In the early 1930s, promising young sculptor Avard T. Fairbanks received a rush call from some Chrysler executives. Chrysler had recently acquired the company founded by the Dodge Brothers, and was looking to add a dash of elegance to its eight-cylinder models. Fairbanks, who would go on to sculpt more than one hundred public works of art, grabbed a copy of a friend’s animal illustration book and got to work.

He tried a mountain lion, a tiger, a jaguar — not quite right. Finally, he settled on a bighorn sheep, leaping forward as though to batter a rival. Walter P. Chrysler was on the fence about the design at first. “If you were on the trail and saw that ram charging at you,” Fairbanks supposedly quipped, “What would you think? Dodge!”

And thus, the ram hood ornament was born, to be attached to every Dodge car for years, and on Dodge trucks for even longer. For his work, Fairbanks was paid the equivalent of one of those new top-spec Dodge Eights, about $1,400. Ninety years later, ram is now Ram, his tiny sculpture now grown to be an entire brand. At time of writing, the Ram pickup is the second-most-popular vehicle in Canada, second only to the Ford F-150 in overall sales, and ahead of family fare like the Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V.

evolutionary: how ram went from workhorse to luxo-truck

A Dodge Ram hood ornament Photo by Brendan McAleer

Some of those sales results are from fleet sales, the sort of inevitably battered white trucks that show up at construction sites or roadworks projects. However, even with gasoline prices at an all-time high, many Ram pickups aren’t workhorses, but ordinary everyday rigs for suburban or rural families. This 2022 Ram 1500 10th Anniversary Edition is not made to have shovel handles carelessly dinging its sides, but to function as a luxury item, where capability is part of that luxury experience.

In that sense, it’s less a descendant of the bare-bones utility trucks that the Dodge Brothers once built, and more in line with the upscale Dodge Eight that Chrysler positioned above its DeSoto and Plymouth lines. It’s also an example of how our tastes in cars haven’t really changed, it’s just that modern pickup trucks offer an experience that’s a lot more like the traditional car.

Luxury transport, Dunkirk, and the Red Ram V8

evolutionary: how ram went from workhorse to luxo-truck

A 1933 Dodge 8 advertisement Photo by Stellantis

With body-on-frame construction, a smooth eight-cylinder engine under a long hood, and four-door practicality, the 1933 Dodge Eight was no cheap and cheerful Ford Model A. As mentioned, Chrysler pitched its Dodge line at the slightly more upmarket crowd. It wasn’t quite a Rolls-Royce, but it was intended to appeal to those with Rolls-Royce aspirations.

Power was solid for the day at an even 100 hp, but the more impressive figure was the torque: 200 lb-ft from just 1,200 rpm. The Dodge’s big, unstressed engine made for easy loafing down the road. In the U.S., the interstate system was still to be built, so Dodges could often be seen jouncing along a gravel road. The attributes that mattered most were a soft suspension, decent ground clearance, and a commanding driving position.

By the time the Second World War rolled around, 1930s luxuries were off the table. Dodge built trucks at an astounding pace: 180,000 full-size Dodge military trucks were built by Chrysler Canada, compared to 380,000 Jeeps made by Willys, south of the border. These were badly needed, after the disastrous loss of equipment for British troops at Dunkirk. Canada’s military Dodges were mostly right-hand-drive, and, along with trucks from Ford and Chevrolet, they were vital in keeping front-line troops supplies and supported.

When those troops came home, the “Dodge” name had proved itself to be reliable. In the early 1950s, just before the Ram badge was removed from Dodge’s car line, customers in the U.S. could get something like a Coronet. Again, all the familiar features were there: body-on-frame construction, a soft ride, and available V8 power. In this case, at least in the U.S., you could order a relatively small V8 called the Red Ram, which produced 140 hp and was exclusive to Dodge. At 3.9L, it was the littlest Hemi ever.

The age of the hatchbacked ocean-liner

evolutionary: how ram went from workhorse to luxo-truck

A 1960s Dodge Polara station wagon Photo by Brendan McAleer

evolutionary: how ram went from workhorse to luxo-truck

A 1960s Dodge Polara station wagon Photo by Brendan McAleer

Canadian buyers tended to be a little thriftier than our U.S. cousins, and in any case, Chrysler was losing ground to Ford and GM all through the 1950s. As the sixties rolled around, imports started to gain ground, with Volkswagens being especially popular.

When the fuel crises of the 1970s hit, small Japanese cars would gain their toehold, with cars like the Honda Civic and Datsun 510 becoming still-beloved favourites. Yet, even as more of these zippy little machines arrived from overseas, the late 1960s and early 1970s were still an age of dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs like the Dodge Polara Station Wagon. Dodge’s full-size model, the Polara was also available as a coupe or a sedan, with the latter seeing use in police pursuit specials. The station wagon version wasn’t about speed, it was about size. What families needed was enough seating capacity to fit all the kids (seatbelts? Optional!) plus luggage space enough for all the camping gear, and a tow hitch to maybe pull a small trailer. Body-on-frame, eight-cylinder power, soft suspension.

The rise of Ram

evolutionary: how ram went from workhorse to luxo-truck

2022 Ram 1500 10th Anniversary Edition Photo by Brendan McAleer

evolutionary: how ram went from workhorse to luxo-truck

2022 Ram 1500 10th Anniversary Edition Photo by Brendan McAleer

evolutionary: how ram went from workhorse to luxo-truck

2022 Ram 1500 10th Anniversary Edition Photo by Brendan McAleer

evolutionary: how ram went from workhorse to luxo-truck

2022 Ram 1500 10th Anniversary Edition Photo by Brendan McAleer

In the early 1980s, shrewd sales leader Lee Iaccoca brought the ram back. Indeed, he arguably brought the entire Chrysler corporation back, leading a renaissance in product that yielded results. The first generation of Ram pickups were very much capital-T trucks, but by the time the fourth generation rolled around, the line was blurred.

This 10th Anniversary 1500 is exactly why Ram sales have taken such a bite out of the Ford F-150’s annual sales dominance. Even if Ford were to make a Lincoln version of its pickup, I’m not sure it would be as nice inside as this machine. Set your foot on the power running boards, slide into the big, comfortable interior with quilted leather accents, and fire up the huge central touchscreen. All that’s needed to complete the cliche would be to chuck an actual kitchen sink in the bed.

Sure, the Anniversary Ram is fancy, but that just emphasizes the point. On the move, the Ram is no corner-carver, but that’s not what most driving is like. You sit up high, with effortless V8 power under your right foot, with a suspension that only displays any truckish behaviour over severe bumps.

evolutionary: how ram went from workhorse to luxo-truck

2022 Ram 1500 10th Anniversary Edition Photo by Brendan McAleer

evolutionary: how ram went from workhorse to luxo-truck

2022 Ram 1500 10th Anniversary Edition Photo by Brendan McAleer

evolutionary: how ram went from workhorse to luxo-truck

2022 Ram 1500 10th Anniversary Edition Photo by Brendan McAleer

evolutionary: how ram went from workhorse to luxo-truck

2022 Ram 1500 10th Anniversary Edition Photo by Brendan McAleer

This Ram is a near-luxury experience. It’s also big enough to fit all the kids (seatbelts now mandatory) plus all the camping gear, and a boat or trailer is no problem. Body-on-frame construction, a soft suspension, a commanding view of the road.

The only thing missing is the Fairbanks ram’s head, which would of course probably not pass pedestrian impact laws. And, overall, as polished as this machine is, it’s out of place in use as a city slicker. The V8 power also looks a little less appealing when it comes time for a fill-up.

Having said all that, it’s clear why so many people buy so many Ram pickups. We sometimes turn to smaller vehicles for sportiness or efficiency, or ease-of-use in more built-up areas. But a big Dodge has lasting appeal, even if here, they only call it a Ram.

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