May 13, 2015
American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) has spent the last decade and a half building a reputation for high quality, precisely engineered and ruggedly functional accessories for the Jeep Wrangler.
Along the way it manufactured a limited number of specialty Jeeps — typically models the factory wouldn't (or couldn't) build for itself — with stretched wheelbases, Hemi engines and pickup beds. (Editor Mike Schoby used one of AEV's Brute double-cab pickups in his recent Border to Border expedition).
Now AEV has turned its attention and engineering chops to the Ram pickup line. The approach is a little different from what it did with Jeep, but the results are largely the same: aftermarket accessories that are so well designed and integrated into the vehicle that they look like they came from the factory, while adding capability far beyond original-equipment spec.
The starting point for AEV's Ram conversions is the 2500 Heavy Duty crew cab powered by the Cummins High Output turbodiesel. In a departure from its Jeep blueprint, AEV left the drivetrain alone, as the 850 lb-ft of torque from the 6.7-liter Cummins is motivation enough. Instead, the company concentrated on the Ram's chassis, and how to effectively clear 40-inch-tall mud tires without compromising safety, handling or ride quality.
The easy way out would be to just jack the truck to the sky with 6 inches (or more) of lift, and then let the driver figure out how to keep all that mass from toppling over in a sharp corner. Yet AEV achieved clearance for the 40s with half that: Its DualSport suspension provides 3 inches of lift in front, 2 in back, essentially leveling the truck at just a bit over stock ride height.
AEV retained the factory coil springs at all four corners, using aluminum spacers to add the altitude. The reason: There are dozens of different springs fitted to the Ram, tuned for different body types, engines, driveline configurations, and so on. AEV figured that rather than second-guess the factory's spring engineers, it made more sense to incorporate all the work Ram put into the springs to help maintain the truck's ride quality over the bigger tires.
AEV did replace the stock shock absorbers with dedicated Bilstein high-performance dampers. It also revised much of the suspension's bracketry — the radius arms and track bars — to improve the truck's steering geometry. And mindful of the tire's taller circumference, steeper 4.10 gears were swapped into the Ram's stock axles, which were also equipped with ARB Air Lockers.
So, without a lot of lift, where did the tire clearance come from? AEV radiused the Ram's wheelwells to make room for the big rubber, and then added a tasteful set of fender flares to finish the fender mods.
Note, too, that AEV went against current wheel trends by mounting 17x10-inch Katla cast aluminum wheels rather than the 20s that are so common these days. Using a smaller diameter wheel allows the tire more sidewall, a definite bonus in rocky and other gnarly trail conditions when cushion and flex provide more traction than a short, stiff sidewall.
The combination of a modest lift with those big meats is an eye-grabber. So too is the new bumper AEV designed for the Ram. This is a serious piece, made from 3/16-inch steel and incorporating a winch platform that is even heftier — crafted from 1/4-inch steel — to hold a winch up to the size of Warn's big Heavyduty 16.5ti. Extreme-duty recovery points flank the winch opening and are strong enough to handle full-GVW winch pulls. The outboard ends of the bumper hold 6.5-inch auxiliary lights, and the bumper's modular construction is such that owners can mount different accessories to the bumper's top, from a grille guard to an LED light bar.
To date AEV has built two different versions of its Ram conversion. One maintained the factory's crew cab body and pickup bed; the other replaced the conventional bed with a Tray Bed from Australian outfitter Ute Ltd. The Tray Bed's sides fold down for easy bed access, and its flat floor allowed room for an auxiliary fuel tank and an onboard air compressor to go beneath it.
Want to know more? Mike Schoby plans an extensive field test of an AEV Ram in an upcoming issue of Wheels Afield. Until then, visit AEV's website for more information, aev-conversions.com