1983 Dodge Rampage; photo courtesy http://oldcarjunkie.wordpress.com/
1983 Dodge Rampage; photo courtesy Old Car Junkie. Click image to enlarge

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By Bill Vance

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Dodge Rampage/Plymouth Scamp

In the beginning, pickup trucks were derived from cars. Manufacturers or aftermarket builders took a regular car, chopped it off behind the front doors, closed it in and mounted a cargo box. Many of the earliest ones were based on the ubiquitous Model T Ford.

During the 1930s the car-based pickup gradually gave way to the purpose-built light truck in North America, a transition largely completed by the Second World War, although Hudson carried on its handsome car-based pickup for a couple of years after the war.

1982 Dodge Rampage; photo courtesy Old Car Junkie
1982 Dodge Rampage; photo courtesy SuperDave. Click image to enlarge

Ford returned North America to the modern car-based pickup with its stylish 1957 Ranchero sedan-pickup based on the Ford station wagon. Chevrolet followed with the El Camino a couple of years later (there was also a GMC version).

Sedan-pickups were distinguished from regular pickups by being cars at the front, but with a cargo box where the rear seats would be. The car’s styling lines carried right through to the rear of the vehicle in one unbroken sweep because the cab and box weren’t separated as they were in regular pickups.

Although never large sellers, sedan-pickups developed a loyal following, especially among the dude ranch and horsy set. Because it was neither a true car nor truck, it was a niche market vehicle, although one with a steady clientele. “Real” pickup owners, however, dismissed them as effete poseurs.

Chrysler Corporation didn’t offer a sedan-pickup until much later, and when it did, it was with a new size for the economy conscious 1980s. The stylish little Dodge Rampage “trucklet” made its debut for 1982, a market Volkswagen was also pursuing with its small Rabbit-based diesel pickup.

1983 Plymouth Scamp
1983 Plymouth Scamp. Click image to enlarge

The Dodge Rampage – there was also a rare Plymouth model called the Scamp – was based on the Dodge 024 sports coupe, a derivative of Chrysler’s subcompact front-wheel drive Omni/Horizon sedan. For the Rampage the wheelbase was stretched 193 mm (7.6 in.) to 2,647 mm (104.2 in.) to accommodate a galvanized steel cargo box.

While regular pickups used body-on-frame construction, the Rampage, like the VW, had unit construction. It came in a regular steel-wheel version or flashier Sport model, and could be had with a long list of appearance and convenience options such as reclining seats, mag-type wheels, additional instrumentation, low profile tires and air conditioning.

The Rampage was powered by Chrysler’s corporate 2.2 litre, transversely mounted, overhead cam inline four driving the front wheels through a four-speed manual transaxle or a three-speed automatic.

1982 Dodge Rampage; photo courtesy http://mysite.verizon.net/superdave369/Rampage/Rampage.html
1982 Dodge Rampage; photo courtesy SuperDave. Click image to enlarge

Suspension was the usual MacPherson struts with anti-roll bar in front, and utilitarian beam axle and leaf springs at the rear. Brakes were power-assisted disc in front and drum at the rear, with a pressure-limiting valve to prevent rear wheel lock-up up when braking under no-load conditions.

Speaking of load, in spite of an over-all weight of only 1,116 kilograms (2,460 pounds), the Rampage “half-ton” had an amazing carrying capacity of 517 kilograms (1,140 pounds).

And in addition to hauling an ample payload, the little truck could perform well when called upon. Car and Driver (3/’82) reported zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) time in 9.9 seconds and a top speed of 166 km/h (103 mph). The testers noted that acceleration and top speed were more spirited than a BMW 320i.

Dodge sold more than 17,000 1982 Rampages, inducing sister division Plymouth to enter the game with its Scamp in 1983. Mechanically identical to the Rampage, it was distinguished mainly by a different grille.

1982 Dodge Rampage; photo by Bill Vance
1982 Dodge Rampage; photo by Bill Vance. Click image to enlarge

For 1983, the upscale Dodge version became the Rampage 2.2, while Plymouth’s was the Scamp GT. Chrysler’s new five-speed gearbox became available along with larger disc brakes and other detail improvements.

But the novelty was wearing off quickly. Sales of 1983 Rampages slid to 7,500 and Scamps to only 2,100, its poor showing prompting Plymouth to discontinue the Scamp with the 1983 model year. The Dodge Rampage carried over into 1984, now with quad headlamps, but sales fell further to some 3,000.

With its declining sales record, Chrysler discontinued the Dodge Rampage with the 1984 model year. There are probably several reasons for the quick demise of the Dodge/Plymouth sedan-pickups, but a significant contributor was the increasing popularity of compact pickup trucks pioneered by the Japanese.

The Rampage and Scamp made only a brief appearance on the automotive landscape. For this reason they are quite rare, maybe just the thing for a collector who is seeking something different and inexpensive yet fun to drive. And of course, they’re practical enough to haul stuff.

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