The Hazel Ramcharger Rebuild
Fond Memories or Selective Amnesia?
Recently, I've been spending more time than usual creating content from my collection of archival images I've amassed over my 20-plus years here among the MotorTrend off-road brands. One of the things I've been doing is pulling some photos from a couple projects I built before our brands were all online. And one of those builds was the Hazel Ramcharger.
To be fair, I never gave the Ramcharger an official project name, but as my only vehicle at the time, I built the '85 Dodge in the pages of 4-Wheel & Off-Road from roughly 2000 -2002. And because many of those older stories weren't shot with digital cameras and most of those tech stories were published only in print, whenever I show newer audience members photos of that truck, it's always a big crowd favorite. Even I remember it very fondly, but when I really think back on that build, parts of it are really dated and not worth repeating. Taking off the lenses of selective memory, if I were to build another hardcore off-road fullsize 4x4, I'd so several things differently.
Fuel Injection: I used to run a huge Rochester Q-Jet on the stock 318. It worked killer off-road, but at altitude it ran rich, and in certain hard acceleration conditions it would load up and stumble a bit. These days I'd most definitely install a junkyard Hemi in front of the manual with a swap components from Holley.
Tires and Wheels: The 42-inch Swamper TSLs worked really well off-road, and I loved the width, but when I built this rig one of my few options for getting wheels that cleared the big 1-ton calipers on the Dana 60 were re-centered Humvee 16.5-inch-diamter wheels. Nowadays I'd go for a 17-inch beadlock (I like TrailReady) with some streetable 42x13.50 Maxxis Trepadors.
Suspension: It sat way too tall, and I had constant axle-wrap issues despite custom National spring packs in the rear. Nowadays, I'd build a front and rear four-link with coilovers for hammer-down ledge climbing.
Gearing and Axles: I originally had 4.10 gearing in the axles, but because I only upgraded one axle at a time, I never actually pulled the trigger on a full gear swap. Let me tell you, 4.10s and 42s pushed by a 318 barely gets the job done. Plus, I went through a stupid amount of work to hog the rear Dana 60 spindles to upgrade from 30-spline to larger 1.5-inch 35-spline axleshafts. Nowadays, I'd just grab a junkyard 14-bolt, add disc brakes and 5.13s, stab in an Ultimate Dana 60 front crate axle with monster SPL70 axleshaft joints, and finish the drivetrain with a Ford NP205 and Offroad Design Magnum Box.
But otherwise, I really did love that truck, from the factory NP435 manual transmission to the gutted interior to the sheet of clear Lexan I bolted to the firewall to cover the hole where the HVAC was. I could peer down and see what was in front of the passenger-side tire perfectly. There's nothing like 'wheeling a full-bodied fullsize on the trail. Maybe I'll build another after all. Anybody selling a Ramcharger?