Mopar Muscle Trucks: A Comprehensive Guide

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While most people think of Mopar muscle as large V8s in some high-speed cars, the rich legacy of Mopar trucks should not be ignored.

Over the years, Dodge has been a muscle truck leader. Beginning in the sixties, Dodge began to put a high-performance V8 in its trucks to compete with Ford and GM offerings. Dodge put a 413 Max Wedge engine into a D100 in 1964, beginning a legacy of muscle truck power that exists up to this day.

Think of Mopar muscle, and immediately, you might picture a ‘71 Hemi ‘Cuda, ‘68 Charger, or even the new 2023 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon 170 (which is the last Hemi-powered Challenger ever). It’s understandable. Over its rich history, Mopar has always been associated with large V8 engines in well-built pony cars. But that is only half of the story. Mopar also has a rich legacy in powering trucks with higher-performance V8s, so we thought, why not look closer at some Mopar muscle trucks? If you are a Mopar maniac like we tend to be, you know that any Dodge can more than hold its own against the likes of Ford or Chevy, and it doesn’t matter if we are talking cars or trucks. Let’s look at how Dodge used Mopar muscle to establish itself as a dominant player in the truck world.

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Mopar Trucks Are Born On The Track

The year was 1963, and Dodge had just released the 413 Max Wedge engine for its B-body models when San Diego drag racer/newscaster Dick Boynton transplanted the Ramcharger 413 V8 into a D100 truck. Racing in the NHRA’s B/Experimental class, Boynton blistered the track in his new creation, running a quarter mile in 12.95 seconds @ 110 mph.

But Boynton wasn’t finished with his Mopar dominance. At the ‘63 Winternationals in Ponoma, Boynton raced his dragster truck again, clocking a 12.71 quarter. The only truck that would race him was a Ford 406 with fiberglass panels. The Ramcharger truck beat the Ford handily (10 lengths in the first race and 4 in the second). Boynton won the NHRA event on a technicality (he was the runner-up, but the winner was running too much compression and was disqualified).

Dodge HQ Takes Notice

Dodge didn’t take long to recognize the need for a High-Performance package in their D100 and D200 two-wheel drive trucks. The HPP option was relegated to pickups with a long bed and offered customers a 413 ci Max Wedge V8 with a 4 bbl carburetor that produced 360 hp. In addition to the massive racing-born engine, owners received other perks like an automatic transmission, HD front/rear springs, dual exhaust, power steering, and an instrument panel dedicated to racing with an oversized tachometer.

Within a year, Dodge had upgraded the 413 Max Wedge to 426 and offered this higher displacement engine for the ‘64 model. The HPP could be ordered independently, although Dodge didn’t seem too anxious to produce them. (management limited the production to 50 units over three years). These ultra-rare Max Wedge HPP trucks still exist today, but based on the CSS registry, only a handful are still on the road.

The Dodge sales brochure (1964) advertised the HPP as an option for their Custom Sports Special pickup. Owners soon discovered that the specialized motor was expensive (HPP cost $1,200). Consequently, most owners opted for the standard slant 225 Slant six (140 hp) or the 318 V8 (200 hp). The Custom Sports Special would last through the 1967 model, when

The Late 70’s “Adult Toys”

Declining sales forced Dodge to reconsider many aspects of its trucks during the hard, brutal years of the ‘70s. An oil embargo in 1973 forced gas prices through the roof and created long lines at filling stations. Rampant inflation began to rise to record levels. Four recessions (1970 - 81) frightened consumers who chose to hold on to their monies.

To draw attention to their line of light-duty pickup trucks, Dodge instituted an “Adult Toy” line, which consisted of specialized super-trucks with unique designs and big engines. For example, the Lil Red Express had dual semi-truck exhaust pipes sticking straight up in the air and a 360 ci police interceptor engine. (Some states banned its sale due to noise restrictions in some areas). The popular WarLock was a powerful “lifestyle” pickup with various engine choices, was offered as a 4x2 or 4x4, and was advertised to younger buyers. The Macho Power Wagon offered 4x4 capabilities, and the Midnight Express model, made only for 1978, sported a blacked-out truck with a 7.2L 440 V8. (although it had been seriously detuned in power from the ‘60s version).

RAM Becomes A Brand And Grows Into Big Rig Styling

Due to financial struggles, Dodge divested itself of its truck line in 1981, and RAM Trucks became its own entity. By this time, the muscle car era had long since died. There was a market for smaller, more fuel-efficient trucks and cars. The RAM lineup didn’t change much during the decade, preferring to keep a lower profile than Ford, GM, and Chevy.

But 1994 RAM trucks went large with “Big Rig Styling.” Helped by exposure on TV shows like “Walker, Texas Ranger,” the more prominent, curved front of the truck offered an intimidating appearance, and customers began to talk about how much they liked the design of the new RAM truck. RAM went extensive with new engines, like the Magnum 8.0L V10 (488 ci), producing 300 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. The RAM truck won no races against the ‘91 Syclone or the ‘99 Ford SVT Lightning, but it set the stage for what was to come next as Mopar tried to reestablish itself in the muscle truck market. (The company hinted at the 1996 Chicago Auto Show when it showed off a RAM pickup with a Viper V10 engine).

Dodge Ram Makes A Very Fast Truck

Two years before it rolled off the assembly line in 2004, Chrysler/Daimler’s Performance Vehicle Operations division debuted the SRT-10 featuring an 8.3L V10 used in the third-generation Dodge Viper. The engine produced 500 hp and 525 lb-ft of torque.

With a top speed of 154 mph, the Regular Cab edition lit up the track, doing 0 - 60 mph in under five seconds, and posted a quarter mile time of 13.6 seconds. (These times meant it was much faster than the Ford SVT Lightning, which had posted a 5.3-second time). To add insult to injury, the SRT-10 set the Guinness Book World Record for the fastest production truck when NASCAR driver Brendan Gaughan drove a fresh off the assembly line SRT-10, recording a 154.587 avg speed.

The truck sold just over 10k units during its three years of production. While the $45k MSRP doesn’t seem like much, it was a sizable amount to pay for a fast truck in 2004. (The truth is that only Mopar maniacs saw the need for a truck that could do 154 mph on a straightaway). While RAM put the V10 engine, it did not upgrade the clutch cylinders to account for the extra weight and stress, so SRT-10s tend to blow through components.

Mopar Truck Muscle Is Alive And Well

Fast forward to 2015, when Dodge RAM flexed its muscles again with the RAM 1500 R/T blessed with a 5.7L Hemi engine. The truck was an SRT-10 “Lite,” while not as fast, it was still quick. Car and Driver tested the truck in September 2014 and logged a 5.4-second time for 0 - 60 mph. The truck was sold only as an RWD Regular cab and was listed at a very reasonable $36,995. Ram made 942 models for the US market.

In 2021, Dodge RAM brought out the TRX, with a 702 hp supercharged 6.2L Hellcat engine. The TRX wasn’t just fast. It was unbelievably quick, logging a 0-60 mph run in 3.1 seconds. The TRX was sold with an ungraded suspension, stiffer body, and a TorqueFlite 8HP70 automatic transmission when Dodge RAM announced a special launch edition for the new truck with a limited production of 702 units, the orders sold out in 3 hours.

The TRX model has been very popular (mainly because Dodge RAM has been limiting production to around 875 units each year). The trucks sell very quickly despite the $86k MSRP and lousy fuel economy. And now, with the end of the HEMI engine, the TRX will just become more valuable.

The Future Awaits And Its Electric

Dodge RAM is undergoing a revolution, and it involves electrifying its trucks. Since other automakers are well into producing EV trucks, Rivian, Silverado EV, and Ford Lightning, it was time for RAM to take the plunge. The new RAM 1500 EV is expected to run a 4.4 second 0 - 60 mph and be available for sale in the fourth quarter of 2024. (They are also working on a concept truck, Revolution, which intrigues us even more).