GRRR-OWLLL, VARRROOOM! Mercy, I almost died of fright. But the delivery man who gave me the keys to the big 1986 Dodge Ram Royal 150 SE pickup truck simply smiled.
"Nice truck," he said. "You're gonna like this truck."
He was half right. I liked it. But nothing's "nice" about it.
This is one mean truck. It's a brute, a bully, a 5.2-liter, V-8-engined beast. Remember that old Jim Croce song, "Don't Mess Around With Jim"? If Croce were alive today, he could do a commercial for this truck, "Don't Mess Around With Ram."
Other drivers get out of the way of this thing. They give it space.
Chrysler Corp. tried to spiff up the Royal SE's image by giving it a pretty silver-and-red paint job and by cushing up the interior with velvet-like seats, carpeting and lots of fake woodgrain.
But it's all a facade. Underneath, the Royal SE is an automotive roughneck better suited to hauling wood and bricks around somebody's construction site.
Outstanding complaints: I've never understood why truck manufacturers waste time and money painting the interiors of pickup- truck beds. The Royal SE is a case in point. Chrysler has done a beautiful job with a base- coat/clear-coat paint treatment that makes the truck body glisten.
But why have a glistening truck bed? How long will the shine last, say, after the Royal SE hauls its first load of bricks? Why don't truck manufacturers do us a favor and make things like Duraliner, which provides excellent truck- bed protection, standard equipment on all pickups?
Minor, but notable: There is a narrow space between the top of the Royal SE's doors and its rain gutters that creates shrill, whistling noises at high speeds.
Outstanding praise: An overall excellent piece of work. Having driven the test model, I can easily see why the Dodge Ram pickup was Chrysler's best-selling vehicle line in 1985. The Royal SE, a cab-on-chassis arrangement, is put together right. There were no ill-fitting metallic seams, no sloppy craftsmanship in the cab. The analog instruments are big -- no need to blink and rub your eyes to read them. The cab seats three adults quite comfortably and offers easily reachable seatbelts.
Ride, acceleration, handling: Over the years, truck manufacturers have gotten wise to one thing: not everyone who buys a truck, even one as big as the Royal SE, wants to bounce around all over the place. The test model's suspension was tough, but not punishing. You don't feel like a yo-yo in this one.
Acceleration? Is this a truck or a race-car? The Royal SE takes off so fast, it's hard to tell. Handling gets special credit. Pickups with empty truck beds tend to wiggle their rear ends a lot at highway speeds and in turns. The Royal SE, by comparison, behaves quite decently.
Head-turning-quotient: Macho truck in appealing dress.
Sound system: Chrysler factory. Okay. No raves.
Mileage: About 17 to the gallon, driver only, with winter-climate control system operating most of the time. Factors adversely affecting mileage included the newness of the engine (less than nine miles on the odometer at delivery), the truck's base weight of 3,530 pounds, automatic transmission and the big V-8 engine. The truck is designed to handle a maximum gross combined weight -- the weight of a loaded trailer plus the loaded weight of the truck itself -- of 11,500 pounds.
Price-as-tested: $13,811, including air- conditioner, power locks and windows and AM/FM stereo.