I've written a lot of feature car stories over the last seven or eight years, many of them built around great stories shared with me by the car's owner and builder. I often use direct quotes, both because it adds authenticity to the story and because certain things should really only be told in the owner's own voice-like drilling a hole in your own finger while preparing a body panel for pop riveting. No wait, that was my dad (to his credit, he calmly put the drill in reverse and backed the bit out of his finger).
Anyhow, when we read Jeremy's story about his 4G63-swapped '89 Dodge Ram 50, a project with a hugely appealing mix of '80s patina, DSM flavor, and swap-meet ingenuity, we knew better than to monkey with it. So please enjoy the story of Jeremy Nutt and his utterly unique and indisputably cool Ram 50, as told by Jeremy himself.-DP
I have been a car guy as long as I've been alive. When other kids were reading Dr. Seuss and struggling with Tangrams, I was trying to memorize The Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942 and absorb as much as I could from Hot Rod and Car Craft magazines.
When I was 15, I bought my first car with my paper route money-a '64 Impala convertible. It was my dream car then, and it still is now. It was a major restoration project at the time that needed everything replaced from the door handles down. Nearly 16 years later, I still have it, and I still adore it.
Shortly after I bought the Impala project, I realized that what I actually needed was a daily driver if I wanted to drive to high school every day. This is when my strange attraction to the Dodge Ram 50 / Mitsubishi Mighty Max trucks really began (they are the same truck with different decals).
Just before getting my license, I came across an '87 Dodge Ram 50 for sale. It had a SOHC 2.0L automatic and was very boring looking. However, it ran, so I bought it. I then spent about 1 million hours cutting, welding, and spinning wrenches to make it perfect in every single way, only to realize it was still a superslow automatic with a carburetor that hated me.
Due to a severe lapse in judgment, one day I sold the truck for a whopping $800. Ugh! What an idiot I was! About three years later I discovered my "perfect" truck in a junkyard looking like it had just tumbled down a snake-infested ravine and landed in the world's biggest meat grinder. It was truly heartbreaking for me because the moment I sold it, I realized just how much I loved that little truck.
Right around this same time, I had heard about a '90 Mighty Max that was sitting in a local yard. With huge ambitions and apparent blinders over my eyes, I bought it. It was $193 (still not sure why) and didn't run. My plan was to pull the silly four-cylinder engine out and swap in a big, manly V8 with a manual transmission, ultimately creating the truck I had always wanted. Into the junkyard I went!
I walked in and couldn't find a V8 I really liked, but on my way out I passed a '91 Eclipse that had a familiar-looking engine inside. It was a 4G63! Oh, and most importantly, it had a turbo hanging off the front of it (this was toward the end of the year 2000). Since my "new" Mighty Max had a 4G64, I assumed a 4G63 must be similar in size and shape, but with more power.
I took an incredible number of measurements, did lots of research, and decided to jump in with both feet. I bought the engine without a warranty for nearly nothing (later to find out that all 16 valves were bent), and over the course of the following summer, I picked away at swapping this fancy new DSM delight into my truck. Slowly but surely I got it running strong and realized the amazing potential of the 4G63T.
One morning I woke up, peered out the window at my truck project, and immediately realized I had made a terrible mistake. The body of the truck was complete trash, and every panel needed to be replaced. It really should have been recycled into beer cans years before I bought it. So, it was officially Strike Two on my fast Mighty Max dream project. That very day, I pulled the rear-wheel-drive 4G63 drivetrain out of the truck and junked the rest of it. It was the smartest decision I ever made.
About five more years passed by, February 2006 arrived, and it was a cold day in Massachusetts. I was on a random car forum online, and a relatively local kid posted about a free nonrunning '89 Dodge Ram 50 he needed gone fast. This was my chance to do this right, I thought. The entire 4G63 drivetrain from my last truck project was still sitting in my parents' garage, covered in dust, just waiting for a new home.
That brings us to my current 4G63-powered '89 Dodge Ram 50 sleeper that you see here. I picked it up, and it was absolutely beautiful (to me at least), with a nearly flawless original paintjob, a macrocab, and a piston hanging out the side of the original 2.6L engine block. It was perfect!
I tore out the blown 2.6L and dropped the 4G63 right in. This time around, I focused on doing everything "right" the first time. I kept the engine bay as original looking as I could, because I like that sort of thing. It keeps people wondering if a truck like this was ever made this way in 1989. [To achieve this, Jeremy had to fabricate custom engine and trans mounts, since the 4G63 doesn't clear the firewall. Having moved the engine 2.75 inches forward, he used a Mitsu Starion transmission tail section to move the shifter back into the stock location, plus he built a beautiful bastard-child of a transmission using the stronger gearset from a "wide-block" KM132 trans in the truck's original "narrow-block" KM132, which just so happens to bolt up to a 4G63 but also needed a painful cable-to-hydraulic conversion].
I registered the truck a couple of months after I got it, and I have been driving it daily in the summer ever since. As you can see, I upgraded the front and rear brakes to bits from a Dodge Viper [calipers, rear rotors, and master cylinder] and a Cadillac CTS-V [front rotors], plus I grabbed some 18-inch wheels off an Escalade. I also finagled my way into a pile of Mitsubishi Evo parts that have landed on my engine as well.
Almost seven years later, the truck is still incredibly comfortable and reliable. As you can imagine, it frequently surprises "fast" cars at stoplights, and regularly gets thumbs up from people who "get" it. It also carries lumber, engines, logs, mulch, and couches better than any other sleepers I have come across. Some days I think I should move on to something else, but then I realize how incredibly long and educational this bizarre Ram 50-related journey has been, and I keep holding on.
P.S. Oh yeah, I should probably also mention that I did all the work myself. If it's on the truck, I built, rebuilt, installed, modified, painted, cut, or welded it [other than the Viper caliper brackets and brake master cylinder and booster adapter, which his machinist brother-in-law fabbed up to Jeremy's specs].
Specs & Details
'89 Dodge Ram 50 macrocab
Engine '91 2.0L 4G63 DOHC turbocharged inline-4
Engine Modifications Custom intake manifold; Evo 8 10.5cm 16G turbo, exhaust manifold and intercooler (modified); 4G64 water pump (modified); custom stainless downpipe, water pipes and engine mounts; 3" exhaust; external Walbro 255-lph fuel pump; 650cc fuel injectors; Aeromotive FPR; 2g DSM MAF sensor
Engine Management ECMLink; Hallman boost controller; AEM wide-band O2 sensor; universal electric speed sensor (used for launch control)
Drivetrain KM132 "narrow-block" 5-speed manual transmission with "wide-block" internals; Mitsubishi Starion transmission tail housing; hydraulic clutch conversion; Mitsubishi Montero LSD; Mitsubishi Eclipse 6-bolt front-wheel-drive flywheel; ACT 2600 pressure plate and 225mm clutch disc; traction bars
Wheels, Tires & Brakes Cadillac Escalade 18" wheels; 245/45R18 tires (f) and 255/45R18 tires (r); Dodge Viper (Brembo) brake calipers (f/r); 13-inch rear rotors and brake master cylinder; Cadillac CTS-V 14" front cross-drilled rotors
Suspension 2" drop spindles; 3" lowering blocks
Exterior Original paint; Galant VR4 side decals; '95 Mitsubishi Mighty Max grille, front bumper and plastic bedliner
Interior Honda Accord wagon bucket seats w/ custom seat rails; factory tach instrument cluster (rare) w/ 1g DSM tach overlay; factory dash clock (rare); Ram 50 Sport console (rare)
Special Thanks My truly wonderful family and friends, along with HotrodCoffeeShop.com, and my local car club, New England DSM