1982 Chevrolet LUV

A chronology of diesel-powered light trucks in America

Diesel-powered land vehicles go back a long way in U.S. history, but diesel light trucks are relatively new due to a combination of technology and finances. Engineers and inventors could’ve shortened the time-frame for the development of diesel-powered light vehicles but market demand has always dictated the pace of development.

This is a continuation of our chronology of diesel-powered light trucks and SUVs available in the U.S. in significant numbers to about 1990. Last time we left off with the Chevrolet and GMC light trucks and SUVs from the early 1980s to 1993, so that’s where we’ll pick back up.

1982 Chevrolet LUV
1982 2.2L LQ7 diesel

1982: Chevrolet LUV

Like the other Detroit auto companies, Chevrolet initially used a rebadged import stand-in as its gas-crunch-inspired mini-truck. GM snagged the Isuzu truck for the job starting in 1972 and called it the LUV (Light Utility Vehicle). It didn’t get a diesel option until 1982, which was also the last year for the LUV. It used a 2.2L Isuzu OHV engine, which was designated LQ7 by GM and C223 by Isuzu. It was naturally aspirated and optional in both the 4×2 or 4×4 models, but only the 4×2 got a 5-speed transmission. This engine was also used in Isuzu-branded trucks and in the S-10 series Chevy trucks that came in ’83.

Displacement: 2.2L (136.6 ci)
Power: 58 hp @ 4,300 rpm
Torque: 93 lb-ft @ 2,200 rpm
Compression Ratio: 21:1
Aspiration: Natural

1983 Mazda B2200 diesel pickup
1983 Mazda Perkins 4.135 diesel

1982-84: Mazda B2200 Pickup

Mazda entered the U.S. Market under its own banner as the B1600 in 1972 and also wearing a Ford suit badged as the Courier. The Courier was never made available with a diesel, but in 1982 the updated Mazda B2000 series had an optional diesel, the S2, found in the B2200 model. Built under license, it was a Japanese version of the 2.2L 4.135 four-cylinder from Perkins. It was an outstanding little engine—emphasis on little—that delivered great fuel economy. Like all the diesels introduced in the ’80s, 20/20 hindsight tells us it would have made a better impression turbocharged but the 4.135 was not offered that way. In later years Mazda switched to the Mitsu 4D55T.

Displacement: 2.2L (135ci)
Power: 59 hp @ 4,000 rpm
Torque: 90 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm
Compression Ratio: 21:1
Aspiration: Natural

1983 Chevrolet El Camino
5.7L Chevrolet V8 diesel

1983-84: Chevy El Camino/GMC Caballero

For 1983 Chevy and GMC made the 5.7L diesel V8 available for El Camino buyers, still under the LF9 code. This was the downsized El Camino G-Body model built from ’82-87. The diesel stayed in the lineup through 1984 even though the 6.2L diesel had already debuted for full-sized trucks. By ’82 all the upgrades and fixes had been done to the 5.7L, thus making it a pretty reliable powerplant and a good fit for the very light duty El Camino. It wasn’t a rocket ship but the torque was good and it delivered an EPA rating of 18 city, 24 highway and 20 combined with a 3-speed automatic and 2.29:1 axle ratios. This was considerably better than even the 3.8L V6 gas (15/17/19), but with the option costing $700, was it worth it?

Displacement: 5.7L (350ci)
Power: 105 hp @ 3,200 rpm
Torque: 200 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm
Compression Ratio: 22.5:1
Aspiration: Natural

1983 F-350 4×4 CrewCab diesel
1986 F-250 4×2 SuperCab diesel
1983-88 6.9L V8 NA
1988-94 7.3L NA
Late 1994 7.3L turbo diesel

1983-94: Ford F-250, F-350

For 1983 Ford debuted its first entrant in the “diesel wars” of the 1980s, the 6.9L V8. This International Harvester-built IDI engine was optional only in F-250/F-350 models and quickly became popular. Originally envisioned as a medium-duty truck engine for International, it was just small enough to fit under the hood of Ford’s new F-Series trucks that had debuted for 1980. Though more were installed in Fords than Internationals, they were nonetheless a medium-duty staple for IH. For ’88 the engine was refreshed and enlarged to 7.3L. In its last year the 7.3L IDI was turbocharged, but underrated at 190 hp/385 lb-ft so as not to upstage the new Power Stroke HEUI engine that debuted later in ’94.

Displacement: 6.9L (420ci)/7.3L (444ci)
Power: 170 hp @ 3,300 rpm/185 hp @ 3,300 rpm/ 190 hp @ 3,000 rpm
Torque: 315 lb-ft @ 1,400 rpm/338 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm/385 lb-ft @ 1,400 rpm
Compression Ratio: 21.5:1
Aspiration: Natural/Turbocharged

1983 Ford Ranger diesel
1983 2.2L

1983-84: Ford Ranger

For 1983 Ford introduced its Ranger compact pickup, and it had a diesel option. In ’83 and ’84 the diesel was none other than the same Perkins-derived S2 diesel found in the Mazda B2000. Unlike the other engine choices in the lineup, the Ranger S2 diesel was limited to a 4×2 (1,200 or 1,600 pound payload) and a simple 4-speed. The 5-speed or automatic was not on the options list.

Displacement: 2.2L (135ci)
Power: 59 hp @ 4,000 rpm
Torque: 90 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm
Compression Ratio: 21:1
Aspiration: Natural

This 1983 Dodge Power Ram 50 was listed in a period press pack as being a diesel, but it’s not. The diesel differs visually only in having a “Turbo Diesel” badge on the fender.
1984 Mitsubishi Mighty Max (not a diesel)
4D55T engine

1983-87: Dodge Ram 50/Mitsubishi Mighty Max

In desperate need of an economical pickup, Dodge reached a deal with Mitsubishi to re-badge its Forte Pickup as the D-50 and it went on sale in 1979. Mitsubishi came in with the Mighty Max for 1982 and it was offered in both two and four-wheel drive. The Dodge versions became known as the Ram 50 (4×2) or Power Ram 50 (4×4). For 1983 both companies offered the Mitsu 2.3L turbo diesel as an option, making it the first turbo diesel to hit the American mini-truck market. The 2.3L Mitsubishi 4D55T turbo diesel was available through 1985 in Dodge-badged units and to ’87 in Mitsubishi-badged pickups. For ’83 power was 80 hp with a non-wastegated turbo. For ’84 and ’85 a wastegated turbo was used and power jumped to 86 horsepower. In an odd twist of fate, this engine was also used in the ’85-87 Ford Ranger/Bronco II. With a longer stroke, the engine was boosted to 2.5L in the form of the 4D56T and was used all over the world.

Displacement: 2.3L (140ci)
Power: 80 hp @ 4,200 rpm/86 hp @ 4,200 rpm
Torque: 125 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm/ 136 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm
Compression Ratio: 21:1
Aspiration: Turbocharger

1983 GMC S-15
1983 LQ7 2.2L engine

1983-85 Chevrolet S-10 Pickup/ GMC S-15

The S-10 GM mini-truck debuted in a limited rollout in ’82 but was offered only as a 4×2 unit with no diesel option. The full Chevy S-10 and GMC S-15 lines debuted for ’83 and optionally included a slightly warmed-up version of the Isuzu 2.2L NA diesel that made 62 hp. It was offered under the Ordering Code LQ7 and became generally available in May of 1983, so it didn’t get a full first year. It was available in two-wheel-drive pickups only. The diesel was gone in the S-10 and S-15 after ’85. It was such a short-term offering that there isn’t much else to say. It wasn’t a bad truck at all if you didn’t need lots of raw power.

Displacement: 2.2L (136.6ci)
Power: 62 hp @ 4,300 rpm
Torque: 96 lb-ft @ 2,200 rpm
Compression Ratio: 21:1
Aspiration: Natural

Unknown year M988 HMMWV
6.5L NA diesel

1985-up: AM General M988 HMMWV

The AM General M988 was the first in a line of military vehicles that captured America’s imagination and stood on the front lines of the nation’s defense. Designed and built to be a military vehicle, it was one of the few military vehicles to go civvy rather than the other way around. Starting in 1992 the Hummer (later known as the H1) went on sale and was built into 2006. The powerplant came from General Motors, the DDA 6.2L diesel V8—none other than the light truck 6.2L V8 diesel with a few special additions and non-emissions tuning. In the ’90s a non-turbo version of the 6.5L diesel replaced it. Though replaced in GM trucks after 2000, the 6.5L remains in production just for these applications.

Displacement: 6.2L (379ci), 6.5L (395ci)
Power: 150 hp @ 3,600 rpm/160 hp @ 3,200 rpm
Torque: 259 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm/290 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm
Compression Ratio: 21.3:1/20.2:1
Aspiration: Natural

1985 Jeep Cherokee Pioneer diesel
1986 Jeep Comanche pickup
Renault 2.1L turbo-intercooled diesel

1985-87: Jeep Cherokee XJ, Wagoneer XJ and Comanche MJ

Jeep also got into the diesel economy wars of the mid-1980s. Renault owned 49 percent of AMC/Jeep at the time, so it made sense a well-developed 2.1L Renault intercooled turbo diesel would be used. It was a popular engine in Europe, being used in everything from cars and light trucks to vans to motorhomes. It was optional in the Cherokee XJ SUV, Comanche MJ pickup, and Wagoneer XJ models through 1987. It was unusual in being turbo-intercooled and was the first intercooled light truck diesel offered in the US. It came in front of manual or automatic transmissions. Winnebago offered the compact Le Sharo motorhome in the ’80s and early ’90s powered by this engine. Chrysler dropped the Renault relationship soon after it acquired Jeep in 1987, so the engine left the Jeep stable.

Displacement: 2.1L (126ci)
Power: 85 hp @ 3,250 rpm
Torque: 132 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm
Compression Ratio: 21.5:1
Aspiration: Turbocharged

1985 Ford Ranger pickup (non-diesel)
1986 Ford Bronco II (non-diesel)
2.3L Mitsubishi 4D55T diesel

1985-86: Ford Ranger and Bronco II

The Ranger compact pickup diesel line was enhanced in 1985 by the addition of an optional 2.3L turbo diesel. Built by Mitsubishi, it was offered through 1987. It was virtually the same engine used in the Dodge Ram 50 trucks and Mitsubishi Mighty Max pickups. Documents also show it as an option for the Bronco II in ’85 and ’86, but it hasn’t yet been proven they were actually built for sale. If so, it was an extremely rare option and there are no known survivors. Unlike the earlier Mazda/Perkins diesel, the Mitsu-powered Ranger was also available with four-wheel drive, but still only on the regular cab pickups. It came standard with a 5-speed manual with no other options and was EPA rated at 25/23/27.

Displacement: 2.3L (143ci)
Power: 86 hp @ 4,200 rpm
Torque: 134 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
Compression Ratio: 21:1
Aspiration: Turbocharged

1989 Dodge D350 Dually
1989 5.9L Cummins turbo diesel


Dodge jumped to the head of the full-size diesel pickup class by introducing a 5.9L six-cylinder Cummins turbo diesel as an option for 250 and 350 series trucks, in two or four-wheel drive. This move took a big bite out of Ford and GM diesel sales for the first years of the 1990s. The B-Series Cummins, introduced in 1984, was severely de-rated from its normal applications but still managed to eat transmissions and barber-pole driveshafts until Dodge got the right drivetrain parts behind it. The obvious benefits of a turbocharged diesel would not be lost on the public, nor the competition. Dodge trucks had been riding a distant sales third behind Ford and GM up to this point, but the addition of the Cummins turbo diesel began a general redemption—and a boost in sales—for the Dodge truck brand after years of decline.

Displacement: 5.9L (360ci)
Power: 160 hp @ 2,500 rpm
Torque: 400 lb-ft @ 1,700 rpm
Compression Ratio: 17.5:1
Aspiration: Turbocharged

For Part One, check the June 2018 issue of Diesel World or head to DieselWorldMag.com.

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