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Full Throttle First Drive: 2004 Dodge Ram SRT-10
By: Larry Edsall Posted: 12-01-03 00:00
© 2003

Maybe the best way to appreciate the 2004 Dodge Ram SRT-10 pickup truck is to spend some time behind the steering wheel of the Dodge Viper, the impractical but high-performance sports car that donates its V10 engine, six-speed manual gearbox and some other components to the pickup truck.

Oh, anyone who sees the biggest and baddest of the Rams surely will notice its fat, 22-inch Pirelli Scorpion Zero tires mounted on Viper-style forged-aluminum wheels that let the bright red brake calipers show through.

And those wheels and tires and thick, 15-inch front and 14-inch rear brake rotors are just the foundation of an in-your-face stance assumed by a truck that wears a NASCAR Craftsman Series-style aero body kit that was tweaked and tuned in the wind tunnel to deal with the racetrack speeds the Ram can reach on public roads.

O.K., so you won’t be towing a horse trailer or a boat behind this truck, but there is plenty of room between the top of the engine and hood’s functional air scoop for things such as aftermarket headers and a supercharger, should 500 hp not be quite enough to suit your fancy.

“Why put a Viper engine in a pickup truck?” asks Dan Knott, director of Dodge’s Performance Vehicle Operations (PVO).

“’Cause we could,” he answers his own question, “and we’re the only ones who can!”

But the Knott hole gang at PVO did a lot more than just put the Viper V10 into a pickup truck. They made many other modifications, 165 by their own count, to turn a routine Ram into a venomous pickup that can put ‘em down, and shut ‘em down.

Dodge will put out 1,000 Rams SRT-10s a year for the next few years, and you can put one in your garage for $45,000 plus destination fees.

You have the option of selecting yours in red, black or silver paint, but don’t fret about options, at least not yet. On the other hand, consider that in addition to building vehicles such as the Viper and SRT-10, PVO manages Dodge’s motorsports program and Mopar Performance Parts, and for only $400 Mopar Performance Parts sells a turbocharger upgrade that provides nearly a 12 percent horsepower boost for PVO’s Neon SRT-4, so it could have some similar tricks planned somewhere down the road for the SRT-10 as well.

Not that this truck isn’t trick enough already.

The tricks include borrowing Dodge’s top NASCAR aerodynamics engineer to work with the design staff on the Ram SRT-10’s body. Work in the wind tunnel produced such subtle but effective touches as a front splitter that increases downforce, yet is designed with a small lip at its rear-most edge so air doesn’t simply dump directly into the front tires, but flows around them.

The revised front fascia also provides cooling for those huge front brakes and to the radiator as well. Dodge needed a substantial system to cool the big V10 and found one right there in the parts bin. Using the same cooling system already in place on the Ram turbo diesel also helped to keep component costs under control.

The only real change to the Viper V10 is a new oil pan, to provide clearance to the pickup’s front axle. The Viper’s Tremec T56 six-speed manual was fitted with Hurst linkage and a long, rectangular Hurst shift lever that tapers into a cylindrical shape just below the Viper shift knob. To make sure the shift lever falls properly to the driver’s right hand, the Ram’s center console was redesigned and repositioned.

Exhaust flows through the Viper’s regular four catalyst set up, with 2 ¾-inch dual pipes leading into and out of the muffler and with the exhaust system capped by a pair of 3 ½-inch tips.

Body-side cladding and the rear fascia and wing enhance both appearance and dynamics, says Dodge.

A Dana 60 rear axle with a 4.11 ratio was needed to deal with the engine’s power, and both front and rear suspension were modified to help put that power to the pavement and keep the driver in its control.

There are Bilstein shocks and revised front and rear strut assemblies and a new rear sway bar to deal with cornering loads generated by a 5150-pound vehicle with such high-performance dynamic potential. The front also was lowered by an inch and the rear by 2½ inches.

To overcome pickup truck power hop, the rear leaf spring was moved to below the axle instead of above it, and a “power hop snubber” – a short, stubby appendage -- was added near the front of the lowest leaf. Borrowing a trick used by off-road racers, a third rear Bilstein shock absorber was added between the frame and rear axle.

As a result, says Knott, the SRT-10 can go from standing still to 60 mph in five seconds and can turn the quarter-mile in the 14-second bracket. And the suspension and those big brakes work together to stop the truck from 60 in less than 120 feet, he adds, noting that the rotors are thick enough to resist brake fade even through 10 consecutive hard stops.

While revised suspension and brakes keep things controlled outside, revised seats help keep the driver and passenger in place in the cabin. Seat bolsters have been enlarged and the center section of the buckets is covered in perforated suede so you stick as well as those Pirellis when you go through high-load cornering maneuvers.

Bright-metal pedals have rubber stubs to grip your soles and the top section of the steering wheel has carbon-patterned leather to provide good grip for your hands. A special PVO gauge cluster features satin silver bezels with a separate oil temperature gauge mounted on the driver’s side A pillar.

If necessary, you can pivot up the big center arm rest/storage compartment upright and find a middle seat and seat belt, though anyone sitting in that seat has to make room between his or her knees for that handsome Hurst shifter.

We did our test drive of the Viper and Viper Competition Coupe earlier in the year at Firebird International Raceway just south of Phoenix. We drove the Viper-powered Ram on roads in and around Austin, Texas, and on an autocross course set up at the old Austin airport, where Dodge provided a Ford F-150 Lightning for back-to-back comparison runs through the orange cones.

On the roads, we were impressed -- needless to say, though we’ll say it anyway – by the truck’s torque. This Ram seemed content to cruise in third, fourth, fifth or sixth gear – and at 60 mph in sixth gear it was pulling only 1400 rpm.

The slightest touch of the accelerator pedal was met with immediate – and intense – reaction.

Fast? No. Very fast! Yet amazingly smooth riding, as well, with rear wheel hop only on the roughest pieces of broken pavement, and then only when we really we on the pedal. Steering was sure-footed and we felt in complete control with the truck well composed, even in fast left-right and right-left transitions on winding Texas hill country byways.

And you won’t believe the brakes. We remember one of our early laps at Firebird in the Viper racecar and how those brakes were so good we nearly stopped, embarrassingly short of the turn at the end of the straightaway. Well, the Viper-powered Ram has brakes as serious about whoa as its engine is about go.

Those brakes also came in handy at the stop box at the end of the autocross circuit, where the fat Pirellis provided enough grip – fore and aft as well as laterally – so we could put the V10’s full power to the pavement without having to worry about speed limits, and with little thought to the limits of adhesion, for that matter.

At the autocross, we did our first laps in the Ram, then tried the Lightning, then returned to the Ram.

The Ford costs some $12,000 less than the Dodge, and also weighs nearly 500 pounds less, but its supercharged 5.4-liter V8 has two fewer cylinders, 120 less horsepower and 75 fewer pound-feet of torque to send to its 18-inch tires, and that power flows through a four-speed automatic, not a six-speed manual. The Lightning also is lower – you step in, not climb in – and feels more nimble through the cones, but the frustration with the Ford on the autocross was having to wait for the supercharger to spool up and so the V8 could spit out its power.

On the other hand, the Ram’s power was always there – ready, willing and as eager to strike as a venomous snake -- from the instant you tipped into the throttle until you ran out of room on a straightaway or reached a corner.

That power, plus the truck’s steering response, suspension and brakes combined to cause a state of disbelief that we were driving a 5100-pound pickup truck.

Except for the fact that we were sitting so tall in the saddle, we might have thought we were driving a Viper, albeit a practical Viper, but isn’t that the point we’ve been trying to make all along?
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