The Little Engines That Could, Part 2: How 170 Cubic Inches Of Dodge Rammed A Challenge By Volkswagen


(first posted 10/3/2016)    In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the four-cylinder engine available in Ford trucks in the early 1940s.  For Part 2, let’s jump ahead twenty years and go to Highland Park.


1959 model shown


By 1960, Dodge was in bitter need of an updated pickup.  Their 1960 models were looking woefully dated and, to enhance its aura of agedness, the six-cylinder option was still a 120-horsepower flathead that dated back a mighty long time.  As was typically the case ack then with pickups, the six handily outsold the V8, doing so by as much as a factor of three on base model units.  Weight on pickups as shown was around 3,300 pounds.


With the new pickups in 1961, the only carryover from 1960 was the wheels.  This year also saw the introduction of the now famous 225 cubic inch (3.7 liter) slant six, introduced in Dodge passenger cars in 1960.  However, you still had to check an option box to obtain a 225; the base offering was less endowed.


It looked the same on the outside except for being a bit less tall, but the cylinder displacement was smaller by 55 cubes.  That’s right – starting in 1961 a person could obtain a 170 cubic-inch (2.8 liter) slant six in a half-ton pickup.

Dodge limited the availability of the 170 to the half-ton models.  Rated at 101 gross horsepower, this petite slant six made the old flathead six look like a powerhouse.


Dodge was the only domestic pickup to offer such an economy engine.  Reports from the time stated operating costs for this full-sized pickup were nearly as minimal as those of a compact Volkswagon pickup, which was selling quite well at the time. Neither Ford nor Chevrolet were really competitive in this realm.

While the 170 slant six was standard equipment in half-tons, by 1964 it was a zero-cost option as the 225 was now standard,  For 1966, the 170 was gone from pickups altogether.


The 170 had never been limited to just half-ton pickups as it was also available in Dodge’s delivery vans.  As a polite warning to customers, Dodge said the 170 was focused on economy, not performance.  There is sometimes truth in advertising.


The 170 in delivery vans wasn’t a unique idea as this engine was also readily found in the Dodge Sportsman vans.


The use of the 170 in pickups is the most fascinating as it doesn’t seem to be a typically envisioned power source for a pickup – or maybe it was simply overshadowed by the 225.  Regardless, 58.6% of 1961 Dodge pickups were powered by a slant six, with this percentage of six-bangers increasing to nearly 70% in 1962 and staying in the majority for a brief time longer.  So odds are a goodly number of these Dodges may have been sporting the junior leaning tower of power.

As with so many other things in the 1960s, times were changing.  By 1969, more than six out of ten new Dodge pickups would have an eight-cylinder engine with the 170 becoming a footnote in Dodge truck history.