Monday, June 29, 2020

Pleasanton Street Sighting - 1973 Dodge Royal Sportsman

My last post here dealt with a 1973 Ford Econoline van. In that post I mentioned that Ford's van sales were down that year. Now we look at its primary nemesis in the marketplace, the Dodge B-Series. I see this fantastic Royal Sportsman passenger van on the road often in my area, much more often than I ever see it parked. This van even popped up in traffic while shooting the 1957 Austin-Healey 100-6.

Dodge's vans were new for 1971, built on a unibody structure that was a significant departure from the 1964-vintage A100 minibus with its forward control design and plate glass split windshield. The new van was more civilized, more streamlined and better equipped. Two wheelbases and three lengths were offered: 109" or 127" wheelbase and a "Maxivan" or "Maxiwagon" option with an extra 18" stretch at the rear. This one looks to be the 127" wheelbase. Five-passenger seating was standard with optional rows of seats for 8 or 12 available in the 127" van and up to 15 in the Maxiwagon. In 1973 a buyer could choose a 225 cubic inch slant six, or a range of V8s shared with the D-Series pickup trucks including the 318 or 360 as extra-cost options. Front seat occupants sat effectively on either side of the engine which was enclosed under a plastic "doghouse" cover. A V8 was a required option if you wanted air conditioning! Transmission choices were a three-speed manual with a three-speed LoadFlite automatic available with any engine.

Vans were offered in a wide range of colors and could be ordered all one color or one of two 2-tone combinations, either the 50/50 top and bottom as seen on this vehicle, or with the top color repeated below the lower body crease and following along the wheel arches. This one wears a handsome Medium Burnt Orange metallic over White with full wheelcovers and whitewall tires. It sports window curtains all the way around the passenger area for privacy, and two of the middle windows on each side pop out for ventilation. Rear passengers enter and exit through hinged barn doors on the right side. Dodge vans didn't introduce a sliding door until 1974.

I estimate that about 79,000 Dodge Sportsman vans were made for 1973. I was unable to find a better breakdown based on info from American Light Trucks and Utility Vehicles by J. Kelly Flory, Jr. According to that source Dodge didn't keep track of passenger van production by sub-series, so I subtracted the various totals of Tradesman cargo vans from the grand total number (238,009) and came up with that. It should be noted that Dodge van sales were up by nearly 58% from 1972. It's no wonder why Ford was struggling to move Econolines.

The legacy of the 1970s B-Series van was that it would last ... effectively the life of the Dodge Ram van into the early 2000s. The 2002 Ram Van basically had the same bodyshell and doors as this 1973 model. Later models saw the addition of new larger taillights and of course a series of new front ends and cowl. Interiors only changed when necessary. The fuel filler was relocated from the rear corner to the left quarter panel in 1978 and finally to the left side in 1998. The last few years of Ram Vans also moved the engine forward for passenger safety and offered new engine choices for better power.
Dodge remained a juggernaut in the van market for a decade until finally surpassed by Ford in 1981. In its final model year, 2002, Dodge sold 37,000 Ram wagons and cargo vans combined, whereas Ford's 1992-bodied E-Series sold a little over 165,000 copies.
Dodge hasn't had a proper large cargo van of its own design to sell for over 15 years, depending on its succession of parent companies to rebadge first the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and then the Fiat Ducato. That's not to say they're terrible vehicles; my employer has put probably 200,000 miles on a 2008 diesel Dodge Sprinter and it keeps going. And the United States Postal Service works their fleet of RAM ProMasters pretty hard. I refuse to admit that the Caravan C/V is a real cargo van. I did my time with two of those at work and that was enough. The Caravan itself is also discontinued as of 2020. I must admit I'm a little sad at what's become of the iconic Mopar vans. But we still have the classics, and they are to be treasured.

Photographed August 2017 and June 2018

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