Well, there's no going back now. If you're like us, and you probably are, there's only so far you're willing to travel in the stuffy confines of your trail vehicle. For the most part, a true trail vehicle is an open-top vehicle. You can commune better with nature, throw junk in the back, hop in Duke-Boy-style, and simply not roast your cajones off while wheeling.
In our case, the A/C on our Ramcharger stopped working two years ago, the tailgate wouldn't open on uneven terrain, and the side glass kept us from negotiating the really fun stuff for fear of shattering it. It was time to put up or shut up. We decided to cut off the top, ditch the squeaky factory dash and gauges, lose the hammered, uncomfortable stock seating, and have a custom rollcage built for safety, stability, and vehicular preservation (more on this later).
Going ToplessUnlike the other vehicles you'll read about in this Topless Wheeling section, we removed that which was not designed to be removed. On our Dodge, as with Cherokees, Wagoneers, or even cars, the roof is a structural component in keeping the body together. Removing it is like taking the top off of a house of cards. Without the roof to tie things together, twisty trails or even the vibration of street driving will cause the whole body to sag, fold, and collapse.
Topless PreservationTo keep our rig (and ourselves) from getting destroyed off road, we wanted a rollcage that tied into the frame but that also used plates to sandwich the floor. This not only stiffens the whole structure and prevents unwanted frame and body flex, but it's also like adding six additional body mounts. Plus, there's added safety; by connecting the cage to the frame, there's no chance of the floor ripping during a roll and making the rollcage just one more projectile in the cabin. Since we fabricate like a bunch of blind monkeys, we hooked up with Jesse Nelson and Dave Dinsmore of JD Fabrications in San Marcos, California.
We needed this cage built right and we needed it built fast. We've seen a lot of rigs roll out of JD Fabrications and are continuously floored by the quality of their work. It's quickly becoming the place to get your rig built-not only because of the great craftsmanship, but also because of the extremely fast turnaround time. It's little wonder why guys are trucking their projects there from all over the country. Nelson and Dinsmore graciously squeezed us in and busted out our cage in about a day and a half, including the removal of the roof.
However, before bringing it down to their shop, we first installed a set of Daystar Products polyurethane body bushings that we ordered from Rocky Mountain Suspension. Call us lazy, but we like mail order companies that can get us almost any part we need in a matter of days without our having to leave the house. The poly bushings raised the body slightly and put the fender and door panels back into alignment before the rollcage made things permanent. Then, we blew out the side windows, unbolted the tailgate, removed everything from the interior except the steering wheel and driver's seat, and crossed our fingers that the CHP wouldn't notice us.
Weighing OptionsWe take a lot of ribbing about having a big, heavy fullsize. That ribbing only increased when our friends heard we were adding about 180 pounds of rollcage tubing. Here's a breakdown of what we removed and how it compares to what we added.