For seemingly forever, the light duty truck debate in rural environs around North America has been “Ford or Chevrolet?”. It’s such a yes/no, one-or-the-other type of question, always ignoring that stalwart alternative called Dodge.
Perhaps buying a Ford or Chevrolet pickup has always fallen within the peer pressure created realm of conformity. But doing this shortchanges a person of a distinct alternative found in a Dodge, one that has admittedly been more competitive at some points than at others.
An admission: As my age advances, it seems my affinity for Dodge pickups does also. No doubt there is a genetic component to this affinity. My paternal grandfather – who died six years prior to my birth and from whom I inherited my automotive gene – purchased a new red Dodge half-ton that was supposedly a 1965 model. My father purchased a new 1998 model Dodge Ram 1500 and still owns it.
Based upon such projections, I should be purchasing a
Dodge Ram in 2031 – but might it be electric?
Perhaps not; it seems Stellantis is currently doing a bang-up job of carrying the torch for whatever non-conformity is associated with
Dodge Ram, so my future theoretical 2031 model pickup could just as easily have a 6.2 liter (or so) Hemi.
I’m getting ahead of myself; for whatever reason Dodge pickups prompt my thoughts to spin faster than a four-barrel 440 at full-throttle. Let’s come back to the red Dodge my grandfather purchased – it’s the same generation as our featured pickup.
Dodge introduced a new generation of pickup in October 1960 for the 1961 model year (1962 shown). The overall characteristics of the new 1961 Dodge pickup were attractive although the front fascia didn’t seem to be the most inspired element of the overall package. It does look a bit, uh, unflavorful…if that’s a word. Perhaps “non-confrontational” might be better. It presents itself as if the designer started at the doors and worked outwards, running out of imagination when time to execute a frontal appearance.
It’s no secret Dodge’s pickup sales volumes back then were less than those of Ford and Chevrolet. And probably GMC. And perhaps International. But likely ahead of Studebaker. But overall, less. Much, much less. For instance, when Ford sold a half-million pickups for the 1964 model year, Dodge sold 101,000 trucks of all varieties, including heavy duty units. Dodge was in fifth place for truck sales for 1960 as per www.sweptlinetruck.com.
Did Dodge, like Avis, try harder?
Let’s examine these production volumes more closely. Plopped here before your eager corneas is a chart showing Dodge truck sales (all weight ratings) from 1961 to 1971. However, this is everything they built. Let’s look at just production volume of units in the nominal one-ton rating and less.
This is more descriptive. In an effort to make this as comprehensive as possible, four-wheel drive W-Series units, while minimal, have been included with the two-wheel drive D-Series. All information seen here was sourced from www.sweptline.com. It even breaks out six-cylinder and V8 models by weight rating.
This graph shows just how piddling Dodge pickup sales were in comparison to the competition. For instance, let’s look at 1965. That’s the year when Dodge sold just under 90,000 pickups of all weight ratings. Conversely, Chevrolet sold over three times that volume in half-tons (C-10, K-10) only. If comparing just half-tons, Chevrolet outsold Dodge approximately 5:1.
For those thinking perhaps the Dodge was at a disadvantage due to having an older design, such was not the case. That particular generation of Chevrolet was introduced in 1960, a year before the Dodge.
To be fair, the Chevrolet had been seriously updated by 1965, such as losing the dog-leg A-pillar.
Further, the Dodge was still in possession of some ever more increasingly antiquated features. A solid front axle on rear-drive examples until 1971? Check. A steering column that was at an angle comparable to a city bus? Check. So while the outside package was competitive, there were still some less desirable items lurking in the weeds.
It is doubtful any such things bothered my grandfather when he, at age 47, went pickup shopping in late 1965 or early 1966. By all accounts he had a distinct proclivity for Chrysler products. He had purchased a very plain 1953 Plymouth in addition to his red Dodge pickup, two of the few vehicles he would purchase new. There may have been a 1950 Plymouth in the new car mix, also.
But I have a weird, non-consequential dilemma about its model year. My father believes it was a 1965 model. It was in 1965 Dodge had a mid-year overhaul of their pickup, lengthening the wheelbase of pickups having an eight foot bed from 122 inches to 128 inches along with revising the front ends for all, eliminating the four headlight system in favor of a bigger grille and two headlights with the big Engel-esque pie plates around them.
Having seen old black-and-white pictures of my grandfather’s Dodge it definitely had the Engel-esque nose. But here’s my dilemma begins….long ago my grandmother told me upon buying his pickup my grandfather uncharacteristically purchased some type of insurance policy that would pay off the loan upon the event of his untimely death. She maintains only nine payments had been made prior to cashing in this policy subsequent to his sudden and unexpected death six weeks shy of his 48th birthday.
He died October 30, 1966. So either his pickup was a 1966 model or a left-over 1965 model. Either scenario is believable and there is negligible, if any, difference between those two model years, so it’s likely not a big deal either way. My grandfather’s Dodge had the eight foot bed with a 318 and a three-speed manual transmission. My grandmother drove that pickup until 1971 as it was her newest vehicle upon my grandfather’s death.
As an aside, my grandmother will be 100 in March. She still lives alone, but really shouldn’t be. By some type of divine workings, she has rebounded from every malady that has been the stereotypical downfall of many elderly people. A broken hip, breast cancer, age induced hearing loss, and a mild stroke haven’t really stopped her. What has slowed her the most has been giving up her driver’s license (only because she was tired of paying for car insurance, but she needed to quit driving anyway) and not finding a needle supplier for her old treadle sewing machine.
She is a tough, formidable, and unflappable woman, traits also seen in her siblings, to whom age is just an irritating number. It was just a few years ago her younger brother bought a new BMW motorcycle to celebrate some birthday north of 80. He’s been all over the US on it.
It’s quite safe to say the Dodge pickup my grandfather purchased was not spectacularly equipped. During the 1960s, Dodge had several unique features available that did set them apart from Ford, Chevrolet, and International. This isn’t just the availability of a crew cab like International, and ahead of the others, but rather the creature comforts.
Starting in 1964, Dodge had the Custom Sports Special. Featuring bucket seats, carpeting, and a console from the Polara, it was able to provide a degree of exclusivity not found in other brands. Shown here is a 1966 model.
Perhaps best of all, a person could purchase the Custom Sports Special in a variety of weight ratings and body-cab configurations. To sweeten the deal, the Dodge 426 Wedge was available on some models to complement the Custom Sports Special, making Dodge the first American light duty truck to have over 300 gross horsepower.
Such would have never been parked in the driveway of Casa de Granddad Shafer. I’ve always been surprised that pickup had a 318 and not a 225 slant six.
Had my father been the buyer, I’m fairly confident he would have sought one of the Dodge half-tons of this era having the 170 cubic inch (2.8 liter) slant six.
While we’ve discussed this generation of Dodge pickup, I haven’t focused as much on our featured pickup, which is the swan song of this generation. It’s pretty much a facelifted version of the 1966 model, which was a facelifted 1961 model. I took these pictures in 2014, and various events of the past week have prompted another story that helps illustrate my thoughts about this particular Dodge.
Recently my wife and I decided to replace some windows and doors in our house. Visiting with several companies, we ultimately chose Don’s home improvement company.
When Don and his wife dropped by to obtain window measurements, Don disclosed the whole Covid thing has kept him quite busy due to people pulling the trigger on making home improvements. However, as of late, he said product is becoming harder to acquire due to his supplier having to scale back production at its factories. Don did some wheeling and dealing to obtain product.
Did I mention Don is 81 years old? He and his wife are both wonderful people and are in amazing physical condition. A few hours after they left it occurred to me Don, in many regards, is not unlike our featured Dodge pickup.
How so? He perseveres and he’s still going strong. How is this like our Dodge pickup? Less than forty-eight hours prior to typing these words, I saw our featured Dodge again. In the six years since these pictures were taken its physical appearance hasn’t changed in any meaningful way. I’ve seen it many times during these intervening years, at various business locations and usually hauling something.
While I’ve always had an affinity for Dodge pickups, these had always flown under my radar. Given I recently had an article discussing these Dodges having the availability of a faux-vinyl top, it seems Dodge has emerged as being front and center of my attention.
That’s not a bad thing.
I’ve said several times during my time with CC how Dodge pickups, primarily the 1981 to 1993 models, are so prevalent in my area. It seems somebody around here didn’t overlook a very durable and attractive pickup option, one that embodies perseverance. Somebody obviously chose well with this Dodge a half-century ago.
Found April 2014, Jefferson City, Missouri