(Future?) Curbside Classic and Drive Report: 1999 Dodge Ram 1500 SLT Laramie – Not Taking A Brake After 20 Years

It’s been said couples will start to look like each other after many years of marriage.  Perhaps there is some validity to that (Mrs. Jason and I hit twenty years this past summer) although I’ll posit vehicles start to exhibit behaviors and elements of their owners after a certain degree of time.

Proof of this theory is embodied in this 1999 Dodge Ram 1500 SLT Laramie.  It has taken on traits of its owner that shine through whether driving it (which I did) or sitting still.

The running boards and fender flares are aftermarket.

In the interest of full-disclosure, this Dodge belongs to my father-in-law, Tim.  He bought it a good fifteen years ago from the original owner.  It was low mileage then and it’s still low mileage now.  Getting in recently, I was compelled to look at the odometer which read 51,318.  The odometer is digital, so there is no second chance for this mileage.

Tim, however, is not so low-mileage.  He turned 80 this past summer and he is the walking definition of bull-headed determination and self-reliance.  The eighth of ten children, his upbringing in a poorly insulated three room house wasn’t an easy one.  Tim once told the story of how he and all his siblings had to sleep in the same bed.  It seems at least one, perhaps more, had a bed-wetting issue and every morning in the winter there would be piss-sicles forming on the side of the bed.  It was impossible to determine the culprit(s).

After a stint in the Army, by the early 1970s Tim was working as a fire fighter for the city of Creve Coeur, Missouri, and one day he responded to a house fire.  This was when fire fighters rode on the exterior of the truck, holding onto whatever.  A miscalculation of his jumping onto the moving truck along with the driver popping the clutch caused him to miss the truck and fall.  He broke his back.

The doctors told him he would not walk again.  As his sons were ten and nine, and his daughter one, this was not acceptable to him.  A few times over the years he has mentioned a doctor lecturing him about his never walking again.  To that Tim has stated “I told that jack-off doctor I’d be walking within a year”.  He was walking within about six months.

When I met Tim in late 1993 any physical ailments were imperceptible.  They have caught up with him as he has a lot of pain (there is a titanium road in his back) and is using a cane these days.  However, this is where the bull-headed part comes into play – he recently dug a 12″ deep trench from his house out to his shed, a distance of about seventy-five feet, with the last fifteen being across his gravel driveway.  He used only a tile spade but he does now have electricity out there.

Tim also helped me cut a tremendous amount of brush and trees around his property the day I drove his pickup.  For texture about this Dodge one needed to know a little about him.

Several weeks ago my mother-in-law Barbara told my wife the brakes on the pickup “weren’t good”.  On the way to a doctor’s appointment, Tim made a panic stop which gave her the impression the brakes were “hard”.  On our next visit I decided to check things out.

As Tim is nocturnal (as are his daughter and granddaughter) whereas I wake up at 5:30 am regardless of timezone (thanks bladder), I checked things out before he woke up.

This face of Dodge pickup was presented to the world in 1994 and was leagues different than the prior generation which dated to 1972.  While this design is now a quarter-century old, it still appears fresh and the phrases about “big rig looks” originated with this Dodge.  Looking at it, with the prominent chrome grille and the drop from the hood to headlights, it’s quite evident it has helped set the tone for pickup styling to this day.  Even Toyota and Nissan, who are minor players in the full-sized pickup market, are mimicking the big-boned look of this Dodge.

When in the course of human events has Dodge ever set the tone for styling?

I’ve driven this pickup many times and my parents own a 1998 Dodge Ram 1500.  The research Dodge did before introducing this generation of pickup in 1994 is quite evident.  All controls fall easily to hand and everything is placed so naturally.  If ever there was a masterpiece in ergonomics in a pickup, this Dodge would be a strong contender.

The seats themselves still look great, although the blackish tint of the seats quickly reflects where Tim has been transporting his rotund white furred terrier, Whiskers.  To be proper, I have deduced the dog’s full name is Whiskers U. Sonuvabitch.  It seems his full name gets used subsequent to his chasing cats, swallowing ink pens, or running away.  Even my mother-in-law, one who isn’t much for such formalities, called him by his full name on the morning of the recent CC Gathering upon discovering the dog had killed a baby opossum and left it next to the kitchen door.

Being the good son-in-law, I disposed of the possum.

Putting the key into the ignition is a delight.  That’s because it’s a key, not an insanely large fob with more processing capability than what was found on the Apollo 11.  Time was one could get an actual key and the key could fit unobtrusively in their pants pocket.

With the switchblade fobs currently in use by GM, Volkswagen, and others, any male putting that fob in his front pocket runs the risk of being castrated if that switchblade is triggered.  That statement is based upon a near death experience.  In public.

Admittedly, regular keys could do the same but they don’t insinuate personal safety.

To Dodge’s credit (or Ram, whatever the hell they want to call themselves), they are currently using something equally awkward, but it likely won’t castrate you.

Hearing the starter motor for this 318 powered Dodge, or any V8 Dodge Ram of this generation, is a very enjoyable experience.  The starter motor makes a delightful hum with the engine quickly coming to life with a blast of low-toned exhaust note to sweeten the moment.

Getting settled in for the drive reflects how things have changed, the positives of which are highly debatable.

I position the steering wheel to a relatively low position while I drive.  To exit the vehicle, I am wise to raise it.  This Dodge has a terrific and simple toggle on the left side of the steering column.  You pull it and adjust accordingly and it was the de facto method used in most American cars for umpteen dozen years.  Now, there is usually a clamp hidden on the belly of the steering column.  That’s progress?

Some people act as if being a luddite is a bad thing.  Their time is coming.

Once underway the Dodge is a delight.  The 318 is obviously tuned for torque as online sources state it has 300 ft-lbs at 3,000 rpm with horsepower being 230 at 4,400 rpm.  In comparison to modern pickups, the 230 horsepower rating seems pretty puny as base V6 engines far surpass this.  For comparison, the 5.7 liter V8 available in the 2018 Dodge Ram has it’s max torque at nearly 4,000 rpm with peak horsepower at 5,600 rpm.

This 318 possesses abundant grunt off idle although Tim has said he would have preferred the optional 360 (5.9 liter) V8.  My parent’s Dodge has a 360 and while the difference is obvious it isn’t smack-you-in-the head obvious.

The burble of the 318 is addictive although an aftermarket air intake (installed by Tim) does provide for some sounds during acceleration or higher engine load that are attention getting.  They aren’t bad, but they do run counter from what one can expect from a factory air intake.

As the brakes had been the primary concern I performed some intense testing.  About a dozen times I accelerated to 60 mph and stood on the brakes.  It tracked straight and velocity was quickly scrubbed away with minimal nose dive.  It was rather fun.

According to Tim, and backed up by my experience, the ABS system has taken a vacation but its absence wasn’t felt as the brakes mostly stayed just on the happy side of lockup.  Sure, wet or icy pavement could change that opinion but let’s be real – this pickup sits in the driveway during any sort of inclement weather.  Its having ABS – or not – isn’t a big deal.

In fact, Tim is not unhappy about the ABS being on sabbatical.  That is a reflection of his self-reliance bent.

Another concern for me was the transmission.  This is Tim’s camper and this Dodge has been his tow vehicle.  He’s not pulled it much but a trip east last year caused the transmission to get hot.  I later learned the transmission fluid had been changed upon their return and all appears to be fine.  Shifts from the Dodge’s four-speed automatic are silky smooth and unfelt.  Shifts are noticed most by a difference in sound from the engine – and the aftermarket air intake.

This truck is as resilient as Tim is.

As an aside, this Dodge has pulled other ridiculously heavy loads before without a whimper.  About ten years ago, when scrap steel was at record high prices, I suggested to Tim we haul off the scrap his sons had left around the place.  While he didn’t think there was much, small piles over six acres adds up quicker than one would think.  We ultimately loaded just over 13,000 pounds, with the Dodge pulling it there (along with 4,000 pounds of trailer and 4,500 pounds of pickup).  That 318 wasn’t fazed.

For another aside, Tim installed the fifth wheel hitch himself about eighteen months ago.  It wasn’t a quick or easy endeavor but he persevered, something that is very much his modus operandi.

But I had come to check on the brakes and a simple drive was not going to suffice, so I pulled the front wheels off.

This is how exactly how Dodge built it as these pads are original – and are at about half-life.  They obviously function fine as observed from about a dozen panic stops.  Like I told Tim, if he was going to be driving it everyday I would recommend replacing the pads, hoses, and brake fluid.  But for his 1,000 miles per year (and often much less), and all short trips close to home, for now he’s just fine with them as they are.

Taking the wheels off also revealed something I found to be an oddity in design.  The center cap is plastic and comes off; the lugs are torqued on top of them indicating the plastic must be rather stout.  The lugs were torqued to just under 190 ft-lbs.  How do I know this?  The factory lug wrench is roughly one foot in length.  I weigh 190 pounds and stood on the end of the lug wrench.  Voila!  It loosened.

I torqued them back to just under 190 ft-lbs using the same method.  Math can be a wonderful thing.

Dodge hit a home-run with these, catapulting from bit player to major force in the American pickup market while injecting the element of unabashed masculinity.  Given the levels of wailing and gnashing of teeth some have about contemporary pickups which have built upon this formula, it helps emphasize how revolutionary these pickups were.

Apart from the cracked dash that gets a little rattly, I would have no compunctions about driving this Dodge to Alaska or Maine at this very moment.  I would not be so quick to say that about very many twenty year old vehicles having lived a similar life.