The '09 Dodge Ram 1/2-ton is one fine truck for weekday use, and we're about to make one into the perfect weekender. A 1/2-ton truck is great for the single-vehicle guy, and the new crew cab Dodge makes a great family 4x4 as well. However, our 1/2-ton is a little different from most you see out there, hence the project name "Black Sheep." The objective for the build was keeping the great daily driver ability of the coil and independent suspension while adding upgrades that make the truck versatile for both desert and trail wheeling. This isn't a hard-core buildup, at least not yet, but rather some tricks and upgrades to help our bad Ram stand out from the flock.
Even though we've built many crazy trail rigs with brand-new 4x4s (Ultimate Adventure Super Duty, Avalanche, FJ Cruiser, and JK), we know those are dream trucks for most, and this truck is going to be a bit closer to what the average Joe might do with his fresh-off-the-lot rig (though we will be giving it a crazy paintjob in the end, just for some added punch). We ended up throwing together an award-winning ride in about a month. Since we were under a tight deadline, we actually had to fly to Detroit to get the truck. This is part one, from highway to hammers.
There weren't any 1/2-ton Dodges in Southern California, so I flew to Detroit to take delivery of one of the first production units. Gave them the check, shook hands, and it was time to leave Golling Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, with our new '09 Dodge Ram TRX4 Off-Road Package crew cab. I asked if they would include the black Dodge Challenger in the deal, but no such luck.
First step was getting the new Mopar hood match-painted and installed. We used the gas door off the truck for a perfect match to the Brilliant Black Crystal Pearl by the guys at Mid-Towne Collision in Brighton, Michigan. The new hood has plastic inserts for a fake intake look, but we will eventually make them usable. Until then, it just adds a mean sharklike look.
I awoke after being the first guy to sleep in the back seat of a new '09 Dodge Ram, in a farmer's field, somewhere in Missouri. Kudos to the interior designers at Dodge. The truck is very comfortable in both the driver seat and the back seats.
I was moving across America in the best-riding truck currently in production when I got a call from the boss:
Pw: "Where are you?"
Me: "Somewhere near Colorado. I'm gonna go shoot some guns with a buddy. Why?"
Pw: "Cool. While you're there, go pick up the old Jeep engine I just bought off eBay. It's about 400 pounds."
Me: "Will do, boss. See you in a couple days."
Almost home and I started thinking about how great this 1/2-ton truck is. I really like this thing. It rides great and has awesome power, and I've always been a fan of the Dodge truck body styling. But personally I need something more, maybe a 3/4- or 1-ton version to tow my rockcrawler. The next thing I know I'm at the Victorville Motors Dodge dealership looking at cab and chassis trucks and brewing ideas for a new flatbed diesel dualie tow rig project. Hmmm.
Our first stop on the buildup of the Black Sheep is Edelbrock's headquarters, the shock division. Edelbrock is known for its engine parts and is a pillar of the hot rod scene, but the company also has a strong shock and plumbing department (the latter under the Russell name). The Edelbrock shock team felt confident that they could help me stuff 37-inch tires under the Ram, but I also wanted to keep the truck as low as possible. Initial testing showed that the tires did fit in the wheelwell as long as I didn't want to turn the steering or hit any bumps.
We quickly put the truck on the rack and began tearing apart anything that got in the way of the 37s. The front bumper will be replaced with something more off-road-friendly. The plastic inner wheel liners also hit the Dumpster. They are good for rain and mud deflection, but we needed the room, plus it's nice to see the Hemi hiding behind the fenders. Finally we gave the inner-fender body seams a royal beatdown with a ball-peen hammer, gaining us at least another inch of clearance.
Next Month: New seats, shocks, and shoes for the Black Sheep.