Curbside Classic: 1990 Dodge Ram Radio Flyer – The Big Red Wagon

(We saw a Dodge Caravan converted to a pickup the other day. So let’s take another look at a full-sized Dodge van conversions. First posted 7/14/2012)    Our motto here at Curbside Classic is that every car has a story, so let’s all get into our pajamas, sip on a cup of hot cocoa, and I will tell you a car story.  I don’t care if it is 7 a.m. and you have work to get to.  Ole Uncle JP feels a story coming on, and aims to tell it.  So you just settle down and listen.

Once upon a time, there was a boy who had a Little Red Wagon.  The boy (Bill “The Maverick” Golden) got his wagon from Chrysler Corporation, and a special little wagon it was.  Some fiendish fellows in Chrysler’s mid 1960s performance skunkworks took a 1965 Dodge A-100 pickup truck.  These ingenious wagon-makers found a way to replace the wagon’s little slant 6 with a 426 Hemi.  The engine was mounted farther to the rear than normal, and drove through a Torqueflite transmission that connected directly to the differential through a universal joint.  The Maverick’s Little Red Wagon gave new meaning to the term “power to weight ratio”, and the Little Red Wagon was very, very fast.   Although it was meant to look like this . . . .

it was usually seen looking like this.  The Maverick’s Little Red Wagon became very famous, and he continued to show it (or newer versions of it) off in races and exhibitions until he retired in 1975.  And the Little Red Wagon lived happily ever after.

And then Chrysler Corporation went completely to hell and started to build almost nothing but K-cars and a few trucks, including the ancient B series van.  Then the evil Prince Daimler thrust a sword into the old Ram Van, killing it.  Fortunately, kiddies, this story does not end here, but picks up again many many miles away.  In an Indiana prison.

There was a time when the Indiana prison system maintained three separate prison auto body shops.  But the Knights and Chancellors who ran the prisons decreed that two of the three body shops would be closed.  But how to decide which would close and which would stay open?  It was decided that a contest would be held.  The prison body shop that made the best project vehicle would be the victor and would stay open.

One of the shops started with a 1990 Dodge Ram Maxi Van.  They cut the body off behind the front doors, then cut the rear section off and slid it up to the front doors.  This made a sort of a van with a Club Cab.  No, Johnnie, that would not make it a Club Wagon, because that would be a Ford.  Anyhow, behind the old tail section, the men fashioned a pickup bed with wooden sides made to look like an old Radio Flyer wagon.

The Dodge Mini-Maxie Radio Flyer van won the contest, and there was great rejoicing at the prison.  No, Johnnie, we do not know what happened to the guys who came up with the losing concepts.  I know that they tell us this sort of thing on the reality shows, but this is prison, so it was probably bad and involved blood, and if I told you, you would have bad dreams.  And stop interrupting or you will have to go to bed without hearing the rest of the story.

Anyhow, somebody got the winning van from the prison and used it happily for awhile, but eventually decided to sell it.  The van was purchased by a delightful lady named Wanda, who needed a truck to haul hay for her horses and to buy building materials for the house she was fixing up with her family.  She drove the van up to the present day, and together, they lived happily ever after.  How do I know that this story is true?  Wanda herself told me this story after I saw her van on the road and followed her to her house.

I was driving home a couple of weeks ago, and saw the coolest-ever Dodge van  make a turn onto a side street.  This van brought out my inner car-stalker, and I was compelled to  follow it until it turned into a driveway.  The owner, Wanda, was very happy to talk to the strange man who followed her home and begged to take pictures of her unique van/pickup.

Wanda likes old cars, and has owned a couple of first generation Econolines, so she is no stranger to interesting vans.  As I walked around this one, it reminded me of the early forward control pickups like the Econoline and the A-100.  And with the Radio Flyer trimming, how does a card-carrying Mopar guy not catch the Little Red Wagon parallel?  Unfortunately, I doubt that this one will get up on its hind wheels like the old Little Red Wagon did.  A pre-Magnum 318 is not exactly a 426 Hemi, and this one is surely has more of a front-end weight bias.  But there is an undeniable kinship between the two, each earning its living in its own way.

The other fascinating thing to look at was the interior.  The Maxi van rear end was big enough for a pair of side-facing jumpseats, sort of like those in early compact pickups.  But there certainly seems to be enough room for at least short trips.  Anyone familiar with these will see all of the usual interior trim pieces, but re-used in all the wrong places.  Is there a better exterior/interior color combo on an all-American vehicle like this than red white and blue?  I think not.

Although the reconfigured body is unique, it did not eliminate some of the rustprone areas of the factory-issue B series vans.  Wanda really loves this truck, though, and has plans for some rust repair to keep this one looking shiny and new, like any decent red wagon ought to look.

So, this brings us to the end of our story.  And doesn’t this story have it all?  Human interest, crime & punishment, heroes, villains, and a cool vehicle.  Make that a really cool vehicle.  Every car has a story, but this one tells several.