Curbside Classic: 1994 Dodge Ram 2500 – Despite His Protests, Ruby Took Her Love To Town Anyway

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Since the advent of Curbside Classic, Paul and Company have been able to capture and chronicle a vast array of automobiles.  We have also been able to document a number of remarkably rare automobiles, such as a Tatra in the United States (CC here), a six cylinder ’68 Charger (CC here), and even a Marmon (CC here).

This Dodge Ram is perhaps an equally rare bird.

Don’t let the external package persuade you into thinking this is just an ordinary 3/4 ton Dodge pickup.  Quite the opposite.  The history leading up to the creation of this “Golden Garnet” edition Ram is just shy of legendary.

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For years Dodge had been languishing in the perennial pickup sales race in the United States.  Chrysler Corporation was always the recipient of some degree of flak over this, mainly from the chattering ninnies in the automotive press.  Throughout the 1980s, the focus at Chrysler Corporation had been on cars and since Dodge had always been third in pickup sales anyway, the press-induced grief didn’t really bother anyone.  These pickups were a glutton for punishment and government fleets all over North America were perpetually clamoring for more durable, low-cost pickups.  Dodge was always able and eager to deliver.

1994 brought a wave of fresh energy to Chrysler Corporation with the introduction of the new Kenworth-on-a-diet look Ram pickup.  Sales jumped like a person being defibrillated, going from 100,000 in 1993 to 240,000 in 1994.  Everyone at Chrysler was deliriously jubilant and could almost hear Ford and GM saying “uh-oh” to themselves.  It was truly a moment of epic proportions.

Yet throughout history, there have always been those nay-sayers, those tedious wet blankets who need to be told to stuff a sock in it.  At their highest moment of glee, such happened for Dodge.

Lee Iacocca called Chrysler Chairman Bob Eaton.  Iacocca wasn’t keen on the new pickup.  Lee was concerned there wasn’t enough sizzle, pizzazz, and glamor with the new Ram.  As Iacocca did have some influence in the company, as well as with Eaton, time was taken to listen to him.

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Various records from Chrysler state Iacocca was emphatic that something similar to the Ford F-150 Eddie Bauer Edition needed to be created for the new Ram.  His concern was the big market of pseudo-outdoorsmen left untapped by the new pickup.  Knowing Iacocca had a formidable track record in identifying emerging markets, Chrysler management was reluctant to ignore him, but they were also hesitant to listen to him.  They knew Iacocca had had a few major blunders over the years, such as the 1981 Imperial (CC here), and they could almost hear him say “Ram” and “vinyl roof” in the same sentence.

A task force was assembled to see what could be done to placate Iacocca.  Their task was to create something that wouldn’t embarrass the company if it failed, yet would be in the Chrysler tradition should it realize success.

General Motors has their Skunk Works.  Ford has their Special Vehicle Team.  Chrysler had the Enhancement Division.  While the Japanese auto industry has sometimes been held up as a poster child of taking an idea and making it better, they had never been able to hold a candle to Chrysler’s long successful and vastly underpublicized Enhancement Division (E.D. for short).  Perhaps it was due to Chrysler having E.D. in the design studio, but this group of highly analytical thinkers had been creating silk purses from sow’s ears for over a quarter century.

Prime examples of their work were often derided, but were superior nonetheless.  Examples included…

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…taking a homely early ’70′s Buick LeSabre…

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…and fashioning it into the much more visually appealing 1974 Dodge Monaco.

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Several years later, the E.D. guys would utilize a 1977 Buick LeSabre (with its posterior erosion syndrome) and…

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…craft it into the grossly misunderstood and infinitely more attractive 1979 Dodge St. Regis.  The flipping headlight covers were truly a stroke of genius that fell on many unappreciative eyes.

This time the stakes were significantly higher as even perennial third place Dodge sold a lot more pickups than they did nearly any single model of car.  They wanted to do this right as the entire future of the Dodge Ram could be riding on an outcome they were given a mere ten calendar days to develop.

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Digging into their bag of tricks, the E.D. boys tossed around numerous ideas.  Installing the 8.0 liter V10 from a 2500 series Ram into a 1500 series pickup, a la Chevrolet’s 454 SS (CC here), seemed a bit too obvious.  Creating a 1500 series with a 5.9 liter V8 and tall gears, dubbed the “Interstate Cruiser” didn’t seem to jibe with the hardworking reputation Dodge was cultivating for their new Ram.  Inspiration hit when digging through the marketing files of Oldsmobile.

One of the consistencies in life is that in many bureaucratic organizations, ideas tend to become muddled somewhere between recommendation and execution.  In this case, the hijacking has been tracked to Kenyon E. Rodgers, a mid-level junior executive in Chrysler’s periphery Legal Intimidation & Exploitation Division (L.I.E. for short).

Rodgers, a true worry wart, was enamored with the ideas emanating from the E.D. guys, but also knew such a blatant reprise of a General Motors idea was more problematic than it would have been fifteen years prior.  Despite its sheer scarcity, Oldsmobile’s Rubies and Gold Edition Ciera (CC Capsule here) had garnered considerable media attention.  Knowing the automotive press would cover this Dodge like tabloids cover the British Royal Family, Ken Rodgers didn’t want this Ruby thing going to town in the automotive rags.

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Thus, an elaborate plan was devised to keep Iacocca at bay, avoid any legal shenanigans (either by L.I.E. or their GM counterparts), and test the waters with a cosmetic alteration of a new product.

After considerable legal input from his fellow attorneys, combined with input from Chrysler’s logistics personnel, Rodgers was able to help the bounty of the E.D. guys reach full bloom.

It was agreed there could be no reference to “Ruby” or “Rubies” in their marketing.  The concern was two-fold; first, it was obvious plagiarism.  Second, research had revealed a considerable number of currently registered Ram owners having wives named Ruby.  Thus the “Ruby and Gold” Oldsmobile moniker was molded into “Golden Garnet”.

Demographic research also concluded there was a narrow strip of interest for the alteration of a new product.  Thankfully, this was in line with Eaton’s desire to limit availability until market reaction could be better gauged.  Thus the “Golden Garnet” edition was limited to markets whose zip (postal) codes begin with the number 6 and to dealerships in towns in which the sum of the digits of the zip code was divisible by both three and seven.

In a further effort to limit liability should the program crash and burn, the “Golden Garnet” was limited to the 2500 series.

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Upon discovering this highly desirable and almost legendary Ram 2500, I was in awe.  Even more amazing, this example is diesel powered as evidenced by the cord erupting from under the hood.  As the zip code here is 65109, its discovery should not have been a surprise.  Dodge pickups are quite popular in these parts, so there could be another one floating around somewhere.

I had always assumed that these would live out in rural areas where there is always strenuous work to be done.  Thankfully I was wrong as our ruby had taken her loveliness to town.

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