By David Newhardt
Reprint from Motor Trend’s Truck Trend Magazine, May/June 2003
There are trucks that hint at tire-shredding performance, and then there are trucks that ooze brutality. In the latter group is the ’03 Dodge Ram 3500 Cannonball Express, as massaged by the Performance West Group. From the massive wheel/tire combination to the spectacular SpectraFlair paint, this dualie is the rolling version of the gilded wrecking ball. If this beast fills your mirrors, I have five words for you: Get out of the way.
Starting life as a 1-ton dualie 4×4, the Ram’s engine compartment packs a 5.9-liter Cummins turbodiesel. While a stock straight-six cylinder Cummins powerplant delivers a stout 305 horsepower and 555 lb-ft of torque, the Cannonball Express raises the bar considerably. Cummins manipulated the engine-manaement software to coax 370 horses at 3000 rmp, and 750 lb-ft of twist at 1800 revs. Bolted to the aft end of the block is a stock six-speed manual transmission. But connected to that is a Gear Vendors, Inc. hydraulic-overdrive unit, essentially generating 11 forward gears. Not to be used in first gear or at speeds below 20 mph, the overdrive system is actuated with a button on the shifter. With a 3200-rpm redline, and peak torque coming in at 1800 rpm, driveline shock is minimized, especially
Rated hauling capacity with the Valley Industries fifth-wheel is 23,000 pounds, a fair piece of weight.
Feeding the grunt to the road is a stock 4×4 system and suspension. Far from standard is the wheel/tire package, made up of huge 22×8-inch Oasis Alloy wheels and monstrous 37-inch LT315/60R22 Goodyear tires. The huge footprint is handy when the torque curve swells, as this much power tends to transform rubber into smoke. Cummins has tuned the engine to purr like a kitten at idle, maintaining a drama-free performance envelope throughout the entire sweep of the tach, unless you want drama-then the Cannonball Express lives up to its name, its Gibson Performance six-inch side-pipes bellowing like the hounds of Hell.
Part of the Cannonball Express’s appeal is the SpectraFlair Holographic paint. This hue is called “Cold Rolled Steel,” its metalflake composition shifting color as light and contours change. Exterior modifications include a custom grille from Street Scene Equipment and an electric folding tonneau from Wabasto. To contain the gargantuan tire, Xenon supplied the custom front fascia and front fender flairs.
The quad cab has been enhanced, including Katzkin leather seats and a Clarion DVD entertainment system stereo with the Sirius Satellite system. Autometer gauges keep the driver apprised of conditions under the huge hood. This is a long-trip friendly interior.
Driving the Cannonball Express is a kickbutt thrill, but getting stared at took some getting used to. With torque-O-plenty, self-restraint is a struggle. For sheer intimidating presence, it’s hard to beat this heavy-duty bruiser. Just stay out of its way. TT
Performance West Group