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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.