The Dodge Ram is not a subtle car. It’s as American as a rib eye steak doused with macaroni and cheese. In other words, it’s big, brash and equipped with an enormous engine that’s larger than most B-segment hatches.
You’d think a car like the Ram would be big enough for most people, but Johan Smith isn’t like most people.
Johan answers the phone with a cheery greeting and immediately starts chuckling when he hears that the latest addition to his driveway has made a blip on our sensitively tuned radar.
After chatting for a bit, we find out that he’s intent on beating his mate’s Porsche 911 GT3 around a track in his Ram. “He’s got me around the corners, but in the straights I can keep up with him,” says Johan.
We understand his reasoning. In fact, we hope he succeeds in his attempt, because a victory like that would surely make motoring headlines.
In most cases we’d refer to the Ram as a bakkie, but perhaps “truck” is a better term. This Ram has gone way past the realms of a bakkie and deserves to be referred to by the term used in its home country.
The starting point for Johan’s project was a stock standard 2013 Dodge Ram 2500. This particular truck came equipped with the world-famous Cummins 6,7-litre in-line six-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine. It normally produces 287kW and 1152Nm of torque.
On the inside it’s rather plush. The standard model comes with air conditioning, navigation, reverse camera, an infotainment system with a hard drive, leather seats and automatic retractable steps – to make getting in and out of the beast a little bit easier.
Johan’s first modification to the Ram, even before it could turn a wheel on SA soil, was the conversion from left-hand to right-hand drive. This was done by US Trucks in Richard’s Bay — a job Johan describes as excellent. “They were friendly, sincere and helpful guys.”
US Trucks also designed and built a bumper for this Ram, but the unit is available for sale if other customers with similar vehicles are interested.
Then Johan upped the horsepower by swapping the stock ECU (Electronic Control Module) for an H&S Performance adjustable unit. This increased output to 417kW, which is immensely impressive, until you discover that the torque rating is 1500Nm. That’s right, folks — this truck has more than double the torque of a Porsche 911 GT3!
As we all know, power is nothing without control, so something had to be done with the standard suspension. For help, Johan turned to Motorsport Tech in Richard’s Bay, who proceeded to replace the whole set-up with a full air bag suspension.
To make the space needed for the change, the front diff had to be moved 200mm forward. This allowed for more suspension travel, which will no doubt come in handy once Johan has given the Porsche a proper hiding and decides to tackle some tougher obstacles.
This Ram has been timed over a quarter-mile and it ran an impressive 14.3sec with its catalytic converters still fitted. That’s a faster quarter-mile time than recorded by a Golf GTI, Subaru WRX STI and Porsche Panamera. It’s still a second behind the GT3, but Johan is nevertheless confident of victory. A Watson link suspension has been fitted for this very purpose. “No more using the corner as an escape,” Johan told his mate. “Man up and take your hiding from a truck.”
Johan hasn’t been back to the track since these last upgrades, but he’s planning to do so soon. Porsche 911 owners of SA, beware!
Back to more familiar Leisure Wheels turf. This Ram has two sets of tyres, which are used depending on the occasion. There’s a set of 40-inch Maxi tyres with Mickey Thompson rims for hardcore overlanding and a second set of smaller Fuel rims with Mickey Thompson tyres for the more sedate occasion.
The camouflage exterior was done mainly for protection against scratches, but also adds a certain “don’t mess with me” flair to an already aggressive vehicle. Wrap Designs, who do the wrapping on our project vehicles, designed the Ram’s exterior.
You might have noticed the Bronco Palomino camper on the load bin. This has to be the ultimate overland accessory, as it comes fully equipped with air conditioning, fridge, double bed, three-quarter bed, a heater, solar panels, shower, exterior shower and a flat-screen television set. This is true five-star overlanding.
So far the Dodge has seen action only in SA, but Johan plans on taking it out of the country in the near future. The Mercedes Benz Sprinter that used to provide this service for him is nearing retirement age and needs to be replaced.
The total cost of the Ram’s impressive conversion is around R1,5-million, which Johan regards as not too bad considering the power, luxury and exclusivity it has provided.
Whether the Ram will defeat the Porsche 911 GT3 remains to be seen. We’re certainly hoping for a victory for the Dodge!