Inspired by the all-aluminum Viper V10-powered Ram VTS show truck, the blue-with-white-stripes Indy Special reignites the passion of factory-built, custom Dodge pickups. The excuse, as if they needed one, for building the Indy Special is that the Viper GTS coupe is pacing this year's Indianapolis 500 and a truck was needed for trackside duty.
The 1996 Dodge Ram Indy 500 Special Edition reclaims a rich sport truck heritage Mopar enthusiasts haven't forgotten. Dodge first approached the style-oriented personal-use truck market in 1957 when it introduced the legendary D-110 Sweptside pickup. In the late Fifties, Chrysler called its design theme for cars the "forward Look" (a foretelling of today's "Cab Forward" designation) and brought that styling to the pickup in '57. Behind the all-new cab, Dodge grafted the entire finned rear quarterpanels from their two-door station wagon on the long box pickup bed and incorporated the station wagon's rear bumpers and taillights in the process.
With large chrome spears running down the flanks of the two-tone truck, the Sweptline was more than a match for Chevrolet's Cameo pickup or Ford's silly Ranchero truckette. The most powerful engine available in the Sweptline was the 315 V8 making 204 gross horsepower. By '59 the Sweptline name remained, but the styling was hardly as extravagant. Utility was the exclusive theme, until the late Seventies.
In 1977 Dodge revived the idea of a fun truck with a series of "Adult Toy" pickups, the first of which was the Warlock Utiline with gold pinstriping set against custom colors, wide tires and oak side boards. In '78, the Warlock transmogrified into the legendary D-150 "Li'l Red (Express) Truck." Powered by a high-output 360 V8 with a thirst quenched by a four-barrel carburetor, the Li'l Red Truck lasted through the '79 model year, but soon went the way of disco. Through the Eighties and into the Nineties, various full-sized and Dakota pickups wore "Sport" names and carried sport trim, but few have had the style of the original Sweptline or the passion of the Li'l Red Truck. None, that is, until this year's Dodge Ram Indy 500 Special Edition half-ton.
The connection to the Memorial Day happening in Speedway, Indiana, is just incidental. By far, the best thing about this truck is that it's available for only $900 more than a regular cab 5.9L Magnum-powered Ram SLT Sport 1500 short bed. Beyond the handsome paint job (which it shares with the Viper GTS), the Indy Special gets a revamped exhaust that sets free a full 245 horsepower from the 360 V8 (up from 230), special 17-inch wheels and tires with appropriate suspension tuning, and the suggestion from Dodge to add the Mopar Performance Magnum R/T Performance Package for even more power. If the buyer wants, he can also apply the "Indianapolis 500 Official Truck" decals supplied with each of the trucks. Most, however, will likely leave those off.
Other than the Indy stuff, the Special is pure Ram. Unless you've been living under an Imperial, you know the Ram has been an enormous hit for Chrysler with is distinctive looks, great Magnum powertrains and spacious interior. Though a Club Cab isn't available as an Indy Special, the regular cab on the Ram is roomy enough to accommodate nearly anyone except, perhaps, an amply proportioned Mopar enthusiast who just happens to play center for the Indiana Pacers.
Better news lies in the fact that for '96 Chrysler has added a new Ram assembly plant in St. Louis, Missouri. The extra supply of Rams should add some price flexibility for a vehicle that's been in extreme demand. Every V8-powered Ram or Dakota owner should consider the Magnum R/T Performance Package. Consisting of a high-performance engine computer, camshaft, air filter, headers and exhaust, the Mopar Performance guys claim a net gain of 46 horsepower and 51 lb-ft of torque for the package. In testing on a 5.2-liter Dakota (318) and a 5.9-liter Ram (360), the R/T Packages' effects were startling. On the five-speed Dakota, the R/T engine easily overwhelms the puny Goodyear Invicta GL tires, turning the truck into an excellent burnout machine. On the Ram, the R./T package knocks more than half a second off the ETs and dragged the 0 to 60 time down by well over a second. The R/T package oughta be standard with every Indy Special.
When equipped with Indy trim and the R/T package, the Ram becomes one of the best sport trucks ever. Don't miss the emphasis on the word "truck" because nothing in the Indy Special or R/T package does anything to diminish this vehicle's utility. After all, even if your truck is fun, it still has to work.