A throwback-to-the-90s comparison of classic pickup trucks, the Ford F-150 and Dodge Ram 1500. Engines, performance editions, and overall – who did it best?
Ford and Dodge have been battling it out in the pickup truck realm for decades. Ford’s F-series traces roots to the Bonus-Built of 1948. While the Ram nameplate didn’t appear until 1981, Dodge was sticking ram head-shaped hood ornaments on trucks as far back as 1933. So there’s history here. In modern times, the F-150 and Ram 1500 make up the apples-to-apples competitive set.
Now, everyone has his or her own idea of which truck is best. In fact, young Calvin from newspaper comic fame has inexplicably become the poster child for Ford and Dodge pickup owners wishing to display how they feel about the competition. So, I’ll do my best to highlight the best F-150 and Ram 1500 bits, but to each their own.
For this classic comparison, we’ll be looking at the 90’s era of these pickups. With the Ford, that is the 9th generation F-150 produced from 1992 to 1997. For Dodge, that’s the 2nd generation of Ram 1500 that ran from 1994 through 2002, so there’s plenty of 90s-tastic overlap here.
If Ford didn’t split their generations so minutely, you could argue the 9th gen F-150 was a major improvement over gen 8. But, it was actually a mild refresh design-wise with carry over engines in the beginning. However, wild-for-the-time improvements included a CD player, remote keyless entry, and a driver’s side airbag. Heady stuff back then. The PowerStroke name also materialized when a turbo was added to the 7.3-liter diesel engine option.
Dodge’s 2nd gen Ram 1500 was a far more comprehensive overhaul versus the previous iteration. In fact, it was named Truck of the Year in 1994. Much of this was due to the relatively bold new design, a sharp departure from typical slab-sided pickup design. Dodge also invented the four-door pickup with their new Quad Cab offering. Inside, storage was a focus with a larger glove compartment, space behind the seats, and a large center console bin. Dual airbags became a feature in 1998, as did an improved interior layout. OBD-II joined the mix for faster vehicle diagnostics along with a digital odometer. By year 2000, the Dodge Ram 1500 could even be optioned with heated leather seats. Looking at generational improvements, the Ram 1500 takes the podium.
In 1993, Ford’s Special Vehicles Team (SVT) released their first F-150 hot rod. The corporate 5.8-liter V8 was modified with a high flow intake and shortened stainless-steel headers to produce 240 horsepower. Heavy duty suspension and brakes were added while racer Jackie Stewart tuned the handling. The frame was stiffened with rails from the period F-250, ridge height was lowered, and the first Lightning was born. Special 17” alloys and some sweet neon-colored stickers made for a great looking truck then, and even now.
Taking styling cues from its Viper stablemate, Dodge offered the Ram 1500 SS/T or Super Sport Truck in 1996. Sporting a 1/10th of a liter larger V8 (versus Ford) and an upgraded exhaust, the SS/T ever so slightly outdid Ford with a 245 horse power rating. Blue paint and dual white stripes emulated that aforementioned Viper and a set of 17-inch rims on lowered suspension rounded out the look. This is a tough one but from a looks perspective, I would argue the Lightning’s cleaner design has aged better.
Ford and Dodge offered a host of engines in their 90s pickups. Inline-sixes, all manner of V8s, some diesel options, and even a 10-cylinder beast on the Mopar side. Considering that an American pickup truck has a V8 motor by definition, we can compare the 5.0-liter Windsor V8 from Ford to the 5.2-liter Magnum V8 from Dodge. Slight displacement advantage aside, Magnum sounds way cooler than WINDSOR. The Magnum also edged the Windsor on power with 230 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque to the Ford’s figures of 205 and 275 respectively.
If we’re evaluating best engine branding however, Ford’s introduction of the PowerStroke nameplate for its diesel motors is hard to beat. That being said, the Cummins turbodiesel in Dodge’s lineup could be optioned with a 6-speed manual. I don’t know about you, but I would fall all over myself to drive a bellowing, stump puller of a 90s Ram 1500 with a 6-speed. Dodge easily takes the cake here with more aggressive naming, bigger engine output, and better transmission offerings.
Dodge created the Offroad Edition Ram in 2000 starting with a 2” lift all the way around via rear lift blocks and stouter front springs. Special 17” wheels and beefy all-terrain tires were hooked up to a trussed Dana 44 front axle and 4.10 rear. A limited-slip differential and skid plates completed the fairly robust package.
Ford started with the super-90s Nite Edition F-150 featuring power lumbar support, a sliding rear window, and deep-dish aluminum rims. But most importantly, it only came in black with a head-to-taillight stripe that changed from teal to purple and ended with a scripty Nite decal. One of the first appearance-only packages, its pleasantly nostalgic today.
Another, mostly appearance, package was the Eddie Bauer edition F-150. Eddie Bauer and Ford began working together on the 1984 Bronco. For the 9th-gen F-150, it included an outdoorsy themed interior and signature two-tone exterior paint plus integrated side steps. While the Dodge Ram 1500’s Offroad Edition is more functional, the Nite and Eddie Bauer F-150s draw the 90s nostalgia heart strings more readily and so win this category.
It’s an even break between the classic 90s Ford F-150 and Dodge Ram 1500 using the above, very non-objective categories. For me, the 9th gen F-150 has aged best on the looks front with its simple, clean design and solid stance. Adding the original Lightning to the mix seals the deal for me on choosing the 90s era F-150 as the winner here.