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1976 Dodge Ramcharger: La Cucaracha

Posted in Project Vehicles on October 1, 2012
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Cockroaches have evolved to survive even a nuclear holocaust. Similarly, Jon Snyder’s Baja-flogged ’76 Dodge Ramcharger, affectionately known as Cucaracha, has evolved for desert survival during the past 16 years. The truck has provided race support for numerous SCORE and BITD events.

The original frontend didn’t survive repeated Baja trips. It was replaced with a later Dana 44. BDS 5-inch springs provide the lift.

Jon did much of the wrenching himself, with helping hands from former Conejo Off-Road mechanics Jimmy Claytor and Jeff Pessetto. (Jon’s late stepdad, Mike Schwellinger, owned Conejo Off-Road and won SCORE Class 3 championships in 1987 and 1988 in their shop-sponsored Jeep.)

Beneath the rattle-can desert camo paintjob are legitimately Baja-proven parts. Jon even got the fiberglass hood in Mexico from a craftsman who made ’glass panels for Bill Stroppe’s race trucks. A fiberglass scoop from a speed shop was added to it. Another end-of-an-era product is the Bestop softtop, one of the last to be made from the Ramcharger pattern.

Leon Patton built, balanced, and blueprinted the stock 440ci V-8. It has a forged Mopar Performance crankshaft, Mopar rods, 9.25:1 compression, a 268-degree-duration Comp cam, an Edelbrock Performer intake, a QuadraJet, a K&N air filter, dual MSD ignitions, and Thorley headers.

Mechanically, Jon knows that reliability is crucial for returning from the desert in one piece. So, he had Patton Racing Engines Moparize the factory 440. Conejo Carburetor set up the QuadraJet’s float bowls and jets for off-road. Local experts at Competition Muffler (in Thousand Oaks, California) plumbed Magnaflow mufflers to the Thorley headers using 2 1⁄2-inch tubing.

Jon had nearby transmission whiz Craig Calkins at CRC Performance Transmission beef up the stock TorqueFlite with an Art Carr reverse manual valvebody, high-stall converter, and shifter. Welder George Kreider added the rollcage. The custom aluminum dash is a Troy Johnson creation, built before he founded The Fab School.

The office is built for business. Multiple radios allow Jon to monitor different pits and information sources in the desert. His hand controls are visible behind the steering wheel.

The rest of this truck’s story extends way beyond our space available here. To summarize, Jon grew up with 4x4s and is a human encyclopedia of off-road racing history. This Ramcharger was somewhat influenced by Walker Evans’ and Rod Hall’s race Rams. Further, Jon is a full-timer, serving as assistant manager at the 4Wheel Parts store in Thousand Oaks (formerly Conejo Off-Road).

Jon’s words of wisdom from creating this truck: ”Build it strong and keep it simple. Spend the time and the money the first time. You’ll end up doing it anyway.”

Tech Specs
1976 Dodge Ramcharger
Engine: 440 ci V-8, Mopar reciprocating assembly, Edelbrock Performer intake manifold, dual MSD ignitions, Thorley headers, Magnaflow mufflers
Transmission: 727 TorqueFlite with Art Carr internals, 2 B&M SuperCoolers
Transfer case: NP203, MileMarker part-time conversion, custom Coast Driveline 1350 shafts
Front Axle: ’80 Dana 44, Warn hubs, 4.56 gears
Rear Axle: Summer Brothers full-floating Dana 60, Summers spool, Wilwood brakes, 4.56 gears

Reservoirs for the triple Rancho RS9000s were routed through the floorboard and mounted under the rear seat. Dual Optima RedTop batteries are in boxes behind the Mastercraft front buckets.

Springs & Such: (front) BDS 5-inch front springs, Energy Suspension bushings, triple remote-reservoir Fox shocks; (rear) custom extended-length National Spring leaves, custom 2-link, triple Rancho RS9000 remote-reservoir shocks
Tires & Wheels: 35x12.50-15 General Red Letter Grabbers on 15x8 Mickey Thompson Classic II wheels
Steering: Saginaw by Lee Mfg., chromoly steering shaft, Coleman quick-release, Grant wheel

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