Crucial Cars: '94 Dodge Ram

The folks at Dodge believed in getting the most out of their toolings.

The Dodge C series trucks were in production from '53 to '60, when they were replaced by the D series, which ran from '61 to '71 with few changes. The D series had a complete overhaul in '72, with an independent front suspension that replaced the Pleistocene-era solid axle/leaf springs setup. It also had an entirely new look, with rounded contours, a more comfortable cab and a scalloped hood that was reminiscent of Dodge muscle cars from the era. They liked the D series so much that it stuck around, without a lot of changes other than cosmetics and sheet metal, until model year 1993.

Unfortunately, Dodge was consistently a distant third in sales behind Ford and Chevrolet. That all changed with the introduction of the '94 model Ram truck.

Call In The Ram

Come with us to the long-ago year of 1994. Chrysler's turnaround plan was already underway, with completely updated new rides like the Neon, the LH-platform Concorde/LHS/Intrepid and the hotrod Viper. Engineers and stylists knew it was time to roll out a new truck design as well, but the initial sketches for the new Ram were deemed too square, boxy, conservative and sedan-like. The design was supposed to be modular with plenty of common ground between truck and van models. Deemed the "Louisville Slugger," it was like a misbegotten cross between a minivan and a Dakota pickup.

Dodge Ram Concept

The "Louisville Slugger" Concept. Source | Autos of Interest

Instead, execs and designers were thinking more along the lines of early-50s Studebaker trucks, the WWII-era Dodge Power Wagon and big rigs. The sketches turned more toward a tall, wide grille, sculpted headlights and rounded hood and fender contours, for a look completely unlike anything on the road.

During the development process, the team was working at Chrysler Technological Center, which was being worked on at the time. The parking lot was full of contractors' trucks, and team members snooped the parking lot with Polaroid cameras. Inside those work trucks, they found plenty of clipboards, paperwork, tools, cups and other stuff, with little in the way of storage or organization. Some contractors had even devised their own custom-built consoles to manage and organize things and keep them from rolling around all over the cab. It was obvious that storage and convenience were going to be important for buyers, whether for work trucks or daily drivers, and the '94 had a larger glovebox, storage cubbies behind the seat, in the map pockets and console and other well-thought-out places to stash stuff in the roomy cab.

The new design also had plenty of options available in terms of power accessories, upholstery, seating design, controls, audio and trim packages and standard reclining seats, for a level of comfort that previous generations of Dodge trucks didn't offer. The result was a completely modern game-changer of a truck that caught buyers' interest and left Ford and Chevrolet suddenly playing catch-up.

The Ram Hits The Streets

Chrysler's gamble with the Ram paid off handsomely. Sales of the '93 model were under 100,000 units, but the new-gen '94 model moved over 230,000 units. That went up to 410,000 in '95 and 411,000 the following year, eventually peaking in '99 when Ford and Chevrolet rolled out revamped models.

"Indy Ram"

The 1996 "Indy Ram" pace truck. Source | Mecum Auctions

Buyers had plenty of drivetrain options and packages to choose from with the new Ram. There was the 3.9 V6 with 175 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque, the tried-and-true 5.2 (230 hp, 295 lb-ft) and 5.9 V8 (245 hp, 335 lb-ft), and the 2500 trucks could be had with Chrysler's big V10 (300 hp, 450 lb-ft) or the 8.0 Cummins Turbo Diesel (215 hp, 440 lb-ft). It also made Motor Trend's Truck of the Year for '94, had a prominent role in the movie Twister and even served as the pace truck in the '96 Indy 500. Before long there were packages like the Super Bee, SRT-10, SS/T, Quad Cab, Club Cab and plenty of other appearance and performance options, and the Dodge Ram was here to stay.

As the slogan of the time went: "The Rules Have Changed." Now the Ram is in its fifth generation, but even a glance at the 2019 models shows a pretty direct tie-in to the world-beater truck that rolled out 25 years before. Now, we leave you to contemplate some of the Ram designs that were never to be:

Gen 2 Ram Concepts

Have you ever owned a Dodge Ram? Let us know in the comments.

Last updated December 17, 2020