Curbside Classic: 1987 Dodge Ram 250 – Oh Ye Ultimate Goddess Of Pickups, Thy Name Be Dodge!

(first posted 4/20/2018)      There is no beating around the bush.  The epiphany cannot be contained.  The truth must spring forth…

This is the ultimate in pickups.

There.  I said it.  Much like a compass cannot escape pointing to magnetic north, I cannot escape proclaiming the truth about this Dodge.

It’s just a shame the popularity of pickups around here isn’t as rampant as it is for passenger cars.  This generation of Dodge pickup has so many things going for it many just don’t realize.

The goodness began when this Mopar goddess of hauling was introduced for model year 1972, a year that definitely fielded some heady events.  President Nixon commissioned development of the space shuttle, The Price Is Right with Bob Barker premiered on CBS, and Mark Spitz and his mustache won seven gold medals at the Summer Olympics in Munich.  It was quite the year.

In addition to production numbers of the VW Beetle surpassing those of the Ford Model T, Dodge introduced a new pickup.

The Chrysler Corporation was really pouring itself into new product.  The C-bodies had been redesigned for 1969, the intermediate B-body was redesigned for 1971, and the entire Dodge light truck line followed in 1972.  It was a definite change from the prior generation which had been around since the early 1960s.

With the A-body Dart / Valiant being the lone holdout (aside from the captive import Cricket), a Chrysler showroom was a visually captivating place to be in 1972.

For 1973, Dodge upped the pickup ante as it had done with the four-door crew cab a decade prior by introducing an extended cab called the Club Cab.  While initially intended to be a very limited production option, it proved popular enough that Dodge invested in more robust tooling to meet demand.  At the time, anybody wanting more cab space in a Ford or Chevrolet had to spring for the full-blown crew cab that was on nothing lighter than a 3/4 ton chassis.

From its introduction in 1972, this generation of Dodge pickup had a very wide variety of available engine displacements, but all engines over 360 cubic inches were last seen during the 1978 model year.

It was also the year Dodge would have an available 243 cubic inch six-cylinder diesel.  The take rate on those was quite small.

In 1979, my Grandfather “Albert’s” oldest brother-in-law, Otto, purchased a new Dodge, a lovely faced beauty with its fabulous stacked headlamps.  Otto’s Dodge (and Otto, for that matter) was tougher than trying to chew a handful of roofing nails.

Otto was a Devout Disciple of Dodge.

For those unfamiliar with this melodic song, skip to 1:00 for the music to begin.

Once when at Grandpa Albert’s (and my late Grandma Violet’s) house, Otto stopped by.  He had already had a stroke or two by this point but was still quite mobile.  When leaving, he fired up his Dodge, the sweet melodious sound of its starter motor hypnotically enthralling all creatures within earshot, and for whatever reason Otto had his foot most of the way to the floor.

Still gabbing, and the Dodge’s engine screaming in Park, Grandpa Albert finally said “Ott, take your foot off the gas.  She’s starting to smoke.”  From under the hood.

Otto took his foot off the throttle and the 318 of the Dodge settled back to a normal idle.  It wasn’t fazed one iota, almost as if it had been in that rodeo before.

How could one not be captivated by such ability to take abuse?

Model year 1981 brought a revised front clip, tweaked rear fenders, and a new interior.  It added a lot of testosterone to an already phenomenal pickup.

Various automotive tests of the day commented about how masculine these pickups were in comparison to the contemporary Ford and Chevrolet.  They weren’t wrong; these trucks are so masculine some examples have been found to be growing hair under the hood and around the hinges of both doors.

1983 would see the last crew cab Dodge pickups of this generation.

The Divinity of Dodge jumped exponentially in 1992.  It was the first of three summers I worked for the Illinois Department of Transportation as a construction inspector intern.  The Dodge pickups in the fleet were as plentiful as hooch at the liquor store.  While as durable as ever there was, all but one of the herd I drove were built with a six and one-half foot bed.

With their 115 inch wheelbase and short bed, the typical installation of a toolbox really compromised any cargo carrying ability.  They were richly derided for their bed length.  Interestingly, the few 1988 and newer Chevrolet pickups to be found had a full sized bed of eight feet.

However, these Dodge’s were all powered by a 318 whose general peppiness quickly motivated one to not hanker for the 4.3 liter V6 powered Chevrolets.

The only Dodge possessing an eight foot bed length was a 1986 model powered by a slant six.  Driving it was a rather laid back affair in comparison to the other Dodges.  1987 was the last year for the slant six in a pickup, replaced by a 3.9 liter V6.

It was always easy to determine when one of these Dodges was a 1988 or newer model.  In 1988 fuel injection was introduced that not only produced a different (and less alluring) sounding starter motor, but also a whine when shut off.  Careful examination revealed the whine was the accelerator pedal lowering itself around 1/2″ when killing the ignition.

A tangential Dodge fling came about in 1994 when I test drove a very lightly used 1993 model, the last year of this fabulous body style.  It was equipped with a Magnum 5.2 (a metric name for the 318) that was introduced for 1992 plus the four-speed automatic that was introduced as an option in 1989.  It made for the best driving Dodge pickup I had ever experienced up to that point.  In modest trim and painted red, identical to the one seen in this ad, I wanted that pickup badly.

Interestingly, Dodge introduced the Magnum 5.2 and 3.9 for 1992 but waited a year before doing similarly on the 360 (5.9 liter) V8.  When the 360 was Magnumized, both it and the 5.2 / 318 were rated at 230 horsepower.  However, the 5.9 / 360 had a 45 to 50 ft-lb advantage in torque.

One fateful Sunday in 2006 an ad appeared in the Hannibal newspaper.  A quick trip to the small town of Vandalia rekindled my unbridled affection for these Dodges.  Writing a check for $400 netted me a 1987 Dodge D-250, my prime motivator in calling our featured Dodge the ultimate in pickups.

Various country music songs extoll the kinship a man has with his pickup.  True that.  That pickup was everything good in the world and a bag of chips.  It was pickup nirvana.

It was also like an old dog.  A dog will tell you when it’s hungry; a little valve ticking always told me when the Dodge was a quart low on oil.  Seeing a dog jumping around by a door will tell you it needs to take a leak; the old Dodge’s transmission would tell you when it had leaked just enough as a mild slip meant a quart of transmission fluid was needed.

There is a certain indescribable luxury in having a mechanical device so clearly tells you of its needs.

I miss that pickup to this day.

Since then any sighting of this era of Dodge pickup causes me to look and fantasize.  Even the most plain of plain Dodge pickups ever produced, one with a “Eat Rice, Potatoes Make Your Butt Big” bumper sticker seen annually at the state fair, makes me stop and swoon like a crazy person.

Recently I stumbled upon this particular Dodge, causing the well of admiration to overflow into what you are now reading.

Maybe it’s nostalgia that has led me to such syrupy verbiage but rational thoughts have me making a few key realizations, realizations that back up my initial statement about this being the ultimate in pickups.

By the 1980s, pickups had shed their prior image of being low speed offerings generally powered by mild six-cylinder engines.  The construction of the interstate highway system from 1956 to the mid-1970s necessitated the ability to travel higher speeds over much longer distances.  Pickups were now able to keep up with contemporary traffic and interior comfort and convenience options were not that much different than seen on passenger cars.

This Dodge was simply superior (in my highly subjective and biased opinion) to its Ford and Chevrolet contemporaries due to being much more rust resistant than Chevrolet and having less wheezy drivetrains than Ford.

The era was Peak Pickup.  This era started in the early 1970s and wound down during the 1990s.

As much as I love the current crop of full-sized pickups, they are just a little too manscaped at times.  A lot of effort has been undertaken to make them look, sound, and act ripped, cut, and ready for action, eager to kick butt and take names.  Some available trims can get rather tedious.

Chrysler even went so far as to drop the name Dodge and rebrand their pickups as Ram.  Does this make it sound tougher?  Or is it trying to deny its heritage?  The jettisoning of the Dodge name has always seemed idiotic since many people still call them Dodges.  There is a reason I refer to these newer ones as being a Dodge Ram.

Conversely, this Dodge is quite comfortable with what it is.  It seems to have the demeanor of “You like me?  Fine.  You don’t like me?  That’s fine, too.  I really don’t care either way.”

That is the other reason for my assertion for these being the ultimate in pickups; this Dodge is comfortable in its own skin, something that just doesn’t always seem to be the case nowadays.  Shouldn’t we all be that way?

Found April 2018 on US 54 south of Jefferson City, Missouri

Author’s Note:  Yes, I’m fully aware this pickup was referred to in both feminine and masculine terms.  Things happen.