Previewing Mopar's Prerunner: We Drive the Ram Runner in Moab

Previewing Mopar's Prerunner: We Drive the Ram Runner in Moab
Words and Photos By John Stewart for PickupTrucks.com

At the 44th Moab Easter Jeep Safari, the media is invited to inspect and drive concept vehicles made by Mopar engineers who describe themselves as "the lunatic fringe." Every year they come up with project vehicles that push the envelope for off-road rigs and, amazingly, line them up on the sand dunes and let us have our way with them.

When the time came, we went straight for the bright red Ram Runner, a Ram 1500 set up as a desert racing prerunner.

The concept Ram Runner is billed as a “Raptor fighter,” but it’s more serious in some ways than Ford’s factory-built F-150 SVT Raptor turnkey prerunner. The better comparison is with the limited-edition Ford Racing Raptor XT.

As veteran Baja racer and suspension developer Kent Kroeker puts it, “Everything [we’ve hung on the Ram Runner] is bigger and heavier [than the SVT Raptor].”

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The Ram Runner is a Ram 1500 half-ton pickup with a well-engineered suspension kit and some body pieces. It’s a project vehicle for now, but when the parts become available in the fourth quarter of this year, you can build one yourself. For that matter, a customer could have his dealer install the entire kit on a new Ram 1500, finance all of it, and end up with a locally built prerunner.

However, because the suspension hardware will be sold as Mopar Performance Parts and not Mopar Genuine Parts, no warranty is available once you drive off. And because Chrysler isn’t putting these parts through the same certification tests it would for replacement parts, a Ram Runner won’t be street legal, either (like the Raptor XT).

Keith Montone, manager of Mopar Jeep and Truck off-road engineering, says Chrysler will perform component durability testing and limited vehicle integration testing prior to the availability of the suspension package.

Along with the suspension, key parts are the fiberglass fenders that make room for 35-inch tires. They look great, but more importantly, they allow the tires to travel much more than stock fenders ever would. We’re told the Ram Runner has 15 inches of travel in the front and 14 inches at the rear. That’s almost four inches more than a SVT Raptor in the front, and two inches more at the rear and the same as the Raptor XT up front. The Raptor XT has 18 inches of travel in the back.

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The way the suspension is built, the Ram Runner stays low to the ground, with stock steering specifications. Both the Ram Runner and Raptor XT have multilink coil spring live axles, while the standard Ford F-150 SVT Raptor uses less compliant leaf springs.

Up front, the Ram Runner has a fabricated push bar, fitted with 4 Baja Designs LED lights. It’s strong, saves weight and looks good. There is no rear locker available from Dodge in the Ram 1500 — like the SVT Raptor offers — but an owner could easily install an air locker, e-locker, Detroit or Tru-Trac to the Ram Runner. Factory antilock brakes and traction control are standard equipment, so it’s retained on the Ram Runner.

The spare tire had to be relocated to fit the suspension. On the Ram Runner, it was strapped down prerunner style at the front of the bed, still leaving quite a bit of room at the back.

The other bits are well done, but the suspension is a masterpiece. It’s strong and highly tunable, with the kind of travel an off-road racer would want for his prerunner.

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Speed multiplies the forces a suspension must endure, so the pieces are heavily engineered. The upper A-arms are gorgeous rectangular pieces, machined from T6 billet aluminum. The upper ball joint is not like a conventional Heim ball joint, but more like a cylinder, rounded off at the bottom for more droop. It has a grease nipple on it and is completely rebuildable. The tie rods, at 1 inch in diameter, are much thicker than stock. They have been beefed up with ball joints at both ends, and again, the joints are not strictly spherical. The lower control arms, made from 4130 chromoly steel, have been extensively reinforced against hard impacts at speed.

With a suspension that travels this much, limit straps and CV joints must be used to keep from binding at the extreme limits of travel. Stock axle shafts have been replaced with splined axles made of 300 M tool steel.

And then you have the shocks. The Fox triple internal bypass units are about 3 inches in diameter, fully refurbishable with remote reservoirs to store extra oil and keep it cool during long periods of hard rebound conditions. The bypass design means that both jounce and rebound cycles can be adjusted separately, to precisely fine-tune the damping characteristics. A set of these, used on eBay, would run you about $1,700, but with them you can control 35-inch tires at much higher speeds.

Speaking of money, nobody at Mopar is talking price yet. If we had to speculate, with the axles, shocks, bumper, suspension and fiberglass pieces, we’d guess you might pay about $12,000, plus tires, and you’d still have to paint the fenders. If you want to add a roll cage, like the Mopar Ram Runner has, it’s going to cost a whole lot more.

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Compare all of that to the Raptor XT, which is priced at $99,950, and you’re still likely to be able to create your own Ram Runner for significantly less money, but a lot more than an F-150 SVT Raptor, which starts at $38,995.

So how does it all work off-road? We didn’t get to drive the Ram Runner on pavement, only a quick spin on the dunes, but it’s easy to see the Ram Runner is indeed a go-fast off-roader. It can corner across a chopped-up surface at good speed without bouncing off line, and there is a whole lot more squish in the suspension than anything we’re used to. You can run fast along the base of a dune, hit a dug-out patch of sand that would bottom-out a stock suspension and … nothing happens. The truck stays on line and up to speed. Then, with a 390 horsepower 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 under the hood, the Ram Runner concept truck can power up a sand dune, catch big air at the top and settle on all four tires, so long as the driver keeps his foot in the throttle.

The suspension, tires, and fiberglass fenders make the Ram Runner much wider than stock. Track, measured from the centerpoint of the tire, is 77.5 inches at the front and 74.5 at the rear, compared to 73.6 inches on a Raptor, which is in turn more than 6 inches wider than a standard F-150. That extra width translates into stability in corners and high-speed turns. In fact, the suspension design preserves stock suspension geometry. (“You can align this to stock specs,” Kroeker told us). So the wheels do not easily cycle out of position when the truck corners, or droop out of camber when it gets airborne.

Our ride and drive time was cut short because of severe winds and blowing silt, which got into everything. That included clogging the air filter of the Ram Runner, putting enough grit into the oil to prompt our hosts to park the Ram, lest a Baja bore job ensue. We’re not exactly sure how the concept vehicle would behave on the highway, but we have no doubt it can travel across irregular terrain, running fast and far.

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Comments

"How much does this truck weigh? What are the ground clearance numbers?

I will stick with getting my Total Chaos a-arms for my Tacoma thank you very much..."

You sir are a true man. Tacomas FTMFW

This truck certainly has raised a few eyebrows to say the least, but it is a work in progress. I remember seeing the Raptor as a concept as well. Give it some time before the battle begins!!! The Raptor beat it to the assembly line but the Ram Runner will soon follow with a street legal model available under the solo RAM badge (minus Dodge or Fiat). Im in the Ram camp so I look forward to see what happens with it. Till then its kind of a moot point isnt it. When I see one next to an SRT-8 Challenger on the lot i'll give the Ford camp a "whats up now punks" look. Let the battle of the badges begin!

Why all the heated debate about who's truck is better. I don't own stock in either one. I guess some of you do. As far as the ram runner goes, you can buy darn near any suspension part on this truck direct from Kore. I havent seen the lower control arms on thier site, but that doesnt mean that they wouldn't sell them if someone asked. As far as street legal goes, I guess they havent gone through the standard cetification process. The oem's have to but the average guy adding parts to his truck doesn't unless they live in one of those demoncrat tree hugger states that require inspections and carb cert. As far as ram vs Ford vs whatever else, our Ford dealer went bankrupt due to lack of sales, chevy dealer was axed by GM. All that's left is Dodge. Suits me fine. I don't know where Ford sells all these trucks they claim to sell. It's not around here that's for sure.

if you think this is good, take a look at atomic's supension kit for the '08 ram with 17" of travel.

all the ford fans can all crawl in a hole... dodge always wins!!!!

Who cares if its street legal, cops may not know what it is. Besides, that can go off road to get away from them. For you rapter guys, the suspension is better in the dodge, also the 5.7 hemi is an engine that can be unlimitedly modified. Plus, Ford designs an ugly truck, that ram runner looks bad as hell.

eh isso aew tá mto loka essa dodge ram!

Screw street legal. If it passes an emissions test then its good to go and youll still be able to drive it on the street. Unless the dealer builds it then i guess the title would be different and insurance wont cover it. Build it yourself and tell who ever covers you that its just a 1500. Then YOUR covered. Maybe not the truck though lol.

This would easily be street legal in AZ...



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