When you think about vehicles that break records, what comes to mind? Sports cars, racecars, and concept cars? Probably not the Dodge Ram Van, but surprisingly, it does hold a record — one to be proud of, in fact. Despite two redesigns of the original vehicle, the Dodge Ram Van holds a record as one of the longest used vehicle platforms in the US. Over three decades as a staple in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s American family is something to celebrate.
Though the plant that put these vans together is now gone (Ontario, Canada’s Pillette Road Truck Assembly was responsible for producing these nostalgia-inducing vehicles), the Dodge Ram Van lives on, particularly for those of us who recall with fondness the many hours spent inside it as we traveled from one side of the country to the other. I remember long, sunny afternoons in the very back seat, playing card games with friends and siblings. There were late nights where I fell asleep as my grandparents drove us home. There were TVs, VHS players, and plenty of space to keep us occupied for the duration of the ride.
It was a popular vehicle to convert to a cab-over motorhome in the 1970’s, as well as RV and ambulance conversions later on. Despite its popularity with group homes, church groups, and the like, it was unfortunately surpassed by the Ford company in the 1990’s. It didn’t survive much longer after that, gracefully retiring in 2003.
It’s all due to Dodge, however, that we even had this type of van to begin with. Their Maxiwagon and other large vans arrived in 1971, paving the way for Ford (which introduced its 15-passenger van seven years later) and GM (which waited until 1990 to offer its own version). Dodge’s van was available as three options, Sportsman (which included passenger seating and side windows), Tradesman (which lacked both options of the Sportsman), and the Street van, which turned out to be the least popular. The most desired version was the Tradesman, as it was the best option to customize.
Through the years, the Dodge Ram Van went from a 3.7L engine to a 7.2L V8 engine, from a three-speed automatic to a five-speed manual, and grew from 178.9 inches long to 231.2 inches. The outside was not re-designed too much until the overhaul of 1998, which included an engine move, modern dashboard and door panel designs, and sideview mirror breakaway units.
If you’re wanting to reminisce about your memories contained in the Dodge Ram Van, you might want to watch a little indie film called Napoleon Dynamite. That’s right — Uncle Rico’s orange van is a Dodge Tradesman Santana conversion van. The van is currently residing in Texas, where it is used at private and corporate events to raise money for Michael J. Fox’s Parkinsons Research Foundation. You can follow its page on Facebook and hire it for your own 80’s themed party. What better way to remember the glory days and one of the funniest films of all time than co-hosting a party with one of the most beloved vehicles in American history?