It’s big, brash and you can hear it coming a mile away. No, it’s not Grant Shorland. It’s The Captain’s Ram 1500 vs Ram 2500 vs Ram 3500 vs Cruiser shootout.
ASKING “FOR A FRIEND”
I’ve got a 23ft offshore fishing weapon with twin ponies, four Simrad displays, eight Tiagras, a pie warmer, three 10-packs of Captain Morgan on six bags of ice, a steel trailer and 800L of fuel on board. Can I tow it with my LandCruiser? No. OK, well, can I fit an aftermarket chip getting 160kW at the wheels and then legally tow it? No. How about I fit a Lovells 3.9 tonne GVM upgrade kit, stretch the chassis and fit an Engel fridge/freezer system and boat loader? No. An upgraded GVM has no bearing on your towing capacity. Shit. My wife is about to leave me because I dropped more than $150,000 on this bloody thing. You’re an idiot. Get a new truck.
There’s never been a better time to tow an offshore trailer boat. The propeller heads have delivered fuel-efficient, lightweight motors, oil-filled bearings, rubber torsion axles, alloy trailers that don’t crack at the first sign of a speed hump and electronic boat gadgetry to drop us right on the hot spot. Hell, our phones will even tell us where to go. It seems everything is in our favour. But one thing hasn’t changed – the tow rating of the evergreen 70 Series Toyota LandCruiser. If, like The Captain, you saved up for your dream rig, then blindly blew your towing limits (and budget) on a big boat, you’ll probably be looking for a new tow truck. A Hino is never going to cut it down at the ramp, so you’re probably considering a Yank tank. It’s hard to ignore a RAM. The blokes in Mallacoota certainly haven’t. The boat ramp looks like a truck dealership from the American Deep South. The Captain’s crew loaded up to find out why, Trav in a modified 70 Series Cruiser and Jack in a freshly minted RAM 1500 Express Black Pack.
MO SHOW – GRANT SHORLAND’S 2500 RAM
Abalone diver and rum connoisseur Grand Shorland needs no introduction (even though we just gave him one). The new handlebar moustache he’s sporting after a weekend Harley ride for charity does. Dressed all in black and styling a Cubin’ trucker cap, he’s giving off that American pickup truck vibe. All he needs is a Confederate flag in the rear window. We’re in the cab of his 2015 model Laramie 2500 with a 6.7 Cummins diesel and fitted DPF delete kit. It’s been chipped, but is currently in standard mode for The Captain’s comparo. Everything is blacked out, other than the custom Fuel rims.
SO WHY A RAM?
Twirling his moustache, Grant replies, “It’s a big country, we’re towing big shit, we need big trucks. I was getting 42L per 100km towing the Grady-White 258 Journey with my Cruiser. It was also a bit illegal. The boat was over four tonne — then add mates and fishing gear. I know better than anyone that shit happens. If you have an accident and you’re overweight, they’ll come down on you like a ton of bricks — and if someone gets killed, you’re in deep shit. It’ll cost you a lot more than a $100 grand truck.” Talking towing, he adds, “That’s why I went all out on the pintle hook, it’s more than 6.9 tonne off the tow bar. I’ve got my rigid truck licence so everything is overrated for me. Unfortunately, it’ll probably be some other moron on the road that gets me into trouble.”
ON THE ROAD
Down at Bastion Point, Cootacraftsman Mark “The Russian” has rolled up with his latest beast boat, the 4.2 tonne Boss. We hitch it to Grant’s 2500, top up with fuel and cut a 62km road loop back to the Princess Highway and up the Genoa hill. “You don’t even feel like it’s on, to be honest,” Grant says. “This thing pulls like a 14-year-old schoolboy and it’s not revving its tits off. There’s no replacement for displacement. I’ve got the engine brake, which is grouse — you basically just set cruise control and sit back.” On the efficiency front, Grant says, “If I’m not hauling anything, I get it down to about 12L per 100km. Towing the Grady, it’s between 17L and 19L per 100km.
We ask him to compare his 2500 RAM to a Toyota LandCruiser. “Who doesn’t love a LandCruiser? Would I take the RAM out in the bush? No way. I’d take the Cruiser, but they don’t have the tow rating for what we do. Even the Sahara is capped out. You can argue GVM stuff, but at the end of the day it’s all a wank. If you’ve got a big boat, you need a big truck.” Then there’s the money factor. “You get a LandCruiser, you’ve got to put a bull bar on it and spec it up,” Grant says. “With the canopy conversion and mods on Trav’s truck, there’s probably $80,000 on top of what you paid out of the showroom. Or do you just step into one of RAM’s entry-level 1500 Express Quad Cabs for $80,000?” Grant still keeps a Cruiser for errands to town, but he’s clearly become a RAM man. We quiz him on the downside of owning one. “In the city, it can be a bit of a pain because of the size. I also miss the fridge from the centre console in the LandCruiser. But you’ve got the window in the back so you can get out there and into the cans (The Captain assumes Grant is talking about, er, Red Bull).
SO WOULD GRANT CHANGE ANYTHING?
“It can get a bit flighty in the front end,” he says. “I’d upgrade the suspension with a Fox racing kit and steering dampener.” Grant would also love to upgrade the quality of finish on his RAM. His model was converted before the RAM Trucks Australia crew took over operations and he rates the finish on Jack’s fresh 1500 as superior.
BIG DADDY – MARK THE RUSSIAN’S 3500 RAM AND BOSS
Mark has kindly donated his brand spankin’ new 28ft Boss for tow testing. It’s the latest in an upgraded fleet of moulds that also includes the 22ft Bad Boy, 23ft Villain and 25ft Chief. The Boss is modelled from an Apache hull imported from the US. Mark reckons it was a drug-running boat in a former life. After arriving at the Mallacoota factory it became the plug for the new Boss. Before the moulding process began, Mark added his DNA to the hull shape, notching the transom to create cleaner water in front of the motors. He also changed the strake configuration and created a new top deck.
This boat, the first out of the mould, is going to Jamie Espie, an abalone diver from the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. He’s upgrading from a Cootacraft Gun Shot, which he’s handing over to his son. The Boss is fitted with a pair of Mercury 4.6L V8 300HP Pro XS outboards, fitted by go-fast engine installer Simon Isherwood from Race Marine. The jet-black gelcoat and black Mercs on our tow mule give it the ultimate gangster look. There’s also 600L of fuel on board. We’re now aboard Mark’s 2017 RAM 3500 Limited. He’s owned it for a few weeks. It’s an upgrade after his 2500 rolled off a cliff. It is fitted with a high-output engine, heavy-duty transmission, tow-haul and engine brake. His Boss is on the 70mm hitch and we’re cutting through the tight corners and rollers between Mallacoota and Genoa.
SO HOW DOES SHE ROLL, MARK?
“It does it easily,” he says. “At the moment, it’s doing 18.2L per 100km. Uncouple the boat and we get about 13L per 100. Around town we’re getting about 14/15. So far, I’m very happy with it.”
WHY A RAM AND NOT A SILVERADO OR F-TRUCK?
“I love the 6.7 Cummins truck engine,” he says. “I watched all the testing between GMC Ford and Cummins — and the Cummins always wins. It has more torque with 1250Nm.” Compared to his now-deceased 2500, Mark says the 3500 has a different gear ratio, built for towing, thanks to the rear leaf suspension and dually wheels. “The first five gears are lower than the 2500 — nice and smooth. The dually wheels on the rear axle give an overall tow rating of 30,000lb.” Including the Boss, the rig length is 17.8m to the props, comfortably inside the maximum towing length of 19.5m. Towing the rig requires a light truck licence, as do all vehicles with a GVM over 4.5 tonne.
BABY GANGSTER – JACK’S 1500 EXPRESS TESTER
The Express Black Pack 1500 is the baby of the RAM fleet, channelling gangster with 20-inch black rims, black badging, black bezel headlamps, black grille, black front and rear bumpers, and brilliant black metallic paint. It features a fully lockable and drainable cargo management system, RamBox, incorporated into the side of the truck tub that can be used as eskies or fish storage. It’s also jam-packed with creature comforts an urban-dwelling Gen Yster like Jack appreciates. For starters, it’s automatic, ideal for a generation that expects everything to be automatically supplied. “It’s got awesome connectivity with the UCONNECT 3 Bluetooth system and 5-inch touchscreen,” Jack says. “Inside, there’s bulk storage for phones, wallets and other bits and pieces. The cloth seats mightn’t look like much, but they’re by far the comfiest clouds I’ve ever rested my weary buttocks on. This whip also has the centrally locked and drained RamBox option on the flanks of the tray. In one box we stored luggage and camera gear and in the other we had ice with drinks and bait.”
HORSE DRIVES THE CART
The real headline for this story is the tow capacity of the 1500. The V8 Hemi comes with a 4.5 tonne towing capacity, due in part to the 3:92:1 diff ratio. If you take full advantage of the 4500kg limit, you’ll end up with a somewhat underwhelming payload of around 132kg. Towing 3.5 tonne, you’ll have a respectable payload of around half a tonne. Now you’d expect a 5.7-litre V8 petrol donk that pumps out 300kW and 556Nm of torque in a 2.5 tonne ute to drink like Grant Shorland at an abalone divers’ Xmas party. Nope, the eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic gearbox chugs along smoothly at low revs. Even towing, it’s happy to keep revs well below the 2000 mark. The engine is quiet, smooth and refined, until you’re dragging off Trav’s Cruiser, which appears stationary compared to the rapid RAM.
As a tow vehicle, the 1500 features other nice tricks. Tow/haul mode sharpens up the engine and transmission response for towing. Sway control and bloody huge mirrors come standard. Behind the wheel of the RAM, it’s a case of the horse driving the cart. There’s no shifting or squirming in the rear — which is ever-present in Trav’s Cruiser. Cruising the highway, we’re using around 15L per 100km. In the fuel-comparison contest, it smashes Grant’s diesel-powered 2500, although Grant will later claim we dawdled up the hill. It also has a diet feature called Eco Mode. When in this mode, half the cylinders shut down, the inlet and exhaust vales shut completely. Even the radiator gets screened off for better aerodynamics. Clever stuff — and all fed by a more than generous 121L fuel tank.
CRUISE LINER – TRAV’S KITTED-OUT CRUISER
Trav is piloting a specced-up Toyota LandCruiser. The 76 model has been cut and stretched by Creative Conversions and fitted with a Concept canopy. All up, the mods, cons and bolt-ons came to a staggering $80,000 on top of the purchase price. One of the mods includes a Lovells GVM upgrade to 3.9 tonne — which, however, doesn’t change the maximum towing capacity, set at 3.5 tonne by the manufacturer. When towing the maximum amount of 3500kg, the payload is 400kg, about 100kg less than the RAM.
In practical terms, taking into account the limited payloads of the 1500 Express, the towing capacities are almost on par between the Cruiser and the RAM. But in almost every other department, the 1500 is a better vehicle. Just ask Jack (then put your headphones on). “This RAM is built for touring comfort,” he gloats. “The Toyota is designed for ploughing potato fields or hunting pigs in the high country, but it ain’t for me. Over the past week, I’ve towed boats from Sydney to Portland and back to Mallacoota behind the RAM. There’s heaps of room and spacious seating. On the downside, it’s not the kind of truck I’m happy leaving at the ramp or letting Trav and his herd of kids throw Tiagras in. It’s almost too good for that.” The touring aspect of the 1500 is enhanced by its jumbo tray (1.9m), which is significantly bigger than with other utes. And if you’re a canopy guy, like Trav, there are plenty of aftermarket mods available from the US.
RAM! BAM! THANK YOU MA’AM –
In a sprawling warehouse in outer Melbourne, a bunch of true blue champions are keeping the Aussie-built ute dream alive. It’s mid-afternoon when The Captain drops anchor at a big slate-grey factory in Clayton, one of Melbourne’s less salubrious outer suburbs. Clusters of workers sit chewing the fat and their sandwiches at picnic tables outside the plant, dressed to a man in Day Glo-green T-shirts proudly emblazoned with: “5000 Aussie-built RAM Trucks. Truck yeah!”
By the front door, two hulking RAMs sit nose-to-nose, sides covered in the familiar “Eats Utes for Breakfast!” tagline. Hell, if it wasn’t for the absence of snow and burnt-out crack houses, I’d swear we’d stumbled through a time portal into downtown Detroit. But the smart-suited guy who greets us doesn’t sound much like he’s from Michigan, as he guides us swiftly past what we surmise are new 2020 RAM models camouflaged under matte-grey car covers.
RAM TRUCKS AUSTRALIA
We’re introduced to John Di Berardino, the Program Manager for Ram Trucks Australia right-hand drive production, and former HSV engineer, who’s been involved with the project pretty much since it started as a gleam in the eye of Kiwi multimillionaire car dealer and Sydney Hobart winning yacht racer, Neville “Croaky” Crichton. Nev, who has a well-earned reputation for knowing how to turn a dollar into a mountain of gold, hit on the idea of importing big Yank pickup trucks to Australasia back in 2013, while working out what to do with the rest of the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) portfolio he’d acquired the Kiwi rights to. Trouble is, the Yanks drive on the wrong side of the road, so the first thing he needed to do was work out how to get the steering wheel onto the correct side, which is where Di Berardino and his employers, the Walkinshaw Group, came in.
Students of Aussie motoring history will know Walkinshaw as the parent company of HSV, but with the glory days of HSV-fettled Commodores behind them, they were willing to roll up their sleeves and get stuck into something even beefier. Which is why we’re standing by the production line at Clayton, watching left-hook pickups built in Warren, Michigan, rolling in as fully built units before being set upon and promptly pulled apart by an army of bright-green worker ants. Di Berardino explains the crew spends around 75 hours on each vehicle, executing a comprehensive and fully Australian Design Rules-compliant product. Ram Trucks Australia says are, “the only factory-authorised remanufacturer of right-hand-drive RAM trucks in the world”.
The process entails separating the vehicle body and chassis, fitment of a RHD-specific steering system, installation of a new Australian-designed, developed and manufactured dashboard, and an RHD-specific heating and ventilation system, before the body and chassis are remarried. The fully remanufactured product comes with a three-year/100,000km warranty and is backed by Ram Trucks Australia’s rapidly expanding dealer network (49 and counting). This crew of Aussie champions pumps out an impressive 18 trucks per day, working 24 hours a day/five days a week in what is now arguably Australia’s largest automotive manufacturing facility. And with this year’s production goal aiming to smash last year’s 3300-unit total, it’s a fair bet you’ll be seeing more of this Aussie-infused Americana at a boat ramp or van park near you in the months ahead.