Last month we introduced our '09 Dodge 1/2-ton project truck. This build is a bit different than many of our other projects in that it's going to sort of be a show truck. Yes, we know that is blasphemy around here at 4-Wheel & Off-Road, where hard-core tech and battered bodies rule the roost, but that's why this truck was named Project Black Sheep, because it doesn't really fit into our flock. Now don't throw away this issue just yet, because if you keep reading you'll find that even a flashy 4WOR truck still has the guts to go wheeling. It's just that this one's not gonna get battered up until it's done visiting some shows. It's kind of like mom telling you that you can't get your good clothes dirty until after church.
This Dodge comes from the factory with one of the best-riding suspensions ever found under a pickup truck, but clearing bigger tires and making a "show with go" truck is our goal.
In part one we flew to Detroit to pick up the truck and drive it home (Mar. '09). We had to have the truck ready for our SEMA booth display in roughly 30 days from the day we picked it up. The SEMA show is a giant convention of representatives from the performance aftermarket as well as folks from all the big automotive manufacturers, so the Black Sheep had to be in prime form. As usual this meant sleepless nights trying to hot-rod a truck that was just hitting the scene, so some of our parts were literally prototypes test-fitted to our truck.
Upon arrival in California, we headed to Edelbrock for suspension tuning. Edelbrock is known for its engine upgrades and has long been an icon in the hot-rod scene, but its shock division is also one of the best in the off-road industry. Edelbrock not only makes its own line of parts, but also private labels for many other suspension companies. Edelbrock also has a new line of air shocks and hydraulic air bumps, and we wanted to test-fit some air bumps on this truck.
In addition to the suspension, we also used many of the first Mopar factory-backed aftermarket upgrades. These are components you can order through most any Dodge dealership and either have them dealer-installed or do it yourself. Next month we'll wrap up our show-truck build with even more good-looking trail-capable parts.
In the Edelbrock shop we worked with the head shock engineer, Frank Alioto, who quickly surmised from a test-fit that the front bumper had to go. We clearanced the inner fenderwells since we had 37-inch Mickey Thompson Baja MTZs to stuff under it. With no suspension modifications we were able to fit the tires in the wheelwells, but some lift would be required to clear the tires during full stuff.
The front independent suspension of the Dodge uses a coilover shock design. Since we didn't want or need to add a bunch of lift to the truck, the Edelbrock crew engineered a new VS-3 shock that would raise the truck for a level ride, or lift the truck 1 3/4 inches to clear bigger tires by moving the mounting location of the coil spring up the shock body. The shocks are tuned to be more aggressive during mid- and high-speed damping, and to help control the heavier tires.
The independent front and coil-sprung rear suspension of the '09 Dodge allows the truck to ride smoothly over difficult terrain. Added air bumps help absorb suspension movement when the truck takes an abusive hit during high-speed off-roading. This in turn protects the components while better dissipating the forces between the sprung weight, unsprung weight, and terrain. Mounting the air bumps required different systems front and rear. In the front we used some Poly Performance air-bump cans and mounted them with custom Edelbrock gussets.
In addition to the coilover shock, we also went to Blitzkreig Motorsports and had a fabricated upper A-arm built. The upper arm is fitted with a uniball joint to allow for more wheel travel by not binding as quickly as the factory upper ball joint. In fact, we now have the ability to get more wheel travel than the factory axleshafts can handle, but that is a part we'll look to upgrade down the road when we break them.
We welded the brackets to the frame so that the lower aluminum A-arm would hit the air bump during hard compression. We were worried about the aluminum A-arm, but Dodge engineers explained that the arm is a forged-aluminum piece and should be very strong. If we ever have issues, we'll most likely work with Blitzkrieg to make a fabricated lower A-arm similar to the upper.
The Edelbrock team made special air-bump mounts that were TIG-welded into the center of the upper coil mount. The air bump replaces the factory bumpstop in this location. Even though these American-made air bumps are designed and engineered to work as well as any air bump on the market, they also incorporate some cost-saving measures to bring them in well under the normal price of competitors' products.
To weld the rear bumpstop mount in place we used the new Miller Diversion 165 TIG-welder. This is the most user-friendly welder we've ever tested, and with a price tag around $1,600 it's also affordable. TIG-welding isn't the easiest type of welding, but this welder simply requires turning the machine on, setting the material thickness, and setting the material type. Plus it comes with a TIG Welding for Dummies book and instructional DVD to help get you started.
In addition to the air bumps in the rear coils, the rear suspension also has new 4130 chromoly suspension links from Spidertrax and modified coils from Eibach. The links should take much more abuse than the stock links, and since we were short on time, the coils were tweaked for some additional lift until we decide on a new coil rate.
Each suspension link also uses a 1 1/4-inch forged Johnny Joint from Currie Enterprises. We initially test-fit the joints with a 9/16-inch mounting bolt, but since the brackets in the frame and axle brackets use a larger metric bolt, we eventually decided on a 5?8-inch through-bolt.
In the rear we installed some Edelbrock extreme-travel IAS rear shocks. We upgraded our rear shocks to remote reservoirs for additional cooling, plus the zinc coat and clearcoated finish, Nitro Steel piston rod, and rolled-closed shock tubes all equal a durable leak-free shock.
The interior of our Dodge Ram 1500 TRX4 package was made for comfort and use, with no extra glamour to get in the way. The fabric-covered high-bolstered seats were great for our cross-country trek, but since this truck was going to be part show, part go, we opted for an upgrade.
Mopar has an optional Katzkin leather recover of any Dodge, Chrysler, or Jeep vehicle, and it's really a nice upgrade. We went full tilt and had the Ram logo and the Petersen's 4-Wheel & Off-Road logo stitched in bright red and black. Katzkin offers a wide range of colors and styles, and these days refurbishing your truck is sometimes smarter than buying a new one. Katzkin seats may just be the ticket to give your used truck that new-truck feel.
Katzkin Leather Interiors
Mickey Thompson Tires
4670 Allen Road Stow
2700 California St.