This Cummins-powered 1984 Dodge Ram is all the work truck you can handle
Last week, my neighbor called a plumber, and he turned up in this rig. Perhaps that’s an inadequate description. This truck does not “turn up.” It shoves itself into view with the authority of the Chrysler building. Or the USS Eisenhower. Or a fully armed and operational Death Star.
Would you just look at the size of it? I had to oscillate my neck to see it end to end. A 1984 Dodge Ram crew-cab long-box dualie, it’s at once massive, polished, and unlike anything you’d ordinarily see on the road. As the kids are fond of saying these days, this truck qualifies as an Absolute Unit.
One of the reasons the collector truck market heated up so rapidly over the past few years is that trucks tend to get, well, used up. They work hard, haul big, and rust out. To achieve retirement as a classic, a truck must first survive a lifetime of work. Not many do. This particular one hasn’t retired yet.
“I just love to see the variety of people who get excited about it,” says Lee Machado, the custom home plumber who owns this beast. “Kids love it, obviously, but plenty of people get really excited by it. I had this woman yelling so loud at me when I was driving along, at first I thought there was something wrong and the truck was on fire!”
You can tell a lot about a man by the state of his hands, and Machado’s mitts betray somebody who builds things. Gets stuff done. He clasps his morning coffee in a callused and leathery grip.
“Well, I was going to get the bodywork fixed at a shop, but a couple weeks dragged past and I thought, ‘I’m just going to have to get this done myself.’ I have a buddy who’s a body man; I’ve done some work for him, so we just did it ourselves,” he tells me.
Machado’s early automotive interests stretched to late-Sixties Camaros, but then he got himself a getaway cottage. Modern pickup trucks are ideal for comfortable cruising up to the lake country with a bed full of firewood, so he bought a full-size Chevrolet. But the daily mileage and depreciation was a concern, and besides, the Chevy just didn’t feel at all special.
This Ram is a first-generation one-ton truck, and it started life as a white and brown two-wheel-drive model. It was found with the help of Val Simon, who is something of a guru in the Dodge pickup community. He was one of the first people to convert an early Ram like this to a more modern Cummins diesel engine.
1981 was the first year for the Ram, although Dodge had of course been building pickup trucks since as far back as 1917. Lee Iaccoca brought back both the Ram name and the signature leaping bighorn sheep, a hood ornament created in the 1930s and affixed to many Dodge cars of the period. Two-wheel-drive models were Rams, four-wheel-drive ones Power Rams. Initially a D350, Machado’s is now something of a custom machine.
The truck didn’t cost much in unrestored form. Machado paid roughly $5000 for it, and a couple of thousand dollars on top of that took care of shipping and importation fees. Then he tore the front end of the truck apart, drilling out the crossmember, and bolting in the 5.9-liter Cummins 12-valve turbodiesel engine from a 1993 Ram.
Every facet of automotive enthusiasm has its own language (practice your E-codes before visiting a BMW meet), and early Ram fans are no exception. The 6BT Cummins is slightly dated by modern standards, but it featured cutting-edge technology at the time, with a fixed geometry turbocharger and direct fuel injection. Mid-way through the 1991 model year, they added a charge cooler. In factory trim, it made 160 hp and a competition-thumping 400 lb-ft of torque.
In terms of durability, the 6BT is a cross between granite and Keith Richards. It’s one of the most long-lived engines ever made, an overengineered straight-six with a forged connecting rods, six head bolts per cylinder, seven main bearings, gear-driven components, and a heavy-duty crankshaft of a size of more commonly found in an ocean liner. Paired with a five-speed Getrag manual transmission, this powerplant may be considered the farmhand equivalent of a Toyota Supra Turbo’s rock-solid 2JZ.
Including bodywork and sourcing rubber trim pieces—all of which had perished in the desert sun—the rebuild took Machado just about three months and cost an additional twenty thousand dollars. Seen in one way, it’s a typical story of a restoration that’s a labor of love, with a unique and cherished possession the emerges at the end of it.
But this is no oversized Tonka toy. It is a work truck. Every day, Machado drives his machine out to worksites, checking in with his crews, running for supplies, hauling tools and gear. He figures he does seventy miles a day. Asked how much mileage he does in a year, he just shrugs.
“I don’t keep track of that stuff,” he says, “She’s a driver.”
When the work is done, the Ram hauls a pontoon boat and cords of firewood up to a lakeside cabin north of Cache Creek, British Columbia. It’s about 230 miles each way, and Machado says the Ram burns about 10 percent less fuel than his friend’s BMW X5 does making the same trek. Furthermore, in B.C. at least, diesel is cheaper than premium gasoline.
Last winter, the lake froze and shifted the dock. Machado just fired up the Ram’s Warn winch and hauled it back into place.
Come November, the big Ram will be parked in a garage, safe from road salt and the attendant rust. It’s so big that storing it requires removing the front bumper and grille. It’s also right at the height limit of the garage.
Storage only lasts a couple of months. Every other day, the Ram is out making its rounds. It’s a tool fit for purpose, a tough and brash machine that appeals to everyone. Friends, what we’ve got here is what you call a Real Truck.