The Dodge B series van has received a lot of love here at CC. Much of it in just the last few weeks. So let’s keep this party going.
Think about it – these were in production for 33 model years. And while it received quite a number of changes during that time, none of them was significant enough to disguise that this was a vehicle that shared showrooms with some of the most storied of Dodge’s muscle machines. I suppose you could argue that both the new 1971 Charger R/T and the new 1971 Tradesman and Sportsman vans were muscle machines, only that they involved different muscles.
And this is a vehicle that I have had a car-crush on for almost its entire life. An unrequited car-crush, which makes it even worse. The pangs are still there, which is why I stopped to take pictures of this one back in 2011.
We have been on a Ram Van binge here at CC. We have gotten all of the popular flavors – the luxury conversion,
and the ever popular 15 passenger version. But we have missed one.
All of those are nice, but my man-crush on these vans involves one seldom-seen model – the standard length passenger version with windows. Which, from my unscientific seat-of-the-pants estimate, have made up something like 3% of total production since maybe 1980.
It wasn’t always so. Some neighbors bought the first one I ever saw, a blue ’71 Sportsman. I never rode in it but got to sit in it. It was an undistinguished trim level and perhaps I was unimpressed because this was purchased by the same family that never removed their outdoor Christmas lights before June and allowed their in-ground swimming pool to turn into something resembling a Louisiana swamp. It was the same medium blue inside and out and I wondered why anyone would want to own it.
I finally came around when my best friend’s father traded the family’s ’71 Travelall on a yellow and white Royal Sportsman Maxi van. This was a line-topping wagon with air conditioning, cruise control, and every other option that a desirable car had then. I looked past what was probably the worst paint job ever put on a new vehicle. Parts of the yellow paint were so rough that you could file your nails on it.
But boy did it run. The family kept it far longer than they kept most vehicles, long enough that I was eventually old enough to drive it, learning what a lovely combination a 360 and a Torqueflite was. This was also the vehicle on which I learned to do rolling 65 mph driver changes on an interstate highway, but that is another story for another day.
As time went on the “regular” passenger version of these became more and more scarce, seen more often in press photos and brochures than in real life. This was especially true after Ford upped the passenger van ante with its Club Wagon series that continued to add luxury after luxury while poor old Chrysler cornered the fleet market with its 15 passenger Maxis.
This is another set of shots from my bottomless barrel of CCs. I shot it because I love them, but at the time it was a mystery. It still kind of is. The front end and the taillights were new for 1994. Which was also the last year before this 150 model would have gotten a promotion to 1500. But the steering wheel is a pre-airbag design, which was supposed to be standard on the 1994 Ram Van and Wagon. Did Chrysler play the calendar game, building every new 1994 model up through December 31, 1993 to the old safety specs? Or did someone blow the airbag and slap an older wheel on?
The other mystery is that this appears to be a Ram Van rather than a Ram Wagon. A Ram Van with full windows – an uncommon thing. Also odd is that this is a 150.
Dodge would not build the standard wheelbase passenger Ram Wagon as a 150 – the only way to get a Ram Wagon 150 was to choose the shortie. Which almost nobody did.
But the Ram Van 150 with full windows? An oddity. It reminds me of the 1969 Ford Van owned by the family of a high school buddy. I have called it a Club Wagon, but am not sure that it actually was. It had full windows like this one, and a pair of bench seats covered in heavy black vinyl of the kind that was used for school bus seats, bolted down to bare steel floors which shone bright silver from the way passengers’ shoes had worn away the paint. It was a total stripper of a passenger vehicle.
Something like this has appealed to me from the first day I cleaned my 94 Ford Club Wagon following the mess made by a sick kid. I made a dreadful mistake in choosing the Club Wagon in Chateau trim when I bought my 1994. Cleaning barf from carpet and upholstery was a lot harder than wiping it up from smooth metal, plastic and rubber. I thought about that over and over as I did my hazmat-guy imitation following another eruption by the child I nicknamed Wyatt Urp. Mrs. JPC was quite unreasonable during this phase of life, claiming her own near-sickness whenever the situation required a “cleanup in Aisle 2” yet enjoying her plushly upholstered and carpeted Chateau Luxe Family Truckster all the rest of the time.
I had tried to buy one of these. A local dealer actually had a new 1995 Ram Wagon 2500 in stock. It was an attractive dark metallic green in SLT trim with gray cloth interior, and the recently-added 5.9 Magnum V8 put some personality back into the old 360. But other than the upholstery fabric, it was apparent that the vehicle had not received a single significant interior update since the 1970’s when that fancy new dashboard came out. It was two bench seats in back, just like the 1973 Royal Sportsman I used to ride around in twenty years earlier.
The dealer let me drive it home to see if it would fit in my garage. It did. But there was a problem – Mrs. JPC. She was not – – in love with (yes, let’s go with that) this van. And there was another problem that prevented me from going all hard-sell on her. It was that Chrysler was unwilling to do what Ford had done in its rear bench seats – provide shoulder harnesses for the two rear window seats on the passenger side. There were two in the places behind the driver, but that left 3 point belts for only 4 out of our 5 family members. “OK kids, lets flip – loser gets the lap belt this time” was not something I was inclined to do. And no headrests for the rear passengers? Really Dodge? And so – – – Ford.
But never fear, I thought to myself, now that Chrysler has started investing money in the old girl this seat belt thing will soon be fixed. Except when it wasn’t. When these got a more extensive update in 1999(?) (the one where they got the big underbite when the frame and engine stretched forward a few inches and the dash was redesigned) I was sure the wagons would get an interior upgrade to battle the Ford Chateau. Nope. But by that time the passenger van was a dead man walking. What few retail buyers there were either wanted no-frills transport for 15 passengers or the full Stripe, Velour & Media Package.
A guy in my neighborhood bought a new Ram Wagon around the time I got my Club Wagon. He still has it. The paint is dull, and it has some rust holes (but not as big as the ones that got driven a lot). This van makes me want to go knock on his door. Maybe he’s ready to sell it. I could provide it with a good home where it would be loved. If only by one of the two people who live at my address.