Winnipeg Free Press

Rampage restoration a class act

by Larry D'Argis . Jun 14 2019
Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free PressMurdoch MacKay Collegiate students Nathaniel Hernandez (from left), Avery Santa, Braden Cook and Tristen Hacking both in car, Emma Jack, Noah Ludwig, Nathan Gusowski and Kyle Swaffer show off their restored Dodge Rampage.

Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free Press

Murdoch MacKay Collegiate students Nathaniel Hernandez (from left), Avery Santa, Braden Cook and Tristen Hacking both in car, Emma Jack, Noah Ludwig, Nathan Gusowski and Kyle Swaffer show off their restored Dodge Rampage.

Billed as America’s only front-wheel drive sport pickup, and the first of the Big Three automakers to market a subcompact offering, the 1982 to 1984 Dodge Rampage was actually stronger than it looked.

With a 519-kilogram load capacity — which was no small feat for its humble suspension, borrowed from the previous Charger/Omni/Horizon platform — the Rampage was not only tough, it also managed to combine the comfort and convenience of a passenger car with the utility of a pickup.

Sharing front-end styling with the Dodge Charger of the era, it carried a familiar look, with a smooth side leading to a sweptline box. Built from 1982 to 1984 — including 1983 when it was also marketed as the Plymouth Scamp — Chrysler hoped it would be a breakout model. Instead, it lagged in sales with a total of only 40,965 units produced — including 3,564 Scamp models.

Bill McEwen, the automotive technology teacher at Murdoch MacKay Collegiate, has seen more than a dozen different project vehicles come into the school. “The project vehicles just seemed to be the hook that drew the students in, teaching them team-building, project-solving and honing their skills to work in the industry,” McEwen says. An accredited course, automotive technology graduates receive a Level 1 automotive apprenticeship certificate. Murdoch MacKay has also had many successful years running their own Murdoch Motorsports car club.

In 2017, McEwen found the 1984 Rampage at Crosstown Auto Wrecking. His intent was to fix it up and use it on his farm doing chores. The truck was complete, but had corrosion in the floor and the rear quarter panels were totally rusted out. He took it into the school to clean it up and get it running, only to find that after firing up the 2.2-L four-cylinder, it made as much noise as a hammer drill. With replacements scarce, he looked for a donor vehicle, finding a 2004 PT Cruiser with a 2.4-L turbo engine at Aime’s Auto Parts.

Back in the automotive shop, the students started finding ways to repurpose as much of the PT Cruiser’s mechanicals as possible into the Rampage build. With the floor panels replaced, the attention turned to the quarter-panel replacement. With nothing available new, it left finding serviceable used parts as the only option. Unable to find anything local, McEwen contacted Weekley’s Auto Parts in Grand Forks, N.D.

“He told me he had two pickups, and I said ‘Just send me the two best panels you have,’” McEwen says.

That winter, the truck was turned over to Cory Zimmermann, an experienced auto body technician who installed the rust-free quarter panels on the Rampage.

In spring of 2018, the truck was returned to Murdoch MacKay, where the students discovered the entire front clip from the PT Cruiser could be fitted to the Rampage. This gave them not only the engine but also the Ultradrive four-speed overdrive automatic transmission. To ensure the transmission was in good condition, student Austin Ducroix rebuilt and dyno-tested it while on a work experience session at Trans Tech. Installing the front frame clip went smoothly and gave the Rampage not only a much more powerful 220-horsepower engine and overdrive transmission, but also larger front disc brakes, better front struts and a heavier sway bar. The students even managed to modify the air intake and manifold to fit the confines of the Rampage hood by constructing a custom-welded hi-flow intake.

The rear suspension basically consisted of the rear axle mounted on leaf springs with two shock absorbers. With the springs rebuilt and reinstalled, a new set of coil-over shocks were added to bring up the ride height.

The students also found a simple way to install the rear disc brake system from the PT Cruiser onto the Rampage. The PT Cruiser also contributed its full steering column and dash gauge cluster. Wheels are 15-inch MSW alloy wheels turning Bridgestone radial tires.

Several of the students took part in readying the Rampage for paint at Sobering Automotive. Tristen Hacking laid down a near flawless Diamante Silver paint finish. With the paint dry and back at Murdoch MacKay, the students learned the art of wet sanding and finish while polishing the new paint. Black bedliner was used to protect and seal the bed area. To bring the passenger compartment back to life, Otto Szalai at Otto’s Custom Upholstering showed the students how to reupholster the seats with new grey tweed fabric. A new black headliner, carpet and black vinyl tonneau cover, round out the upholstery.

For exhaust, Glenn Scott at Duals installed the PT Cruiser catalytic converter and spent the day with the students training and welding a custom dual exhaust system complete with exhaust tips fabricated in the school’s metal shop. Speedy Auto Glass installed a new windshield.

This spring, the Rampage crew gave up their spring break week off to continue finishing the vehicle’s assembly so it would be ready for Piston Ring’s World of Wheels car show, where the Rampage took the ‘Outstanding’ award in the custom pickup truck category.

“It’s the kind of dedication to a project that I’ve continued to see over the years in these students,” McEwen says. “The relationship that has grown with local business and service providers that step up to help and hire these kids for jobs is a natural fit.”

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Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free PressStudents were taught how to reupholster the seats with new grey tweed fabric.

Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free Press

Students were taught how to reupholster the seats with new grey tweed fabric.

Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free PressA 2.4-litre turbo engine, taken from a PT Cruiser, was used to replace the original 2.2-litre Rampage motor.

Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free Press

A 2.4-litre turbo engine, taken from a PT Cruiser, was used to replace the original 2.2-litre Rampage motor.

Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free PressThe restored 1984 Dodge Rampage.

Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free Press

The restored 1984 Dodge Rampage.