(first posted 2/17/2013) Chevrolet redefined the full-size SUV market in 1969 with their seminal K-5 Blazer. By shortening their full-size 4×4 pickup and giving it a removable hard top, they avoided all the extra cost that Ford essentially wasted with their compact gen-1 Bronco (CC here). The Blazer crushed the Bronco in sales, and Dodge quickly took notice. For 1974, Dodge created their own “Blazer”, an almost perfect facsimile of the real thing–and in doing so, charged ahead of Ford, which wouldn’t Blazerize the Bronco until 1978. All of which makes me speculate: Did this Ramcharger actually outsell the Bronco during those years? Quite possibly; if so, it was probably the only time in the modern era a Dodge truck ever outsold a Ford–and even if not, they still beat Ford to the big-boy SUV party.
I don’t know where to dig up those sales stats, but I’ll bet one of you does. Dodge executed the Blazer formula well enough, as eventually would Ford. In retrospect, it was an all-too obvious formula, and I’m somewhat surprised that Ford didn’t take this approach in the first place. Of course, there’s something to be said for the compact dimensions of the original Bronco in tight, off-road situations, but based on extra width alone, how often would a full-size SUV not make it through?
Yes, the entire steel upper-body was removable, as this picture shows. But only on the first-year 1974 models did the window frame come off along with the top.
If you look closely at the door frame in this picture, the joint where it has been cut, just behind the vent window, is apparent. That gave it a true convertible look, as seen two photos up.
Starting in 1975, the window frame remained intact, which gave this appearance. I suspect there were “issues” with the original approach.
It should be noted that the steel top was strictly optional on these early Ramchargers. One might assume the rather flimsy-looking soft top was standard, but even that might not be a safe bet. Get this: The Ramcharger came standard with only a driver’s seat! It was a one-passenger vehicle, unless one ponied up for the passenger-side stool. And of course, a rear seat was also optional.
Since our featured Ramcharger doesn’t have the 1974’s removable front-window frame, this is either a ’75 or ’76 (the ’77 got a new grille). Either way, these early Ramchargers aren’t exactly common anymore.
Speaking of rare, I haven’t seen a Plymouth Trail Duster version in years. This was as close as modern-era Plymouth came to offering a real truck, but despite the SUV boom by 1981 the Trail Duster had been swept into the dust heap of history. It just wasn’t going to happen…
So what did the Ramcharger (and TD) have going for them? Well, under the hood, some pretty stout power trains: everything from the 225 cubic inch (3.7-liter) slant six up to the big 440 V8. Most were powered by the 318 and 360 cubic inch versions of the LA engine. There was a choice of a Loadflite TF-727A, or a New Process NP-435 granny-gear four speed manual transmission, but in all cases power was transmitted full-time to all four wheels via a NP-203 transfer case.
Needless to say, when Ford’s full-size Bronco arrived in 1978, the Ramcharger was quickly relegated back to Dodge’s usual status of third-place wannabe. In 1981 the Ramcharger was updated with a fixed roof and large rear side windows. We’ve covered that second generation here. It soldiered along until 1993, by which time the whole genre had long since moved to more civilized four-door SUVs. The Ramcharger was by then a living relic of another time.