In the late 1960s, Dodge was doing well in the van and truck business; they had a full line of trucks, played successfully into the recreational vehicle market, and were exploring higher-margin options for pickups. That’s not to say that truck sales were anything like the profit generator they are today—the company only made 56,733 D100 pickups in the United States in 1969. But perhaps more could be done to market their pickups to ordinary people, or even to truck owners who wanted to stand out?
The 1968 Adventurer tried—it was a special version of the fashion-styled Sweptline series, with vinyl trim, bucket seats, a center console, color-keyed carpeting, and new convenience options. The Sweptline cost just $25-$26 more than the Utiline; the company didn’t break sales out by line, but it seems to have done well.
Thus was borne the 1971 Dodge Dude, with an ad campaign featuring Don Knotts. A comedian, Don Knotts played the guy who thought he was smarter and more capable than he was, while quite clearly being a well-meaning but incompetent goof. It’s hard to say why executives thought the very image of pretending to be tough and macho while being far from it would sell pickups, but they did. Indeed, even the name “Dude” was an odd choice: in Western parlance, which would be familiar to just about all Americans at that time, a “dude” dressed the part but didn’t act the part. The comic above works—a real cowboy wants to use the Dude to do real work, while Don Knotts just wants to play around in it. But that was rather subtle for an ad campaign.
The company had long made “fashion conscious” pickups under the Sweptline name, complete with two-tone treatment. The Dude started with the Sweptline, which was cosmetically nearly unchanged from 1970—indeed, D100/W100 pickupbody and engineering had few changes since 1961. It added stripes, tailgate decals, metal tail-lamp bezels, body-color mirror arm and gas cap, wheel trim rings (on the D100 only), black or white painted wheels, and, on the 16.5 inch wheels, bright hubcaps. The only way to truly make it a Dude would be to strip out capability, but Dodge wasn’t doing that.
The Dude was available on 100 and 200 models as an option package; it didn’t show up in the production breakouts. Nor did the Dude, launched in calendar-year 1970, seem to get all the way to the 1972 models. But then, the 1972 trucks were truly new models.
The Adventurer fared better — who wants to be a Dude when they can be an Adventurer? Later in the 1970s, Dodge launched the Warlock and other “extra-macho” pickups, to no avail. Things started to look bad for Dodge trucks—until the 1990s. But these are two other stories.
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