Cruising the boulevard in your blown Lightning, you hunt for Silverado SSs, Durango R/Ts, and whatever else might come your way. With 380 hp at your disposal, you are the pavement-shredding king, untouchable by any other factory hot-rodded truck. But tonight feels strangely different. As you pull up to the next light, a menacing Dodge Ram with a curious body kit and hoodscoop pulls up next to you, and the driver delivers a plastic grin. He is acting kind of cocky, but you know you can take him; after all, you've smoked a few Dodge Ram Hemis in your day. As the light turns green, you look over and catch a glint on the hood. What's this? Did that badge say "Viper Powered?" It is too late, as the ferocious roar of 10 cylinders hitting their stride consumes you, and the big Dodge pulls away with a decisive chirp into Third gear. Over much too quickly, the glimmer of red taillights and dual chrome tips is too much to bear as you humbly exit the thoroughfare. Could it be true, you were just smoked by a Dodge? You swear to yourself that you are going to pick your battles a little more carefully from now on. After all, if the Dodge boys have unleashed an asphalt mangler this good, the streets won't be safe for awhile.
In a bid to win complete and total factory sport-truck domination, Dodge's elite PVO unit has one-upped Ford's SVT Lightning by tossing a Viper engine, along with 164 additional changes, into the Dodge Ram regular cab, creating the Dodge Ram SRT-10. The Ram SRT-10 joins a stable of other high-octane PVO products, such as the Neon-based SRT-4 and Viper SRT-10. To Dodge guys, SRT means race-inspired, street-legal performance. To the rest of us, it means world-class performance at a competitive price.
The mission objective for PVO engineers while designing the Ram SRT-10 was faster, wilder, and louder. It was with these lofty goals in mind that PVO set out to build the ultimate performance truck. Finding a happy place with the numbers 500 and 10, PVO wanted to deliver an extreme driving experience in a pickup truck with a 505ci V-10, 500 hp, 525 lb-ft of torque, and a booming 10-speaker, 508-watt stereo system. It sounds like new lucky numbers to us.
To get this project off the ground, PVO started with a stout foundation in the form of a fully boxed frame using hydroformed framerails. PVO wanted the suspension tuning to deliver sports-car-like reflexes and stiffened up the spring rates accordingly. The front of the truck was lowered 1 inch on new knuckles, while the rear was dropped 2-1/2 inches by placing the leaf pack under the axle. To control suspension motion, Bilstein was chosen as the exclusive supplier for the Ram SRT-10 shocks, fitting their tuned units at each corner and adding a fifth power hop damper above the rear end, eliminating axle hop and keeping the tires in touch with the ground. The driver alters direction with either his right foot or by turning a steering wheel connected to a Dodge Ram HD power-steering rack, modified with a tuned steering gear for more precise steering feedback. New sway bars, front and rear, keep the truck level and planted in high-speed handling maneuvers.
The whole reason for going through all the work to make the chassis truly special was for one purpose, and one purpose only - to create the biggest, baddest, and fastest factory truck on the road. We know this because PVO told us so. A major part of that goal revolved around shoving the Viper's 8.3L pushrod V-10 under the hood of the Ram. Shoehorning a 505ci V-10 in the Ram platform was not as simple as it may sound. However, PVO was able to pull it off with only minor modifications to the powerplant. The only difference between the Ram SRT-10 engine and the V-10 under the hood of the Viper in your garage is the air intake, exhaust system, engine and transmission mounts, oil pan, and the cooling system borrowed from the Cummins-powered Rams. The new exhaust is a true dual unit, breathing through Hi-Flow PVO manifolds to four Viper catalysts and out through 2.5-inch pipes.
In Ram SRT-10 tune, the engine churns out an awe-inspiring 500 hp at 5,600 rpm and a locomotive-like 525 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm, similar to the Viper. Backing up all this power is the Tremec T-6 six-speed transmission lifted right out of the Viper. And thanks to different EPA regulations for the truck market, the Ram SRT-10 leaves the factory without that painfully annoying skip shift feature. Linking the driver to the tranny is a specially developed Hurst shifter linkage system used in conjunction with new pedal assemblies, which activate a modified clutch unit. The torrent of power is sent out of the transmission, through a massive aluminum driveshaft, to the stout heavy-duty-rated Dana 60 rear axle. This cast-iron housing holds 4.11 gearing, assisted by a modified Hydra Lock limited slip. A finned aluminum differential cover keeps the gear lube from boiling on those repeated 100-degree drag run days. The 26-gallon fuel tank should ensure that the only thing it can't pass is a gas station.
Chosen as the victims of all this power are polished aluminum Viper-style 22x10-inch wheels, wrapped in P305/40YR22 Pirelli Scorpion Zero tires. This package now surpasses the optional 20-inch wheel and tire package on the standard Ram as the biggest available on a production pickup. The PVO engineers also decided to create the quickest stopping production pickup on the planet and have graced the Ram SRT-10 with an impressive braking system, one of the best we have ever tested. While the performance level of the Ram SRT-10 almost requires thrust reversers and speed flaps at the end of a run, the standard four-wheel disc brakes and 4WABS do an amazing job of scrubbing speed from the nearly 5,100-pound projectile. Thanks to goliath-size 15-inch rotors up front, working together with modified Ram heavy-duty rear 14-inch rotors, this truck can get you out of trouble in a flash. Red brake calipers present some eye candy to those who enjoy a little form with their function.
Matching the outlandish performance and broad-shouldered stance is the Ram SRT-10's bold appearance. Despite some initial boy-racer impressions, every part of the SRT-10's exterior styling has function at high speeds in mind. From air blockers in the signature horse-collar grille to reduce lift and channel cool air into the intake, to the deep fascia front bumper incorporating a functional splitter, right down to the rear spoiler that actually reduces drag, and in unison with the front splitter, provides a 165-pound reduction in lift, the PVO team took a few pages from the NASCAR truck series play book. The Ram SRT-10 power bulge hood also sports a functional hoodscoop, which channels cool air through the engine bay. And just to make sure everyone knows what the hood is hiding, "Viper Powered" badges adorn each side. A subtle body kit gives the SRT-10 a few more character points over its ordinary Ram brethren, and the rear bumper has been removed in favor of a deep rear fascia, with cutouts to prominently display the polished dual exhaust tips.
The SRT-10 is no doubt a performance machine, and with that in mind, the interior has pure sports-car atmosphere, starting with the trick red start button that provides a connection to the Viper. Black-on-silver gauges recall another PVO vehicle, the Neon SRT-4, and an A-pillar-mounted oil temperature gauge joins the already impressive array of instrumentation. Race-inspired seats, with suede inserts and heavy bolstering, keep the occupants from sliding around while chasing the magical lateral 1.0g on favorite freeway onramps. The SRT-10 logo is prominently embroidered on the headrests and displayed on the dash. Everything the driver touches has a quality feel, including the Viper shifter ball, perched on top of the Hurst shifter, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel grained in the likeness of carbon fiber. Lastly, real, honest-to-God aluminum was used to brighten up the understated dash.
Whether cruising or hauling, a deafening audio system should be part of the package. Not wanting to break this tradition, PVO installed a 10-speaker Infinity sound system, capable of producing hearing-disabling power. With 508 watts and a 10-inch subwoofer between the seats, drivers won't be competing with the engine and exhaust for musical notes, not that anyone would want to.
The streets don't get any tougher than this. For now, Ford must concede its crown to Dodge, and winning it back will be no easy task. In the meantime, SRT-10s will be busy tearing up the drag strips and winning street light challenges, that is until the next time a lonely stretch of roadway beckons the rumored 500hp next-generation Lightning, begrudgingly looking for a rematch. So, buckle up, kids, because we are in the midst of the biggest horsepower war since the musclecar era of the '60s, plain and simple. Dodge may have won this volley, but no one has ever been safe at the top, and Ford's SVT has the SRT-10 squarely in its crosshairs. Unless you are one of the lucky 3,500 or so souls to own one, our recommendation, until something bigger and badder comes around, is to keep clear of any snakes in sheep's clothing.
First Drive Dodge invited a select group of journalists out to rural Tennessee to see the Ram SRT-10 first hand and to get behind the wheel. Trusting us with one of the first four trucks, Dodge turned us loose to drive the Ram on spectacular winding country roads through the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. During our drive, we also experienced the joys of city traffic and highway driving, giving us an opportunity to see what it would be like to live with the Ram SRT-10 as a daily driver. To compare the Ram SRT-10 against the SVT Lightning, Dodge set up an autocross course and let us have at it.
The rural country roads proved to be no challenge for the big Ram's tuned suspension. With the wide sticky Pirellis clawing the pavement on fast turns, and the Bilsteins soaking up all but the worst pavement scars, the Ram was always predictable and stable. Tossing around a vehicle this heavy left us feeling a little insecure and unnatural at first, until we realized that the SRT-10 was completely capable of throwing its weight around. Once we got over the initial shock of how high the performance threshold was and how easy it was to drive the Ram SRT-10 fast, we cinched up our belts and went right up to the limits of our driving ability. Scaring ourselves and still not finding the limit, we smartly backed off and realized the Ram SRT-10 is clearly at a caliber above our own skills.
Around town, the copious amount of torque, in almost any gear, kept our shifting to a minimum. The SRT-10 can pull cleanly from anything up to about Fourth gear. We found the Hurst shifter to be a bit balky around town. With so much power on tap, we found ourselves in Third gear of the closely spaced gates a few times, thinking we were in First. The Hurst linkage excelled in full-on red-line shifts, where quick gear selections and relatively short throws were made easy. The clutch effort was pretty light and never once reminded us of driving a dump truck. A couple of times we were able to surprise Hemi owners with the Ram SRT-10's sheer acceleration.
On the highway, the Ram easily loafed along in Sixth with the computer indicating fuel economy in the high teens, although a quick downshift to Third and a wide-open throttle pass brought those numbers into the single digits very quickly. For longer trips, the seats remained comfortable, holding us firmly in place with tons of bolstering and support. The SRT-10 rides firm, like a proper truck, but only transfers potholes and road imperfections to the occupants on the roughest of surfaces.
On the course, the Ram was the all-out favorite. With the Dodge's exceptional power and speed, the Lightnings were no match with their 120hp and 175ci deficit. While the Dodge handled great, the difference between the 4,700-pound Lightning and the nearly 5,100-pound Ram could be felt. There is just no hiding the extra weight and size. The Lightning exhibited much more body roll and drift than the Ram, but still remained controllable with safe understeer at the limit. The smaller Lightning was easier to finesse around the cones, but we smoked the inside wheel almost the entire time around the track, while the Dodge turned its power into traction. The Dodge also exhibited understeer, but had so much reserve power, it was easy to induce fun oversteer with a quick stab at the throttle.
As for the V-10, well, it sounds glorious at full throttle, and the symphony of the intake and exhaust never became tiring. In fact, we looked forward to being able to floor the throttle at every opportunity, just to hear the music. The repeated 5,000-rpm clutch dumps provided a fun smoke show for the kids, and the truck took them all in stride.
Dodge has not announced pricing for the SRT-10 yet, but if you are curious to see how it does in a full road test, look for it to liven up our upcoming Truck of the Year competition.
The Lunatic FringeWe captured this rare picture of PVO personnel outside of their top-secret labs. From left to right are Dan Knott, Steve Lyman, Tom Sawarynski, and Herb Helbig.
It takes real men, men's men, hairy-chested, octane-drinking, fume-inhaling car guys to come up with an idea such as the Dodge Ram SRT-10, and have it sneak by the bean-counters with little or no changes from the concept. Fortunately for Dodge, it has a core of these guys in a special organization, called PVO. These are the type of guys that have the passion, emotion, and drive to create products to make car enthusiasts swoon; they just get it.
PVO traces its lineage back to the days of Team Viper (1989) and Team Prowler (1993), and even a bit further back to Team Shelby, and its members who raced winning Omnis and Horizons in SCCA back in the '70s and '80s. The two teams were separate entities from one another until they were merged in 1998 to form Special Vehicles Engineering (SVE). Under the SVE banner, the team continued to develop the Prowler and Viper, until the Prowler program ended and the new Viper SRT-10 replaced the first-generation Viper. In 2001, a new group was being formed with four main goals in mind: high-performance vehicles, motorsports activities, high-performance aftermarket parts, and high-performance derivatives of high-volume Chrysler products. The outcome of this planning was the Performance Vehicle Operations (PVO) team, announced in January 2002 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
We spent some time with the chosen ones of PVO on this trip, and we can say, you would be hard-pressed to meet a cooler group of guys. After we got passed the guy washing down his steak and eggs breakfast with gear lube, and the other guy who crushed a forged piston on his forehead, we realized they are not the typical corporate types we regularly run into. This crew is full of adrenaline junkies like us, and their leading-edge products show it. Members of the Lunatic Fringe, as they are so aptly named, are Dan Knott, current director of PVO, Steve Lyman, senior vehicle dynamics specialist for all PVO vehicles, Tom Sawarynski, lead synthesis engineer for the Ram SRT- 10, Herb Helbig, senior manager of vehicle synthesis for PVO, Jack Kulick, PVO's own ace mechanic, and last but not least, James Finck, senior manager of interior and electrical systems for PVO. These guys know cars in and out, and wield a mean pool cue on the side.
To date, the fruits of PVO's labor have been the Viper SRT-10, Neon SRT-4, and the new Ram SRT-10. Calling Auburn Hills home to their skunk works, this small group of motorheads is probably already busy plotting, planning, and designing their next tire-melting monster, so don't be surprised when the next blur to pass you up on the road says SRT on the side.