COAL: 1982 Dodge Rampage – Chapter 2, My First New Car

Chrysler’s answer to the Chevrolet El Camino, Ford Ranchero, VW Rabbit and the Suburu Brat.  Two doors, two bucket seats, a 2.2 Liter 4 and a 4 speed manual transmission.  It could haul an honest ¼ ton, tow a small trailer and the bed was long enough for me to sleep in when it was too wet to pitch a tent.

By early 1982 I was thinking that it might be time to replace the Charger.  Chrysler under Lee Iacocca was looking like it might survive and had some interesting cars   Sometime between the 24 Hour Pepsi Challenge and the Daytona 500 I test drove a Rampage at the Dodge dealership across from the Daytona International Speedway.  Not counting 5 minutes in a Datsun 210 wagon when I was 13 it was the first time I’d driven a manual transmission.  That car was black and if I recall correctly was not equipped with air conditioning.  Neither a good choice in Florida.

After the scare on Daytona Beach I was ready to sell the Charger.  By this point I was an E-5 earning $731 / month with a little more than 5 years left on my enlistment contract.  I was 18 and had no credit history so the loan officer at the credit union turned down my initial application.  I appealed to the credit committee and they approved my loan.

On April 7th, 1982 I drove off the lot of Orlando Dodge with my first new car.  In January of 1983 it tried to kill me twice in the same day.  By February, 1984 I no longer owned it.  The last I knew it was registered in Virginia.  If someone wants to run the VIN, 1B7EZ44B5CD192706, I’d love to know if it still exists.

The pickup bed proved useful.  I used it to recover the motorcycle of Navy buddy who’d been in accident, collect presents for the Marine Corps Toys for Tots drive, accomplish two do it yourself change of station moves and haul firewood for a friends elderly parents (they were probably in their late 50’s like I am now) when there was an early cold snap (I believe it was Columbus Day weekend of 1982).

January 1983 I had just transferred to the Navy’s Nuclear Prototype training unit (NPTU) in West Milton, NY.  The day before we were scheduled to start training there was a big snowfall and I lost control on a stretch of black ice.  After a 360° spin on street that was only a couple of feet wider than the length of the Rampage I continued on my way.  That evening a couple of my classmates who’d rented a house near the top of one the nearby mountains called to say that their driveway was snowed in.  I went up the mountain to retrieve them.  Creeping back down the mountain in first gear I either clipped a snow bank or, more likely, snow fell from an overhanging branch.  Either way instantly I couldn’t see anything.  Before I could stop the road curved to the left and I didn’t.  100 or so feet down the ravine we were rapidly approaching a very wide tree when suddenly we stopped.  When the snow melted in the Spring I got to see the boulder that had snagged the transmission and dragged it into the front of the bed.  Surprisingly the insurance company did not total the vehicle although it was a couple of months before it was back on the road again.

A couple of weeks before that accident I’d bought a 1946 CJ2A off a transferring sailor that couldn’t afford to take it with him.  That’ll be the subject of my next post.  Winter in a soft top Jeep was fun 🥶

When I got the Rampage back it didn’t handle the same.  The repaired unibody seemed to flex more.  It was still reliable and reasonably fun to drive, but had lost that new car feel.  I finished my training at the NPTU and joined the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Mediterranean Sea in July.  We came back to the states in December and shortly thereafter I traded the Rampage for a 1983 CJ7