My Pickup: Operation Tugboat, Part 2

Tugboat P2 1 II

(Editor's note: My Pickup will be an occasional PUTC feature in which we invite readers, industry associates, friends and colleagues to write about their own pickups, either currently owned or from their past. We introduced the column two weeks ago and will be adding them to our editorial mix every few weeks. This is Part 2 of a four-part series detailing Four Wheeler magazine's Operation Tugboat, about a 1992 Dodge W250 Club Cab 4x4.)

By G.R. Whale

I got word from Chrysler's fleet service that our project truck had arrived and said I'd be there the next day. Alas, Chrysler had instructions to put 500 miles on any vehicle going to a press outlet prior to delivery. Well aware of how a Cummins worked when broken in properly and when not — Four Wheeler magazine previously had a long-term test Cummins that started life with full-out testing and never did slow its appetite for oil — I begged to skip that step but rules were rules.

I collected the Dodge a few weeks later, completed all the paperwork, weighed it (5,690 pounds), removed the LE badges and got some baseline exterior photos.

The first day home I had three problems.

First, all that weight on the skinny front tires would sink them a half inch into hot parking lot pavement. Second, a parking brake cable clip on the left side was broken, so the parking brake was marginal at best. Third, when I took a quick look underneath the truck, I found the nut on the front spring front hangar bolt was two threads short of falling off. Good thing the delivery agents had put 500 miles on to ensure everything was just right (heavy sarcasm intended).

Data logging showed the speedometer was optimistic, the odometer was 4 percent off and fuel economy on the first tank was a stellar 16 mpg. Remember, this was only a year after GM had added a fourth gear to its automatic transmissions, and big-block engines certainly couldn't manage — at least not often — double-digit mileage numbers. I also knew it would improve: Four Wheeler's three-quarter-ton, non-intercooled, regular cab 1989 long-term 4x4 pickup with 3.54:1 gears had averaged almost 20 mpg over 30,000 miles. By the fifth tank the curve was softening between 19 and 20 mpg.

I ordered the Dodge with the optional 4.10:1 gears (3.54:1 were standard with 3.07:1 as the other option) because the cast-iron gear-drive NP205 transfer-case low range was just 2.0:1. Shorter gears meant easier towing (with 4.10s, the gross combined weight rating was 17,000 pounds and maximum towing only 11,900 pounds), and there were aftermarket overdrives available. Don't forget, the speed limit was 55 mph back then, and in California where Four Wheeler was based, it remained 55 when towing even when the national limit was raised.


Tugboat P2 4 II


I had ordered a front anti-roll bar, typically contradictory for four-wheeling articulation; however, at $41 the aftermarket couldn't come close to duplicating it, undoing it was painless, and the heavy nose meant the bar didn't really limit articulation. Interestingly, you had to order a spare tire or rear bumper; the tire seemed more useful. I didn't bother with limited-slip differentials because I had a plan for that, which I'll share later.

The W250 diesel specs for 1992 listed the gross vehicle weight rating at 8,510 pounds, and the front gross axle weight rating at 4,500 pounds with the rear axles rated at 7,500 pounds. However, the manufacturer sticker rightly stipulated 6,084 pounds rear because that's what two 3,042-pound-limited tires will carry. Four Wheeler had recently tested a Dodge W350 regular cab 4x4, single rear wheel, with 4.10:1 gears that put out 170 horsepower and 399 pounds-feet of torque on a chassis dyno. It did zero-to-60 mph in 13.1 seconds and the quarter mile in 19.5 seconds at 71.5 mph.

That sounds slow today, but it wasn't as bad as you think. The biggest gas-engine W Dodge you could get then was a 360 CID V-8 (same 5.9-liter as the diesel), which put out 120 hp and 210 pounds-feet of torque through a four-speed automatic transmission (and same rear axle ratio). It took 13.7 seconds to reach 60 mph and did the quarter mile in 20.3 seconds at 70.3 mph. It also got roughly half the mileage of the diesel and had only two advantages: It was $3,019 less than the diesel (the base one-ton four-wheel drive was $20,000), and the gas engine was much quieter at idle.

Having dealt with attention-getting show trucks that couldn't get out of second gear and overheated at anything more than 70 degrees and 70 mph with the air conditioning on, I made only a few concessions to luxury. I opted for a nice stereo and Dynamat noise reduction material throughout the cab. When a Chrysler suspension engineer saw the truck in 1993, he called it the quietest Dodge diesel he'd ever been in.

Can't say that about today's Rams.

Next came the task of getting the parts we needed to achieve our goal of building a full-size pickup that could carry substantial parts and people, tow almost anything and serve as a chase truck for multiday road tests. Most of my "shopping" had been at the Specialty Equipment Market Association show four months prior to picking up the truck, so I hit the phones to talk to aftermarket suppliers, which sometimes felt like begging.

Stay tuned for Part 3.

Tugboat P2 3 II

Tugboat P2 2 II



I find it funny to hear guys complain about lack of power in the curent batch of pickups. This story puts things in perspective:
360 CID V-8 which put out 120 hp and 210 pounds-feet of torque through a four-speed automatic transmission
or the Cummins diesel at "170 horsepower and 399 pounds-feet of torque".
This truck could tow " 11,900 pounds".

We now have 1/2 ton pickups with 350-400+ hp and torque and tow ratings in the 10-12 k range.

Is it just me or does this truck have one of the most nauseating interior colour sschemes on the planet?

What are those 2 black poles sticking out of the floor? ;)

The seating position in these trucks were high up.
I think that Dodge just pulled the seats & pedastal's out of the B series van with no changes.
My Dad had a 1992 LE 2500 diesel & had to go to Dodge to get seat belt extenders to make the belts work.
Real solid truck for back then, put ball joints in at a 100K.
Dad drove it until he bought a 1995 Dodge Diesel.
Some people claim they don't build them like they used to. I for one am glad they don't.

You can pull the radio out because you will never be able to hear it when you drive the truck.

The MIGHTY DODGE! ONLY Ford compares and BARELY!!!

The magazine said complaints about Ford's electronic control system, MyFordTouch, were the main reason for the continued low results, although it also said a significant numbers of respondents also reported problems with the Ford EcoBoost engine

Read more:;-ford-again-near-bottom#ixzz2j35lQsYq

Ford Motor Co. was rated 63 percent below industry average in the survey, with Ford brand No. 26 and Lincoln No. 27, better than only BMW's Mini brand of the 28 rated.

Read more:;-ford-again-near-bottom#ixzz2j36ZHJyU

I know what they say about 4x4 and Dualy's. and if you are running empty with no locking axles. They are most likely correct.

But if you are building a Tugboat. You have very few plans of running empty. And the locking axles in conjunction with a dual rear axle will prove to be the most advantageous.

A tugboat (I define that as a trailer towing vehicle) will spend most of it's time on the highway or improved or semi improved dirt roads. On those, except in cases of snow or rain. Locking rear axle would most likely be enough. Even a beach can be approached with deflated tires in most cases.

A one ton is not meant for true off road use. The front hubs aren't going to last long off road with a payload. Maybe Dyna Tracs will work. But if that's what you need, start with a cheap used truck and build it from scratch.

So your vehicle should be towing a toy hauler with a small jeep type vehicle, Baja buggy or a 4 wheeler inside.

You can't reasonably make this truck a rock crawler.

As for the article. Two articles of history is a bit much. It's like in the future I might as well ignore the first two editions. The meat of the article won't appear until part 3, I hope.

I like the Yokohama Super Digger tires & Alcoa wheels.

@The Real Lou
I think you are correct about the hp and torque figures. How much do you need. I'm not saying to stop making higher powered pickups.

Will a V6 gasser do most of what is expected from a pickup. My answer is yes, because many who buy them couldn't back a trailer up, let alone use their truck to tow.

Back then though, trucks were more utilitarian, more business orientated. They were designed for work and to be cheap.

Now, people mainly buy these as daily drivers and SUV replacements. Some are used for work.

This article only goes to prove that most pickup truck owners simply don't NEED all the power and load capacity newer trucks offer; they got along just fine with half of that only 20 years ago and certainly didn't complain as much about it as they do today.

Give me smaller, lighter and cheaper. I don't need nor want one of today's Road Whales™. What I NEED is just enough bed to carry 2 dozen 8' long folding tables. a 4'wide x 6' long bed would do it (that's roughly the width between the wheel wells on my old F-150).

I really liked the old Ram. Very solid truck, hung together much better than the 1994-up versions ever did. Like to own another (bought 2 brand new back in the day) but it's just too hard finding parts for them anymore. You are fortunate the interior trim is in good shape.

I like this old Dodge. One of my favorite designs. The new ones look way too tubby and bloated especially with the high belt lines they have. It's interesting to note that while HP and TQ doubled over the last 20 years, MPG has remained basically the same. Now, if they would only go back to making the quad cabs look like actual quad cabs instead of the goofy looking chopped up pseudo crew cabs they have now. Not every one wants to drive a "four door" looking truck. They did that with the cars and now they're doing it with the trucks.

The last good looking Dodge.

Not to mention the best looking one they ever made.

Wow, this is a beautiful truck. I really like the simple interior (no sh*** sync system to distract you and climate controls that take 10 minutes to figure out). I love the rugged and simple exterior also. I remember these trucks well. Seeing this one makes me want to buy one and restore it.

3/4 ton truck that got 20 MPGs easily with 400 lb/ft of torque. You can't buy that today. The EPA made sure of that.

Was 120 hp at the wheels? in 1992 360 v8 hp was 190 (went up to 230 in 1993 with the throttle body). More interesting was that the 318 seems to have gotten fuel injection (dubbed Magnum) first, and had 230 hp in 1992. in 1993 the difference between the 2 was torque.

I love these first generation Dodge Cummins trucks, I spent a lot of time in a 93 250 4x4, it rode like a brick and was so loud the stereo was worthless. I still loved that truck, it just had a lot of character.

The comments to this entry are closed.