Curbside Beater: 1987 Dodge Ram 250 – The Best $400 I Ever Spent

Long, long ago in November 2006,  I had just moved across the state and purchased another house (which I’m doing yet again – it’s weird how life goes in cycles at times).  With the new place having TWO driveways, I felt an obligation to use them.

I had been wanting an old pickup for sometime.  The rub was finding one in decent condition that fit my criteria of being a half month’s income or less.  In actuality, I was obsessed on the “or less” part just for bragging rights.

A few months after moving in I had almost given up the idea of finding a decent, low dollar pickup.  Then there was a magical Sunday ad in the paper.  It said:

“1987 pickup, V8, automatic. City of Vandalia, Missouri.  $400”

The next day, I scurried to Vandalia.  My first impression wasn’t grand.  I saw a hint of the ground beneath my feet and the seat upon which I sat looked like, as my grandfather would say, the “ass-end of hard times”.  The flatbed was rusted beyond repair, but the cab was fine, other than the one hole.  Looking at the 4 barrel 360 (5.9 liter) V8 under the hood, I saw fuel spraying from the hose leading to the fuel filter.

Yet when I hit the starter, I heard the sound of angels singing.  Ahh, the sound of a Mopar starter motor.  Few mechanical things have such a divine and hypnotic sound.

I tell the city clerk if she will get the fuel line fixed, I will take it.  I return the next day with cash in my hand.

This old Dodge had been used and used a lot.  Seeing the loose material on the bed, I drive straight to the carwash to rid it of all the loose dirt, rock, sand, cold mix asphalt, twigs, leaves, and general debris.  As I am standing on the bed blasting through 19 years of grime, I look up to see the walls of the carwash are as black as tar from the floor to the ceiling.  When I finish, I back out to hose down the wall.

On the drive home I never hit 50 mph.  It had been a while since driving a non-overdrive equipped vehicle, but the true issue was it being geared as low as your typical motor grader.  I figured this wonderful Dodge could pull my house down the road without breaking a sweat.

Once back home, a quick inspection revealed the warranty card issued to the United States Army.  It was auctioned off in 1991 with 11,000 miles.  It was then purchased by the City of Vandalia.

Two days later as I was out and about for work, I find a complete, rust free bed ($50) already off the donor and the chrome rear bumper from the same pickup ($60).  In short order, these are installed making the old girl much more pleasant to look at, even if she was a tri-tone.  I obtain a seat a few days later ($25) and take the old flatbed to the scrap heap ($21 to my favor).  I fixed the hole in the floor with a piece of sheet metal from having the furnace replaced, a handful of rivets, and caulk.  Worked like a charm.

Soon after the bed is installed, I remove the fence seen above and attempt to pull out the corner post with the pickup.  As soon as I start to pull, I hear a clang-swipe-swipe-clank and my cursing.  I pop the hood to find the 360 doing its best imitation of a slant six by sitting off-kilter.  It’s a broken motor mount.

In June or July of 2008, I decide to retrieve my old Galaxie.

Pulling an empty trailer for 200 miles the pickup got 10.2 mpg running at 50 to 55 mph.  Pulling the trailer with 4000 pounds of Ford, two well-fed gentleman, and a host of miscellaneous auto parts at 55 to 60 mph, she got 9.8 mpg.

One day I had the urge to take the Dodge to work.  At about 10 am, the sky turned dark and it began to hail.  It was large hail and it lasted a long time.  When it stopped everybody but me went to inspect their vehicle.  After hearing one woman crying like a baby about the hail damage on her new Hyundai SUV, it seemed wise to go check on the old Dodge.  The old Dodge was parked between said Hyundai and a new Honda minivan.  Both of them looked pretty dinged up; the old Dodge was pristine.  I eased back to my office smiling to myself.

The old Dodge was excellent in snow and it was only a two-wheel drive.  I credit most of that to its low gearing and low-end torque that would allow it to idle through almost anything without any help from my foot.  She would also talk to you, as anytime she needed oil (she leaked a lot) she would discreetly rattle.  Anytime she needed transmission fluid (she leaked there, also) her engine would gently race between first and second gear.

My neighbor hated the old Dodge.  As it pretty much had a straight pipe for an exhaust system, he said his house shook whenever I started it.  I told him he was my burglar alarm for the pickup.

I sold her to the son of a co-worker in May 2011 for $1100.  He truly fell in love with it and painted it all gray.  Despite his quickly driving it hard enough to require a little head work, he loved it.  Ten months later, he traded it to a friend for a Jeep Cherokee.  The Cherokee was totaled out within two weeks, but the old Dodge is still going.

There was a former co-worker of mine with a ’62 Chevrolet pickup who had painted “Atomic Veteran” on the side of it.  In another 10 years, these ’80’s model Dodge trucks will be able to say the same thing.