My Evolution: How Ram went from a workhorse to a Luxo truck

The formula that Dodge found success in its early years still works today: a frame-on-frame chassis, eight-cylinder power, and soft-suspension

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In the early 1930s, a promising young sculptor Avard T. Fairbanks received an urgent call from some Chrysler executives. The company founded by the Dodge brothers was recently acquired by Chrysler, and they were looking to add a touch of elegance to their eight-cylinder models. Fairbanks, who was going to go on to sculpt more than a hundred public works of art, got a copy of an illustration of an animal-friendly book and went to work.

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He tried a mountain lion, a leopard, a leopard – not quite right. Finally, he settled on a large sheep, leaping forward as if beating an opponent. Walter P. Chrysler was neutral about the design at first. “If you’re on the road and see that ram charging at you,” Fairbanks supposedly said sarcastically, “What do you think? Wriggle!”

Thus, the hood trim was born, to be hung on every Dodge for years, and on Dodge trucks for even longer. For his work, Fairbanks got the equivalent of one new high-spec Dodge Eights, about $1,400. Ninety years later, the ram is now a ram, his now small sculpture has grown into a full-fledged brand. At the time of writing, the Ram pickup truck is Canada’s second most popular vehicle, second only to the Ford F-150 in total sales, and ahead of family cabs such as the Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V.

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Dodge Ram hood decoration
Dodge Ram hood decoration Photography by Brendan McClear

Some of these sales results are from fleet sales, the kind of inevitably battered white truck that appears on construction sites or roadworks projects. However, even with gasoline prices at all-time highs, many Ram trucks are not just working excavators, but everyday excavators for families in the suburbs or rural areas. The 2022 Ram 1500 10th Anniversary Edition is not designed to have shovel handles that carelessly shrug their sides, but to function as a luxury item, where capability is part of that luxury experience.

In that sense, it’s not a descendant of the bare-bones service trucks the Dodge brothers once built, more in keeping with the upscale Dodge Eight that Chrysler put on top of the DeSoto and Plymouth lines. It’s also an example of how our tastes in cars haven’t really changed, they’re just modern pickups that offer an experience a lot like a traditional car.

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Deluxe Transport, Dunkirk, and Red Ram V8

Dodge 8 ad 1933
Dodge 8 ad 1933 Photo by stellants

With body on body, smooth eight-cylinder engine under a long hood, and four-door practicality, the 1933 Dodge Eight wasn’t as cheap and cheerful as the Ford A. Classy crowd. It wasn’t quite a Rolls-Royce, but it was meant to appeal to those with Rolls-Royce aspirations.

Power was solid for the day with 100 horsepower, but the most impressive figure was torque: 200 pound-feet from just 1,200 rpm. Dodge’s large, non-compression engine is made for easy idling on the road. In the United States, the interstate system still had to be built, so dodgers could often be seen bobbing along a gravel road. The most important attributes were the soft suspension, decent ground clearance, and a powerful driving position.

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By the time World War II broke out, the luxuries of the 1930s were off the table. Dodge is building trucks at an astonishing pace: 180,000 full-size Dodge military trucks made by Chrysler Canada, compared to 380,000 Jeeps made by Willys, just south of the border. These were badly needed, after the catastrophic loss of equipment to the British forces at Dunkirk. The Canadian Military Dodge was mostly right-hand drive, and, along with trucks from Ford and Chevrolet, was vital in maintaining the supply and support of front-line forces.

When those troops returned home, the name “Dodge” proved reliable. In the early 1950s, before the Ram badge was removed from the Dodge line of cars, customers in the United States could get something like the Coronette. Once again, all the familiar features were there: build on chassis, smooth ride, and available V8 power. In this case, at least in the US, you can order a relatively small V8 called the Red Ram, which produces 140 horsepower and was exclusive to Dodge. With a capacity of 3.9 liters, it was the smallest Hemi ever.

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Hatchback Ocean Life

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Canadian buyers tended to be a little more economical than our US cousins, and in any case, Chrysler was losing ground to Ford and General Motors throughout the 1950s. By the 1960s, imports had begun to increase, with Volkswagen in particular being popular.

When the fuel crises of the 1970s hit, small Japanese cars gained a foothold, with cars like the Honda Civic and Datsun 510 remaining cult favorites. However, even with the arrival of more of these small, energetic machines from abroad, the late 1960s and early 1970s were still the age of the dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs like the Dodge Polara Station Wagon. A full-size Dodge model, the Polara was also available as a coupe or sedan, with the latter being used on special police chase offerings. The station wagon version wasn’t all about speed, it was about size. What families needed was enough seating capacity to fit all the kids (seat belts? optional!) plus enough luggage space for all of their camping gear, and a towing cart perhaps to pull a small trailer. Structure on a frame, eight-cylinder power, soft suspension.

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The rise of the ram

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In the early 1980s, veteran sales leader Lee Iacocca brought back the ram. In fact, it can be said that it brought the entire Chrysler company back, leading to a product renaissance that has yielded results. The first generation of Ram pickups were pretty big trucks, but by the time the fourth generation launched, the line was blurred.

This 1500’s 10th anniversary is exactly why Ram sales took such a bite out of the annual Ford F-150 sales dominance. Even if Ford had to make a Lincoln version of its pickup, I’m not sure it would be as beautiful on the inside as this machine. Place your foot on the electric actuation panels, slip into the large, comfortable interior with padded leather accents, and fire up the massive central touchscreen. All that is needed to complete the cliched phrase is to put an actual kitchen sink in the bed.

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Sure, Memory RAM is great, but that only underscores the point. While on the go, the RAM isn’t that spotless, but that’s not what most driving is like. You’re sitting high, with the power of the V8 under your right foot, with a suspension that only shows any tough truck behavior over hard bumps.

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This ram is a semi-luxury experience. It’s also large enough to fit all kids (seat belts are now mandatory) as well as all camping gear, and having a boat or trailer is no problem. Structure on chassis, soft suspension, captivating view of the road.

The only thing missing is Fairbanks’ ram’s head, which of course likely won’t pass the laws of infantry influence. All in all, as polished as this machine is, it is unsuitable for use as a polished instrument in the city. The V8’s power also feels less attractive when it’s time to fill up.

Having said all that, it’s clear why so many people buy so many Ram trucks. We sometimes turn to smaller vehicles for sporting performance or efficiency, or ease of use in more built areas. But a big Dodge has enduring appeal, even if it was here, they just call it the Ram.

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