From the December 2022 issue of Car and Driver.
There I was with the wind rushing past, the starlit sky above, the air alive with the soft thrum of a V-8 on a warm autumn night. Was I driving a Mustang convertible? Something fancier, like a Mercedes SL? Nope. I was in the bed of my 2003 Dodge pickup, wondering where it all went wrong.
There’s a difference between riding in the bed of a truck for fun and riding there because you must. I was in the latter camp thanks to my own decisions—namely, my foolish devotion to the regular-cab pickup. Ours is a family of four, and the Ram seats three. When those unforgiving facts collide, the guy who bought the truck gets to experience the great outdoors while listening to his wife slipping the clutch a little too much (but not being able to say anything about it on account of being, technically, cargo).
When I bought the Ram, it didn’t occur to me that its three-seat, regular-cab layout was anything other than awesome. Everyone is driving a four-door truck, but not me. I’m an iconoclast with my bench seat and manual transmission. A purist. And if that leads to occasional inconvenience, that’s the price of art. The art, in this case, being a third-gen Ram with clear-coat that looks like it was applied at Chernobyl Reactor 4.
Time and again I’ve prioritized my nebulous sense of automotive greatness over practicality, or affordability, or reliability, or safety, or fuel economy, or comfort, or refinement, or resale value, or having the interior switches labeled in English. I’m certainly well acquainted with the view from the top of the petard, so many times have I been hoisted. In the mid-’90s, I was the only person I knew with a cellphone. And I needed it because of my dumb cars.
Headaches pertaining to vehicle choices typically stem from one of two situations: Either your car is practical but unreliable, or it’s reliable but impractical. Of my prior cars, Saabs largely populate the first class, and our E36 M3 convertible epitomizes the second. I remember telling my wife, “If we need to carry a lot of stuff, this car has infinite vertical cargo room when the top’s down.”
Our Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is ultra-practical and reliable. But a recent fender bender sent it into a weekslong parts-sourcing purgatory at a body shop. We borrowed my sister-in-law’s identical Pacifica until she was rude enough to ask for it back, at which point the Ram assumed an outsize role in our lives. On a typical day, I’d drive my younger kid to school, return to take the older kid and a classmate to school, then pick up my wife and drive her to work. Ha, who needs a back seat? You have to live that regular-cab life to understand the thrill of effective passenger-management logistics.
But sooner or later, you need to drive somewhere with four people. Or five. Or seven. Then you’re ruing your life choices as the plastic Ram bed liner logo imprints on your spine. During this time of travail, my father-in-law offered to loan us his Saturn Sky Red Line, which has two seats and trunk space for one set of golf clubs, assuming the course features windmills and fiberglass volcanoes. Whoever recommended he get such a thing? Oh, right.
Naturally, I suggested we buy another car, but my wife disagreed that a 2003 Chevy Blazer ZR2 with 238,000 miles was the solution to anybody’s problems. Instead, I ordered a Pacifica headlight on eBay to expedite the repair so we could return the Ram to its rightful role as a specialized fringe player.
Which, as I write this, has yet to happen. I think back to when I bought the truck. Standing in the owner’s driveway, I asked why he was selling such a delicious machine. He gestured at an extended-cab Tundra by his garage and said, “I needed a back seat.” I wonder when he realized that. I bet he remembers what the weather was like that day.
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