Curbside Classic: 1982 Dodge Rampage

Paul Niedermeyer
by Paul Niedermeyer
curbside classic 1982 dodge rampage

The passenger car-based mini pickup niche is as old as as the Crosley Roadside, if not older yet. It’s also a highly ephemeral one, that seems to repeatedly draw car makers to it like moths to the flame. And the results are about the same: here today; gone tomorrow.

If we exclude the quite compact early sixties Falcon Ranchero, then the mini-revival started with the 1978 Subaru Brat. Now that really was conceived of as more of an odd-ball 4WD SAV (sports activity vehicle) with its rear-facing seats (to get around the chicken tax) than even any pretense of serious load carrying potential. We’ll have one visit here soon. But it caught VW’s eye, or maybe they were already experimenting with Golf-based trucks when the little Brat appeared. In any case, VW thought there was potential in convincing American pickup drivers to squeeze their beef-fed bods into a half-Rabbit sized cab.

The resulting VW Rabbit pickup appeared in 1979, built at VW’s new Westmoreland PA plant. It appeared at the right time, just before the second big energy crisis, and the diesel version is a true cult mobile (also coming to CC soon). But it never caught on with the real pickup crowd, and its body dies were were sent to (former) Yugoslavia, where it became the Caddy.And as of 2006, they were still being built in South Africa.

Meanwhile, Chrysler must have thought that VW was on to a hot new trend, and developed this Rampage to meet that great unmet demand. It’s based on the Horizon/Omni twins, which coincidentally were heavily influenced by the Rabbit/Golf to start with. But instead of using the Omnirizon sedan sheet metal, Chrysler decided to go the sporty direction, and use the front end of the coupe versions, the Dodge 024 (later Charger) and the Plymouth TC3 (later Turismo).

The Rampage appeared as a 1982 model, and a presumably reluctant Plymouth clone named Scamp made a one-year only appearance in 1983. And the wild Rampage lasted one year longer, through 1984. Rampages are not exactly common anymore, but the Scamp is a true rarity these days.

Even though it had the sport front end of the 024/Charger, the Rampage could be a practical little hauler, like this one. It was rated for 1145 lbs, making it a legitimate half-tonner. It sat on an extended wheelbase, with a heavier rear axle. Of course, a heavy load in a FWD truck has its inherent limitations. Power was the ubiquitous 2.2 liter K-car four, but the 1.7 VW four might have been available. There’s not a lot of detailed history readily available for these cars.

This Rampage looks like it’s found an appreciative long-term owner, who favors the practical side of its personality. I’ve never seen a Rampage with these “saddle bags” before. And it likes to hang around in this parking lot with the big boy pickups.

The other extreme side to the Rampages’ personality was the Shelby Rampage, which was actually not built by Chrysler, but by a dealership. All of 218 were built. Of course, the FWD car-based pickup refuses to die, and after Honda jumped in with their Ridgeline, Chrysler showed the Dodge Rampage concept in 2006. Not that there’s anything mini about these latest exercises.

More new Curbside Classics here

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2 of 38 comments
  • Flameded Flameded on Jul 01, 2010

    My grandfather had a Ramage (blue) in... I think 82? while it seemed strange at the time, was actually a pretty handy vehicle. These days, it seems , 80's elcamino's get a bad if they're lame or something..even though they are convenient.Problem is they get milage that is as bad as/worse than a small pickup. I am certain that with the pickup fetish that we have nowadays ,there would be a market for a small sized camino/ranchero/rampage/brat...whatever. T

  • GoPadge GoPadge on Jul 19, 2010

    I have an '82 Rampage sitting in my garage and it's been in the family since it was purchased new. We just had the engine rebuild and I'm working on rebuilding the carb. Once that's done, the brakes need an overhaul (as they're currently stuck engaged). And then it's off to the body shop to have one dent pulled from the left front fender.

  • Lou_BC You'd think cops would have an understanding of the laws they are supposed to enforce.
  • Merlyn I’m on my second Spark and love it! I can pass any car I’ve never had a problem going up a hill it does just fine. As for cargo I can fit three suitcases, two book bags and still have the front seat for a passenger. Not sure what point this guy is trying to make. I have hand free phone service and Sirius radio plug in my phone and have navigation. I would buy another spark in a heartbeat.
  • Buickman I won't own one and I'll be happy!
  • Jeanbaptiste Ever since y’all started sending your damn geese down here we’re just been waiting for one of you to show up.
  • 3SpeedAutomatic Drove a rental Cherokee for several days at the beginning of this year. Since the inventory of rental cars is still low, this was a 2020 model with 48k miles and V6. Ran fine, no gremlins, graphics display was easy to work, plenty of power, & very comfortable. Someone must of disarmed the lane assistance feature for the steering wheel never shook (YES!!!!!!!!). However, this woman's voice kept nagging me about the speed limit (what's new!?!?!?!).I was impressed enough to consider this a prime candidate to replace my 11 yr old Ford Escape. Might get a good deal with the close out of the model. Time will tell. 🚗🚗🚗