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Old December 22nd, 2015, 02:29 PM   #1
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Default Project Rural Legend - a Second Gen Dodge Four Door Ramcharger Build

Here is one you have probably never seen! A Second Gen Dodge Ram based Suburban type vehicle.











A little backstory:

I first became aware of the possible existence of this vehicle in 2007 when I purchased a Ford Centurion (four door Bronco) with intention of fixing it up and restoring it. I quickly became quite discouraged with the Centurion after taking it apart and witnessing the extremely poor initial build quality. I sold the Centurion but stayed semi-active on some Centurion forums for awhile.

I posed the question back then as to whether anyone had ever built a first Gen Dodge Four Door Ramcharger utilizing an 81-85 Crew cab and a Ramcharger back half. It turns out a few have been built of various quality by private individuals.

In my discussions I was shown a formerly well known picture of what has become known in Dodge Ram circles of the "ski lodge truck". Unfortunately I did not save that photo and have been unable to locate it again. The photo showed a white second gen Dodge Suburban type vehicle from the rear outside a ski resort with a family unloading from it. This photo circulated on various forums and became highly argued over. Many believed it to be a very good photo shop, others stated it was made by Custom Conversions in Cleburne Texas (more on them later), and yet others believed it to be a one off custom commissioned by a millionaire. Some believed it to be a Mexican market vehicle.

I have kept this as a silent pet project and have been quietly researching it since 2007.

The first and easiest myth to dispell was the Mexican market idea. Indeed Dodge continued to build Ramchargers into the Second Gen platform in Mexico. Pics on the internet are easy to find of these. However all Mexican Ramchargers were two door two wheel drive models that shared several parts with the 90's Chrysler mini-vans. The ski lodge truck was definitely not a Mexican Ramcharger.

A custom build was quite possible, and I further researched that. It turns out a company in Minnesota called Bayer Auto did just that. They took Dodge Rams and fabricated either Crew Cab trucks or Suburban type vehicles for whoever could afford it. As the second gen trucks never had a four door option Bayer hand fabricated steel rear doors and stretched the cabs for their crew cabs, and for their SUV builds they used Suburban rear barn doors, roofs, glass, and other Chevy parts. These are nice trucks but do look like a Chevy/Dodge mashup, and Bayer even called them a "Ramburban" It is believed they made a half a dozen or so, and all I have been able to track down are diesel 4x4 units. Here is one of them:



The ski lodge truck however looked much more factory than the Bayer Conversions so I was still stumped. I even started to believe that maybe indeed it was a Photoshop, or a millionaires folly.

Fast forward to 2015 and I was scrolling through a Facebook group I belong to for old abandoned vehicles. A fellow member posted a grainy picture that very closely resembled the ski lodge truck sitting at a scrap yard in St. Louis. It was in poor shape and once again it became an object of question and discussion. The origin of this truck was a mystery.



This time I used my powers of detective work and tracked down the location of the truck. I called the yard and spoke with the owner. He admitted he'd never seen such a thing, but swore it must be factory. But he didn't want to sell it whole, as it had already been inprocessed. I attempted to buy it without a motor, he said no. Then I proposed he cut it at the A-pillar and floor and sell me the back half of the body. He eventually said "you are serious about this aren't you?" I told him I was, how rare the vehicle was, and I didn't want to see it get crushed. He offered to talk it over with the other owners and would get back with me. Later that day he called me up, and told me I could buy the whole thing, for the right price. A deal was struck and I paid for it over the phone, sight unseen, with little other info. And two weeks later it was in my yard. It is a V10 2wd truck with 125,000 miles on it.

I continued to research the truck heavily and finally came up with some answers. A company in Cleburne Texas called Custom Conversions used to make Crew Cab second Gen Dodge trucks for a dealership in Oklahoma. They were called Oklahoma Club Cab Specials and were very factory looking. These trucks are fairly well known in Dodge Ram circles and they occasionally pop up for sale on eBay and other places. The rear doors are fiberglass and a vast majority of them are V10 gassers, although most have been converted to Cummins these days. Custom Conversions went out of business in 1998 but it is believed they built a few dozen Oklahoma Club Cab Specials (the crew cab trucks).

And then this photo surfaced. It is from an unknown publication at this time:



I tracked down the truck in the photo, and it is now owned by a hot rod diesel place. I have spoken to the current owner at length, and the truck looks like this today. It is a Cummins truck:



Now here is where there are still mysteries. In these days of Ram fanatics and camera phones there are only pictures of two "Ram Sport" SUVs made by Custom Conversions. I found an old photo of my truck online, once again source unknown. Here it is while it still wore running boards and a roof rack:



Comparing the diesel truck and the gas truck it is apparent that my truck was a later build. The diesel truck still sports a stock fuel tank with the door in front of the rear wheels. My truck had the fuel door moved to a more "SUV" location behind the rear wheels and sports a large aluminum fuel cell behind the rear axle. The owner of the diesel truck and I have compared, and we believe his truck to be somewhat rougher while mine is more refined. We believe whoever wrote the article stating that Custom Conversions made about a half a dozen may have been confused with Bayer Auto, and that our two trucks may be the only prototypes ever made.

There are statements online that Custom Conversions built the prototypes and took them to Dodge requesting them to be sold under dealer license with factory warranties. The Oklahoma Club Cab Specials ended up being just that. You could buy them with factory warranties, however the SUV's were not accepted. Maybe Dodge thought Chevy had the market covered with the Suburbans, or they were concerned with reclassifying the trucks to SUV or Wagon status. Indeed this would have opened up a whole can of worms. But whatever the case, the full size Ram based four door SUV never was to be.

I am unsure if my white gasser is the ski lodge truck or not. My memory is pretty good but I recall the truck sitting higher, possibly indicating it was a 4x4. I'm hoping the photo resurfaces so I can know for sure.

So, that is the story for now. My plans are in several steps. First, attempt to get the V10 running. Then, restore the body and interior. The interior looks much like a conversion van so I plan to use OEM parts to make it look more factory. Lastly, a possible 12v Cummins swap and 4x4 conversion. This project will be a challenge, and a slow one, but I'm looking forward to it!

Last edited by kkodet; December 23rd, 2015 at 09:12 AM.
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Old December 22nd, 2015, 02:45 PM   #2
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Interesting.
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Old December 22nd, 2015, 03:32 PM   #3
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Can't wait to see more
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Old December 22nd, 2015, 04:48 PM   #4
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Interesting.
Can't wait to see more.
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Old December 22nd, 2015, 04:52 PM   #5
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Can't wait to see more.
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Can't wait to see more
Is there an echo in here?
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Old December 22nd, 2015, 06:27 PM   #6
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The only part the scrapyard had sold off the truck was the computer. I aquired a new one and today I plugged it in with a fresh battery. All of the trucks electrical came to life but the motor would not even turn over or click. Further investigation will be required. I won't have a lot of space to work until my new shop is organized, so the only other thing I did today was cover the broken rear window with plastic to preserve what is left of the inside.

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Old December 22nd, 2015, 07:31 PM   #7
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Cant wait to see more.
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Old December 22nd, 2015, 07:33 PM   #8
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They are called ramburbans and this is the best looking color IMO.

https://www.google.com/search?q=ramb...1cPz8t7xdaM%3A


Or this one looks great also

https://www.google.com/search?q=ramb...VI-k1NoSVxM%3A
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Old December 22nd, 2015, 07:59 PM   #9
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I wish the 2 doors had the same hatch as yours instead of the caravan hatch. Also wish it was legal to own one.
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Old December 23rd, 2015, 08:34 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by firehawk View Post
They are called ramburbans and this is the best looking color IMO.

https://www.google.com/search?q=ramb...1cPz8t7xdaM%3A


Or this one looks great also

https://www.google.com/search?q=ramb...VI-k1NoSVxM%3A
The first one is one of Bayer Auto six, and yes Ramburban is what they called them, I forgot to mention that. I'll edit my first post! I'm not sure who built the third Gen one.

And I agree! Red and Silver are my favorites. I'll be changing this ones color.

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Last edited by kkodet; December 23rd, 2015 at 09:28 AM.
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Old December 23rd, 2015, 08:43 AM   #11
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I wish the 2 doors had the same hatch as yours instead of the caravan hatch. Also wish it was legal to own one.
The hatch on mine was fabricated from the original tailgate and is steel. I do like how they did it. The Mexican ones will be legal to import in 2019!!! I still think they are butt ugly from the rear though. And a few have already slipped over through various immigration loopholes.
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Old December 23rd, 2015, 08:45 AM   #12
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I wish the 2 doors had the same hatch as yours instead of the caravan hatch. Also wish it was legal to own one.
Why is it not legal to own?
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Old December 23rd, 2015, 08:59 AM   #13
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Why is it not legal to own?
Non-US spec (emissions) vehicles cannot be imported into the U.S. until they are 25 years old or until they are updated to U.S. emissions WITH a certificate from the manufacturer that they have been updated.
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Old December 25th, 2015, 08:31 AM   #14
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Weird truck...love it. Subscribed for updates.
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Old December 27th, 2015, 11:56 AM   #15
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Weird truck...love it. Subscribed for updates.
Thanks! Those might be awhile. I basically wanted to introduce the truck while parts hunting, maybe some guys here have stuff.

Before the real progress begins on this I need to finish setting up my new shop, and probably will put a little time into my Cruiser, which needs some much needed TLC. So, it probably will be a month or more before I get started on this.

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Old December 27th, 2015, 07:38 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by kkodet View Post
I first became aware of the possible existence of this vehicle in 2007 when I purchased a Ford Centurion (four door Bronco) with intention of fixing it up and restoring it. I quickly became quite discouraged with the Centurion after taking it apart and witnessing the extremely poor initial build quality. I sold the Centurion but stayed semi-active on some Centurion forums for awhile.
If you were discouraged by the build quality of the Centurion, you may want to run away screaming right now. It has a custom van style interior for a reason.

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Old December 27th, 2015, 09:46 PM   #17
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If you were discouraged by the build quality of the Centurion, you may want to run away screaming right now. It has a custom van style interior for a reason.

You could be right but I hope not. My overall initial assessment of the vehicle is that the build is very high quality. The only fiberglass portion is the rear doors, everything else is steel. With the Centurion pieces were basically held together with bondo, screws, and crappy arc welds. I would have "fixed" the mistakes on the Centurion but it also had severe rust issues.

Also, that was almost nine years ago. My tool arsenal and personal skill level have both improved greatly. Today I probably could have that Centurion looking good in a short time. Back then I just wasn't prepared to attack it properly. Plus the biggest dislike I had was the tailgate. I'm just not a fan of fold down styles. I like barn doors and hatches, as I'm always loading junk in the back of my rigs!
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Old December 28th, 2015, 05:53 AM   #18
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Neat and different but when you are all done it's still just a rusty 2nd Gen dodge that will just keep rotting away in michigan. I can't imagine how much money that would cost to build. Just weird to go through all the work of building that when a guy could just buy a damn suburban that was already a better vehicle.
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Old December 28th, 2015, 06:10 AM   #19
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I like how odd this is. Props to you for saving it.
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Old December 28th, 2015, 09:30 AM   #20
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Neat and different but when you are all done it's still just a rusty 2nd Gen dodge that will just keep rotting away in michigan. I can't imagine how much money that would cost to build. Just weird to go through all the work of building that when a guy could just buy a damn suburban that was already a better vehicle.
When I'm done it won't be rusty, but I get what you are saying. Personally I think the market for the Centurion, and eventually the Excursion, was opened up by Chevy's wussifying of the Suburban for the 1992 model year. With the lack of solid axles, smaller interior, and general shoddy build quality of Chevy trucks in the 90's it looked like the Suburban had run it's course. We all know they came out the eventual survivor, but for a time in the 90's things looked dim for GM. And if you were a Ford or Dodge guy that just HAD to have a big SUV....
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