Curbside Classic: 1974 Dodge Club Cab – Another Dodge First, Not That It Helped All That Much

(first posted 12/10/2012)    I don’t know how it was where you were, but in northeastern Oklahoma in the 1980s, Dodge pickups were never much of a factor until the the Cummins turbodiesel became available for 1989.  The Dodge Ram’s new-found popularity that year was due almost entirely to the Cummins engine, and the heavier 3/4 and 1-ton versions appeared almost instantly and everywhere with flatbeds and gooseneck hitches all around Green Country. But back in 1972, Dodge pioneered the Club Cab, the first extended cab pickup. It may not have done much to pull Dodge out of its perpetual distant third place, but it did revolutionize the industry.

Re-engineered for 1972, the D-Series (later renamed Ram for 1981, but still the same basic truck) had most anything a pickup buyer could want, at least in those early years.  On offer was a plethora of engines, from slant-6s up to the 400, with the 440 becoming available in 1974.  Also new in ’72 was our pictured Club Cab, with extra room behind the front seats for kids or stuff, but not really enough room for too much of both.  Happily, Dodge also offered a version with four genuine doors for larger passenger capacity and/or more lockable storage.

(image source vintageadvertisements)

Because of all this, it would appear Dodge had the jump on both Ford and Chevy. Ford introduced their extended cab “Super Cab” in 1974. And amazingly, Chevy and GMC didn’t get an extended cab until 1988. Dodge sales did grow over the previous generation, but never caught up.  Including the closely-related, Blazer-like Ramcharger SUV, sales were just under 370,000 in 1975, and Dodge touted impressive-looking sales growth graphs of 237% from 1966 to 1976. But they were still far behind.

Our featured pre-1981 facelift two-tone blue and white Club Cab of indeterminate age (ED: we’ll guess 1974) has obviously led a hard life, but that isn’t letting it be slowed down too much.  This would have been a really nice truck when it was new, but I’d guess it was put to work a lot sooner in its life than most modern pickups will be.  Can you imagine seeing a new F150 Lariat (which starts at over $35,000) in a nice gated community hauling a load of fill with stakes actually in the stake pockets?  (Do new trucks even HAVE stake pockets?)  The closest you’ll likely find these days is steaks on the tailgate in a parking lot during a football game, perhaps with video monitors in the dash or headrests.

I don’t know exactly what else caused it, but the Dodge line was simply not viewed as a viable alternative to GM and Ford trucks in the ’70s and especially ’80s.  The engine lineup got smaller and comparatively weaker through the years, or at least that is how it was perceived by us Okies.  Certainly with the 360 being the top engine in 1988, the Cummins was a godsend the following year.  Rather than tout the power of the Dodge, the few people I knew (one of which was a Tulsa cop) with non-Cummins Dodge pickups said one of their main motivations for purchase was that the half-ton Dodge was one of the least-stolen vehicles of any kind at the time.  I guess it is generally true that if few want to buy them, few want to steal them.

As I review the pictures of this old Dodge, I still don’t know what it really was about the truck that left Oklahoma cold.  It has nice lines, and at least in the case of styling, I would argue it has aged better than its contemporaries, especially in the case of the goofy-looking ’70s Chevy trucks, though the clean ’81 re-style of Chevy’s offering fixed the goof.  Dodges certainly didn’t rust like a Chevy, or probably a Ford, for that matter. Or did they, up in the salt belt?

Whatever caused the Dodge not to catch on, I better appreciate the Dodge now than I did, as I suspect do many.