Home » The ‘California’ Shelby Rampage Is The Extremely Rare Dodge Street-Pickup You Never Knew Existed: Holy Grails

The ‘California’ Shelby Rampage Is The Extremely Rare Dodge Street-Pickup You Never Knew Existed: Holy Grails

Shelbyrampagetop
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In the 1980s, Mopar fans had plenty of Shelby-branded performance models to gorge themselves on. You probably already know about the Dodge Shelby Charger, and the Dodge Omni GLH is a fabled little car. It didn’t end there, as the Shelby name ended up slapped on the Dodge Daytona, the Lancer, and even the Shadow. Truck fans may point out that Shelby graced the Dakota and an experimental Ram pickup, but there’s one more Shelby-branded product out there that you may have never heard of. The Dodge California Shelby Rampage is a little pickup that’s so rare, information about it almost doesn’t exist. However, around 250 of them were sold by Dodge dealers in California and they’re the closest thing you’ll get to a Shelby ute.

This story takes us back to the early 1980s. It’s the end of the Malaise Era and cars are recovering from a dark period of emissions-choked power, oil crisis worries, and abysmal quality. The Mustang is making respectable power again and soon, Japan would crank out cars the enthusiasts of today fawn over. Sadly, bringing power back into the equation could not save the American coupé utility (or “ute” as they call them in Australia). The Ford Ranchero died in 1979, and the dealership special Ford Durango lasted just a couple of years longer. Subaru brought in its BRAT and Volkswagen tossed in the Rabbit Pickup. General Motors also gave the El Camino another generation.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Over at Chrysler, 1982 kicked off the Dodge Rampage, an L-platform front-wheel-drive car-based truck. A year later, it would be joined by a badge mate in the Plymouth Scamp. These cute utes would be built until just 1984 before the program was ended. For a couple of hundred people in California, the Rampage went out with a rare special edition, and it started with Shelby’s own idea for a sport truck:

Shelby Street Fighter 1
Dodge

The single-year 1984 Dodge California Shelby Rampage is a little truck with some extra street cred, but it barely existed, to the point where you’ll find practically no information on it.

Starting A Rampage

Chrysler was a late entry into the American coupé utility. In December 1956, Ford launched the Ranchero, sparking a new truck segment in America. The coupé utility was not a new concept and the Ranchero wasn’t the first, but the Ranchero helped popularize the type of truck for Americans. Chevrolet entered its El Camino into the car-based truck space in 1959. While Ford was the first out of the gate for mid-century American coupé utilities, the Chevy proved to be more popular.

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You’d think, then, that Chrysler would be quick to toss its own hat into the ring. That didn’t happen, at least, not in America. Over in Australia, the coupé utility concept had taken its own path. In 1934, Ford Australia answered the calls of farmers who wanted a vehicle for both work and for going to town. Ford Geelong plant engineer Lewis Bandt created a two-door body with a tray in the back that rode on a Ford Model A chassis. The Model 40 was born. Some argue that this wasn’t the true first-ever ute and that technically, the concept goes as far back as 1903. Either way, the ute really took off in Australia in the 1930s, and companies and coachbuilders both large and small were happy to sell you one.

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Cars Down Under – CC BY 2.0 DEED

By 1935, you could buy a ute with Dodge, Fargo, or Plymouth chassis. This would kick off the production of a variety of Chrysler and Chrysler-brand utes for decades. It’s incredible to look at the coupé utilities sold in Australia because if it weren’t for the steering wheel on the right side, so many of them could have passed for what we now consider to be American classics today.

However, those sweet rides never made it over to our shores. That changed when small Japanese pickup trucks and Volkswagen’s Rabbit Pickup began landing on American shores. As Popular Mechanics wrote in 1981, Chrysler decided to compete with these trucks by making a coupé utility for America.

Rampageyes
Dodge

To achieve this goal, Chrysler decided to raid the front-wheel-drive L platform’s parts bin. You may better know the Rampage’s platform mates, the Dodge Omni and the Plymouth Horizon. The Rampage borrows its unibody and front end from the Omni 024 coupe, a vehicle that we would later be renamed the Charger. The Rampage steals the front end of the 024, but becomes a truck from behind the cab and back. The 024 also gave up its struts up front, but the Rampage got unique leaf springs in the rear.

Power came from a 2.2-liter carbureted inline-four rated for 84 HP to 99 HP depending on model year. Despite the meager horsepower, Popular Mechanics sang high praises in its review:

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The Story Of The Dodge Rampage M
Dodge

The Rampage really belongs in a sports car teat since it’s more fun to drive than just about any two-seater you can buy for under $20,000— its performance will simply blow you away. If you need a truck for driving rather than hauling, this is the one.

The 2,2-1iter* front- wheel -drive Rampage is by far the fastest of this group in the quarter~mile* not to mention faster than most two-liter GTs. It has the second-best brakes and, at least when shod with sticky Firestone HPRs. will daw its way around a skid pad and through a slalom course as fast as any vehicle you care to name, Porsches and Ferraris included. Lining it up against these mini-pickups was like shooting fish in a barrel.

Popular Mechanics notes that part of the reason behind the truck’s great performance was its Omni 024/Charger bones, but also the fact that to accommodate a 5.5-foot bed, the Rampage got a wheelbase 7.6 inches longer than the donor vehicle. Dodge also didn’t half-bake the little truck, either. It has a double-wall steel bed and a true half-ton truck payload rating of 1,145 pounds. Popular Mechanics concluded that you really wouldn’t buy a Rampage for heavy-duty truck work. You couldn’t even fit a motorcycle in its bed. But what you could do is put some lumber in the back and race home while making sports car owners sweat. Or, at least, that’s how Popular Mechanics saw it.

1982 Dodge Rampage 15542220232a4
Bring a Trailer Seller

Sadly, good handling, a svelte 2,293-pound curb weight, and good looks didn’t bring people into showrooms. Just 17,636 examples went home in 1982, with 8,033 leaving dealerships the year after. Sales perked up to just 11,732 in the final year of 1984. For just a single year, the Rampage got a sibling in the form of the Plymouth Scamp. Just 3,564 of those were sold in total. For most people, the Plymouth utes seem like the rarest of the bunch.

After 1984, these cars were taken off of the market, but not before a special edition was made.

The Grail

2012 06 30 10.07.17
Listing by Jake’s General Store

In 1983, Carroll Shelby reportedly got an idea to build a slick street version of the Rampage. Information about this build is few and far in-between, and the folks of Allpar have done a lot of sleuthing on the Dodge California Shelby Rampage. I’ve been able to back Allpar‘s story up with findings of my own.

Allpar cites Carroll Shelby from a 1983 issue of Car Exchange as saying: “We are going to do a Rampage or a Shelby Street-Fighter version of the Rampage. That is the first thing we are going to do.”

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Sometime that year, a Rampage was spotted at the Shelby “Skunkworks” facility in California. This “Parts Chaser,” as it was reportedly called by Shelby employees, was a Rampage with some of the decal kit and body kit of the Shelby Charger. In February, attendees of the Chicago Auto Show would see something epic. Located in a display of trucks was the “Shelby Street Fighter Rampage Pickup.” It was accompanied by a press release:

Shelbystreetfighterrampage@1983w
Chicago Automobile Trade Association

Shelby Street Fighter Rampage Pickup is based on the new 1983 Rampage 2.2 pickup. This concept vehicle features air dam, ground effect skirts, spoiler, and unique paint and tape treatment. A special four-color version of the Dodge Truck’s Ram’s head logo dominates the hood scoop. The design concept is an adaptation of the 1983½ Dodge Shelby Charger, a new sports car inspired by world-famed sports car driver, designer and builder Carroll Shelby.

The Street Fighter Rampage featured a new front end featuring aluminum panels, pop-up headlights, and ground effects treatments. Apparently, the concept truck was a joint effort between a California design firm and Shelby Automobiles. According to an article by Popular Mechanics in 1983, the concept truck was powered by a turbocharged 2.2-liter that would later find a home in the Dodge Daytona. The truck would never go into production. Instead, it would end up sold to a designer. Later, it would end up in a junkyard.

Ramshel10
Listing by Jake’s General Store

This didn’t dissuade Dodge’s marketing and product planning departments. As shown in archived documents, these departments wanted to drum up interest in both the Rampage and the Direct Connection parts catalog while creating “buff book” material by launching a special edition Rampage.

These California Shelby Rampage trucks, which were called the Direct Connection Rampage by Dodge, would be built in Belvidere, Illinois with other Rampages, shipped to Santa Fe, and fitted with a mix of Direct Connection and Shelby parts. It was made for the Rampage’s closing year, 1984, and just for California dealerships. The documents from Dodge claim that 250 were ordered. This is the car that contributor Mark Tucker says is the Holy Grail of the Rampage and Scamp. He dropped a picture into our Discord and essentially challenged me to find anything on it. Challenge accepted!

The California Shelby Rampage starts with a body kit and stripes, which help give the vehicle a nod to the Shelby Charger. Under the hood is the 99 HP 2.2-liter four. No turbo is present like there was on the Street Fighter concept, but there is a performance exhaust. So, actual output is probably a few ticks over stock.

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Ramshel23.jpg
Listing by Jake’s General Store

Inside, you sat in the base model Rampage’s seats, but otherwise were given high options as standard, including quick-ratio power steering, air-conditioning, Shelby-branded pedals, an armrest, a center console, and more. In other words, the California Shelby Rampage looked like a Shelby Charger but was for the most part a high-spec Rampage with a manual transaxle and a bunch of parts from the Direct Connection catalog. Some of these have Shelby-branded seats and it’s unclear if those were an option or aftermarket.

The California Shelby Rampage was sold just through dealerships in California, so if you lived even just across the border in another state, chances are you had no idea they even existed. Once again, the California Shelby Rampage is another example of a rare, possibly best version of a neat vehicle, but that doesn’t translate to value. I’ve found zero of these for sale, but I have found archived ads with asking prices as low as $750. So, this is a Grail almost anyone can afford.

Image (40)
Craigslist via For C Bodies Only

By the close of the 1980s, the traditional coupe utility met its end in America. The car-based pickup was part of American car culture for decades. Now, some examples of these trucks are becoming forgotten history. Even modern car-based trucks aren’t like how old utes like the Rampage and El Camino were. There’s barely anything out there about the California Shelby Dakota. Some publications even doubt if the concept Shelby Street Fighter truck even existed. That’s a sad end to what sounded like a fun little ute. If you own one of these, how is it? What’s it like owning a truck nobody knows exists?

Do you know of or own a car, bus, motorcycle, or something else worthy of being called a ‘holy grail’? Send me an email at mercedes@theautopian.com or drop it down in the comments!

(Top Photo: Shelby American)

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Pickup_Man
Pickup_Man
3 months ago

I’m a huge pickup fan, of every flavor, and had no idea these existed. Pretty cool.

It’s interesting to look at the sales numbers and the single year of the Plymouth Scamp, 1983. In 1982, Rampage sold 17636 like you mentioned, but the Rampage (8033 sales) and Scamp (3564 sales) combined for 1983 total to 11597, then 1984 with the Rampage only a small bump to 11732. So the Scamp didn’t actually add to sales numbers, it just cannibalized Rampage sales almost one for one. I’m curious what Chrysler thought would happen here, did Plymouth hold enough loyalty that they expected Scamp sales to add to Rampage sales? The two are pretty much identical, but the rebadging and marketing had to have cost something, and clearly that didn’t pay off.

Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
3 months ago

Never mind the Shelby stuff, whenever I see one of these I think of how perfect it would be for weekend warrior homeowner stuff. Lumber yard runs, occasional piece of furniture that is too tall for a wagon. Car is small enough to stash away without taking up too much space. Simple to maintain.

Mr. Asa
Mr. Asa
4 months ago

Here’s a Rampage that apparently came with the Shelby appearance package?
https://salem.craigslist.org/cto/d/jefferson-84-dodge-rampage-22-turbo/7698274994.html

Mr. Asa
Mr. Asa
4 months ago

Hey, at least they swapped in a turbo motor.

Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
3 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Asa

The chain steering wheel makes me question the whole package.

Mr. Asa
Mr. Asa
3 months ago
Reply to  Vic Vinegar

You are not wrong. Not at all.
But still.

Idiotking
Idiotking
4 months ago

I remember new versions of the L platform from that era being assembled carelessly with sheet metal screws and duct tape. They were garbage cars as far as I recall. In dad‘s repo lot, we spent a lot of time trying to keep them running, and I often had to tear the door panels off to re-key the door locks. I remember lots of jagged unpainted sheet metal and spare hardware rattling around inside the doors.

That picture of the Shelby seats gave me PTSD for a minute there. The previous owner of my Scout had pulled out the original IH seats and replaced them with a set of Shelby seats that were garbage. Humorously, I wound up replacing them with another Chrysler product, a set of PT cruiser seats. Much more comfortable.

Oldskool
Oldskool
4 months ago

I much prefer the stock Rampage over the Street Fighter. The Street Fighter may be slick, but the stock version just has this raw aggressive look that fits perfectly.

GoesLikeHell
GoesLikeHell
4 months ago

The way to confirm if a Rampage is an authentic California Shelby package truck is to check the tire size sticker on the drivers door, these were the only models to have 15″ wheels and would list a 205/50/15 tire if I remember correctly.

I still have an 82 Rampage buried in a barn behind a dozen other projects.

I had an 84 that came from Indianapolis airport, was used by ATA airlines for some type of service on the flightline. Had an orange strobe light on the roof, an hour meter under the hood and a huge class III hitch on the back. I jokingly called it the tug. Sold it to a friend and it has since been restored.

I’ve had a few others over the years but still looking for a clean rust free one.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
4 months ago

I once owned a pristine Shelby Lancer, and sort of always wanted to swap that 2.2L Turbo-II into a Rampage. I knew I guy who swapped a Turbo-I in a Rampage, but the lack of intercooler was a buzz kill for making power in those little engines.

CUlater
CUlater
4 months ago
Reply to  Squirrelmaster

I also had a Shelby Lancer, as well as a GLH Turbo before that (first and second new car purchases). Was amazed to find out that the Shelby Rampage didn’t include at least the Turbo I from the outset?

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
3 months ago
Reply to  CUlater

I was too when I found that out years ago from the Rampage guy. He had added a bunch of the Shelby trim and body pieces to his Rampage, so I asked why he didn’t grab the turbo engine from the Shelby Rampage he got the body parts from, which elicited a loud body laugh from the guy and he informed me of the lameness of the Shelby Rampage engine options.

One thing of note of the Rampage with the Turbo-I in it is that even with only 140-something horsepower, if you hammer the throttle mid-turn the chassis would get upset, likely caused by the FWD and lack of weight on the rear tires, and you would get drift under steering like an AWD car, even on good tires.

Carlos Ferreira
Carlos Ferreira
4 months ago

Man I love these things.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
4 months ago

Related – I’ve always wondered what Shelby’s time with Chrysler was like. Was he generally happy with it, or did he secretly miss the old Ford days, or ?

I know his long-time connection and friendship with Lee Iacocca got him there, but you never hear that much about what he thought of the work/the cars.

MikuhlBrian
MikuhlBrian
4 months ago

My first car was a 1985 Plymouth Turismo with the 2.2L and 5spd. Fun little car, and I’ve always had a soft spot for any L-bodies. I saw images of the California DC Rampage back when posted on Allpar. I looked for awhile, but could never find one for sale.

I think it would be a fun project to craft together a Shelby Rampage GLHS!

Cam.man67
Cam.man67
4 months ago

I love the Rampage in all its forms. It’s a shame the Rampage never got the 2.2 Turbo.

JDE
JDE
4 months ago

Sad thing is the mini truck phase was only a few short years later, this little guy would have perhaps been the darling of that crowd to be honest.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
4 months ago

Nice…has my absolute favorite Chrysler wheels of the era. Could get them on the “performance” level of a wide variety of cars back then.

Marlin May
Marlin May
4 months ago

…sports car teat…”? Do I even want to try imagining what is?

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
4 months ago
Reply to  Marlin May

Face it, you already are.

Marlin May
Marlin May
4 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

True that. Far too late.

Angry Bob
Angry Bob
4 months ago

What gets me about these 2.2L Chryslers is that it is -not- an interference engine. Meaning the timing belt can break and it won’t damage anything. The engine is so low performance that it can lose time and valves will never touch pistons.

And break they did. During my tenure at Pep Boys, I could always count on a few of these being towed in on exceptionally cold mornings. Lost track of how many I replaced.

Rapgomi
Rapgomi
4 months ago

I thought about building something like this up a few times – but had no idea they actually existed. Nice find!

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
4 months ago

My very first new car purchase was a 1982 Dodge Rampage that I bought in California as a newly “winged” Air Force lieutenant.

I loved that car. I only drove it for six months before I was assigned overseas and decided not to bring the car with me. Funny thing, when I arrived at my new duty station, one of my squadron mates had a 1983 Rampage that he’d shipped over. I envied his five-speed.

We both followed closely any and all reports of the pending Shelby Rampage with thoughts of upgrading when we returned home. Alas (for that notion), I went from one extended overseas tour to another and didn’t come home for five years. By then, the Rampage was long gone and the Shelby California Rampage was relegated to myth.

I’m on the hunt for a clean Rampage now, and you can bet if I find an actual Shelby model (there are some fakes out there) I’ll be all over it. I was personally disappointed when Dodge decided to resurrect the Rampage badge, but pinned it to a truck of the Maverick/Ridgeline scale, not a small ute like the original. But that’s probably just me.

Thanks for fun Grail stroll down memory lane.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
4 months ago

I always thought Chrysler should have leaned into the Hispanic naming convention for utes in the US. This would have made a perfect Taco Bellio.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
4 months ago

That seems to be a Hyundai disease, these days.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
4 months ago

Bring over the Fiat Strada/Ram 700 and call it Ram Page 😛

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
4 months ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

Yes, this. Although I’d call it the Furia, which Italian for rampage.

Carlos Ferreira
Carlos Ferreira
4 months ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

YESSSSS! Of course that would mean Fiat would have to have a general sense of marketing and think of themselves as something more than a 500 in the US.

FiveOhNo
FiveOhNo
4 months ago

My very first car was a Plymouth Sundance Duster, so I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for all those ’80s and early ’90s Chryslers.

The turbo engines from the late ’80s were a pretty easy swap into these.

Beasy Mist
Beasy Mist
4 months ago
Reply to  FiveOhNo

Same. ’93 coupe in that dark green and gold they all seemed to be, with the 3.0 liter which was way too much engine for that car and a 16 year old. I will miss it always.

FiveOhNo
FiveOhNo
4 months ago
Reply to  Beasy Mist

It came with the 3.0L V6, and I built a 2.2 turbo and swapped it in. It ran 12s!

Beasy Mist
Beasy Mist
3 months ago
Reply to  FiveOhNo

Oh wow, that’s quite a project! Consider me impressed.

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
4 months ago

Raises hand, I had a red rampage 🙂

D0nut
D0nut
4 months ago

This thing actually looks pretty rad and I had no idea it existed (I had completely forgotten about the Rampage in general). At under 2300 lbs this thing would have been pretty quick actually. That’s less weight than an early 80s 911!

Bearddevil
Bearddevil
4 months ago

This makes me wish Huyndai would build an Ioniq 6N ute.

Though, really, Stellantis could reprise the hell out of this using the Pacifica platform, with the PHEV system tuned for power instead of economy.

JumboG
JumboG
4 months ago

I had to read that entire article just to discover it didn’t even have the turbo motor?

SlowCarFast
SlowCarFast
4 months ago
Reply to  JumboG

I’m wondering if the turbo might have destroyed itself if you loaded that bed to the weight limit. I also was disappointed not to see the turbo included.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
4 months ago
Reply to  SlowCarFast

No knowledge of a turbo in one, but I knew an L platform family in the mid 80s, and the father regularly loaded his Rampage up with materials to built their ski cabin 2&1/2 hours away. I remember seeing it with a load of 8’ 2x4s from rear of bed up over the cabin one Thursday evening ready for the weekend run. He mercilessly overloaded that thing—but also maintained it perfectly and it served him well

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
4 months ago
Reply to  JumboG

The turbo came out around ’84 with the release of the Daytona. Shelby stuck some turbos in the GLHS but from what I recall, most Shelby Chargers had the 100hp non-turbo and if these were 83s the turbo wasn’t out yet.

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