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2004 Dodge Ram 3500: From the Track to the Trails

Posted in Features on September 7, 2018
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Photographers: Ken Brubaker

Rust-free trucks are a hot commodity in areas that use salt to combat snowy and icy roads. Hailing from Milford, Connecticut, Shane Dunne jumped at the opportunity to buy a clean truck while he spent time on the West Coast. The ’04 Dodge Ram 3500 was intended to be Shane’s commuter and serve as a hauler for his ’77 Ramcharger, until he got hooked by the hot rod diesel scene.

Shane started out on the 1/8-mile track in San Diego, California, and the passion for going fast followed him back to Connecticut. He would tow his friend’s race car to the track, drop the trailer, and roll his own Dodge truck to the starting line for truck pulls or drag races. Rolling around on the pavement was fun with 35-inch tires, but Shane wanted more. The truck had racked up some cosmetic damage from daily driving and trailer dragging duties, so the next step was off-road exploration.

With a vision of exploring the trails in the painted-rock deserts of the West, Shane began the off-road modifications—beginning with the rear end. After surgically removing the bed, increasing the tire diameter to 37 inches, and locking the front axle, he drove the Ram cross-country to the desert for some quality ’crawling. When we caught up with him, Shane explained that some parts of the truck were still in progress. He plans to build his own custom front bumper, which will eventually house a 12,000- or 15,000-pound winch, and continue fine-tuning the flatbed fabrication. Most importantly, he does not regret a moment of the truck’s transformation from racing to rocks.

Shane Dunne’s Cummins-powered ’04 Dodge Ram 3500 rides on 37-inch Toyo Open Country tires and 18x8.5-inch wheels from Eagle Alloys.
Before Shane began wheeling, the 5.9L Cummins ISB used to pull the rig down the dragstrip. The Banks High-Ram Air Intake Elbow, aFe air intake, aftermarket injectors, hardened pushrods, 103-pound valvesprings, ARP head studs, Hamilton camshaft, and turbocharger from Engineered Diesel contributed to the truck’s 12.7-second quarter-mile and 680hp run on the dyno. The diesel hands off its power to the 48RE transmission, rebuilt with a triple-disc torque converter and billet input shaft from SunCoast Converters.
The truck’s front AAM 9.25 axle was given some additional strength with RCV axleshafts, selectable traction from an ARB Air Locker, and protection from a Solid Axle Industries differential cover and a custom-fabbed truss. Three-inch coils, control arms, and a track bar, all from Carli Suspension, rein in the axle’s movement while a pair of Bilstein 5160 shocks handle the bumps. Shane upgraded the truck’s steering with a Synergy Manufacturing drag link and tie rod. The drag link is solid-bar 1.5-inch 1018 steel and the tie rod is 1.5-inch-diameter, 0.188-wall 4140 chromoly.
The AAM 11.5 axle under the back of the truck isn’t very far from stock, still hosting the factory limited-slip differential with the addition of 4.56:1 gears and a Ballistic Fabrication 3/8-inch steel diff cover. Arching up over the axletube is the 5-inch turbo-back exhaust, complete with a Donaldson muffler. Carli Suspension leaf packs lift the rear by an inch and Bilstein 5160 shocks keep things under control. The springs and shocks help support the weight of Shane’s off-roading payload while still letting the axle flex.
Wheeling the tight, greasy trails of the East Coast can lead to unexpected body damage. Shane got ahead of this problem by removing the stock bed and cutting into the truck’s frame. He took just enough off the back to remove the factory bumper hangers (just under 6 inches), leaving him room to build his own custom flatbed, rear bumper, rocksliders, and rollbar. The burly bed now holds a Hi-Lift jack, fullsize 37-inch spare tire, and has plenty of space for coolers, extra fuel, and a tool chest. The stock fuel door may be gone, but the truck still accepts diesel from the stock fueling location.
From the factory, the front bumper did not offer Shane much of an approach angle. The new bumper from Addictive Desert Designs not only keeps the truck from hanging up on obstacles, but it provides a mounting place for four KC HiLites off-road lamps.
From the cab, Shane monitors his truck’s EGT, fuel rail pressure, boost, and more through a set of AutoMeter gauges. In-cab electronics include a Uniden CB radio and an aftermarket stereo from JVC.
Behind the transmission, the NV271D T-case takes care of the power split between the 3500’s axles, giving the truck a 30.39:1 crawl ratio. A Ford F-550 donated the front driveshaft and the rear ’shaft is custom-built and accepts a 1480-series U-joint.

At a Glance

Vehicle: ’04 Dodge Ram 3500
Owner: Shane Dunne
Stomping grounds: Milford, Connecticut
Build time: 5 years

Engine: 5.9L Cummins ISB
Transmission: 48RE 4-spd
Transfer case(s): NV271D
Low range ratio(s): 2.72:1
Crawl ratio(s): 30.39:1
Front axle/differential: AAM 9.25, RCV axleshafts, 4.56:1 gears/ARB Air Locker
Rear axle/differential: AAM 11.5, 4.56:1 gears/stock limited-slip

Front: Carli Suspension 3-in coils, control arms, and track bar; Bilstein 5160 shocks
Rear: Carli Suspension 1-in leaf pack, Bilstein 5160 shocks

Tires: 37x13.50R18 Toyo Open Country
Wheels: 18x8.5 Eagle Alloys

Steering: Synergy Manufacturing drag link and tie rod, Carli Suspension steering stabilizer
Lighting: KC HiLites off-road lamps
Armor: Custom-fabricated rock sliders and rear bumper, Addictive Desert Designs front bumper
Cool stuff: 43-in Hi-Lift jack, bed-mounted spare tire, Bubba Rope recovery gear, and SOG shovel

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