(first posted 1/14/2015) Until fairly recently, when it came to pickups, it wasn’t “The Big Three”, but “The Big Two”, and Dodge (and International). I don’t have ready stats, but the gap between GM/Ford and Dodge was always very wide ever since WWII, and by the late 70s, one had to wonder if their trucks had any future. By the mid-late 80s, the situation looked even more dire; the D-Series, renamed “Ram” in 1981, was very long in tooth, and the gap with the big guys was widening, what with new generations of GM and Ford trucks. One brilliant little maneuver direct-injected enough life into the Ram for the brand to survive long enough until the all-new 1994 Ram arrived: the Cummins Turbo Diesel.
It wasn’t Dodge’s first shot at offering US pickup buyers a diesel. In 1962, Dodge offered Americans the same Perkins diesel six to US customers that had been available to export buyers for some years. They mostly passed; some 1000 were sold. Now that would be quite a find.
In its second attempt, in 1978, Dodge offered the 105 hp Mitsubishi naturally-aspirated 6DR5 six-cylinder diesel in its pickups and vans. There’s no record of any diesel vans actually getting built with it, but some 2,835 pickups were, and some of them are still clattering away. Full story here.
In 1985, this red and white Dodge D350 was driven to Cummins’ facilities to have one of its B6 series direct-injection turbocharged diesel inline sixes installed, the prototype of what would be offered to the public in 1989. Four Wheeler drove it recently, and was impressed…by the shaking, noise, vague handling, and of course, the torque. Which this was all about, of course.
At the time, GM and Ford were offering diesels in their pickups and light trucks, but these engines were from another era. The GM 6.2 L V8 was naturally aspirated, had indirect injection, and had a very modest 130-143 hp, and 240-257 lb.ft. of torque. Ford’s 6.9 L V8, built by Navistar, also naturally aspirated, was a bit better, with 170 hp and 315-338 lb,ft. of torque.
The state of the art Cummins direct-injected turbocharged 5.9 L B6 churned out 160 hp, and for the times, an unheard-of 400 lb.ft. of torque. It redefined the whole idea of diesel light trucks, and gave Dodge a desperately-needed shot in the arm.
Ideally, I’d have found one of the ’89 or ’90 versions, with this grille for this story, but they’re becoming hard to find. It’s more of a problem of the bodies wearing out before the engines, though, as the Cummins B6 has been known to run a half-million miles before expiring. And usually those are particularly hard miles.
These early Dodge Cummins quickly became the favorites for the heavy-duty towing crowd, including big multiple-car carrying trailers and such. Within a year or two of their arrival, I used to see them in commercial work plying I-5, not unlike smaller versions of the really big Cummins-powered trucks.
I called this a ’91, but it could just as well be a ’92 or ’93, as I can’t tell the difference. It has the bolder grille that was undoubtedly meant to help buyers prepare for what was to come in 1994.
This is of course a regular cab version. And for the most part, it evokes the early 70s more than the early 90s. A Club cab was also available; Dodge had pioneered the extended cab back in 1974. Ironically, a double cab was not available; Dodge killed that just a few years earlier, before the Cummins came along as well as the big boom in double cabs. And Dodge had also pioneered that, as a regular production version.
The Cummins was paired with a modified version of Chrysler’s famous 727 Torqueflite, or a manual five speed.
I knew a guy back about twenty years ago who had one of these for his landscaping company. He specialized in stone walls and such, and hauled around a lot of big stones. The bed floor and sides on his Dodge was already all lumpy and beat up, even though it was just a few years old. Its steel was obviously not as thick as the stuff used to build the bed on my ’66 Ford, which is still mostly straight, despite untold loads of rocks dropped into it with a front end loader. He was going to be looking for used beds soon, as the Cummins was just barely broken in.
I used to rather want one of these, but I’ve long changed my mind. As much as I like the idea of these Cummins, my tinnitus most definitely doesn’t. They are obscenely loud, and that aspect has grated on my ears for a long time; I rather hate when one pulls up next to me at a light and I have my window open. But then my ears are shot. Fortunately, the latest versions finally got modern fuel injection systems that have largely fixed that issue. Not that that makes me want one any more; I drive my truck a couple of thousand miles per year; at that rate it would never pay for itself. But I like the idea of them; when they’re not actually running. I prefer to listen to the purr of my gasoline six on a summer day with the window open.