COAL: 1989 Dodge D-100 • What The Truck?

I’m not really sure why I bought a truck in August of 2002. I wasn’t a farmer or a contractor, and I wasn’t doing any big project or anything else that required big or frequent hauling, so I didn’t actually need a truck. More, we lived not in a suburban or rural setting, but in Toronto. That meant narrow streets with tight parking at the best of times, aggravated by ice sheets and persistent snowbanks in winter. Expensive gasoline, too. I did no cost-benefit analysis, which surely would have come out on the side of no.

I don’t think it was a truck-urge I got so much as a rear-drive Mopar urge. Darts and Valiants and such were almost all in the distant past in that part of the world, and so were their unworthy replacements—not that I wanted anything to do with an Aspen or Volaré under those names or any of the many others (…Diplomat, Gran Fury, Caravelle…). So I guess it was sort of [RWD Mopar] – [A-body] = Dodge truck. Or maybe I’m misremembering it the wrong way round and I spotted the ad for this truck and rationalised backward from there.

Whatever which way, I trekked out past Oshawa to go see the truck: a 1989 D-100 with a 318 engine, an A998 3-speed Torqueflite automatic, a sliding backglass, an 8-foot bed with a hard plastic bedliner, and a rear bumper. Were rear bumpers still optional equipment on trucks in 1989? I don’t know. This truck had one, seemingly a factory item, painted argent silver. There was no discernible body rust or batterment, the interior was in very fine condition, nothing was faulty or broken, and the truck ran and drove, steered and stopped like a rear-drive Mopar—a big, portly one. The seller even agreed to drive the truck into Toronto for me. Very fine.

Before I even had the keys to the truck, I had my first haul-call, my first truckfriend—those folks who come out the woodwork calling me ol’ buddy ol’ pal because I had a truck and they, well, they wanted something hauled.

Very importantly, Bill liked the truck. Rare indeed is the vehicle Bill likes, so this was a major plus. Cars spook him; he saw a bunch of gory, gruesome car crashes as a very small kid, including one in which his pregnant dog got hit by a car and thrown like a water balloon, with similar results. Trucks were less of a trigger, plus he actually fit in the truck. It was easy for him to get in and out of, and the bench seat didn’t confine him; there was plenty of room for his head and his legs and his feet and his elbows and his shoulders.

So I had a real, actual rear-drive Mopar, and it even had wing windows! The driver’s one didn’t seal very well, and made an irritating wind whistle; eventually I figured out how to wedge a nickel between the catch and the frame when closing it to pull the wing tighter against its seal and stop the whistle. One of the first things I did, though, was to remove the Nippondenso starter. Functionally there was nothing the matter with it; it worked fine, but it grated my ears every time I used it. That’s not what starting a rear-drive Mopar is meant to sound like! Instead I put in a carefully-refurbished original 1962 to ’72-type Chrysler gear-reduction starter. The Highland Park (or Hamtramck) Hummingbird wasn’t just a single starter; there were numerous significant differences over the years that made the starters crank at different speeds and make different sounds while doing it (article eventually). I wanted one that sounded like my very early youth, and that’s what I got; it sounded exactly right. I beat this guy by a good bunch of years, but I had his same chortling reaction the first time I turned the key:

I also replaced the shift stick with a pre-1984 item that had the knob with the inverted-cone brushed-aluminum insert—again, just like the Darts my parents and grandparents had when I was little. Because that’s what the shift stick in a rear-drive Mopar is meant to look like. The truck equivalent of making a house a home.

The transmission engaged Drive or Reverse with a convulsive crash, even with the engine at a slow hot idle. There was a fix issued for the condition, involving a new valve body and separator plate for the transmission. Those parts hadn’t been put on this truck, and it was just a service bulletin, not a recall. I didn’t want to spend the money, so I just braced and gritted my teeth every time I put the truck in gear. –3-point– multipoint turns and parking manœuvres were especially fun: edge forwards…BANG!…edge backwards…BANG!…edge forwards…BANG!, lather-rinse-repeat.

That gritchment was aggravated by the primitive engine management system, a latter-day mutation of the 1976 Lean Burn setup. The fuel was laxly managed by an eh-who-cares shrug of a throttle body injection system: halfassed Holley hardware crudely controlled by a Chrysler computer full of flawed firmware (feh!). Idle air controllers were a well-known thing, readily available off the shelf in numerous configurations; Chrysler used them on just about all the rest of their engines, but not on trucks like this. Instead, the idle speed was controlled by a bulky external kick motor. Its plunger extended or retracted to move the throttle lever itself. This movement was as audible as it was sluggish; if the dimwitted computer thought it detected a condition calling for an elevated idle speed, the driver’s options were to wait (and wait) for the idle speed to slowwwwwllly meander back down to normal, or stand on the brake pedal, go ahead and shift into a gear, and brace for an even worse CRASH! from the transmission. This was the vehicle whereon I learned to use a scan tool—mine was an OTC Monitor 4000, same as the official Chrysler DRB but with the capability (which I never used) to talk to non-Chrysler vehicles. When I needed a break from this dumb idle game, I used the scanner to set the idle to 800 rpm and unplugged the throttle kicker. That brought sweet relief; the engine would obediently drop to a normal idle as soon as I let go the accelerator. But it caused other driveability problems, particularly during cold start and warmup, so I ruefully restored the idle motor’s power and resumed gritting my teeth.

When I took the truck for its emissions test, I had them check the ignition timing. It was around where the spec said it should be, 10° BTDC, but the spec was given as ±2°, so I had ’em bump it to 12 to see what would happen. They didn’t quite get it there; I think it wound up around 14 or so. This was not an improvement; the engine wanted to stall immediately after shifting into a gear. Managed to get it to stay running with some tapdancing on the accelerator, but as soon as I tried to drive, the engine protested with loud rattlety-ping on all eight cylinders. I babied it home, climbed into the engine compartment, put an end wrench on the distributor bolt, nudged the dizzy back the way it came, and the pinging went away. Beyond the basic advance, the spark timing was controlled by the engine computer; this was pure Lean Burn stuff except the distributor’s trigger was a hall effect item rather than the older magnetic reluctance type.

The miniature fuel injectors were clog-prone; Chrysler went through at least two designs—one by Bosch and one by Holley, if I recall rightly. The intake manifold was a lump of iron designed with apparently complete disregard for all expertise accumulated on the subject since the late 1950s. There wasn’t much of an unreliability problem with the Mopar system, it just didn’t work very well even when everything was exactly as intended. Oh, it was better than what passed for carburetors in the late 1980s, but only just barely; driveability was rough and fuel consumption high.

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