Dodge goes for a simple chassis
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You can't walk -rough the 50-Series Dodge-but then you can fit any Moe of bodywork to suit. Report on the new vehicle launch by Steve Gray, pictures by Dick Ross
THE LONG-AWAITED replacement for the Dodge Walkthru range of light commercials has been announced by Chrysler this week. Designated the SOSeries, it had originally been intended for launch in February of last year.
However, in order that stocks of vehicles could be built up at bodybuilders and dealers, Chrysler delayed the announcement. Although the 50-Series replaces the Walkthru and has a similar chassis, it differs from its predecessor in two major areas.
First, and most importantly, the 50-Series will be available with gross weights ranging from 3.5 to 7.5 tonnes (3.44 to 7.38 tons). This puts the company for the first time in the highly competitive 7.5-tonne, non-hgv market where a very large proportion of light commercials is sold. However, the larger vehicle won't be around until later in the year.
The second difference between the 50-Series and the Walkthru is that the newcomer simply doesn't have a walkthrough capability. Indeed, Chrysler is building chassis cabs and chassis cowls for outside bodybuilders and the 50-Series was designed as a base for this. However, a factory-built panel van will be built at Dunstable within a few months.
I asked Chrysler why it had decided to move away from the old "box-on-wheelsconcept of the Walkthru which with its excellent access and load space seemed to offer the operator an almost ideal distribution vehicle. There were, I was told, two reasons.
First, the 50-Series was conceived when the Government first became involved in Chrysler's fortunes. Although it would have been nice to start with a clean sheet of paper to design the vehicle from scratch, Dodge designers had to work with a number of existing components, and adapt many more.
Secondly. the Chrysler rationale is that operators are seeking a two-chassis to onebody-life span for its vehicles, swopping over half way through the body's life, This precludes the use of integral bodywork and Chrysler expects to sell more of the chassis cabs than chassis cowls, Further considerations in the new models' design parameters were the need to meet EEC pro posed legislation and to provide a comfortable environment for the driver so that Chrysler could pick up sales from ownerdrivers.
Sliding doors were elimin
ated as being unacceptable under possible future legislation, and talks with operators some years ago showed that the high seating position of the Walkthru and general utilitarian air of the vehicle were negative points.
Indeed, few operators actually took advantage of the facility to walk through from one side to the other. Many had fitted bulkheads behind the seats and thus effectively eliminated any such benefit. Working on these facts, Chrysler plumped for a design which could incorporate the old Walkthru chassis — brought suitably up to date with a redesigned cab.
Tooling up for a new design of cab is very costly, so the Dodge people brought in some panels from the then American parent company and modified them to suit. Other new panels were then designed.
In the main, door panels were the chief thing to be brought in as were the front upper wing panels. When Chrysler US replaces the vehicle it builds which uses those components, Britain will take over the pressing of the panels.
A novel use of the American Chrysler van's rear door skin has been made to form the rear end of the cab. The resulting cab, although a compromise, is an ingenious effort. For bodybuilders wanting to build integral or coach bodywork on the 50-Series, Dodge is able to supply a chassis cowl which features a deep windscreen.
It is this which will form Chrysler's own integral van when it is announced later in the year.
However, the one drawback of the design seems to me the large intrusion of the wheel arch — necessitated by a short bonnet/front wing set-up — which makes access to the cab a little confined.
Reasonable entrance steps have been provided though, but I still think it's not a good idea for a distribution vehicle to have a restricted entry /exit. Never theless, the cab gives the driver plenty of room and the controls are well laid out. Dodge has fitted a separate binnacle for the instrumentation which fits on top of the dash similar to the Rover 3500. It has all necessary warning lights and can accept a tachograph.
Driver comfort has not been neglected. There are two levels of trim, standard or comfort. Even the standard level offers fully adjustable driving seat and fresh air heating and ventilation. The ISO system of lighting indicator and switches around the column is adopted and the steering wheel of the Dodge is small and neat.
Good, wide-spaced pedals mean that the driver can wear welly boots without pressing two pedals at once. But another criticism I have of the Chrysler is the large intrusion of the enginE cover into the interior. It's not too bad on the smaller-enginec models, but on larger six. cylinder versions, it's quite E lump.
Although outside under bonnet accessibility is not toc bad on the petrol-engined 50 Series, the large air filter anc other components make reach ing the diesel power uni awkward. However, the fron panel of the Dodge is remov able, but the grille has to corn off first.
As far as the chassis goes Chrysler has modified the oh Walkthru to suit. Now it has tw grease points, instead of 3C and uses rubber-bushed sprinl eyes on the semi-elliptic spring: Four basic chassis are availabl with wheelbase options c 3.23m (10ft 7in), 2.66m (12f or 4.04m (13ft 3in).
A choice of four power unit and two manual transmission are to be had, but automati transmission will be availabl later. The engines are th 1981cc four-cylinder petrol, th four-cylinder diesel Perkin 4.236, the Perkins 6.247 dies' and the Chrysler 3685cc petr: engine. This latter is for higl performance lightweight appl cations such as emergenc vehicles.
The two manual boxes ar the Dodge four-speed, whic curiously still only hz synchromesh on the three upp: ratios, or the Turner five-spee all-synchrornesh unit.
To identify the new model Dodge has given the 50-Seri: nomenclature to indicate the gvw. Thus the smallest, the S3 has a gvw of 3500kg. The othi models are the S46, S51, S6 and following on later in tF year, the S75.