Curbside Classic: 1982 Dodge Rampage

Paul Niedermeyer
by Paul Niedermeyer

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

Paul Niedermeyer
Paul Niedermeyer

More by Paul Niedermeyer

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  • 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 rap..as 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.

  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X The push for EV's is part of the increase in our premiums. Any damage near the battery pack and the car is a total loss.
  • Geozinger Up until recently this was on my short list of cars to replace my old car. However, it didn't pass the "knee test" with my wife as her bad knee makes it difficult for her to get in and out of a sedan. I saw a number of videos about the car and it seems like the real deal as a sporting sedan. In addition I like the low price, too, but it was bad luck/timing that we didn't get to pull the trigger on this one.
  • ToolGuy I agree with everyone here. Of course there are exceptions to what I just said, don't take everything so literally. The important thing is that I weighed in with my opinion, which is helping to move things forward. I believe we can all agree that I make an important contribution (some will differ, that is their prerogative). A stitch in time saves nine. Life isn't fair, you know. I have more to say but will continue at our next meeting. You can count on that, for I am a man of my word. We will make it happen. There might be challenges. I mean, it is what it is. This too shall pass. All we can do is all we can do. These meetings are never really long enough for me to completely express all the greatness within me, are they? Let's meet to discuss. All in a day's work. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day. At the end of the day, I must say I agree with you. I think you will agree. When all is said and done, there is more said than done. But of course that is just one man's opinion. You are free to disagree. As I like to say...(I am working on my middle management skills -- how am I doing?)
  • Golden2husky Have to say he did an excellent job on the C7, especially considering the limited budget he was given. I am very happy with my purchase.
  • Marty The problem isn't range; it's lack of electricity in multi-unit building parking. All you need is level 1 - a standard 120v wall socket - and if you're plugged in 10 hours overnight you get 280 miles per week or more. That's enough for most folks but you can use public charging to supplement when needed. Installing conduit circuits and outlets is simple and cheap; no charge stations needed.
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