The Western Star - 2020-03-25


A brief history


GARRY SOWERBY @chronicleherald

After spending time in a 2020 Ram 1500 Laramie over the past month, it’s easy to understand why Ram pickup trucks have won so many awards, including Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year not once, but twice, in the last two years. The handsome crew cab tester was loaded with about every conceivable feature available on any vehicle, including an air suspension system that adjusts clearance height and provides a velvet smooth ride. Quiet and comfortable in a state-of-the-art interior, it was hard to believe I was driving a pick up truck. While appreciating the Laramie’s lap of luxury, I couldn’t help hearken back to my first time in a Dodge pickup, as Rams were previously called. It was the mid1970s when pickup trucks were beginning to trend as transportation vehicles beyond the work horses they had always been. I was 24 years old and employed as a project test officer at the Canadian Armed Forces Land Engineering Test Establishment in Orleans, Ont. I figured running mobility trials on new military wheeled and tracked vehicles was the best job of any of my friends. Need performance data on an armoured personal carrier, to grade roll bars for a new Jeep or cold weather engineering trials on a line of Standard Military Pattern (SMP) transport trucks? Send the mission to Capt. Sowerby and his team of crack drivers and technicians will get the job done. Of course our department had support vehicles, a random selection of SMP vehicles except for one, the only civilian unit assigned to us. The then three-year-old 1972 threequarter-ton Dodge Power Wagon with four-wheel drive and a 383 V8 engine was no 2020 Hemi Ram Laramie, but it was quicker than run-of-themill pickups of the day. What made it even more fun was the four-speed manual transmission with a stumppuller bull-low first gear. That gear was rarely needed in dayto-day driving so it was essentially a three-speed manual. The bright yellow Power Wagon with a flat black no-glare hood was as base as a truck could be with rubber floor coverings, roll-up windows, radio delete and front hubs that had to be manually locked. But it had a raunchy sound and when I drove to meetings at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa, Captain Sowerby G.W. always had a smile on his face. The Power Wagon name was first bolted to a pickup truck in 1946 when Dodge began selling a civilian version of their WC series three-quarter-ton SecondWorld War military trucks. After the war, when soldiers came back and settled into civilian jobs, the ones in the ranching, forestry, mining and construction sectors wanted something that performed like the three-quarter-ton SMP Dodge trucks that helped win the war. Chrysler saw an opportunity and produced a civilian version of the WC military units and named it a Power Wagon. It was the first mass produced 4x4 truck marketed to the public. With an enclosed allweather cab, eight-foot box, flathead 230-cubic-inch six-cylinder engine, fourspeed manual transmission and two-speed transfer case, it was one tough workhorse. Capable of taking on the nastiest of pickup truck jobs, it was the predecessor of the hundreds of thousands of 4x4 trucks now sold globally every year. When the original version of the Power Wagon was discontinued in 1968, Dodge released a Power Wagon model of its commercial pickup competing the three-quarter-ton Chevys and Fords of the day. Back then I considered the Dodges as rough, but tough, but not as refined as the GM or Ford pickups I had been exposed to in our family’s driveway or at my part time job at a Lincoln Mercury dealership. The “poor cousin” of the pickup world always intrigued me, though, especially the Power Wagons. Power Wagons were first sold to the public as threequarter-ton conventional cabs units but got a big boost in sales in 1974 when Dodge introduced the extended Club Cab and then Crew Cab four-door units. Both configurations were hits with work crews and families who wanted to tow something big and take the kids along. The Power Wagon was discontinued in 1980 but returned recently as a Ram 2500 in four-door configuration. It’s an off road package now, obviously not as basic as the Power Wagon I cut my teeth on so many years ago. Ram has done an excellent job in producing what some consider the finest pickup trucks in the world. With a wide variety of models with gas and diesel powertrains, their light and heavy duty pickup trucks seem to be everywhere. Not that many years ago, I never thought then Chrysler Corporation would catch up to Ford and GM in the hot pickup truck market, but a vibrant history fuelled by sound engineering and savvy marketing has put Ram trucks in an enviable position.


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