By on March 11, 2010

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.

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38 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1982 Dodge Rampage...”

  • avatar

    I still see a niche market in the USA/Canada for imported mini-trucks. It’s too bad that safety regs make it nearly impossible to produce them. This niche died off with the last of the ’93 Mazda 2WD B2200’s & Toyota 2WD pickups. I hope that Mahindra can rekindle this flame.

    I dearly miss my 1987 B2000, which succumbed to frame rot. It was as simple as a vehicle could have ever been – mechanical fuel pump, carburetor, power nothing (except brakes), vinyl mesh seating, and not even a stereo. It had carpeting, though.

  • avatar

    you mention the original ranchero, w/o even a blurb about the later larger ranchero, and the most well known car/PU of all time, the el camino (appearing as a ’59 impala based vehicle, reappearing as a malibu based one in ’64 IIRC, going all the way until the ’80s).
    practical buggers, but still seem to be a niche vehicle. shame.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      I’m referring to the smaller, very compact and mostly FWD trucklets here,and specifically not to the Ranchero/El Camino utes. They were based on full and mid-sized body-on-frame vehicles, and are a different story.
      We’ve done one El Camino already at CC, and there will be more. But the Rampage, VW Rabbit truck and Brat are in a league of their own.

    • 0 avatar

      The Ranchero preceded the El Camino, of course, from 1957-1959. (My history of both here:

      I think the distinction between passenger cars and trucks has always been hazy. It wasn’t until the twenties that there was really a strong distinction between the two, and there have been “utes” of one kind or another ever since.

  • avatar

    This thing reminds me of the weiner dog-labrador cross I saw at the beach yesterday. Or maybe a reverse mullet – party in the front, business in the back.

  • avatar

    Wow, I’ve seen Rampages and Scamps with camper shells, but never with tool boxes.

    Here is a 1983 Scamp GT I saw about two years ago.[email protected]/2553965130/

  • avatar

    I always thought this was a clever design, it was functional, and not bad looking for its day either. As simple a concept as it is, its a wonder this hasn’t found a following the way ‘Ute’s have down under. Though the volume would be relatively low, it might be a way to make it easier for a domestic manufacturer to comply with the CAFE standards.

    Given how big (and expensive) pickups have become of late, I think I’d consider a vehicle like this if it were a true half ton. I’d prefer it because you don’t need a ladder to get into the bed, or a forklift to load a couple of bags of cement.

  • avatar

    Wow. I had completely forgotten about these things. Used to see them all over the place too…

  • avatar

    One of the guys in my biodiesel co-op has an ’81 Rabbit pickup. He’s shown up with a half-ton of waste veggie oil in it before. Amazing little thing. I still see at least one early-80s vintage VW pickup per week on the road. I can’t say I’ve seen more than one Dodge Rampage still running in the past 15 years! I wouldn’t call it a Curbside “Classic” so much as a “Obsolete Oddball”.

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    I’m surprised Chrysler spent money on a car-based truck, particularly given its financial condition at the time. In general, car-based trucks never sold particularly well, and Chrysler had no prior experience with this market. I wonder if an 024-based sports wagon might have done better.

    In the 1970s Toyota designed some interesting sports wagon concepts that included clamshell structure behind the front doors that opened up into a tent. It probably would have been an utter disaster as a production vehicle (e.g., leaks and structural integrity), but it was clever.

  • avatar

    One of my father’s customers (he’s a John Deer Garden Tractor Salesman) had one of these he used in his lawn care business. Towed a small trailer just big enough for the lawn mower and had the gas, push-mower, and weed eater in the back. It was a manual transmission model and he was keeping it going with scavenged K-car/Omni parts.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s common misconception that the Omni/Horizon and derivatives are K-cars. They are L platforms and not much if anything is interchangeable between them and the K platform, except the base engines, radios, etc.

    • 0 avatar

      Well what was the guy most likely to need after many many many years? Engine parts for the base engine.

  • avatar

    Mr Niedermeyer, compact FWD pickups are still the ticket in other markets… like Brazil and Mexico

    Chevy Montana

    Ford Courier

    Fiat Strada

    VW Saveiro

  • avatar

    Back in the day when TTAC editorialized about the lack of car/pickups in the US and how each of the D3 could build one from existing platforms (Mustang, Camaro, and Magnum – these were rwd of course) I said that Dodge should call theirs the Rampage.

    I would love to have a project car like this. The parts are still available (and relatively cheap), plus it’s a manual. And you can put upgraded parts (suspension, drive train, brakes) as well as a turbo motor in them.

    Another great practical light duty hauler: A K-car station wagon. With the seats down they can haul a lot of stuff, but protected from the elements. The roof rack gives you more options. Cheap, easy to maintain (read simple), and very economical.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t want one as a cheap hauler, I’d love to get a hold of a Town&Country K-car wagon and restore it to it’s completely over-styled glory. It would have to be a turbo version and I’d look into swapping a manual in. Would love to use it to surprise people at stoplights.

    • 0 avatar

      @windswords: I like these little haulers, but the shiznit would be the CS Rampages, the ones that were dressed up to look like Shelby-ized Rampages. Unfortunately, only 215 were built back in the day, so the are as rare as hen’s teeth. But much better looking.

      @edudan: No, windswords has it right. Get the regular K wagon and stuff a turbo in it. Fast, weird and practical. What could be better? (Don’t answer that.) In fact, I posted this on the 1985 New Yorker feature already. If you’re into the gaudy 80’s stuff, I guess that’s OK, not that there’s anything wrong with that… But just think of the havoc you could wreak with a sleeper Aries wagon?

  • avatar

    It goes way back before the Crosley. Here’s a 1913 Model T pickup

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      I’ll just keep repeating the word “mini”. The Model T may looks small by today’s standards, but it was hardly a mini-car in its time.

    • 0 avatar

      I considered that, but decided that the Model T was relatively small and light for its day. Ford wanted to save money, so the less steel and iron he used, the better. In looking over some historical material, I see that the Chevrolet 490 Series, developed to compete with the Model T, was considered to be a “lightweight” car, and from what I can tell it weighed 1,800 lbs to the T’s 1,200.

  • avatar

    If you want power, the turbo 2.2 from the Daytona Shelbys and the turbo minivan will fit.

  • avatar

    Alright, this is getting downright creepy. I saw a Rampage drive by on the street outside my office on Monday morning this week, and thought that it was odd as I hadn’t recalled seeing one in years. Then on Tuesday morning on my way to work, I had one turn out from a side street in front of me while I was stopped at a light. No, it wasn’t the same one- the first one was the same orange as the car shown here, and the second one was tan. Now the Rampage shows up in CC… I think it’s a conspiracy.

  • avatar

    When I had my Omni (’77 I think it was, POS I KNOW it was) I always thought a good mod would be to put a PU bed on one. Then I saw the Rabbit version and then this… now I wonder, what the hell was I thinking?

  • avatar

    I thought that what doomed the VW pickup was that it had too short a cab so that there wasn’t room enough in there for most people. Note the use of short 4-door-sedan-sized doors. The Rampage has longer doors and a longer cab at the expense of cargo room, and for whatever reason it didn’t seem to do any better in the market than the VW pickup. But they were both up against simple, cheap Toyota and Datsun pickups, both of which sold very well indeed.

  • avatar

    Crap, now you’ve got me looking for diesel Rabbit trucks. I’ve wanted one for a long time and maybe now is the time because they’re not getting any younger (nor am I). Found a red one from 1982 nearby for $700 but it needs some injection pump work. There are a couple on Ebay at the moment as well.

  • avatar


    Seeing these compact pickups reminds me of those other bizarre 80’s compact (non-pickup) two seaters: The Ford EXP and it’s exceedingly rare twin, the Mercury LN7. Any chance of seeing either of these in a future CC?

  • avatar

    The first poster mentioned that safety regulations make it nearly impossible to produce this type of mini-trucks.

    Just out of curiosity: what kind of regulations are these? Are the regulations for these pickups different than the ones for the cars that they are based on?

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Not to my knowledge. The manufacturers have found it more efficient to just sell their low-end big trucks cheaply and not bother with small trucks anymore.

  • avatar

    Hello Paul,

    Thanks very much for featuring this oddball L-body. It’s done me good to see one of these again, even though I never had one.

    I had a thought, that Chrysler via Fiat could get back into the tiny El Camino business again, using Fiat’s Strada as a base for the vehicle. I don’t know how that would play against the much bigger Dakotas and Rams, but it would be great to have this kind of vehicle again.

    I think if someone (hint, hint, Chrysler, segment buster?) were to revive these vehicles again in North America, especially leveraging their South American factories for time-to-market advantages, they could be huge in a world of $3 and $4/gallon gasoline.

    Additionally, I see you did an article on the South American pickups, that will be my next reading here on the site.

    Viele Danke!

  • avatar

    Speaking of interesting small car/trucks like the Rampage is an unusual one that looks like a 60’s Plymouth Valiant made into something very similar to the original Ford Falcon Ranchero.
    I spotted it on the 1971 Persuaders DVD series. Lots of good car scenes in the series but the episode “Element Of Risk”, near the end at the airport, has an intriguing scene with a red “Ranchero” service vehicle that appears to be a Valiant.It looks well made with proper chrome trim on the bed and rear window so I wondered whether these were made in a limited production run for military/airport use.

  • avatar

    We had the 2.2 version when I was a teenager. It was a blast to drive.

    Check out the sweet green one I spotted recently:

  • avatar

    An auto body shop in my family still has several of these as cheap work trucks. One has a sticker on it that says “Shit Box”. No offense, as they actually love them.

  • avatar

    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.


  • avatar

    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.

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