Inventing The Modern Truck: Everything You Need To Know About Dodge Trucks
Take a look at the RAM line of trucks of today, and it’s hard to imagine where it all started.
Yes, with models like Hellcat-powered TRX, and interiors filled with giant screens, soft leather seats, and active safety technology; it’s tough to tell if the modern truck is a luxury car on stilts or something built to handle the rigors of working on the farm, the job site, or the campsite.
Manufacturers today like to tell us that modern trucks are the “do it all”, but at Velocity Modern Classics, we love nothing more than to bring the glory back to vehicles that were as honest as they were revolutionary. Although we’re well known for taking old Ford Broncos and turning them into world-class classic Ford Bronco restorations, at Velocity Modern Classics, we do way more than just Ford Bronco restomods.
We handle all types of classic vehicle restorations! Look no further than classic truck restorations like our upcoming 1965 Dodge D200 Crew Cab and 1942 Dodge Truck. These builds showcase the innovation of Dodge, the rich history of this All – American brand, and Velocity Modern Classics’ ability to blend classic American iron with modern luxury.
Ready to jump back in time to when the world was at war, Dodge still just made parts, and the Charleston was all the rage?
Let’s get into it!
Detroit Early Years
Back in the ‘teens, the Dodge brothers had already begun to lay the foundation for the modern truck we know and love today but the pieces still hadn’t quite come together.
See, early on, the Dodge brothers were more well known for building engines, transmissions, and other precision engine components than complete vehicles. In fact, one of Horace and John’s first big projects was supplying none other than Henry Ford with everything but the wheels and tires for their infamous Model T. Yes, long before early Ford Broncos were even a twinkle in their eye, Ford was working with their biggest rival. In fact, Ford even offered the Dodge brothers a 10% stake in their company, for a measly $10,000 worth of goods ($311,080 in 2020 dollars). In retrospect, this was one hell of a wise decision.
John and Horace also went on to produce transmissions for Oldsmobile, but the majority of their time and effort went into producing components, including complete engines, for the Ford Motor Company. By 1914, John and Horace had changed their name to Dodge Motor Car Company and produced their first, full-fledged car: the 30-35 Touring Car. It was built to take on the Ford Model T, and it introduced several new systems like 12V electrical power and an all-steel body. The design was revolutionary for the time and built to take on Ford’s wooden body Model T with ease.
Growth was solid up through around 1920, with Dodge maintaining the number 2 sales spot behind Ford, but things were about to take a massive turn. That same year, John Dodge died of pneumonia, and a few months later, his brother Horace also passed away from cirrhosis of the liver. The company was handed over to their bereaved widows, who immediately passed the reins over to long-term employee Frederick Haynes.
Buyouts and Trucks
Frederick Hayes did some great things for Dodge Brothers in the 1920s, but he also made some catastrophic decisions that would eventually lead Dodge to landing 7th in sales for domestic automotive products for much of the early 1920s.
On the good side, Hayes inked a deal with Graham Brothers of Evansville, Indiana who were purchasing Dodge 1 ton, 2 ton, and 3 ton chassis to build a wide range of light-duty trucks. In 1926, the deal was done and included exclusive rights to produce, and market these Graham Brother trucks as Dodge Trucks. By 1925, sales were on the uptick and Dodge had managed to move up to 5th in the sales race, and growth was further fueled by the acquisitions of Graham Brothers. 1925 would also be the year that Dodge was sold to investment group Dillon, Read & Co. to help spur on additional development and inject new money into Dodge.
Unfortunately, development went stagnant by the late 1920s, and Dodge was again in a difficult position and nearly dead last in sales. This time, Frederick Hayes and Dillon, Read & Co. decided it was time to jump ship and sold Dodge to none other than Walter P. Chrysler’s Chrysler Corporation for a not so insignificant sum of 170 million dollars in 1928.
The very last Dodge Brothers designed truck debuted in 1929, just after the Chrysler acquisition. It rolled out of the factory with hydraulic brakes (a first for a truck), and a selection of powerful straight-six or straight-eight engines. By the end of the 1920s, the stage was set for Dodge Trucks to properly grow under the Chrysler umbrella, and that’s exactly what went down.
Job – Rated Trucks (1939-1947)
Dodge, now fully under Chrysler, introduced a unique design known as “cab forward” that would move the cab of the truck forward in order to better balance the load in the bed of the truck. Up until 1936, Dodge still built their trucks off car frames, but crucially, switched over to the ladder truck frame for 1936 and set about completely revamping their lineup for the coming years. This was due to the rising popularity of pickup trucks in America, and their increasing usage for America’s blue-collar workforce. The 1930s would also see the introduction of the Ram hood ornament, a feature that would remain until the 1950s, and then go on to form the foundation for the entire brand much later.
1939 was a game-changing year for Dodge. Seeing the growing need for differentiation, Dodge marketed their 1939 redesign as “job-rated”, further cementing Dodge as a tough brand that was dependable, even under the harshest possible conditions. Styling for 1939 matched the ‘Streamline Moderne’, Art Deco style was incredibly popular throughout the entire world and included a barrel front end with unique headlights and a unique windshield design.
Under the skin, Dodge would offer six different payload classes, a wide range of bodies, and more than twenty different wheelbase lengths, along with a staggering variety of Chrysler side valve engines. Everything from a ½ ton personal use truck, to a three-ton tractor, could be ordered from Dodge and outfitted with a wide variety of accessories. Solid axles and solid leaf springs sprung every version of the Dodge truck, but other than that, every single truck was a little bit different. Sound familiar? This is exactly what today’s modern truck buyers demand, and this all started with Dodge.
All Dodge trucks from this era are designated with a “C” and depending on the year, models were designed TC, VC, or WC, which lasted from 1940, all the way to 1947. In 1946, Dodge would introduce its first medium-duty four-wheel-drive pickup (built off a WWII military design). Dubbed the Power Wagon, this vehicle was utterly capable in nearly any environment and would go on to inspire later RAM trucks.
It could also be argued that Dodge beat Ford to the punch by offering a competitive, off-road focused truck that hit the market way before the early Ford Bronco in the 1960s. Power Wagon would come and go as a trim for many, many years, and Velocity Restorations is currently working on a 1972 D200 Power Wagon that will receive the same treatment as the Ford Bronco restomods we’re so well known for.
B – Series: Evolving The Consumer Truck (1948-1953)
Consumers from all walks of life were purchasing pickup trucks post World War II, and Dodge sought to cash in on this opportunity with their B Series trucks. These vehicles, while still including thousands of possible combinations, were more focused on daily-driver comfort with features like a rubber-mounted cab for less noise, vibration, and harshness, a “Pilot – House” cab with great visibility, a trick steering system that greatly shortened the turning radius, and an automatic transmission that came to the table in 1953.
C-Series: The Rise Of The Power Wagon (1954-1960)
Styling for Dodge’s new line of trucks was an evolution of the “Pilot-House” design and incorporated excellent visibility with a distinctive look that was all Dodge. Features like PowerFlite automatic transmissions, and Hemi engines equipped “Power Giant” trucks were introduced, along with continuing to offer a positively staggering array of available chassis capabilities and trims.
Where the C series really made its mark was the popularization of the “Military Style” Dodge Power Wagon. Yes, the Power Wagon had been available since 1946, but it was based on the much older style WC Dodge trucks that were utilized in commercial and military service. The 1946 Power Wagon was styled like a light-duty truck, and it put the idea of a hardcore 4×4 into the hands of the buying public. Sound familiar? You bet it does and as we mentioned, it beat the early Ford Bronco and classic International Scout to the punch.
Heavily stylized sweptside (including integrated fins) and more subdued styleside were also notable features from the C- Series, although the sweptside did not sell well.
D- Series: 33 Years, 3 Generations, Millions and Millions Sold (1961-1993)
When the D-Series debuted in 1961, Dodge debuted a truck that was a near clean sheet design. This design was so good, so long-lasting, that it would go on to sell all the way until 1993!
Today, we take 4 door, 2 row pickup trucks for granted because they’re simply the standard. However, back in the early days of consumer trucks, trucks were limited to two-door configurations with one single bench seat. In 1963, Dodge would change the pickup truck game forever, and be the first of the “Big Three” to offer a 4 door pickup truck. Again, beating Ford in the battle of features and benefits. In addition to this bit of innovation, we now take for granted, Dodge would debut another type of pickup truck, whose culture is more popular today than ever before: the sport truck.
1964 brought the Custom Sports Special to the market, and wow, was this one incredible truck! This unique creation brought a specialized exterior complete with racing stripes, together with a sporting interior that included features like bucket seats, a sport console, a tachometer, and full carpeting. Power came from Chrysler’s “Wedge Head” 426 Cubic Inch V-8, producing a stonking 365 horsepower and 475 pound-feet of torque. This was the kind of power modern vehicles like our classic Ford Bronco Coyote build puts out! Ordering up the High-Performance Package netted the heavy-duty LoadFlite automatic transmission, a 6000 rpm-rated Sun tachometer with heavy-duty gauges, power steering, dual exhaust, and rear axle torque rods (traction bars) that were pulled from 1961 Imperials.
Second Generation D – Series: (1965 – 1971)
65’ brought a slightly redesigned truck to market with new styling and a bevy of new trims and option packages. Most notable from this era is the introduction of the “Adventurer” trim, which would replace the Custom Sports Special. Unique versions of the Adventurer included the Adventurer SE with features like a chrome grille, wood trim, padded vinyl front seat with color-keyed seatbelts, full courtesy lighting, extra insulation, dual horns, full carpeting, luxury door panel trim, a vinyl-embossed trim strip ran along the sides of the truck, full wheel discs and a woodgrain-insert panel on the tailgate.
The awesomely titled “ The Dude” trim debuted in 1969 with unique styling like a black or white body-side “C” stripe decal; a Dodge Dude decal on the box at the rear marker lamps; tail lamp bezel trim; and dog dish hubcaps with trim rings. None other than Don Knotts was the spokesperson for “The Dude”, making it even more unique.
Names like “The Dude” were meant to differentiate the growing competition, and brands like Ford were doing no different than their special edition classic Ford Bronco’s like the “Freewheelin Package” or “Ranger” package.
Third Generation D – Series: (1971-1993)
Dodge continued to soldier the D – Series along into the early 1970s with yet another redesign evolution, and a bevy of new features. Among the most innovative features of the era was the introduction of the “Club Cab” which featured more space than a standard cab but less space than the crew cab. Again, sound familiar? Dodge was the first to offer this feature that would go on to be copied by everyone from Toyota to Chevrolet.
One of the coolest things about the 70’s Dodge trucks was the insane number of special editions that would come out of the factory. Everything from the 1977 Dodge Warlock with its custom gold wheels, wide tires, bucket seats, and a Utiline bed with oak racks to the Li’l Red Express with its preposterous semi-truck style exhaust systems made their way from the factory to America’s hearts. Dodge would also introduce the Dodge Ramcharger in 1974 to compete with the classic Ford Broncos of the same era. Although not nearly as popular as restored Ford Broncos, occasionally, we’ll get out eyes on a Ramcharger build that blows the doors off classic Ford Broncos.
1978 would also see the introduction of another Dodge first: the light-duty diesel pickup. Powered by Mitsubishi’s 6DR5 4.0 L inline six-cylinder naturally-aspirated diesel, this engine was not only reliable but extremely efficient. Unfortunately, it sold poorly due to its lack of power, and today, it is one of the rarest Dodge trucks on the market.
1981 would see big changes with Dodge, which was struggling financially along with the rest of the Chrysler group. Once the infamous Lee Iaccoca took over in 1980, he immediately turned to the Dodge truck group and renamed the entire lineup to Dodge Ram.
Dodge Ram: The New Legend (1981 – 1993)
What Iaccoca did was not only reintroduce the Ram name back to Dodge (remember, Dodge utilized a Ram as a hood ornament up through the 1950s) but completely change the way trucks are configured and bought. He didn’t add options, he cut options, and began to streamline the entire lineup into a set of core trucks that nearly any truck fan would love. In addition, he bumped up quality and introduced better steel and better construction to the Ram.
Dodge Ram kept the naming convention from earlier trucks: D for 2WD, W for 4WD. Much like rival Ford, Dodge utilized 150 to indicate a half-ton truck, 250 for a three-quarter-ton, and 350 for a full ton. Cab sizes included a standard, club cab, and crew cab, along with either a 6.5 foot or 8-foot bed. Club cab would go on hiatus from 1982 to 1990, but all other cab sizes would continue to soldier on.
There was a wide selection of engines, and transmission available throughout the first-generation Ram years, but none is more significant than the 1989 introduction of the Cummins Diesel to the Dodge lineup. Available on the 250 or 350, the Cummins B series engine was a complete departure from the units available at Ford and Chevrolet. The B Series featured Direct Injection (vs. indirect injection), utilized a straight-six layout, and was aided by a turbocharger. Unlike the 1978 Mitsubishi sourced diesel, the Cummins offered a powerful option that truck buyers snapped up quickly. It was so popular that Dodge had trouble fulfilling orders for the first 2 years!
1993 would spell the end of the legendary D – Series, and it would be replaced by a completely redesigned Ram truck that completely changed the truck game here in the states. The Ramcharger would also be discontinued in 1993, followed by its biggest rival, the classic Ford Bronco, in 1994.
Dodge Trucks The Velocity Way
At Velocity Modern Classics, there are few things we love more than a classic truck restoration.
We’ve had the opportunity to work on some amazing classic Dodge trucks over the years, including a D- Series Ram Cummins, and a 1972 Dodge D200 that is unlike anything else on the road. Velocity Restorations attention to detail brings classic truck builds from concept to completion with a level of fit and finish that is unparalleled in the classic vehicle restoration industry.
Much like Dodge, Velocity Modern Classics is an innovator in classic truck builds and classic car restorations. We’re always pushing the boundaries with what’s possible by turning classic Dodge trucks into Velocity Modern Classics. Beautifully designed, bespoke interiors with luxury appointments and state-of-the-art technology combine with modern performance and driveability that are worlds beyond anything offered in a stock classic Dodge truck.
If you can dream it, the team at Velocity Restorations can make your old Dodge truck into the Velocity modern classic of your dreams.