The first-generation Ramcharger was made from 1974 to 1980. It was an instant hit with off-road enthusiasts and it gave SUV fans a reason to look MOPAR’s way instead of going with a Blazer or Bronco. Plymouth offered the Trailduster, its version of the Ramcharger, during the first generation, as well. The trucks were largely identical.
All of the four-wheel drive first-gen Ramchargers and Traildusters were offered with the New Process 203 transfer case, a full-time unit. That means that if the vehicle was moving under its own power, it was in four-wheel drive. Full-time four-wheel drive has both advantages and disadvantages.
See this article for more information about this special transfer case: http://voices.yahoo.com/the-process-203-transfer-case-12045754.html?cat=27
Sometimes, the first-gen Ramchargers are referred to as pop-tops because the rear ‘shell’ was actually removable, essentially turning the Ramcharger into a convertible pickup truck. Starting in the 1981 model year, the top was no longer removable and was instead an integral part of the body. To some, myself included, the ability to remove the shell is a must.
The vast majority of Ramchargers from ’74 to ’80 were powered by either a 318 (5.2L) or a 360 (5.9L) small block Chrysler. Big block V8 engines were offered, though, in the form of the 400 (6.6L) or the monster 440 (7.2L). 1978 was the last year of the 440 in a Ramcharger, and by then it wasn’t putting out but 215 horsepower, anyway, thanks to the smog crunch.
The first-gen Ramcharger was available with a few transmission choices. For those who wanted a manual (stick shift) transmission, by far the most common was the NP435, but a few A-230 three-speeds made their way into the tunnel. For those (like me) who prefer an automatic transmission, the venerable TorqueFlite 727A was the order of the day. The TF727 is known for being extremely stout.
It is this author’s opinion that the early Ramchargers and Traildusters were some of the finest SUVs ever offered. Today, suspension lift kits are readily available, allowing Ramcharger owners to stuff bigger tires underneath the rigs for off-road use. Mile Marker also makes a great part-time conversion kit for the NP203 so the vehicle doesn’t have to be in four-wheel drive all the time. It saves a little gas and transfer case wear and tear to be sure.
Also, unlike other ‘classic’ cars and trucks of the era, Ramchargers and Traildusters can still be had for an economical price. They make a great platform for an off-road rig, and parts are readily available. They can also tow the boat, buggy, or camp trailer with ease.
As of this writing, in 2013, CA does not require smog checks on vehicles made before 1976, so the ’74 and ’75 Ramcharger and Trailduster are even more attractive. Owners of those years are able to build the engine if they so desire.
Also, for those considering an old Dodge pickup for an off-road or tow rig, realize that some states, CA included, charge a hefty ‘weight fee’ for pickups, which are sometimes considered commercial vehicles. Because the Ramcharger is a factory enclosed SUV, there are no weight fees. Look into your local laws and ordinances to make sure.