Automotive History: The Case Of The Very Rare 1978 Dodge Diesel Pickup And The Missing Diesel Van

The Great American Diesel Epoch (1975 – 1986) included an astonishing array of cars and trucks that are starting to disappear from the streets as well as our memories. One of the rarer ones was Dodge’s second (more on the first below) foray into diesels in their light trucks, a dozen years before the big Cummins 6BT finally found a long-term home in them. In 1978, Dodge’s partnership with Mitsubishi resulted in the 6DR5 diesel being available in the 1978 (and possibly 1979) D100, D200, and (technically) the B-series van. Good luck finding one of those vans.

 

At the time, the idea of a diesel Dodge van was rather intriguing to me. I should have ordered one, because it might be the only one on the planet. Although some 2,835 diesel pickups were known to be built, I can’t find any record of anyone actually owning one of the vans. Even finding good info and pics of one of the diesel pickups is hard; these very nice ones are courtesy of Marc Lerner, posted at nissandiesel.dyndns.org.

Why didn’t it sell better? How about the fact that it made 105 hp (and 163 ft. lbs of torque, less than the slant six)? This was a naturally-aspirated unit, like so many in the first half of the Great Diesel Epoch. There is talk of folks retrofitting them with turbos, but who knows if any are still intact. Anyway, owners of them say they will trundle along at sixty or so, and get a solid 20 mpg doing it. Needless to say, acceleration is very leisurely. Transmission was a choice of a four-speed stick or A727 Loadflite.

I may have found some nice shots of the Dodgubishi, but I can’t find anything on the diesel van; no brochure, no forum threads, nothing. Except that it was announced, and allpar makes mention of it too.

Just to make the pre-Cummins Dodge diesel history lesson complete, here’s a shot of a Perkins six cylinder that was available as an option on the 1962 D-Series pickup. Perkins had been available on export-only Dodges for some years, including some sedans, but in 1962, it was listed as an option for US buyers too. Since only some 1,000 were sold, it quickly dropped off the radar again. It took three tries for Dodge to score with a diesel truck, but that one was a home run.