Off-The-Grid First-Gen

A Ground-Up Crew Cab Dodge, Built For Overlanding

Kelly Pfledderer is a successful businessman on the verge of his second retirement. He appreciates a quality product and he also enjoys a good adventure—reason enough to drop a crew cab first-gen project in the lap of J.B.’s 4×4, a small yet first-class custom vehicle operation in Kingman, Indiana, and have them turn it into an overlanding rig. Two years of fighting parts shortages, extended lead times, and shipping delays later, J.B.’s 4×4 was finally ready to deliver Kelly his off-the-grid first-gen. But before the truck headed West to the Rockies, we trekked over to Indiana corn-country for an exclusive look at a one-of-a-kind build.

Cummins Swap

The word “clean” would be an understatement when referring to the Cummins swap performed on Kelly Pfledderer’s ’83 Dodge. Although the 5.9L Cummins option wasn’t yet available in 1983, Dodge’s truck line went virtually unchanged from ’81 to ’93, which made this crew cab W250 repower pretty straightforward for J.B.’s 4×4, a shop that specializes in high-end diesel conversions and Jeep builds. The donor 12-valve was overhauled, upgraded with ARP head studs and a 178/208 camshaft from Hamilton Cams, and was aptly integrated using a custom wiring harness sourced from Painless Performance Products. No strangers to custom fabrication, the folks at J.B.’s 4×4 also fabbed up the aluminum radiator.

Diesel history buffs know that the 6BT didn’t debut until 1989 and Dodge truck purists remember that you couldn’t buy a crew cab Ram after 1985. Needless to say, a Cummins swap was necessary in order for Kelly’s ’83 Dodge four-door to come to fruition. Luckily, the folks at J.B.’s are highly familiar with both the first-gen platform and the 12-valve Cummins, which made dropping a VE-pumped 5.9L in between the frame rails a piece of cake. While the truck was in for paint, the Cummins was rebuilt from head to toe. During the overhaul, it was treated to a 178/208 Hamilton cam, a camshaft that thrives in low rpm efficiency and at high elevation, and ARP head studs.

Tweaked VE And HX35

Although horsepower was not the name of the game in this build, the 5.9L Cummins still had to be woken up beyond its factory horsepower rating. A locally-rebuilt Bosch VE injection pump was bolted in place, followed by J.B.’s 4×4 tech, Evan Ratcliff, adjusting the fuel screw until optimal drivability was achieved. The VE pump is supported by a factory, cam-driven mechanical lift pump.
Boost comes courtesy of a fresh Holset HX35W. The internally wastegated charger hangs from the factory exhaust manifold. Like the engine and injection pump, Kelly and the guys at J.B.’s 4×4 left nothing to chance with the build in starting with brand-new parts. With plans to indulge in plenty of off-the-grid overlanding, reliability will be paramount in the remote locations the truck will be traveling through.
Because the remote operating nature of an overlanding rig places a premium on durability, the 47RE’s inherent weak links were addressed in a full transmission build, conducted in-house at J.B.’s 4×4. A Revmax, billet front cover converter, a shift kit, and select other internals make the Chrysler four-speed more than capable of handling anything the 5.9L can throw at it. Four-wheel drive engagement comes by way of an NP205 transfer case.

The key to waking up a stock turbo 12-valve Cummins has long been found in the injection system. And fortunately, the factory injectors can support solid horsepower gains, so long as a few tweaks are performed on the Bosch VE. For that, JP Diesel Injection Service (an injection shop local to J.B.’s 4×4) went through the rotary pump and, based on how the truck performs now, made a few proprietary upgrades once inside. Back in J.B.’s care, the VE was bolted to the Cummins and the fuel screw was adjusted for optimum drivability and respectable power, albeit with adequate smoke control. For a bit of an edge in airflow, an HX35 hangs from the exhaust manifold rather than an H1C.

Built 47RE & Elevation Testing

A Dana 70 equipped with a 3.54:1 ring and pinion and a disc brake conversion resides in the rear of the truck. Custom leaf spring packs combine with Air Lift air springs for the rear suspension, while a Bilstein 5100 series shock absorber exists at every corner. Here, you can see the 55-gallon fuel tank J.B.’s 4×4 fabricated and mounted above the driveline.
A leaf spring suspension and Dana 60 is no surprise up front, but a suspension lift from Skyjacker gives the truck 2.5-inches of additional ride height. The first-gen’s steering was upgraded as well, with a PSC cylinder assist kit, PSC steering box, and a Borgeson steering shaft.

Because they know their way around the 12-valve Cummins, the guys at J.B.’s also know a thing or two about beefing up Chrysler four-speed automatics. For Kelly’s first-gen, the 47RE was treated to internal upgrades like a shift kit in the valve body and additional direct clutches, and then topped off with a converter from Revmax. Then, in knowing the overlanding creation was destined to live out most of its days in the Rocky Mountains, the folks at J.B.’s performed extensive testing to ensure the truck would perform as advertised in elevation. The process of getting the engine’s fueling and the transmission’s converter and shift points just right entailed saddling the Dodge with a hefty, all-steel tandem axle trailer for the duration of the testing.

Stock Axles, Suspension Lift And Steering Upgrades

Like so many custom vehicles these days, Dakota Digital was instrumental in Kelly’s one-of-a-kind build. The speedometer, tach, oil pressure, water temp, fuel level, and voltage gauges were all sourced from the Sioux Falls manufacturer. Then to the right of the steering wheel rests the unmistakable Alpine Halo 11 iLX-F511 media receiver (with Bluetooth, hands-free capability). Its 11-inch display comes in extremely handy in reverse, with the backup camera active.
Trapping the interior in time, the bench seats were left in place and also retain an era-appropriate look. The seats were recovered by local upholstery expert, Tammy Spivey. For in-cab sound quality, a pair of 6×9-inch Rockford Fosgate speakers were added in the driver and passenger side front doors.

Given the 5.9L only received mild power modifications, the factory Dana 60 (front) and Dana 70 (rear) axles were primarily left alone, but added ride height was included in the build. A 2.5-inch front suspension lift from Skyjacker was installed, along with a PSC cylinder assist steering kit, a PSC steering box, and a Borgeson steering shaft. Out back, a pair of custom leaf packs were installed, as well as Air Lift air springs. Bilstein 5100 series shock absorbers were also included, front and rear, and BFGoodrich all-terrain T/A KO2’s, mounted on 16×8-inch Method Bead Grip wheels, are tasked with maintaining traction.

Overlanding Gear

For a proven, multi-terrain tread pattern, BFGoodrich all-terrain T/A KO2’s got the call. The venerable BFG’s measure 285/70R16 and mount to 16×8-inch, 8 on 6.5 lug pattern Method Bead Grip matte black wheels. A spare wheel and tire is mounted in the flatbed.
The small touches that improve life off the beaten path continue along the side of the truck. Aluminum side boxes, custom made by Jutland, exist on either side for additional storage. Powder coated Carr hoop steps offer simple cab access without compromising ground clearance. Notice that the side panels of the Ute flatbed flip down as well.

Navigating the remote, off-road regions around the Continental Divide mean self-reliance is paramount, and Kelly’s first-gen is equipped with just about everything that’s required to live off the grid for extended periods of time. A pair of 750 CCA Yellowtop batteries from Optima provide consistent starting, ARB’s twin onboard high performance 12-volt compressor offers enough air for any need, a 10,000-pound Warn winch is on hand to get the truck out of any sticky situation that might arise, and KC HiLites can light up the night. An aluminum Ute flatbed outfitted with an L-track system and D and O-ring anchor points, jerry can and water storage, overbuilt front and rear bumpers, and a 55-gallon fuel cell also support the overlanding effort.

Mountain-Bound

Originally a long bed crew cab, Kelly had J.B.’s 4×4 cut and shorten the truck’s frame to make the wheel base more off-road friendly. The aluminum flatbed was made by Ute Ltd, modified at J.B.’s, and accommodates a gooseneck hitch, features an aircraft-style L-track system, and custom jerry can fuel and water holders were built underneath it. The rear bumper is a custom piece from J.B.’s, too, and it incorporates Maxi Trac cube LED backup lights and a backup camera.
A custom front bumper that matches the one in the rear serves as a mounting point for the truck’s winch and trail illumination. The winch, a 10,000-pound M8274 Warn, boasts 125-feet of 3/8-inch steel cable and a high output, 6hp motor. The 6-inch Gravity LED Daylighters from KC HiLites (with 20-watt LED bulbs) offer a throwback look with modern lighting performance.

A first-gen might not be the first vehicle that comes to mind when you think of overlanding but, trust us, Kelly’s is more than up to the task. With the help of J.B.’s 4×4—a shop with long ties to the Baja 1000, not to mention decades of experience building Jeeps and performing Cummins conversions—Kelly has a rugged, utilitarian vehicle that can go virtually anywhere and allow him to enjoy a self-sustaining existence for weeks at a time. If you ever spot this one-off Dodge out in the wild, it will have a single axle trailer in tow, maybe a dirt bike in the bed, and be miles away from civilization.

 

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