(first posted 12/5/2016) Perhaps the most intriguing and unique of all of the Mexican Mopars is the short-lived, third generation Ramcharger. Engineered on a shoestring budget and dipping into the Chrysler parts bin, the ’99 Ramcharger represented the last gasp of the once popular two-door, full-size SUV format.
Two-door SUV sales had been in terminal decline. Full-size SUVs had graduated from being mere workhorses, fast becoming a regular sighting on suburban driveways throughout North America. The Chevrolet Suburban’s name finally seemed apt.
The full-size two-door models had fallen by the wayside, too impractical for many shoppers and perhaps too large for others. When the Ford Bronco gave way to the new, handsome Expedition, the only body style available was a four-door SUV. And although GM built prototypes of a two-door GMT-800 (above), the project never advanced.
The bodystyle remained popular in Mexico, however. In the US, the Ramcharger was axed in 1994 but the SUV continued to be manufactured in Mexico until 1996. With no replacement lined up, the nameplate took a leave of absence. This left the Durango as Dodge’s largest SUV but, although it was slightly larger than rivals like the Ford Explorer, it was very much in the shadow of the biggies from Ford and GM.
There was still demand for a full-size, two-door SUV in Mexico, so Chrysler’s Mexican operations managed to put together a new Ramcharger in just 24 months with a budget of only $3 million. To keep costs down, the ’99 Ramcharger used the tailgate of the Dodge Caravan and the rear-quarter windows of the Ram Quad Cab, but used a new frame due to the Ramcharger’s shorter wheelbase—113.7 inches, with a total length of 198 inches. Interestingly, the Ramcharger was available with a pair of side-mounted third-row seats which meant this two-door SUV could seat 8 people.
The Ramcharger was available with a choice of 5.2 and 5.9 Magnum V8 engines with a choice of automatic or manual transmissions. However, the truck was produced only in rear-wheel-drive—building a 4WD version would have significantly increased development costs.
Despite the lack of 4WD, the Ramcharger was well-received by critics in Mexico. Alas, it was the buyers that weren’t as enthusiastic, even though the truck was cheaper than a similarly-specified Durango. The third generation was sold for only 3 years with just 30,000 units produced in total.
There is a common belief that the Ramcharger could not have been sold in North America as it would not have met the more stringent safety standards. The Mexican market has always taken a more laissez faire approach to safety, and the base Ramcharger even went without airbags and anti-lock brakes. However, one of the designers on the project, Javier Galnares, told Motor y Volante that the truck was designed to meet US safety standards. So, the Ramcharger may not have been imported for any number of other reasons: torpid sales for trucks of this style; the lack of a 4WD option; and the potential cannibalization of Durango sales.
Chrysler missed out on some heady years for SUV sales during the early-2000s boom time in North America. To this day, there has not been another full-size SUV built off of the Ram platform despite encouraging remarks about the idea from Chrysler executives. And while sales of full-size SUVs eventually came back to earth, a present-day Ramcharger could prove to be a profitable beast for FCA. I have a suggestion for FCA executives: if you want to develop a new Ramcharger but you don’t want to spend too much, ask your Mexican colleagues to take another stab at it.
Ramcharger photographed in Coyoacán, Mexico City.