We were recently poring over this Road & Track list of the 10 most outrageous pickup trucks ever produced and noticed that three slots were occupied by Dodge vehicles – more than any other manufacturer. That got us thinking about Dodge’s history in making strange but desirable performance pickups which, if you didn’t know, is rather extensive.
As R&T points out, Dodge basically invented the idea of a fast pickup with the 1978 Lil’ Red Express. It was only offered in two-door short bed trim and came stock with a 360 cubic-inch V8, which in 1978 made it the fastest accelerating American-made vehicle on sale. Bright red paint, ‘Lil Red Express Truck’ decals and iconic vertical exhaust outlets made it virtually unmistakable on the road.
The Lil’ Red Express might get all the credit for kicking off the fast truck trend, but it wasn’t the first performance pickup offered by Dodge. In 1964 and 1965, the Dodge D series pickup was offered with both a ‘Custom Sport Special’ sport appearance package and a High Performance Package. The latter netted buyers a 365-horsepower 426 V8 engine, which was joined by other performance add-ons like dual-exhausts and an upgraded tachometer.
In 1989, Dodge ramped up the quirkiness with the Dakota Convertible, which was just like the standard Dakota in virtually every way, save for its retractable ragtop roof. A roof that, in the words of former Chrysler product boss Bob Lutz “had to be the leakiest convertible top of all time.”
The 1989 Dakota spawned another weird model variant: the Shelby Dakota. Born out of Carroll Shelby’s partnership with Dodge, the compact performance truck packed Dodge’s 5.2-liter Magnum V8 under the hood. It only produced 175 horsepower, but it still managed to set the bar for future performance trucks like the GMC Syclone, even with paltry performance numbers.
Rounding out our history of Dodge/Ram performance trucks is the venerable 2005 Ram SRT10. The truck was powered by the Viper SRT10’s 500 horsepower 8.0-liter V10, which helped it set the Guinness World Record for fastest production pickup at 154.587 mph. It also boasted huge 22-inch wheels shod in Pirelli rubber, Bilstein shocks and a six-speed manual transmission.
The latest chapter in Dodge/Ram’s sporty truck history is the Ram Rebel TRX concept, which debuted at the State Fair of Texas earlier this month. With a 575 horsepower supercharged 6.2-liter V8, off-road suspension and bucket seats with racing harnesses, it represents the most extreme pickup in Dodge/Ram history. Now we just need them to actually put into production which, judging by this list, isn’t such a far fetched idea.