Curbside Classic: 1989 Dodge Ramcharger LE – Mopar Joins The 4×4 Craze

(first posted 5/2/2012)    Starting in the early Sixties, trucks started to get fun. Off-roading, camping and other outdoor recreation really came into its own. International was first out of the gate with the ’61 Scout, followed by Ford in ’66 with the Bronco and Chevrolet with their K5 Blazer in 1969. Chrysler Corporation was late to the party, but the 1974 Dodge Ramcharger (and Plymouth Trail Duster sibling) was a worthy competitor.

While the Scout and Bronco had their own unique body, the Ramcharger was clearly based off of the all-new 1972 Dodge full-size pickup. That was not a bad thing, as the ’72 pickups were pretty sharp, no-nonsense vehicles.

The Ramcharger most closely resembled the contemporary Chevy Blazer, as it was pickup-based and included a lift off rear roof section. These trucks were pretty basic in standard form, with RWD, a 225 CID Slant Six and synchronized 3-speed manual transmission.

Early versions came with only the two bucket seats – even the rear bench was an option! Of course, like most 1970s American iron, you could load them up with all sorts of options – brush bars, 2 tone paint, deluxe interiors, A/C, tinted glass, and full-time four wheel drive.

Just like the interior, you had lots of options for power. Yes, the Slant Six was standard, but you had a full range of small- and big-block Mopar goodness on the table. You could start with a ‘cooking’ 318 or 360 V8s, but if you wanted lots of power and torque, the 400 and time-honored 440 V8s were also there for the taking. All it took was money.

Now, if you just wanted the SUV look, but planned to stay on city streets, you could get the two-wheel drive Ramcharger, and turn it into a burly Cordoba of sorts, with whitewalls, chrome wheels and all sorts of luxury goodies, as the ’77 above sports. Much like today, there were plenty of folks who liked the look, but couldn’t care less about taking their brand-new ride into the wilderness.

The Ramcharger continued from 1974 to 1980 with only minor changes, though a new grille with stacked quad headlights was added for the 1979 model year. In 1981, the Ramcharger and all full-size Dodge trucks got a mild facelift, with single rectangular lights and minor sheetmetal changes. The cool removable top was gone; all Ramchargers would have fixed roofs from here on out. Interestingly, a 1983 ad touted the RWD version as an economical way to tow your boat or trailer. Equipped with the 2 BBL 318 (5.2L)  V8 and three-speed automatic, it achieved 20 mpg highway – not bad. By the early Eighties, Dodge was calling the RWD Ramcharger the Ramcharger Two – is that like a Mustang II or LTD II?

Continuous improvement was the watchword for the Ramcharger throughout the Eighties. A new grille was added for 1986, and clearcoat paint was a new feature. The 318 got fuel injection in 1988, producing 230 hp and 280 lb ft of torque. One year later, the 360 also received FI, good for 240 horses. By now the Ramcharger was available in base and LE versions, with the LE featuring high-back bucket seats with fold-down armrests, nicer upholstery and more chrome on the outside. The handsome ‘telephone dial’ alloy wheels shown on our featured Ramcharger were added in 1989, and in 1991 a smoother front end with more color-keyed trim was added. The Ramcharger would continue in this fashion through 1993 when production ended.

It was essentially replaced by the four-door 1998 Durango, though a 1994 Ram-based Ramcharger (shown above) was offered in Mexico only from 1999-2001. Too bad it wasn’t sold in the States.

I found this snowplow-equipped Ramcharger in West Davenport recently. While it’s obviously seen better days, I was drawn to it. You just don’t see these on the road any more. Judging from the alloy wheels it is either a 1989 or 1990 model.

While the exterior was rough, the interior was very presentable. It is clearly an LE, as it sports those very comfortable-looking high-back cloth buckets. Power windows too.

I think these trucks look really good in all-black. This photo from the 1987 brochure gives you an idea of how sleek this Ramcharger looked when new. Despite using essentially the same body since 1974, it still looked good.

Another neat feature of these trucks is that huge bay window above the rear fenders, added in 1981. I like how they tucked up into the roof. I have never driven or even sat in one of these, but all that glass should make for a very airy cabin, especially for rear seat passengers. If you like these full-size Dodge SUVs, I recommend watching the classic Chuck Norris movie, Lone Wolf McQuade. His ride is a supercharged police Ramcharger, and its feats during the course of the movie are second only to the Bluesmobile in my opinion.

Yes, Dodge was late to the party for the 1970s four-wheeler craze, but they more than made up for it with a production run that lasted from 1974-1993 and continues to this day in the current Durango lineup. And you have to love anything with Mopar V8 power!