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1997 Dodge Ram 4x4 - Ram Tough

Posted in Project Vehicles on December 1, 2000 Comment (0)
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Photographers: Cole Quinnell

What do you have when you cross one of the stoutest trucks built today with a lot of know-how and a bunch of dough? You get Si Perry's super-burly '97 Ram. Back in 1997, Si was in the market for a brand-new truck to use for a buildup platform. The decision to use a Dodge was based on its gnarly looks and strong hardware and the fact that Dodge still utilizes a solid front axle. Over the last three years, he's found (the hard way) any weak links that his Dodge came with from the factory.

What Si left are some of the toughest truck parts to ever come off an assembly line. Maybe "Ram Tough" isn't just a load of cow pies shoved at us by marketing experts. But no stock truck is ever perfect, nor could one withstand the extreme abuse that four-wheelers love to dish out. And dish it out Si did.

He quickly found out that the factory 44 axleshafts do not hold up well to extreme 'wheeling and 38-inch tires. More good news came when the dealership announced that it would no longer honor the warranty on his truck, which had clocked only 11,000 miles. After a head-on collision ripped the front driver side tire completely off the truck, the decision to swap was made a little easier. A reverse-rotation Dana 44 out of a '79 F-150 was cut, widened, and sleeved before it was applied to the front end. To bring the rear into nearly unbreakable territory, a 14-bolt GM Corporate axle had its hubs drilled to fit the 5-on-5 1/2 lug pattern of the front axle. Since the remains of the front axle were still in his possession, Si used the original Dodge disc brakes and rotors and fitted them to the rear full floater. Both axles have custom high-alloy cryogeniced shafts to ensure against breakage. But with a Lock-Righted front, a Detroit locked rear, and 5.13s by Precision Gear helping to compensate for the massive meats, it's no wonder that Si still breaks an axleshaft every now and then.

The original NP231HD transfer case was even wounded when Si ripped the casing off around the front yoke. It was replaced with the even stronger NP241 that comes in the 3/4-ton Dodge package. Driveshaft modifications were made to mate the new axles and transfer case together.

As for the rest of the drivetrain, the engine and trans were deemed suitable for now, but a big V-10 and trans swap is in the future. In the meantime, a SuperTrapp muffler meets up to the motor with 3-inch tubing. Other enhancements include a K&N air filter and NGK plugs with aftermarket wires.

Before any of the original drivetrain started to fatigue, the suspension was worked on. A Trail Master 4-inch suspension kit and 2-inch coil spacer were complemented by a 2-inch body lift to make room for the 38-inch Super Swamper SX rubber mounted on Mickey Thompson 15x10 Challengers. To meet the 6-inch rise in the front, a Trail Master 4-inch block and 2 1/2-inch add-a-leaf were put in place of the factory 3 1/4-inch block. Dampening the ride are four Trail Master SSV shocks, making the highway ride almost as bearable as it was in stock form. The sway bar was removed, providing for much better articulation.

The exterior of the truck remains mostly stock, although some custom bodywork came in the form of rock bashing. The bed was sprayed with Rhinoliner for protection, and a Ranch Hand bumper was mounted in place shortly after the original front one was mangled in the previously mentioned head-on mishap. The new bumper holds a Warn 10,000-pound winch for those times when Si's friends are stuck.

Overall this Dodge makes for a great rig in the mud, sand, rocks, or snow. With great looks and a nearly bulletproof drivetrain, what else could anyone want? By the way, Si, how's your gas mileage?

Si's truck has a high enough ground clearance to get over large rocks, tree stumps, and small import cars. Talk about a no-joke tire, those are 38.5x14.50-15 Super Swamper SX tires mounted to the 15x10 Challengers. Manual hubs by Superwinch now release the front axleshafts, taking the place of the center axle disconnect on the original Dana 44.

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