Friday, April 18, 2014

Things I like: Ramcharger vs. Cherokee


Well, thus far I am extremely happy with my decision to acquire an old Ramcharger after driving a Jeep Cherokee for many yeras. There are a lot of plusses to owning such a rig. There are minuses, too, which will come in a future edition. But for now, let’s look at what I like more about the Ramcharger over my Jeep Cherokee.

It’s big.
Yes, this is a plus for me. I’m not a large-framed man, but I like a lot of space. There is simply nowhere to put things in the Jeep Cherokee. Heck, there’s about as much room in my Ramcharger’s engine compartment with the engine in it as there is in the entire cargo area of the Cherokee. That leaves me room for compressors, relays, wiring, dual batteries——heck, whatever I want! I think I could probably wedge a VW engine in there alongside the 440, and I’m not kidding. But the point is, there is space in the vehicle. Everything is bigger, from the engine bay to the passenger compartment to the cargo area in back. More space means more options.

It’s powerful.
Yes, the Jeep 4.0 is a great engine and it has pretty good power in H.O. form, but the earlier Renix engines leave a lot to be desired. Even the H.O. engines can’t touch my stock 440 for torque, though, and that’s just dandy with me. In my last entry, I told the story of hauling a full-size GMC with a bed full of bricks uphill on loose gravel. Try that in a Jeep. There’s just something irreplaceable about driving a big V8.

It’s simple.
Just about any problems the Ramcharger encounters I’ll be able to diagnose at a glance. Sure, sensors and EFI and catalytic converters and computers are all very nice, but there is something to be said about stripped down simplicity, too. Three-quarters of the truck can be taken down using a small socket set. No Torx bolts or specialty stuff here, just good old fashioned, SAE sweetness. Makes the tool bag a heck of a lot lighter.

It looks cooler.
Don’t get me wrong, I do so love the styling of the Cherokee. That being said, it’s hard to argue when a lifted ‘70s Dodge is rolling down the street. They just ooze testosterone. I also love, love the dash setups on old Dodge trucks, right down to the not-so-bright factory gauge lighting. Uber cool.

It turns heads.
My Jeep can get a few looks, too, but mostly by other Jeep enthusiasts. Cherokees are way more common than the old Ramchargers are, too, so it doesn’t tend to get the attention my Dodge does. Almost every day at work, someone comes in and asks about the big black Ramcharger in the parking lot. Around town, I get thumbs up signs from random folks. My friends, even the Ford and Chevy ones, tell me honestly that they think it’s cool.

Full-time 4x4.
I do realize this is purely a taste thing but then again, so’s everything else on this list. I love the NP203 full-time case. Yeah, it’s fun to do donuts or let the tires loose around a corner now and again, but I’d rather have the cool factor of always being in four-wheel drive. I only lock the case into positive 4x4 when I really need it and to me, that’s awesome.

It’s highly customizable.
Jeep Cherokees are, as well, to an extent, but I have soooo many more options with the Ramcharger. Most of those options stem back to the space issue, but some don’t. I can put things where I want them in the Ramcharger, whereas my Jeep Cherokee was a lot fussier about location. Heck, there’s a full roll cage in my Ramcharger and most of the time, I don’t even realize it’s there.

Tire size.
This one is weak, I know, but I’m adding it anyhow. My Jeep is up 6.5” and 35s are the limit without major modifications and even then, they required some hefty fender trimming if I don’t want them to rub on the trails. The Ramcharger is up 4” and makes 35s look like 32s. I could squeeze 37s in without too much issue, and probably 38s with a bit of trim, and that makes me happy. Do I need 37s for what I do with the Ramcharger? No. Does that matter? Not a bit. 

Last but most definitely not least, I have a tailgate now. I’ve never, ever liked the ‘hatch’ setup on Cherokees and later model Ramchargers. In my mind, it’s far cooler to drop a tailgate and lift the shell glass when yer at the campsite. Tailgates are on trucks men own; hatches are for the wiminz. Am I right?

Stay tuned for things I liked better about my Cherokee. The list is likely smaller, but there’s still a list.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Chrysler 440s are Amazing Engines

Let me start this blog entry by saying that my respect for the Chrysler 440——yes, even the ‘detuned’ seventies ones——tripled today. Those engines are no joke. Grab some coffee and listen to a tale of power.

The Taurus blew some sensor or other (says the ASE guy) and had to go back in for scans and repairs and whatnot. I had to make a run to work for a discounted part (oh yea, baby!) and when I got back to the garage where the Taurus was, an early seventies GMC long bed pickup was stuck in the middle of a tiny road with its bed hanging out onto the main boulevard, around a bend——not good.

So I walked over and offered to pull him at least out of danger with my Ramcharger. He laughed and thumbed toward his bed. “It’s full of brick, son, and I mean full,” he says.

I look back there and yep, red brick is stacked literally right to the cab window, and even higher in the middle. We are talking two thousand pounds, easy. Three hundred bricks weighs one ton (thanks, Google!), and there was at least that many in his bed. His truck was a one-ton and it was sagging like a Compton gang member.

I look at him and say, “I have a big block Dodge and a strong strap. Let’s do this.” 

And we did. The hill was probably a quarter-mile long, maybe a bit more. It started relatively mundanely, then got a little steeper, and then got very steep toward the top, complete with loose gravel to make things interesting.

The guy’s truck was so heavy that each time I’d stop to give the Ramcharger a little break from smoking the tires, both trucks would slide back down the hill three or four feet, even with me standing on the brakes. This was some serious weight.

After the hill went from mildly steep to holy hell, man, that’s steep, I was smoking all four tires pretty badly and starting to hop. I stopped, put the transfer case in 4-low and hit it again. Hard. The ease at which my rig pulled his truck the rest of the way up was almost scary. As a rule, I try to avoid low lock on asphalt, but these were special circumstances.

I got him to the top, unhooked him and he rolled the big pickup right into his driveway. Oh, and it started, immediately. It was just the angle he was on not allowing the thing to fire.

To say the Dodge impressed me would be grossly understated. I felt like a proud father. Yes, I knew the 440 was strong, but had I known it had grunt like that, I’d have tried pulling something earlier, just for the kicks of it. Back in the day, I was really impressed with the 318 in my Fury, but the 440 in my Ramcharger just dwarfs it in the torque department.

So, I figure this is a fair estimate:

My Ramcharger is somewhere in the 4k pound range, empty (nothing at all in the truck).

His one-ton truck is probably about 5k pounds or so.

Add in 2k lbs worth of brick, and you have a very conservative total of eleven thousand pounds, all pulled uphill on loose terrain by a single engine (that’s likely very tired) in what amounts to an early SUV.

Unreal. Just unreal.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Keep the Jeep for Trailing?

So the other evening, I wheeled the piss out of my Ramcharger. No, it wasn’t on a black diamond trail, but it was gnarly enough to bust stuff. I broke my driver mirror clean off, I broke my radio antenna in two, I had to shove a plug into a rear tire while in a hairy ravine, and the winch even came out. Oh, and on extreme angles it was hard to keep the carbed 440 lit.

While it was fun, it made me seriously reconsider selling my Jeep Cherokee. Over the years it has spoiled me, I’ll admit. The Ramcharger rides like a steel roller skate and it’s nowhere near ready to trail. Then again, it wasn’t supposed to be. I wanted it for a tow/camp/mild 4x4 rig. If I lock it and take off the sways and put on bigger meats and all that jazz, it’s no longer a viable tow pig and instead, it’s a trail rig. But I already have one of those.

The Ramcharger beat the hell out of us that night. I’m surprised our kidneys are still intact. No, I didn’t air down and of course the sway bars are on, but still... this thing has a concrete suspension. But I knew that going in. I didn’t care because I wasn’t going to trail it. Stiff suspensions are great for tow pigs. 

The Ramcharger was uncomfortable and struggled on things the Cherokee would idle over like a Cadillac. Again, I know I’m spoiled, but as far as trailing, it’s hard to beat the Jeep. It’s smaller, it’s lighter, it has fuel injection, it’s locked and geared and... well, it’s a trail rig. The Ramcharger is not.

So I’m considering hanging on to the Cherokee and maybe picking up a trailer for it. That way, I can tow the Jeep to the trail in my Ramcharger, beat the hell out of the Cherokee, and then drive home without worry. That would also allow me to green-sticker the Jeep, which would save a whole lot in DMV fees and insurance.

It’s just a thought, for now, but it sure makes sense. I love my Cherokee and it has never, ever done me wrong. The thought of sending it on down the road with lawzy knows who doesn’t sit well with me. Besides, I’ll never, ever get the money out of it that I have into it, so why not enjoy it while longer?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

I gotta get to camping!

Yesterday I actually worked on tackling a garage re-do and clean. I don’t deal with clutter very well, especially not in the office or garage, two of the places I love the most in this world. So I put on the work gloves, fired up some old Tesla, and began dismantling the mess.

I was re-arranging the camping gear when I realized how long it has been since I’ve actually camped. Each item made me wish I was in Big Bear, feet propped up, soda in the drink holder, good book in my lap. For me, there’s nothing like a couple/few days in the wilderness to reset the system.

I’m also considering the purchase of a small camp trailer so that the sweetie and I don’t have to set up a tent and pack the vehicle every single time we go. We’d just leave the camp stuff in the trailer, and worry about food/water/beer and extras. That’s what I’m talkin’ bout.

Of course, the thought of yanking a camp trailer to a remote spot and spending the weekend filled my stomach with butterflies. I’m so glad the camp season is upon us, because a get-out-of-town is definitely on the docket.

I missed SoCalFest this year, and it is the first one since ’06, I believe, that I couldn’t make. I’ve just started a new job and the first paycheck hasn’t come in yet, so I really didn’t have much choice this year. Also, SoCalFest was moved to Calico, and I’m not much of a rock crawler type; I’d much rather be surrounded by trees and green than, well, rock. I like Calico, though, and will probably camp there someday.

Anyhow, that’s the story at this point. Who else is itching to get into the outdoors for a weekend but hasn’t done so in a while? We’ll have to set something up this summer. If we go to Big Bear, we can also shoot guns. Who’s in?  

Thursday, March 29, 2012

My New Old Colt 1911

My dad’s Colt 1911 was the first pistol I ever saw, and I was instantly in love. Thirty years later, I purchased my first handgun, a Kimber TLE 1911, black-on-black, just like Dad’s. It wasn’t Dad’s, though, and that was always in the back of my mind. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great piece, but there’s something cool about a Colt.

Recently, he gave the Colt to me. Just like that. It was mine. I did some research on the gun and I found out that should a person want one today, he or she had better have about $1,500 to shell out, because it’s now a collector item.

The 1911 in question is a Colt MK IV Series ’70 Government Model .45. I looked up the serial number and found out that this particular gun was manufactured in ’76, making it an original specimen. It’s in wonderful shape, too.

Colt re-introduced the Series ’70 in the early 2000s, but the purists weren’t big fans because the gun was really an 80 Series with Series ’70 internals. Just about any Colt 1911 lover covets the original ‘70s, and they have become highly desirable.

The only thing I didn’t like about the gun were the wrap-around rubber grips. They looked out-of-place on such a beautiful pistol. Besides, age had gotten the best of the ones on my dad’s gun, and they weren’t in the best of shapes.

When I bought my Kimber, I also bought beautiful wooden grips to put on it. When I received the Kimber, however, I found that I really liked the feel of their synthetic grips, and so I opted not to change them out. Good thing I kept hold of them, though, because they look spectacular on the Colt.

I have yet to shoot the thing, but I did take it apart, clean and lube it. The gun is amazingly tight; I don’t think Dad sent many rounds downrange. It does feature an annoying “finger-collet” barrel bushing that makes the gun extremely hard to get back together, but is supposed to vastly improve the inherent accuracy. We’ll see.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

So, I finally broke down and bought a metal detector. I had been doing loads of research on them, and I even joined a forum. They aren’t exactly cheap, so I wanted to be sure it was something I wanted to do before I chucked $200 or more out the window.

After reading tons and tons of information about the various types, I ended up with a Fisher F2.

I liked some of the other detectors such as the Garrett Ace 250 but honestly, I’m real picky about how things look, and not in a normal way. The Garretts are awesome, but they are yellow; I have nothing against the color itself, but the thing reminded me of those waterproof radios from the late ‘80s that folks in the commercials were taking into the shower. Yellow electronics were lame then, and they are lame now.

The only yellow electronic thing I can think of that is not lame is the DeWalt construction site stereo-boom box with the roll cage around it – that thing rocks all day.

Even when I was a kid, I would buy shoes based on how the soles looked. Yes, the soles; I didn’t really care what was up top, but the tread and the colors of the rubber had to be bitchin’, or no-go. It may actually explain a lot, but I’m no psychologist and so I just pretend it doesn’t.

So anyhow, I have only had the chance to use my detector once, but the thing actually works. In the span of a single hour, it netted me a rusty screw, a rusty nail, two old bottle caps, and what could be half a coffee can or some aluminum siding. Exciting stuff! And, what’s even cooler, is that all those items were in my very own backyard.

My house was built in 1934, and I’m hoping that someone in the ‘40s or ‘50s buried a fortune back there, all preserved in mason jars. Then I can retire and have a lot more time for blogging and writing novels. How sweet is that?

I’ll keep you all updated on my groovy, life-changing metal-detecting finds.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

New 1981 Smog Bill

So, rumor has it there’s a new bill on the docket that is trying to raise the mandatory smog date all the way to 1981. Let me tell you, that would change lives, and not just a few of them.

If we didn’t have to smog pre-1981 vehicles, then millions of ’76-’80 work trucks just became a viable option for the little guy who makes his own cash. It means that low-income families who are more or less forced do drive something from the late ‘70s get to save money and hassle. Unless, of course, CA triples the registration on vehicles from those years; wouldn’t surprise me a bit.

It also means that you can drive that ’76 Cordoba you always wanted without having the referee futz with it – who could ask for more?

This bill really needs to pass. Also, if it *does* pass, I know a lot of folks (myself included) who’ll be a little upset that they sold some vehicle or other. My dad gave me his ’76 Chevy long bed 4x4 that he’d owned since ’77. I put a new engine in it, I had a lot of fun with it, but I eventually had to sell it because I couldn’t afford to register and smog the thing while also getting a neat 8 mpg.

If this bill passes, it means I could have kept it. Well, I guess it’s for the best, because I really, really like Dodge trucks better. I’m a MOPAR guy, and there’s not a thing I can do about it.

Anyhow, below is the information about the bill, and contacts you can make to voice your opinion in the matter. Do the right thing, here, and get Uncle Sam’s greedy-ass hands out of our older vehicles.


In 2004, legislation was enacted to repeal California’s rolling emissions-test exemption for vehicles 30 years old and older and replace it with a law requiring the lifetime testing of all 1976 and newer model-year vehicles. This year, a bill has been introduced in the California Senate (S.B. 1224) by Senator Doug LaMalfa ( ) to exempt all motor vehicles prior to the 1981 model year from the emissions inspection requirement. The bill will be considered in the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee on March 27, 2012.

We Urge You to Contact All Members of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee (Contact Info Below) Immediately To Request Their Support for S.B. 1224

· S.B. 1224 recognizes the minimal impact of pre-1981vehicles on emissions and air quality.

· S.B. 1224 acknowledges that pre-1981 vehicles still constitute a minuscule portion of the overall vehicle population and are a poor source from which to look for emissions reduction.

· S.B. 1224 endorses the fact that pre-1981 vehicles are overwhelmingly well-maintained and infrequently driven (a fraction of the miles each year as a new vehicle).

· For years, legislators, regulators and stationary source polluters have felt the heat from failed efforts to meet air quality goals and have looked to older cars as a convenient scapegoat, using false data and inflated annual mileage assumptions to further their case. S.B. 1224 helps validate the truth. The old car hobby should not continue to carry the burden of past mistakes!

DON’T DELAY! Please contact members of the California Senate Transportation and Housing Committee immediately to request their support of S.B. 1224. Please e-mail a copy of your letter to Steve McDonald at Also, please forward this Alert to your fellow car enthusiasts. Urge them to join the SAN and help defend the hobby! Thank you for your assistance.
Senate Transportation and Housing Committee

To e-mail all members of the Committee, copy and paste the email address block below:;;;;;;;;

Senator Mark DeSaulnier (Chair)
Phone: (916) 651-4007

Senator Ted Gaines (Vice Chair)
Phone: (916) 651-4001

Senator Tom Harman
Phone: (916) 651-4035

Senator Christine Kehoe
Phone: (916) 651-4039

Senator Alan Lowenthal
Phone: (916) 651-4027

Senator Fran Pavley
Phone: (916) 651-4023

Senator Michael Rubio
Phone: (916) 651-4016

Senator Joe Simitian
Phone: (916) 651-4011

Senator Mark Wyland
Phone: (916) 651-4038