the Lil’ Red Express Truck had the quickest 0-100MPH sprint of all American vehicles.
The Dodge D50
In 1972, both Ford and Chevrolet introduced a new addition to the segment of compact pickup trucks. The Ford Courier was based on a Mazda truck and the Chevrolet LUV was based on an Isuzu pickup. Dodge released the D50 in 1979 as a reply to its rivals.
The Dodge D50 was a compact truck that was based on a Mitsubishi Triton. As the moniker suggests, the D50 was smaller than Dodge’s bigger pickups. Chrysler corporation decided to sell a rebadged D50 as the Plymouth Arrow alongside the Dodge. The Plymouth was available until 1982 when Mitsubishi began selling the Triton directly in the U.S. The D50, however, remained until the mid-’90s.
The Dodge RAM
The Dodge Ram was introduced in 1981. At first, the Ram was essentially a facelifted, rebadged Dodge D Series. The American manufacturer kept the existing model designations, the Dodge Ram (D) and Power Ram (W, pictured above) indicated that the truck was equipped with either 2WD or 4WD respectively. The Dodge Ram was offered in three cab configurations (regular, extended “club” cab, and crew cab) and with two different bed lengths.
The Ram paid tribute to Dodge vehicles produced between the ’30s and the ’50s, as they had a unique ram hood ornament. That same ornament can be found on some first-generation Dodge Ram trucks, mainly the ones with 4WD.
The Rampage – Dodge’s Reply To The Chevy El Camino
Car-based pickups weren’t at all a new concept in the 1980s. The most popular model was the Chevrolet El Camino. Naturally, Dodge wanted a slice of the action and released the Rampage in 1982. Unlike most other trucks in this segment, the Rampage was based on a front-wheel-drive car, the Dodge Omni.
The Dodge Rampage came powered by a 2.2L inline-four engine that peaked at less than 100 horsepower — it certainly wasn’t fast. It wasn’t very tough either, as the truck had a load capacity of just over 1,100 pounds. Adding a rebadged Plymouth variant in 1983 didn’t increase the low sales and production was ceased in 1984, just two years after the initial release. Less than 40,000 units were made.
The Dodge Dakota
Dodge caused a stir with the release of an all-new mid-size truck in 1986, the Dakota. The brand new truck was slightly bigger than the Chevrolet S-10 and Ford Ranger, and originally came powered by either a flat-four or a V6 motor. The Dodge Dakota effectively created the mid-size truck segment that exists to this day.
In 1988, two years after the truck’s debut, the optional Sport package was introduced for both 2WD and 4×4 drivetrains. Apart from additional comfort features such as an FM radio with a cassette player, a 5.2L 318 cubic inch Magnum V8 engine was introduced as an extra option on the Sport trim.
The Dakota Convertible & The Shelby
For the 1989 model year, Dodge released two unique variants of the Dodge Dakota: The Convertible and the Shelby. The Dakota Convertible was the first drop-top truck since the Ford Model A (released in the late 1920s). Unique looks aside, the idea of a convertible pickup truck sparked controversy and the truck never really took off. Its production was ceased in 1991, with just a few thousand sold units.
In 1989, Carroll Shelby released the high-performance Shelby Dakota. Shelby ditched the 3.9L V6 motor, the limited truck came only with the 5.2L V8 found in the optional Sport package. At the time of its release, it was the second-best performing truck ever made, surpassed only by the Lil’ Red Express.
The Cummins Diesel
While the Dakota was a brand new truck in the ’80s, the Ram was getting outdated. The body dated to the D-Series from the early ’70s with just a slight refresh in 1981. Dodge had to save its dying flagship truck, and the Cummins diesel engine was the perfect solution.
The Cummins was a massive turbocharged flat-six diesel motor that was first introduced in the Dodge Ram in 1989. The motor was powerful, high-tech at the time, and easy to service. The Cummins made Dodge’s heavy-duty pickups competitive once again.
The Second Generation Dodge Ram
In 1993, less than 10% of new pickup truck sales were Dodge trucks. Cummins made up nearly half of the Ram sales. Chrysler had to update the Ram to stay relevant in the market.
A year later, the second-gen Ram made its debut. The truck was redesigned to look similar to “big rigs” and was lightyears ahead of its competitors. The cab was roomier, the engines were more powerful and their payload capacity increased. The Ram received a major update treatment inside and out.
The New Dakota
After the Ram received an update in 1993, it was time for the midsize Dakota to get similar treatment. The new, second-gen Dodge Dakota was introduced in 1996. The exterior styling reflected the Ram, hence the midsize truck was soon nicknamed the “Baby Ram.”
The second-generation Dodge Dakota was smaller and sportier than the Ram and came in three cab variants and different motors ranging from a 2.5L straight-four through to a powerful 5.9L V8. In 1998, Dodge introduced a limited-edition R/T package for the Sport trim. The R/T was powered by a 5.9L 360cid Magnum V8 that peaked at 250 horsepower. Available only with a rear-wheel-drive, the R/T was a true high-performance sports truck.
The Third Generation Dodge Ram
The third generation of the Ram made its first public debut at the Chicago Auto Show in 2001 and was available for sale a year later. The truck received a major update in terms of exterior and interior features and styling. It also had better overall performance and durability.
The updated Dodge Ram rapidly increased the number of sales. Between 2001 and 2002, more than 400,000 units were sold, with over 450,000 sales between 2002 and 2003. Sales were still, however, a lot lower than GM and Ford trucks.
Dodge Ram SRT 10 – The Pickup With A Viper’s Heart
Dodge unveiled the crazy high-performance variant of the Ram in 2002, though the prototype of the SRT based on the second-gen Ram dates back to 1996 and went public in 2004. The truck set the world record for the fastest production truck in 2004. Production ended in 2006, with a little more than 10,000 units in total.
The Ram SRT-10 was a record-breaker mainly because of its powerplant. Dodge engineers shoved a massive 8.3L V10 under the hood, the same engine that powered the Dodge Viper. In effect, the Ram SRT-10 was able to sprint to 60 MPH in under 5 seconds and reach a top speed of just below 150 miles per hour.
The Disappointing Third Gen Dakota
Dodge updated the midsize Dakota for the third time in 2005. The debut of the third generation of the Dakota was rather underwhelming, as the truck was not even available in a regular cab (2-seat 2-door) trim. The Dakota, despite the public’s disapproval, was one of the most capable trucks in its class.
The legendary R/T trim (Road and Track) that was optional for the second-gen Dakota made a comeback in 2006. It turned out to be rather disappointing, as it only had minor stylistic changes that distinguished it from the base model. The performance of the R/T remained the same as the base V8.
The Return Of The Power Wagon
The Dodge Power Wagon made a return in 2005, after being absent on the market for decades. The truck was based on a 2500 Ram and had improved off-road performance.
The new Dodge Ram Power Wagon was powered by a 5.7L HEMI V8 motor. On top of that, Dodge’s special off-road version of the 2500 Ram came equipped with electronically controlled locking differentials, both front and rear, massive tires, and a factory body lift. The Power Wagon has stood the test of time and is still available for sale today.
The 2006 Ram Facelift
The Dodge Ram received an update in 2006. The truck’s steering wheel was replaced with the one found in Dodge Dakotas, the infotainment system came with Bluetooth support, and a DVD entertainment system was added for the rear seats, along with wireless headphones. The Ram was fitted with a new front bumper and updated headlights.
2006 marked the end of the SRT-10’s production number, just two years after its debut. That same year, Dodge introduced a new “mega cab” variant available for the Ram, which provided an additional 22 inches of cab space.
The Fourth Generation Ram
The next generation of the Ram was first unveiled in 2008, and the fourth-gen went on sale a year later. The Ram was once again upgraded inside and out to stay up-to-date with its competitors.
Some of the new features of the fourth generation Ram included a new suspension system, an optional four-door cab, and a new Hemi V8 engine option. At first, only the Dodge Ram 1500 was released, but the 2500, 3500, 4500, and 5500 models were added to the lineup less than a year later.
The Birth Of RAM Trucks
In 2010, Chrysler decided to create RAM, or Ram Truck Division, in order to separate Ram trucks from Dodge passenger cars. Both Dodge and Ram use the same logo.
The creation of the Ram Truck Division affected the naming of the trucks in the lineup. The Dodge Ram 1500 was now referred to simply as the Ram 1500. The change affected the Ram’s smaller cousin, the Dodge Dakota, which was now named the Ram Dakota.
The End Of The Dakota
The last-ever Ram Dakota rolled off the Michigan assembly line on August 23rd, 2011. Dakota’s production run spanned across 25 years and three different generations. The interest in compact trucks was on the decline in the early 2010s and there was no need for the Dakota anymore. The third generation’s questionable reputation didn’t help, either.
Another problem that caused the discontinuation of the Dakota was its price tag. The midsize truck was priced similarly to its bigger counterpart, the Ram 1500. Naturally, most customers went for the bigger, more powerful alternative.
RAM Updates In 2013
The Ram received a minor update in 2013. Dodge badging in the interior was replaced with RAM, due to Chrysler’s decision to separate Ram trucks from Dodge cars in 2010. The truck’s front end was facelifted, too.
Beginning in 2013, RAM trucks came equipped with optional air suspension and a new infotainment system. The 3.7L V6 engine option was discontinued, and the 4.7L V8 became the truck’s base engine. The all-new 3.6L V6 engine was introduced, which provided a better fuel economy than the outdated 3.7L. There were also new trim levels to choose from, the Laramie and Laramie Longhorn.
The Ram Rebel
The RAM Rebel made its debut in 2016 and was a more toned-down alternative to the Power Wagon. The Rebel’s blacked-out grille, large tires, and a 1-inch body lift made the truck easy to distinguish from other trim levels.
The Rebel came powered by either a 3.6L V6 (a new engine option that was introduced in 2013) or a massive 5.7L HEMI V8 that generated 395 horsepower. Four-wheel drive was available with either engine option, but a rear-wheel-drive system was only available with the V8.
The Fifth Generation
The latest, fifth generation of the RAM was unveiled in Detroit in early 2018. The updated Ram features an updated, more aerodynamic exterior styling, and optional full LED headlights. The tailgate and steering wheel both receive an updated “Ram’s head” emblem.
There are seven different trim levels available for the fifth-gen Ram Truck, as opposed to 11 trims for the fourth-gen. The Ram 1500 is only available in four-door cab configurations, while its Heavy-Duty counterpart comes with either a two-door regular cab, four-door crew cab or four-door mega cab.
The Revival Of The Dakota
After its absence since 2011, FCA is expected to bring back the Dakota. The manufacturer confirmed the return of a midsize pickup truck.
There are no confirmed technical specifications at this point, but the truck will likely be similar to the existing Jeep Gladiator pickup. The 3.6L V6 powerplant widely used across FCA vehicles will certainly be an option on the upcoming Dakota, too. Perhaps, similarly to the upcoming Hummer pickup, the revived Ram Dakota will be an electric truck?
Between the 1910s and 1920s, Fargo manufactured its brand of trucks. In the 1920s, however, Chrysler purchased Fargo Trucks and merged the company with Dodge Brothers and Graham Trucks over the next few years. From then, Fargo trucks were essentially rebadged Dodge Brothers trucks. Chrysler discontinued the Fargo brand in the U.S. in the ’30s, but the company lived on.
Chrysler continued selling Fargo-badged Dodge trucks outside of the U.S. until the late ’70s, when the automaker stopped producing heavy trucks and Chrysler Europe was purchased by PSA Peugeot Citroen. The Fargo brand still hadn’t vanished then, as some of the trucks were manufactured by Turkish Askam, a descendant of Chrysler founded in Istanbul in the 60s. Once Askam went bankrupt in 2015, the Fargo brand was gone once and for all.