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The Development Of A Rock-Ready 1985 Dodge Ramcharger

Posted in Features on December 1, 2011
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Earlier this year as we scoured the rocks of Moab, Utah, for fullsize trucks in a land covered by Jeeps, we zeroed in on a fullsize trail monster heading towards us. We quickly swarmed Rob Knoell’s Ramcharger. And after spending the day with Rob—running the entire Golden Spike trail in record time—we realized that we had a new trail-running bud for next year’s Easter Jeep Safari, and an absolutely great feature truck to show you.

We contacted Rob after the trip, asking him to tell us about his Ramcharger. He put together such a good story for us that we couldn’t think of a better way to give it to you than straight from the horse’s (er, Rob’s) mouth:

The Purchase

“I guess it started sometime in 2005 when my friend (Stan Prueitt) kept telling me about rockcrawling and how much fun it was. In December that year, Stan decided he wanted to sell a couple of Ramchargers he had. I chose the black and gold one because it had a new 360 motor. A deal was struck and I started to modify it. When I first got the Ramcharger it was sporting the stock-sized 235/75R15 tires on aluminum wheels. Shortly after that I installed some 32X11.50R15s on the same wheels. Then came the exhaust. The stock wuss-master exhaust system was not up to my tastes and I had it replaced with a dual 2.5-inch pipes and 50 Series Flowmaster mufflers.

“Now that I had the sound I was after it was time for the real work to begin. I bought a set of Allied 32-bolt beadlocks and 36-inch IROK tires. I sat down with a six pack of my juice boxes and started to cut up the fenders in an effort to make them fit without a lift. It was important to keep the truck low to keep the center of gravity as low. Later that night and a few Sawzall blades later, I had the tires fitting well but there was still some contact when I flexed the truck and turned the tires.

“After a trip to Desert Rat in Albuquerque I had a 5-inch Superlift kit including the stainless steel brake lines and steering correction. I took the Ramcharger back to Stan’s and he helped me install the lift. Everything was working well and I had the truck together enough to attend my first Easter Jeep Safari in 2006.

Step Two

“I was hooked on wheeling. As soon as I got home I went to a local shop (Knecht’s Automotive) to order new gears and lockers. The owner of the shop told me he would order anything I wanted, but the axles I was working with would only give me problems down the road. I still had the stock Dana 44 up front and the Chrysler 9 1/4 on the rear. He told me that I’d be money ahead if I was to wait and start with some 1-ton axles.

“If I was going to need 1-ton axles, then I should get ready for them. I sold the 36-inch IROKs and ordered up a set of 42-inch IROKs. Then I found a company called BC Broncos who was willing to make some axle pivots that I needed for the rear axle. These pivots went under the leaf springs and above the axle and allowed for the axle to change angles without putting a bind on the leaf springs. They worked well enough.

“My next step was hacking off the roof from behind the front seats all the way back. This created a kind of half-cab-looking rig that I was eager to try out again. Easter Jeep Safari 2007 is where I tried all my new modifications out. It worked well as could be expected for having tires way too big for the gearing. I toasted the transmission, broke the steering, and snapped the rear driveshaft.

Modifications Round Three

“I ordered up a Dana 60 from Boyce Military Equipment and I bought a 14-Bolt full-floater from a junk yard. I talked some friends at Knecht’s Automotive into helping me build the rear axle. But, the catch was that I already had five-lug beadlocks and really did not have the money at the time for new wheels. What to do? I found a company called Gear Tech Heavy Duty, which happened to make a hub and all the parts I needed to convert the 14-Bolt full-floater to a 5 on 5.5 bolt pattern. Hallelujah! Another quick call to Boyce to confirm that they could also build my Dana 60 with the same bolt pattern and it was game on.

“I needed to have the tranny rebuilt and found Mike’s Transmission, in Albuquerque, which was not only able to rebuild it but was also willing to warranty if I put in an aftermarket cooler with a thermostatic fan and a remote filter. I ordered up the parts and I am happy to say he has stood by his word 100 percent. I swapped the axles in and I was on my way. Tragedy struck (my truck) when I was going through the big D. Divorce took its toll on the project and it had to sit for a while until I got everything sorted out.

“During the downtime I decided to remove the interior and the dash and install a rollcage from Jeg’s. Easter Jeep Safari 2009 was the first outing since I got the axles built under the truck. The 5.13 gears, rear spool, and front Detroit locker and matching gears and everything was working well for still sitting on leaf springs and still using the NP-208 transfer case. What was I going to do with this lackluster equipment?

Welcome to Round Four and the Final Build-Up

“I took the truck to my brother’s shop (La Cueva Automotive and Towing) and we started a massive rebuild. My brother, Martin Crane, and I started an ambitious build to include a double transfer case, four-link front and rear, new wheels, tires, a crossover with a high-steer kit and a wheel base stretch for good measure. The tranny also needed to be gone through again so I sent it back down to Mike’s Transmission and he (again) worked his magic.

“I did some reading online about where to get my measurements and how to make them work. I ended up copying two articles written by Fred Williams of Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road and started working on some graph paper. I called the folks at Blue Torch Fab and started asking a lot of questions. The owner (Jason Carner) was understanding and was very helpful.

“I also got in touch with the folks at F.O.A. Shocks through the email and ordered up a set of their 16-inch-travel 2.5 remote reservoir shocks and springs. The springs are one of the only lucky breaks I caught for the whole build. I was able to order the right springs the first time out. How often does that happen?

“I also placed an order with 4X4 Group for 42-inch Pitbull Rocker tires and 17X9 Spyder Lock wheels. The rear end actually came together very quickly after we got the creative juices flowing.


“I had the truck torn down from late April of 2009 until the week before Easter Jeep Safari in 2010. The front end was presenting a problem. I could not make my original suspension design work with the factory steering box and linkage. The linkage came from Off Road Design and was a crossover steering set up with a high steer, as well. When the suspension flexed it was causing a bind in the steering. My brother and I started on front suspension version 2.0. This version also included a set of inner Cs from Reid Racing along with a set of their knuckles. I needed to rotate the front output to make a better drive line angle. We made the lower links parallel and attached the uppers to the lowers to make a Y-link on both sides. Turns out this would not work either since we were using Heim joints and not poly joints. Damn, next up, front suspension version 3.0.

“We tried to mimic a Jeep Cherokee or a new Dodge suspension, but we were still having some binding issues with the steering at full flex. So, out come the limiting straps to limit the binding I was having. It was such a shame to limit my 16-inch travel FOA shocks to 12 inches, but we did not know what else to do. I found an NP203 from a ’77 Dodge, and ordered up a doubler, twin-stick kit, and an NP205 from Off Road Design. Stephen Watson was a huge help and was always available for all my questions.

PhotosView Slideshow

“Well, I guess that brings us to the Easter Jeep Safari of 2010…and what a huge disaster that was. It turns out that once again I did not have the front end dialed in. I did not have much time to test it and had no time with it in the dirt. The first day I headed out to Area BFE and was supposed to hit the Green Day trail with the folks from Well, the panhard bracket that I had in place did not have any bracing and was just relying on a couple of welds. It failed about 15 minutes into the trail. Figures, this is just my luck, I thought as I watched my front end walk sideways under the truck every time I tried to steer the front tires.

“Thank goodness for my good friends Cheston Beck, Corey Casper, and Randy Swartz, who all came to my rescue and got me out of the trail. And then it started to snow. What else do you do but smile and bear it, and laugh at the funny turn of events? After we got the truck out and back to some level ground I was fortunate enough to bump into a couple of other really cool guys. The Dalton brothers had a welder and steel with them. If it was not for them I don’t know what I would have done.

“We got the truck fixed and I was on my way back to my camp. I arrived there safe and sound but I had some more issues on the front end (broken studs). While working on the studs I managed to break my left thumb with a sledge hammer. I got the truck fixed and back onto the trail only to have disaster strike again: The steering box was separating from the frame. Now that the panhard bar was braced something else had to go. The steering box was only held on by a couple of bolts by the time I realized my error. 

“In the course of one day I had wheeled for about 20 minutes, broke the panhard bar bracket, separated the steering box from the frame, broke three studs, and my left thumb. I was done—both with the rig and my patience. My wife and I enjoyed the rest of our week checking out the shops in Moab, along with the great parks, while enjoying some great food.

Round Five

“Round five was completed by Casper Customs in Idaho. I had to acknowledge my ignorance and let real professionals handle this. Once there the shop fixed my front four-link and installed a full hydraulic steering system. Now that the front end was in place by the four-links and the steering was in order I was ready for Easter Jeep Safari 2011. Or so I thought. This is where I ran into [OFF-ROAD Editor] Jerrod Jones and the Cappa brothers.

“Soon into the trail, the truck had a failure again. Unfortunately I did not replace the power steering pump when changing to full hydraulic as I should have. Everything else had been replaced and I was hoping I could get lucky through the Moab trip with the old pump. I should have learned from my past and known that that was not going to be the case! Oh well.

“That day on Golden Spike, I managed to have a set of jumper cables that another wheeler needed, and I also had the correct bolt for another wheeler, so while some wheelers helped me, I was able to return the favor to other fellow wheelers. That’s what it’s about. All in all a fantastic trip.

“What can I say about Moab? If I have to be broken somewhere, there is not a better place to be in the world.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves, Rob! If anyone wants to check out more of Rob’s build, you can find it at


Vehicle: 1985 Dodge Ramcharger
Owner: Rob Knoell
Chassis: Factory Dodge frame, Jeg’s rollcage
Engine: Dodge 360ci V-8
Transmission/Transfer Case: 727 transmission, NP203/NP205 with Off Road Design doubler
Front Axle: Boyce Dana 60, Reid Racing inner Cs, Detroit Locker, 5.13 gears, 5x5.5 lug pattern
Rear axle: 14-Bolt with pinion guard and spool, 5.13 gears, 5x5.5 lug pattern
Suspension: 16-inch-stroke 2.5 F.O.A. shocks front and rear, front four-link and panhard bar, rear double-triangulated four-link
Steering: Full hydraulic steering by Casper Customs
Brakes: Disc brakes at all four corners
Tires/wheels: 42-inch Pit Bull Rockers on 17x9 Spyder Lock beadlock wheels
Interior: Not much left, custom dash

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