Project Howitzer Completion and the Road to Moab.

Here we are, with Easter Jeep Safari 2017 underway, and it required all hands on deck working feverishly to complete Project Howitzer. For those that haven’t been following this build, you can check out the details in the first installment by clicking HERE. In short, we’ve taken a 2016 Cummins powered Ram 2500 regular cab long box, turned it into a short box on 42’s and done a lot of “out of the box thinking” upgrades. In the last post, we discussed engine, transmission, axle, wheel, and tire upgrades that had been accomplished. Since then, we’ve made a host of new updates to transform this truck into an off road beast, unlike anything you, or anyone else, has seen before.

MORE CUTTING?!

AEV Front Fender Modification

Our typical montage when building an off road oriented vehicle is to shove as big of a tire with as minimal lift as possible. In order to aid in clearing the massive 42” Trepadors without requiring ten inches of lift, we utilized a set of Front and Rear Highmark Fender Flares from our good friends over at American Expedition Vehicles, also known as AEV. These are not your average fender flare, but rather a heavy duty fender extension that necessitates cutting the factory sheet metal in order to enlarge the physical wheel well opening. AEV offers rear fenders suited for both standard bed sides, as well as RamBox versions, which was right up our alley with our integration of a RamBox bed on this build. Typically, these flares are designed to mate 40” tires with a minimal three inches of front end lift, allowing for the type of stance we were after.

Further, to complement the flares, and provide the means to house a winch, lighting and create a better approach angle, we bolted on an AEV Premium Front Bumper that simply has to be the cleanest, most functional replacement bumper on the market for Heavy Duty Rams. This bumper is so clean one could easily mistake it for a factory bumper, but once you get in and look at the overall construction, you know it means serious business. Rounding out the list of body upgrades from AEV, we opted for one of their Heat Reduction Hoods that has a unique design that not only complements the factory body lines of the entire truck, but also features prominent air induction openings at opposing sides, drawing cool air into the engine bay. But why did we REALLY do it….because it looks awesome!

Out back, we opted for one of Mercenary Offroad’s “A-Bomb” High Clearance Wrap Around Bumpers that is nothing short of a work of art. You could consider this a “bolt-on” if you don’t find yourself sobbing in the corner when the Sawzall has to come out. That’s right, in order to make this a “high clearance” bumper, it involves removing the rear quarter rocker panels, which is replaced with the wrap around portion of the bumper. This bad boy also has provisions to house a winch where the spare tire would traditionally go, as that is really just wasted space once you put 42’s on all four corners. Even with the newfound high departure angle the A-Bomb provides, its built with enough rigidity to support the entire weight of the truck and essentially act as a skid plate after a hard descent. And even with the narrow stature of this bumper and hidden winch capability, Mercenary still managed to fit in a receiver hitch somehow, so as to not lose sight that its still a Cummins powered truck.

While we may be pretty good behind a wrench and a welder, we do not consider ourselves bodymen. And no, we’re not talking about dead lifts and leg curls here, we’re talking about massaging fenders, paint, you know, body shop kind of stuff. And in order to make the necessary modifications for the A-Bomb and the AEV Highmark Fender Flares, we opted to bow out of that installation and take it to the professionals at our go-to body shop to avoid the outcome looking like an atrocity. Besides installation of the flares and rear bumper, we also had them tackle an unforeseen, but necessary, body modification we encountered after the wheelbase had been shortened. Unbeknownst to us until we dropped the cab onto the newly shortened frame, the fuel tank no longer had clearance as half of it was tucked under the cab. But, a little cutting, hammering, and welding, and we were good as gold.

Taking the necessary steps for ground clearance

The BIG change, though, came next, in something we’ve all decided should be a factory option…….removal of the pinch weld and eradicating about two inches from the bottom of the cab and bed. Yep, you read that right, a cut off wheel was taken about two inches up along the length of the truck, and then stitched back together with an end result that you wouldn’t even notice if you didn’t know what you were looking for. The intention behind this was to effectively raise the ground clearance and allow the soon-to-be-built rock sliders a place to tuck into. After a healthy dose of paint on the hood and to eliminate any unwanted chrome, the truck returned to our shop for further dissection.

Back in its stable, fabrication began on the rock sliders that, similar to the rear bumper, needed the ability to support the entire weight of the truck in the event it found itself rock crawling with a herd of Jeeps. Constructed of both box and round tubing, the rails extend wheel to wheel and of course were tied directly to the frame. And if you catch us on the trail, be sure to check out the tube ends, using a fabrication part affectionately called “The Happy Ending,” a machined end cap featuring an integrated bottle opener, for when you need a cold beverage after a long day on the trail. After the sliders were in place, it was evident that our methodology of “measure twice, cut once” was a success. The sliders were perfectly sucked up into the body with an outcome that still had more ground clearance than if the stock pinch welds were still in place without sliders.

TURNIN’ THOSE 42’S
If you’ve ever tried to turn a 42” tall tire on dry pavement, you understand that the steering shaft will scream in pain and likely shear before the tires move a millimeter. No big surprise here that we upgraded the steering box with a PSC and integrated hydraulic ram assist to provide one finger steering wheel movement. Once you’ve had it on one rig, its no longer optional, it’s a necessity. To complement our new effortless steering, we also opted to mount up a BD-Power Steering Box Brace that ties the sector shaft to the frame on both sides. Not only does this support the sector shaft to prevent against steering wander caused by the drag link wrenching on the shaft, it also acts as a crossmember for the frame, adding strength, and strength is good!

WINCHES, AS IN MORE THAN ONE
Since we’re out front, lets chat about our winches. Yes, that’s plural…wiiiinnnncccchhheeeeesss, as in more than one. Tucked behind our AEV Premium Front Bumper is the highly capable WARN 16.5ti-S Heavyweight Series Winch that will be able to handle yanking this behemoth of a truck past any obstacle that its unable to scale under its own power. A Factor 55 Hawse Fairlead ensures that our synthetic rope rolls in and out of the winch unscathed. Out back, we looked to WARN, yet again, for one of their compact Zeon 12-S Platinum units that will pull us to safety if necessary, or just help a fellow off roader that may be “winch deprived” to follow in our tracks.

AND LET THERE BE LIGHT!

No, pillar mounted lighting ain’t JUST for Jeeps!

One thing about Easter Jeep Safari are the night time trail runs. Some of the most epic rides and lasting memories are made traversing trails through the middle of the night, sometimes ending with a sunrise on a rocky bluff, ready to hit the trails again the next day. And when it comes to night wheeling, lighting is your friend, and no better friend than LED. Howitzer received a plethora of lighting upgrades that keep the path well lit, and well, look pretty cool to boot. The AEV Premium Front Bumper houses four Baja Designs XL Racer Editions, with one pair in a clear lens, the other amber. Out back, we’ve fitted the Mercenary bumper with a pair of Baja Designs S2 Flush Mount LED’s to aid in knowing what’s behind us. The flush mount design keeps them well protected from getting snagged on any obstacle and keeps the wiring out of harm’s way, as well. Now, something very familiar in the Jeep crowd, but not so much for pickups, we added even more Baja Designs to the A-Pillar area with some cool, custom brackets from ZROADZ. These brackets mount to the hood hinge and wrap around the back side of the hood, allowing provisions for single post light mounting. But with the addition of a ZROADZ Dual Pod Adapter Plate at each pillar, we now had room for two pairs of lights at each pillar (because more is always better, right?!). Residing in these locations are another pair of forward facing XL Racer Editions and then a pair of S2 Pro’s that are positioned to light the sides of Howitzer, making it easier to see rocks and other obstacles as we are directly approaching them. And finally to add one last bit of upgraded lighting, plus complement the general aesthetics of Howitzer, we swapped out the factory headlight housings for a set of factory SLT Sport headlights that come with a black housing, instead of our existing chrome, and then upgraded the bulbs to LED. In comparison to HID that has been popular for years, LED does not require a failure prone external ballast, an obvious perk.
MILES OF WIRES
In case you weren’t counting, we just rattled off that we have a total of five pairs of lights. Five pairs of lights equates to five separate switches, which you may be wondering where we plan to mount five switches. We’ve all been there, you start with one pair of lights, no biggie, mount a switch on the dash. Then you add another pair from a different brand, so on goes another switch, but it looks different than the initial switch…..ugh. And the problem only worsens with time and additional 12 volt accessories being added. In order to avoid having five switches haphazardly mounted to the dash, we looked to Switch-Pros for one of their 8-Switch Panel Power Systems that consolidates all of our switches and fuses into a single system. So not only does this clean up your dash, but also under your hood as all of your leads are ran to a control center, with merely a single power and ground going to the battery.

Speaking of control centers, we also decided to add an Insight CTS2 from Edge Products that allows us to keep an eye on all of our powertrain vitals, such as exhaust gas temperature (EGT), boost, fuel pressure, and about a zillion other PID’s. The CTS line has advanced tenfold since its initial release, truly staying on par with current technology. With Edge’s EAS (Edge Accessory System) you can daisy chain as many sensors as your little heart desires to monitor literally anything you want. If you wanted to know how many times your driveline rotated per year, they probably have a sensor for that.

Lots of lights equates to lots of wiring

At this point, you may be wondering how in the H-E-Double Hockey Sticks the factory alternator is going to keep up with the demands of all this power being drawn. Well, its not, as we upgraded to a Mechman S Series Alternator capable of pumping out a massive 320 Amps. Featuring six phase technology and huge twin rectifier assemblies, keeping dual batteries charged is no longer a concern, even if we wanted to run both winches at the same time, turn on every light we have, and crank up the radio while running the air compressor…..sure, why not?!

STRAP IN AND HOLD ON
For this last major phase of the build, there was one last thing to upgrade, the seating. For a daily driven truck that primarily sees pristine highway, the factory seats are just fine. Comfortable, easy to get into, great support, basically all of the amenities you would want. But for a rig that is built to climb like a billy goat, there’s room for improvement. Side bolstering and head support are probably the biggest pitfalls to the factory seating, as you find yourself shifting all over the place in off camber situations, making it difficult to maintain a solid grasp on your controls. To rectify this, we picked up a set of Mastercraft 3G seats that, with a little fabrication, were mounted to the factory seat sliders in order to maintain the stock up and down, and front to back movements. With this customization, as opposed to just mounting it to the holes in the floor, we’re able to keep the good things about the factory setup, but benefit with the additional support afforded by the Mastercraft upgrades.

And that’s about it. With these upgrades, Howitzer is ready for some time in the dirt, and no better place to get it done than Easter Jeep Safari. No more typing, lets go get this thing on the rocks!

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