Home » You Can Buy A Weird SUV Based On The Legendary Second-Generation Dodge Ram, But There’s A Catch

You Can Buy A Weird SUV Based On The Legendary Second-Generation Dodge Ram, But There’s A Catch

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If you input the correct search terms into Facebook Marketplace right now, you’ll find some forbidden fruit that somehow made it to Colorado. Your eyes don’t deceive you! Yes, that really is a second-generation Dodge Ram wearing the body of an SUV. You’re looking at the Mexico market-only third-generation Dodge Ramcharger that we never got on this side of the border. The seller even wants just $10,000 for the SUV, which isn’t bad for an import you won’t see often. However, before you rush to the bank you should know that this SUV might have a skeleton in its closet.

This weird SUV comes to us from the private Facebook group Overlanding for the Poors. It’s caused a lot of confusion, but I can explain what is most likely going on here. As of writing, I know of four of these SUVs for sale here in the United States. They aren’t that rare. However, you might want to think twice before exchanging your hard-earned money for one.

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It’s a shame, too, because there’s a lot to love here.

A Dodge Ram For People Who Don’t Need A Bed

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Dodge Ramcharger For Sale

The second-generation Dodge Ram is a legendary truck. It’s one of those pickups that arguably changed the future. The second-generation Ram was a leap forward in design. A pickup was no longer just a work tool, but an aspirational vehicle that made your inner child feel like you were driving a big rig.

My retrospective explains how Dodge did it:

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In 1986, Chrysler’s Advanced Package Studio produced the first design study for the then-upcoming truck. It was dubbed the Louisville Slugger and while the truck was plenty utilitarian, it looked like a minivan with its roof chopped off. The truck was perfectly inoffensive, like the kind of cars a video game developer makes to avoid licensing issues. Unfortunately, bland looks weren’t the Louiville Slugger’s only problem. It had a spacious cab and large box, but the engine bay was too small to fit the Cummins or the planned V10 engine. That was a non-starter and the design study was dropped in 1987.

Later that year, design transferred to the AMC/Jeep design studio, and that crew produced a new truck, nicknamed Phoenix, but that one reportedly looked a bit like a clone of the Ford F-150. Oops. In 1989, executive Bob Lutz and executive Francois Castaing decided to can the Phoenix as well. Instead of sending the truck’s designers back to the drawing board, Lutz ordered the development to be restarted from the beginning with six months to come up with something new. In addition to starting from scratch, the designers would work from start to finish in Computer Aided Three-Dimensional Interactive Application.

When it came to the design, the mission was to be original and go bold. The truck’s designers went flipping through the pages of Dodge’s past at its Power Wagon trucks from World War II. Along the way, they found American big rigs, and that sparked an idea. Chrysler former vice president of design Tom Gale noted to Ars Technica in 2021 that the second-generation Ram had retro style. But, instead of borrowing from Chrysler’s past, designers copied the looks of Kenworth and Peterbilt semis.

Dodge

The second-generation Ram was a runaway success. It launched in 1994 with sales jumping a huge 143 percent. Buyers got Ram fever and in 1995, sales continued with a 77 percent spike. The second-gen Ram won Motor Trend‘s Truck of the Year award in 1994 and Dodge’s truck market share lept from around 6 percent into the 20s.

Engine choices were far and wide, too, from the baby 3.9-liter Magnum V6 to a burly 8.0-liter Magnum V10 and the iconic Cummins 5.9 turbodiesel. Sadly, despite how much the Ram rocks, we never got it in any other flavor than pickup truck. That’s where Mexico comes in later.

From 1974 to 1993, Dodge sold a shortened version of the Dodge D series and later Dodge Ram truck, but with a rear seat and a roof cap over where the bed would be. This SUV was built as Chrysler’s answer to the Chevrolet K5 Blazer and the Ford Bronco.

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The Ramcharger was never really a hot seller. As Motor Trend notes, Chrysler’s entry into the two-door SUV market was more than a decade late, and launched right on time for high fuel prices and emissions equipment to do their damage. Still, as Motor Trend notes, Dodge and Plymouth managed to move at least 13,000 Ramchargers and Trail Dusters for the first six years of production.

The Ramcharger was granted a second generation in 1981 and sales did improve, but it wouldn’t last. As Allpar notes, Americans had an insatiable lust for Dakotas, Rams, and B-series vans, but they didn’t really care much about the poor Ramcharger. In 1987, Dodge moved 22,828 units. In 1988, the year the Ramcharger got throttle body fuel injection, sales dipped to 19,955 units. That year, 88,666 Ram pickups were sold, and remember that the Ramcharger was based on the Ram! Dodge also sold 91,850 Dakotas and 83,279 B-series vans that year.

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Sales fell into a freefall and by 1993, just 3,687 Ramchargers went to new homes. As DrivingLine writes, the Ramcharger likely became a victim of changing American tastes. Two-door SUVs lost their swagger in the marketplace and instead, buyers were gravitating toward other vehicles, be it minivans or four-door SUVs. As noted earlier, Dodge was already hard at work making the Ram into a baby big rig, and ultimately decided not to continue Ramcharger sales in the United States. Mexican buyers got to enjoy the third-generation Ramcharger for a little longer until 1996.

Mexico’s Ram Charger

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DaimlerChrysler De Mexico

As Curbside Classic notes, demand for a two-door SUV remained in Mexico. In response, Dodge decided to cobble together a new Ramcharger in two years on a budget of just $3 million. To facilitate this, Dodge took the body of a Ram and modified it from the B-pillar back.

The Mexican market Ramcharger, which was marketed as the “Ram Charger” in two words, featured quarter windows from the Ram Quad Cab, a tailgate from a Chrysler minivan, and a frame borrowed from the half-ton Ram modified to a 113.7-inch wheelbase.

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Dodge Ramcharger For Sale

The resulting 198-inch SUV was larger than the 193.3-inch Dodge Durango, but sported two doors instead of four. Weirdly, the neo-Ram Charger did have three rows of seats, but the third row was a sideways folding unit. Also a bit odd was running gear. Buyers had access to either a 5.2-liter or 5.9-liter Magnum V8, but only rear-wheel-drive. Likewise, your transmission choices were either a four-speed manual or a four-speed automatic.

Still, I bet the Mexican market Ram Charger was a fun SUV. That 5.2-liter Magnum V8 put out 230 HP and 295 lb-ft of torque while the 5.9-liter Magnum V8 spit 245 HP and 335 lb-ft of torque.

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Reportedly, the Mexican auto press responded well to the Ram Charger, but sales weren’t strong. These SUVs were built and sold in Mexico starting in 1998 for the model years 1999 to 2001. Over that time, just 30,000 units were sold before even Mexican car buyers got too bored of two-door SUVs. It’s not known exactly why the Ram Charger never made it across the Mexican border. Some point to safety, and it’s true that base Ram Chargers didn’t even have airbags.

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DaimlerChrysler De Mexico

However, as Curbside Classic notes, one of the SUV’s designers once said that the Ram Charger was built to U.S. safety standards. So, Chrysler must not have seen the point, given how poorly previous Ramchargers sold and the success of the four-door Durango. Two-door SUVs just weren’t that hot anymore.

Either way, the Mexican market Ram Charger has been a forbidden fruit for about 25 years. You can now legally buy any Ram Charger built in 1998 and any Ram Charger built before today’s date in 1999.

Be Careful

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All of the four Ram Chargers I’ve found for sale in the United States right now are model-year 2000 SUVs. Unfortunately, this can mean there’s a catch to buying one of these. A 2000 Ram Charger could have been built sometime in 1999 or 2000. When it comes to the infamous “25 year rule,” the federal government cares about the vehicle’s actual build date, not its model year. So, if this 2000 Ram Charger found at Overlanding for the Poors was built less than 25 years ago, it would be illegal in the eyes of the federal government.

Sadly, commenters in the Facebook group say they’ve seen this exact SUV for sale for over a year. That would likely mean the SUV was not imported legally. But, how does that happen? How does an under-25-year-old vehicle get through the border to end up in Colorado? A hint can be found on both ends. That’s not a license plate for a U.S. state.

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According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as well as U.S. Customs And Border Protection, you can temporarily import a vehicle to travel the country, participate in races, for engineering purposes, for research, and so on. These vehicles do not need to meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, but they are expected to return to their home countries. For a car imported by a non-resident, the feds expect the car to go back home after a year.

This is why you can find all sorts of non-compliant vehicles driving around America on plates from other countries. As you can guess, you’re not supposed to sell your non-compliant car. You also don’t want your vehicle to overstay its welcome. But some people do that, anyway, and it’s how you’ll see Volkswagen Amaroks driving around Chicago or a Smart Forfour in Texas.

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Facebook Seller

Officially, these cars are illegal on the federal level, but that may not stop a state from issuing a title. Some states will register just about anything with a good VIN and proof of ownership. Well, so long as that anything isn’t a Kei truck, anyway. And even if you do manage to get license plates, the feds can still find out and either demand that you send your import back where it came from at your cost, or have it crushed.

Another way to get a non-compliant vehicle into the United States would be if it has the proper EPA and NHTSA decals. Unfortunately, I’ve combed through old listings for these SUVs and have not found the necessary stickers.

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So, that’s the risk in buying that 2000 Ram Charger in Colorado. You want to ask for some sort of proof of its importation status because if it was just driven across the border and never returned, someday you might find your $10,000 investment at the business end of a crusher.

Still, if you can find one of these for sale and can prove that it was imported properly, you’ll be getting an SUV that Dodge apparently deemed not worthy of U.S. buyers. I’d also love to see one of these with a 4×4 conversion and a 5.9-liter Cummins. Otherwise, it may not have four-wheel drive, but just look at the kooky thing!

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Daniil Ivshin
Daniil Ivshin
21 days ago

I wonder what the last full size 2 door SUV that made it to the US.

There was a 2nd gen Trooper but it was SWB. Not sure if it made it past 2000.
And I guess it was more of a mid-size.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
27 days ago

Smart Forfour in Texas

WHERE?? <3

The World of Vee
The World of Vee
27 days ago

This ain’t it, but the Mexican 2 Door GMT800? Oh bby get me all hot and bothered (with the lack of ac most likely)

beachbumberry
beachbumberry
27 days ago

Love and hate it? Needs an SAS. Those rams were one of the first cars that I really remember liking at 4 or 5 when they came out.

There was a brand new jimny popping up with Mexican plates in Waco on Facebook marketplace for a few weeks. The people were staying in my neighborhood so I saw it running around a few times.

Wholettheriffraffin?
Wholettheriffraffin?
27 days ago

This thing looks all wrong. I’m biased, though, as I had a 94 K Blazer Sport (right before the Tahoe). It was simultaneously terrible and fantastic, many adventures were had, and I miss it to this day.

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