For nearly 30 years, the battle for best truck—more specifically best diesel truck— has been a constant struggle between the Big Three American manufacturers: Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford. The never-ending quest for the throne has sparked many debates and created fierce brand loyalty. This week, we aim to educate readers by providing a brief history of each manufacturer’s power plant and build upon that foundation as we go.
The relationship between Dodge and Cummins has been a fruitful one, and a thing of beauty. Unlike Chevrolet and the Duramax, the Cummins engine had existed long before it was applied to RAM trucks. For the better part of the 20th century, Clessie Cummins’ engines were put to use in railroad switches, construction equipment and even a Packard Limousine. The Cummins engine was so strong and durable that in 1940 the company was confident enough to issue its first 100,000-mile warranty. Most of the equipment employed in the road building boom in the Unites States following World War II were Cummins-powered machines.
By the early 1980s, the Dodge line of pickups was in crisis mode. The manufacturer was losing a tremendous amount of market share to its competitors due to an outdated design and underperforming engines. Dodge had tried building their pickups with Mitsubishi diesels throughout the 70s but were met with little success. Executives at Chrysler decided to take a risk and outfit their trucks with the venerable and respected Cummins diesel. The move took years to come to fruition and was the backbone of a hearty resuscitation of the dying Dodge truck.
The first iteration Cummins featured in a Dodge pickup was head-and-shoulders above the competition. Though it generated just 160 horsepower, it could generate 400 lb-ft of torque compared to GM and Ford’s 246 and 345, respectively. The design of the engine was also superior to its peers in several ways. According to Allpar.com, “Dodge made an outstanding decision in choosing Cummins. Using an inline six, not a V-8, cut maintenance costs; it had about 40% fewer working parts than competitive engines.” The inline engine afforded the mechanic more room to work and made for easy access to the six cylinders. Additionally, “the engine was direct injected (fuel is squirted into the combustion chamber),” which made it more efficient.
Since the first iteration, Dodge has continued to update their powerplants pursuant to emission standards and industry technology all while keeping pace with competitors. Halfway through the 1998 production year, the 24 valve Cummins was introduced. The doubled valve heads helped to increase airflow and allowed fuel injectors to be mounted directly over the piston bowl for improved combustion and low-end torque. By 2003, Chevrolet’s Duramax had set the standard with a high-pressure common-rail fuel injection system and Cummins followed suit, ditching their mechanical fuel delivery setup.
First Generation Cummins 12 Valve Specs
Want more information on the legendary inline Cummins? Stay tuned for the next installment of our Diesel Debate. Looking for a Cummins of your own? Check out Copart’s inventory of diesel-powered Dodge/RAM pickups!