It’s Time for Dodge to Bring Back the Rampage!
If Dodge can build an 840-horsepower drag strip special, it can certainly build a small, car-based pickup for the everyman.
You probably missed it, but last week Dodge introduced a minor options package for the Challenger Hellcat. I think it was called the Detour or something like that. There wasn’t much publicity about it so I’ve kind of forgotten the exact details. Anyway, in the course of writing a short piece about the new Dodge Detail or whatever it is, I suggested that the next hot Dodge to come out would be called the “Rampage 2.2”. This was a joke for people who, like me, are old enough to remember the Dodge Rampage 2.2.
If you are not old enough to remember the Rampage 2.2, allow me to tell you all about it. Once upon a time, way back in the Seventies, Chrysler’s European division developed a knockoff of the Volkswagen Golf/Rabbit called the Simca Horizon. Noting that VW had managed to certify the Rabbit for American sale, Chrysler set about re-engineering the Horizon into the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon. This ended up being a much bigger task than they’d thought. At some point in the process, they also came up with a nifty two-door fastback called the Plymouth TC3 and Dodge 024.
Meanwhile, VW was developing the original Rabbit into a pickup truck that proved to be mildly popular with American buyers who were having trouble coping with skyrocketing fuel prices. Chrysler decided to do the same thing, but instead of using the boxy and boring front end of the Rabbit-ish Omni, they used the exciting, slope-nosed front end of the Dodge 024, which had been rebadged as the Charger by then. (Yes, that’s right. At one point, a Dodge Charger was a four-cylinder FWD two-door hatchback.)
The short-lived Rampage 2.2, accompanied by the even shorter-lived Plymouth Scamp, was the vehicle that resulted from all this crazy platform engineering. It was rated for 1000 pounds of combined cargo and passenger weight in its relatively small cargo box. By the standards of the day, it was surprisingly quick and handled remarkably well. It was also pretty cheap, and it was sold into a market that already understood how to fix and maintain both the Dodge Omni and the 2.2-liter Chrysler four-banger.
It seems hard to believe in an era where people consider a crew-cab full-sized pickup with three hundred horsepower and a 5,000-pound curb weight to be a sort of minimum acceptable vehicle for a solo trip to Whole Foods, but the Rampage, like the VW Pickup with which it competed, was the right car at the right time for more than a few folks.
According to our colleagues at C/D, there could be a new Rampage right around the corner. Their suggested rendering of the vehicle kind of looks like a Subaru Baja with a thyroid problem. It has four doors and a very short bed, because nowadays everything has to have four doors, from pickup trucks to “coupes” to Porsches. This is obviously the safest and least controversial way to bring back the front-wheel-drive pickup.
Maybe this is a time to stop playing it safe. Maybe this is a time to bring back the Rampage the way it used to be, and the way it should be. Take a Dodge Dart. Chop it off behind the B-pillar and add a six-foot Rhino-Lined box. Keep it relatively sleek and sporty-looking. Don’t call it a RAM, okay? Let it be a Dodge. It’s a car, not a truck. It just happens to a be a car with cargo capacity.
Don’t market it as a cheap alternative to a Chevy Colorado or, heaven forbid, an F-150. Instead, you’ve got to point it right at the California leisure market. It should be available with mountain-bike carriers, surfboard carriers, accessories for every sort of coast-and-beach sport you can imagine. It should have a washable interior, like a Jeep. You’re targeting the people who would probably buy a Wrangler for their weekend trips but who are frankly sick of the wind noise and the lousy fuel economy and the high cost of consumables.
It’s a two-seater. That’s all. Not a maxi-cab, not a King Cab, and definitely not a crew cab. It is a vehicle for two beautiful people to use while they enjoy some action sports. It’s not for plumbers and painters–that’s why FCA sells the small Fiat vans. It’s for people who are participants in the good life. The most common occupation listed on the credit application should be “Parent of driver.”
Of course, you’ll have some old folks who want one too, for the same reason they bought the Scion xB in greater quantities than their grandchildren did. A small car with a little bit of utility can be a nice way for empty-nesters to handle their gardening and whatnot. But those people are not your core customers and you shouldn’t acknowledge their existence any more than you absolutely have to or it will be a PT Cruiser Redux.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to some selfish motives. I’ve been doing a lot of skatepark riding and mountain biking lately, and right now my choices for getting to the park or the trailhead consist of a Honda Accord (too much hassle to get the bikes in the trunk) and a Chevy Tahoe (sixteen miles per gallon and elephantine dynamics that I don’t want). A new Rampage would be just the ticket for me and my son to go dirt-jumping for the afternoon. Low purchase price, low wind noise, easy parking, and thirty-five miles per gallon.
So allow me to be the first person to put my metaphorical deposit in for a new Dodge Rampage as described above, even though I’m neither coastal nor Millennial by definition. I realize that no auto exec worth his golden parachute is going to sign off on a two-door, two seat vehicle in 2017. It’s odd, when you think about it. Never have Americans been so alone, so isolated, so friendless, so lonely in the real world beyond Facebook and Instagram. Why do we insist that every vehicle we buy have the capacity to take six people to the Arctic Circle and back when we don’t even have five friends who will answer the phone and talk to us with their actual voices?
Done properly, the Rampage could light the way back to vehicles that more closely match our actual needs. That would be a social, economic, and environmental benefit to all of us. And we’d all feel a little more cheerful if the traffic around us stopped looking like a wall of steel with “DENALI” badges and started looking like the happy little front-wheel-drive trucks of the early Eighties. Maybe there’d be less anger. Less resentment. Perhaps the arrival of the Rampage might actually stop a few rampages from occurring. Sort of like ownership of a Monte Carlo used to be an ironclad guarantee that you had never actually visited Europe. Roll the dice, FCA. If you can build an 840-horsepower two-ton coupe, you can build a Dart with a box on the back. And regardless of what you’ll see if you look at the original Car and Driver article on the Rampage 2.2, the new one doesn’t need to be able to pull a wheelie.