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?