Long before the Chevy 454SS and the Ford SVT F-150 Lightning began their sport-truck performance battle, Dodge introduced the 1978 Li'l Red Express Truck, an ostentatious addition to its "adult toys" lineup (which did not, as the moniker implies, include marital aids). A shortbed, two-wheel-drive pickup, the Li'l Red Truck packed a 225-horsepower, 360-cubic-inch V-8 that allowed it to outrun a Corvette to 100 mph. Granted, the 1978 Corvette could be outrun by continental drift, but in the dark days of the late '70s, hope was a red pickup with smokestacks.
With the 2004 Ram SRT-10, Dodge is poised to recapture its truckin' glory. By dropping the Viper's 500-horsepower V-10 and six-speed manual transmission into the Ram, DaimlerChrysler's Performance Vehicle Operations (PVO) team has not only trumped the Ford Lightning, but it's created the most powerful production pickup truck in the entire history of the universe-which is a fine thing to do if you've got some spare Viper powertrains kicking around.
The rest of the Ram SRT-10 is cut from the same outsize pattern as the engine. The 22-inch Speedline wheels are the biggest rims available on a production truck. The hollow aluminum driveshaft might be checked for stowaways at border crossings. The Dana 60 rear end is so large Ben Affleck wants to have an overpublicized relationship with it. And the much-touted "three 500s" of the Viper-505 cubic inches, 500 horsepower, and 525 pound-feet of torque-welcome another 500 here, as in a sweet-sounding 505-watt stereo that could cause permanent hearing damage in about 500 milliseconds.
Cosmetically, the ultimate Ram wears red brake calipers behind the aforementioned dub-twos, a spoiler over the tailgate that reduces lift and drag, and a hood scoop emblazoned with the words Viper Powered. PVO says the hood scoop is functional because it allows air into the engine bay, but the snout in the hood isn't actually connected to the airbox up front. We suppose that a toupee is also functional because it prevents sunburn, but when you've got 500 horsepower, you shouldn't have to justify your hood scoop to anyone.
While the Ram SRT-10 charges to 60 mph in a scant 5.3 seconds, the truck is intended to be more than a straight-line dragster, and the basic Ram chassis has been extensively modified to provide the turning and stopping capabilities appropriate to a 155-mph vehicle. Those extroverted brake calipers grip fifteen-inch front and fourteen-inch rear rotors, the suspension is lowered one inch in the front and two and a half inches at the rear, and stiffer springs and Bilstein monotube dampers are used all around. While the independent front suspension gets coil springs, the live rear end is sprung by good old-fashioned semi-elliptic leaf springs. The rear suspension also includes a horizontal damper that links the differential to the frame, which brings us to perhaps the biggest problem faced by the Ram SRT-10 engineers: How do you prevent a 500-horsepower, two-wheel-drive pickup from incinerating its rear tires every time the driver grazes the throttle with anything more than a chaste caress? In addition to the aforementioned horizontal motion damper, the Ram SRT-10 combats wheelspin with a limited-slip differential, 305-section Pirelli Scorpion Zero tires, and a surprisingly good 56/44 percent front/rear weight distribution.