The Story of the Dodge Rampage, Mopar's Forgotten Mini Truck

1983 Dodge Rampage 8 photos
Photo: Chrysler Corporation
1982 Dodge Rampage1983 Dodge Rampage1983 Dodge Rampage1983 Plymouth Scamp GT1983 Plymouth Scamp1983 Dodge Shelby Street Fighter Rampage concept2006 Dodge Rampage concept
Created in 1957 with the introduction of the Ford Ranchero, the coupe utility segment remained a thing in the U.S. until 1987, when Chevrolet built the last El Camino. This market was dominated by Ford and Chevy for about 30 years, but Chrysler also had a brief contribution through the Dodge and Plymouth divisions.
It started in 1982 when the Chrysler Corporation decided it finally wanted a piece of the coupe utility market and created the Dodge Rampage. By that time, Ford had discontinued the Ranchero, and Chevrolet had moved the fifth-generation El Camino from the A to the G platform (shared with the Malibu and Monte Carlo).

But while the El Camino was still a midsize vehicle, Chrysler opted for a compact utility, so the Rampage was based on the L platform. The same that spawned the Dodge Omni in 1978, the first FWD economy car assembled in the U.S. The same underpinnings were used to revive the Dodge Charger in 1982.

Advertised as a "sport truck," the Rampage shared front-end body panels and several other appearance components with the Omni 024 coupe, while most of the suspension system came from the Omni hatchback.

The Rampage did have unique leaf springs and shock absorbers at the rear to support a loaded bed.

1983 Dodge Rampage
Photo: Chrysler Corporation
The Rampage debuted with the same 2.2-liter four-cylinder found in the Omni. The K series mill wasn't impressively powerful at 84 horsepower in 1982 (later upgraded to generate 96 horses), but it was enough to give the mini truck a load capacity of 1,145 pounds (519 kg) for a true half-ton rating.

For reference, the larger and more powerful Chevy El Camino had a 1,250-pound (567-kg) rating. In addition, the Rampage compared favorably to compact utility cars like the Volkswagen Rabbit Truck (Caddy) and the Subaru BRAT.

Dodge's second main selling point was the Rampage's ability to achieve 21 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway.

All told, the nameplate filled a market gap for people looking for a small pickup that could haul more than 1,000 pounds (453 kg) while still handling daily commuting duties.

1982 Dodge Rampage
Photo: Chrysler Corporation
A notable departure from the bigger RWD trucks of the era, the Rampage wasn't exactly popular, though. Car-style trucks were already on the decline, and Dodge moved only 17,636 units in 1982. Sales dropped to 8,033 examples in 1983 and grew to 11,732 units in 1984 when the truck got a facelift with a Charger front fascia.

But that was the end of the line for the Rampage, which was discontinued after only three model years on the market.

But Dodge's mini truck had a better fate than its Plymouth counterpart, the Scamp. Revived after it had been used as a Plymouth Valiant trim in the early 1970s, the nameplate was offered for only one year.

Introduced in 1983, it was discontinued for 1984 following disappointing sales of 3,564 units.

1983 Plymouth Scamp GT
Photo: Chrysler Corporation
Toward the end of its life cycle, the Rampage spawned a couple of limited-edition versions that are sought-after nowadays. The Direct Connection is one of them. Created for selected California dealers, it featured a ground effects package, 15-inch alloy wheels, and a Shelby Charger front fascia.

Legend has it that Shelby engineers also built a one-off, beefed-up Rampage for Caroll Shelby in their free time, but there's no official proof of its existence. But Dodge did unveil a "Street Fighter" concept in 1983 with pop-up headlamps, a massive hood scoop, and aerodynamic wheel covers.

Dodge revived the Rampage name in 2006 for a truck concept that it introduced at the Chicago Auto Show. Unlike the original utility car, the modern Rampage was almost as large as a Ram 1500 truck, but it still employed front-wheel drive.

Powered by a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine, it features "Stow 'n Go" seating from the Chrysler Town & Country minivan.

2006 Dodge Rampage concept
Photo: DaimlerChrysler
Come 2022, and the Rampage is a rare sight on public roads and the used car market. But while it's a rare 1980s classic, it's not yet a sought-after collectible beyond a small core of enthusiasts. As a result, prices for well-maintained Rampage trucks rarely exceed $6,000.

But as more of them rot away in garages and junkyards, the Rampage is bound to become a proper collectible in a few years. It's already a cool little truck that more people should know about.
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Editor's note: Photo gallery also includes images of the Plymouth Scamp, Dodge Street Fighter concept, and the 2006 Dodge Rampage concept

About the author: Ciprian Florea
Ciprian Florea profile photo

Ask Ciprian about cars and he'll reveal an obsession with classics and an annoyance with modern design cues. Read his articles and you'll understand why his ideal SUV is the 1969 Chevrolet K5 Blazer.
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