DODGE RAM 2500 HEAVY DUTY – Fulfilling a dream
The Dodge Ram is the big daddy of big bakkies, revered in the United States as much for its heavy-duty work ethic as its rugged good looks. In South Africa they’re just not available, which is why when you DO happen to see one, it turns heads and raises eyebrows
Text: Stephen Smith
Photographs: Jannie Herbst
As we drove along the N12 to Benoni, we wondered what makes someone go out and buy a vehicle like a Dodge Ram? Especially in South Africa, where it has to be converted from left-hand drive into right-hand drive, and spares are obviously not that easy to come by either. We had our suspicions, but it wasn’t until we met Michael Kretzman that we really understood…
“I’ve wanted a Dodge Ram forever,” Michael says, “but at first I ended up with a Ford F250 double cab. It was a good car, and comfortable on long trips, but it was just too slow for me. The Ford also had a metre long gearshift, so changing gears took forever and you had to lean forward to reach the gear lever.
“At 80 km/h it was very economical, but at 120 km/h it was moving out of the green band, which means that it became a bit thirsty. You also don’t want to work a diesel engine hard like that.
“Then, in September 2008, this Dodge became available at an exotic car dealership, and I said ‘That’s it!’ I took it for a test-drive, put down the R1,1 million they wanted, and never took it back!”
The Dodge in question is a silver 2008 Ram 2500 Heavy Duty SLT Quad Cab, and it is spectacular! The Ram 2500 series is Dodge’s “mid-size” pick-up range, slotting in between the smaller 1500 range, and the huge, double-rear-wheeled 3500 range. Just how a vehicle of this size can be the middle of any range we don’t know, but it is!
“The thing I love the most about the Dodge is the uniqueness. It’s a crowd magnet no matter where you go. It’s unbelievable. There are only five or six on the roads in South Africa, I’d say, so almost wherever you drive people are seeing it for the very first time.
“And because of its size and the huge chrome grille, it commands a huge amount of respect on the road. If you stop at a four-way stop, everyone waits for you, even if you arrived last!” laughs Michael. “They want to have a look at the Dodge, but they also don’t want to get in its way.
“And, even better, taxis don’t mess with you either. If they’re about to pull in front of you, and they see the Dodge coming, they wait!”
It certainly is an imposing vehicle, a mammoth silver double-cab bakkie, with that gargantuan grille, and front end that is definitely styled on American big-rigs. Michael’s Dodge has also been lifted, with after-market Skyjacker suspension and Skyjacker Hydro 7000 shock absorbers.
And for a little more “individuality”, Michael fitted an upright exhaust stack, like you could expect to find on a big-rig. This he did himself for a cost of just R2200, although he reckons that it’d cost about R5500 if done at an exhaust shop.
“The exhaust gives a fantastic growl,” says Michael – a fact that we can attest to. “When I pass one of the big American trucks on the highway I give the accelerator a blip, and a big puff of black smoke comes out of the exhaust.
The guys love it, and give a honk of their horn in return!”
Despite being an exotic crowd-pleaser, Michael’s Dodge is first and foremost a work vehicle. Michael owns a transport business, hauling concrete road barriers all over Gauteng. Every now and again he needs to move a few blocks quickly, and the Dodge steps up to the job, hauling up to two tons with ease.
“It’s got a 6,0-litre, straight-six Cummins turbodiesel engine, and it produces 850 Nm of torque at the flywheel. The turbo is like this!” says Michael, holding up his hands in a large circle. “In low range I’ve pulled 30-ton trucks out of mud, and that indicates an equivalent of about 2000 Nm, because that’s what you need to get a truck of that size moving. The suspension and tyres give it unbelievable traction, and it pulls like a tractor.
“It’s fitted with a five-speed (four plus overdrive) Allison heavy-duty automatic gearbox, and the gear-shifter is fitted to the steering column. The transmission comes with a feature called Tow/Haul, which increase the gap between gear changes and prevents the gearbox from hunting for gears.
“Another feature is that the overdrive gear can be cancelled with the push of a button, so that the transmission only goes up to fourth gear, again to prevent hunting. These functions are intended for use with heavy loads, or when towing.”
Despite the exotic appeal of his truck, and the obvious care that he treats it with, Michael uses his Dodge predominantly as a work truck. The high payload and towing capacity make it very practical for his business. An added advantage is that the gear-shifter is situated on the right-hand-side of the steering column, and not in the middle of the vehicle. This means that the front of the vehicle is seriously spacious, and the uninterrupted bench seat gives enough space for three people.
If you don’t need a bench seat up front, you can fold down the middle backrest for a wide, comfortable armrest. And if you open this armrest up, there’s space for all sorts of odds and ends that you like to have at hand during a workday.
Speaking of space, there is an almost endless amount of it in the Ram. The rear seats fold up, giving a flat platform that Michael says is perfect for his kids to sleep on every now and again. In fact, he sleeps there himself sometimes if he has to work a nightshift, as he does a couple of times a week.
There are also cup-holders, cubbyholes and other storage compartments all over the vehicle (including a secret one under the front middle seat for cash and valuables). In fact, just three weeks ago Michael found even more storage space underneath the rear seats of the Ram, despite having had the car for eight or nine months already!
As we said, this Ram is a Quadcab (double cab), but Michael really wants a Megacab. A Megacab has an even BIGGER cabin, with more space all round, and with seats that fold flat into beds, like first-class airplane seats.
Michael is very honest about the pros and cons of owning a truck like the Dodge Ram. “Parking is a bitch! If I go to a shopping centre I basically take up four parking bays. Guys don’t seem to mind, but if you’ve got something to say, say it!” he says, laughing. “And the turning circle is huge too!”
We ask about servicing and spares, and Michael concedes that this is a moot point. “That is an issue, and that’s why owning a truck like this isn’t for everyone. You know that you haven’t bought it from a dealer, so you aren’t going to get nationwide service. If something breaks, then you know you’ll have to make a plan.
“That said, I’ve got terrific service from Thinus from US Truck Sales, and US Power Sport in Randburg is also helpful. But the engine is made by Cummins, and there are thousands of Cummins diesel engines on the roads in South Africa, so that isn’t a problem. And Allison gearboxes are also common in the country, on heavier machinery, so you can buy spares for it at any corner shop.”
“But owning a vehicle like this is suited to me, because I have a transport business, and I know diesel engines, but it’s definitely not for everyone. One problem is going to be the tyres, when I have to replace them. It’s not going to be easy to find them, and they aren’t going to be cheap! But that’s not a regular purchase.
We asked Michael about any upgrades that he might be considering for his Ram, and he says that he’s waiting for a new version of the Bully Dog chip, which will give the engine over 1000 Nm at the flywheel, but will also need a new gearbox and torque converter.
“I never fitted a bullbar, because I love the ‘face’ of the truck, and a bullbar would just detract from it. Everything you add, in my opinion, takes away from the beauty of the car,” says Michael.
As much as Michael loves his Dodge Ram 2500, it isn’t his ultimate vehicle. He says he’d love a Ram 3500, with the dual back wheels, but that it won’t fit through his gate! Till he finds a way around that, he’ll stick with his beloved 2500.
BOX: US Truck Sales is a company in Richards Bay, KwaZulu-Natal that specialises in importing big, exotic trucks from America, and converting them into right-hand-drive vehicles.
The company specialises in Dodge Rams, importing the 1500, 2500 and 3500 ranges, mostly on order for customers, although they do have occasional stock.
For more information give them a call on 035 789 7014, or visit www.ustrucks.co.za.