Truck Talk: The Ram Pickup and Its Various Generations

As the perennial bronze medalist in Detroit’s full-sized pickup sales race, the (formerly) Dodge Ram has had its share of hits and misses. The nameplate first appeared in 1981 at a time when the Chrysler Corporation was recovering some serious financial troubles. While never selling in nearly the numbers of the class-leading Ford F-Series, the Ram Pickup has evolved to solidify a reputation of trend-setting designs and rugged suspension components that have helped shape the full-sized pickup truck market.

Humble Beginnings

At the start of the eighties, Lee Iaccoca had almost every development dollar funneled into his new line of front wheel drive sedans so the original Dodge Ram was hardly more than a restyle of the D-Series pickup that had been launched nearly a decade earlier. There were advancements in safety and electrical gadgetry but the truck soldiered on with its rather traditional chassis and anemic engines that were never intended to be fitted with any sort of emissions controls.

Conventional leaf springs riding on a solid axle handled suspension duties in the rear while two wheel drive models rode on a double wishbone independent design in the front. Four wheel drive units maintained a live axle with leaf springs. While durable and simple to maintain, it lacked the comfort and control afforded by the contemporary Ford F-150’s Twin Traction Beam front suspension. The Ram did offer a selection of venerable Dana axles along with an innovative (for its day) automatic locking hub system, allowing the recycled chassis design to remain a rugged competitor in the evolving truck market.

By the end of the eighties, however, the Ram was having trouble escaping its dated underpinnings. Both Ford and Chevrolet pickups had seen multiple overhauls since the Ram’s chassis debuted in 1972 and the marketplace had taken notice. In a vein attempt to remain relevant, Dodge offered new and revised powertrains including a massive, industrial turbocharged diesel supplied by Cummins. Still, Dodge and its then twenty-one year-old chassis had slid to a meager seven percent of the full sized pickup market share with over half of those sales including the diesel engine. It’s rumored that many of Ram’s customers would claim to have purchased a Cummins motor that happened to be wrapped in Dodge pickup.

Reinventing the American Pickup Truck

Late in 1993, everything changed when Dodge turned the truck market on its head. The 1994 Ram was a completely new design, from the ground up, and boasted a range of the most powerful engines in its class, including an enormous V-10. It sported bulging hood, reminiscent of a semi truck, and interior appointments and features found only in contemporary luxury cars. Gone were the days when the pickup truck was merely a slab-sided utility appliance. The new Dodge Ram was so bold, stylish, and comfortable that it ushered in the era of pickup trucks being ubiquitous fixtures of the suburban landscape and not just anonymous symbols of the working class. In short, it made the pickup truck cool.

Underneath the new Ram, there was serious brawn to back the looks. Unique to a four wheel drive pickup at the time, the new Dodge featured a solid front axle supported by coil springs. While inherently more clumsy than the independent front suspension designs in use by Ford and GM, the solid front axle offered a level of ruggedness and ground clearance that contemporary independent suspensions could not match. The inclusion of coil springs, as opposed to traditional elliptical leafs, gave the Ram a ride smoothness on par with its competitors along with unbeatable articulation capabilities. Out back, the new Dodge featured leaf springs that were a full six inches longer than those fitted to the previous generation. These allowed for a lighter spring rate for a smooth ride without sacrificing load capacity.

It took months for Dodge Ram production to match the demand for this ground-breaking model. Multiple awards from both journalists and quality studies, as well as strategic media placements, fueled the Ram’s success through the 90’s. Sales peaked in August of 1999 when the Ram narrowly beat the Chevrolet Silverado for second place in the full-sized truck market, despite competitive new models being released from Ford and GM. Shortly thereafter, the once revolutionary Ram again fell victim to a rapidly evolving marketplace with its main competitors both offering new diesel engines and heavier duty rigs.

Return to Mediocrity and Financial Gloom

The 2002 model year brought another new Ram and while the styling largely an evolution of the previous generation, nearly every component was improved upon. V-6 and V-8 engines were all-new and the frame became stiffer and stronger thanks to newly developed hydro-forming techniques.  Inside, the interior grew additional storage, safety features, and convenience items while the brakes were touted as the largest in their class.

Advancements in suspension technology allowed for the adoption of a torsion bar independent setup for the front of four-wheel-drive 1500 models, similar in design to those used by contemporary Ford and GM pickups. Installed on each side is a longitudinal (front-to-back) torsion bar with one end mounted to a control arm and the other to a frame crosmember. Unlike traditional springs that support the truck through an up and down motion, torsion bars do their job via a twisting motion, hence their name.

Thanks to advancements in production technologies, Dodge was able to engineer the 2002 Ram’s front suspension to offer better ground clearance and superior articulation than the previous generation’s live axle and coil springs. That, combined with a switch to rack-and-pinion steering provided smoothness and precision that rivaled passenger cars. The rear suspension was fairly similar to the previous generation’s but the leaf springs were lengthened another 3” for additional smoothness.

Despite all of these improvements, the 2002 Ram did not have nearly the impact of its predecessor. Chrysler had merged with Daimler-Benz by then, a relationship that took a toll on both companies. Development budgets were down and corporate-wide quality concerns were emerging. In 2007, the companies split which put the new Chrysler LLC in a financially fragile state just in time for a global economic collapse.

A Renaissance, Ram Pickup Style

As the cliché goes, “when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade,” or limoncello, in Chrysler’s case. In mid-2009, Fiat S.p.A. of Italy began acquiring Chrysler’s assets. Product lines were re-worked and new models were launched with a nod towards quality and global competitiveness. The light- and medium-duty truck lines were separated from the Dodge brand and began to be marketed under the Ram Trucks name. With this new era came a new full-sized pickup.

The 2009 Ram 1500 marked a return to its pedigree of innovation. The current Ram Pickup offers a new range of storage and convenience features never before seen on a pickup truck. It also offers the only small diesel engine available in a North American light duty pickup truck. The frame is a completely fresh design to accommodate an all-new multi-link coil-sprung rear suspension that delivers an incredible ride quality without compromising the load capacity of the previous model. That, combined with a brand-new strut-based front suspension, gives the Ram 1500 unmatched handling characteristics. This model was so well received that it was, once again,  able to squeak past the Chevrolet Silverado for the number two sales position of March, 2014.

We’ve always appreciated the Ram Pickup, especially since the 1994 rebirth, for its commitment to breaking the mold of the established American pickup truck. Its available Cummins Turbo Diesel is one of our favorite production pickup engines for its relative efficiency, gobs of torque, and the fantastic noise that it makes while under full load. The Ram Pickup also continues to offer suspension designs that find an excellent balance between value and durability that, especially when fitted with a lift or leveling kit, make its various generations formidable off-roaders while maintaining outstanding highway manners.

2002-2008 Dodge Ram 1500 2″ Shackle Rear Suspension Lowering Kit 2WD 4WD

  • 2x Rear Lowering Shackles
  • Installation Instructions

2006-2008 Dodge Ram 1500 Full Suspension Lift Kit & Shims 4WD 4×4

  • 2x Front Billet Lift Spacers Anodized Black
  • 4x Zinc Plated U-Bolts
  • 2x Billet Rear Lift Blocks Anodized Black
  • 2x Rear Pinion Shims
  • Installation instructions

2006-2017 Dodge Ram 1500 Front Suspension Lift Kit 4WD

  • 2x Front Billet Lift Spacers
  • Installation instructions

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