Chrysler (now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) has always been clever with the branding of its performance vehicles. You’re likely familiar with the Hellcat and the Demon, and that’s not even scratching the surface of classic models such as the Superbird, Road Runner, Super Bee, and Rampage. We couldn’t resist putting that last one in there to see if you were paying attention. By definition, the word “rampage” describes violent or excited behavior that is reckless, uncontrolled, or destructive. Originally powered by a 2.2-liter inline-four with 97 hp sent its front wheels, the Dodge Rampage compact pickup of the mid-1980s lacked the grunt to excite us (or anyone else, for that matter) to the point of violence.
Taking any Mopar from the smog-era and doing something meaningful with it requires an individual who thinks outside the box. That divergent thought process is what we found at the 2019 SEMA show in Mike Copeland’s mid-engined 1984 Dodge Rampage, appropriately named Outrage. We sat down with him to find out what it took to get it done.
“I’ve been wanting to build a mid-engine car for many years. Something that I could go and compete with at a Goodguys event…or drive around in,” he explained. That notion dates back to the late 1990s when Copeland was working at General Motors. By virtue of his employer’s DNA, Copeland’s idea at the time was to build something LS-powered, with a Pontiac Fiero or a Cadillac Allanté serving as the likely candidates. Still, it was just that—an idea. But one that lingered for many years.
From Rampage to Riches
The spark that set the whole thing in motion with the Rampage actually started as a Facebook joke. “The Rampage was a kind of fluke as to how it came about. When I bought Arrington Performance, it was located in Martinsville, Virginia, and I was moving the company to Michigan. We made many trips down there to pick up inventory and equipment, and we would regularly stop at a barbecue restaurant that had an abandoned auto repair shop where someone had dumped a Rampage. Every time I stopped in there, I looked at that car and thought it was so unique and cool,” Copeland recalled. That prompted him to get on Google and dig up some dimensions on the Rampage.
Now if you’re thinking Copeland rescued the abandoned Rampage in Virginia, you guessed wrong. Starting out with a rusty mess is not the way forward with these cars, as parts are extremely difficult to find. That’s where the Facebook joke came in. Dirt Every Day‘s Dave Chappelle saw a Rampage sitting in a used car lot in Spokane, Washington, and snapped a photo of it, which he then posted to their mutual friend, Charles Wickam’s Facebook page. Copeland saw it and made it known that he was looking for one. That joke led him to Gospel Mission Motors and the Rampage that was for sale on its lot.
It was everything Copeland was looking for. It was really solid with only a shade over 13,000 miles on the odometer. And yes, it had been owned by a little old lady. She donated it because she couldn’t drive it anymore due to some minor mechanical issues. For Copeland, buying it turned into a production that spanned a few weeks. He called Gospel Mission Motors and asked what it would take to get the car. He made an offer, but the business insisted he drive it first.
“I told them how this was going to work. We’re going to agree on a price, I’ll wire you the money, and then a big car hauler is going to pull up to your place and they are going to bring it to me. They just couldn’t comprehend that. They had never sold a vehicle that someone didn’t come and drive first. They didn’t want to sell it, and it took me three weeks to convince them to sell it,” he explained.
Copeland’s power of persuasion prevailed, and the Dodge was shipped to Michigan. The build was on, and the initial plan was to fabricate a one-off chassis to slide under the car.
“I knew that I wanted it to handle,” he said. “I didn’t want it to cost a million dollars, and I really didn’t want to fabricate my own control arms. I was planning to use Corvette suspension parts, and I knew that there were two manufacturers that were using C6 parts.”
Factory Five Rampage
The answer to his question rolled into the shop when his friend brought in a Factory Five GTM for some service. One look at the chassis, and its sixth-gen Corvette suspension pieces, was all the convincing he needed. A phone call to the folks at Factory Five sealed the deal for a GTM chassis. It was a straight-up swap in exchange for a brand-new crate Hemi. The chassis was actually four inches narrower than a C6’s, which was ideal for the Rampage. Though it was designed to handle an LS engine, the chassis could feasibly handle holding the dimensionally similar Hemi engine Copeland sought for power. The only real problem was to sort out the different wheelbase dimensions between the GTM and the Rampage. Cutting out the middle section of the GTM chassis and fabricating a new one to extend the wheelbase solved that dilemma.
We do need to point out that this project was by no means a one-man operation. Copeland had to assemble a dependable crew together to build the Rampage. Joe McKeen was hired to do the metalwork, while his employee, Gene Ritter, was given the task of doing the fabrication on the GTM chassis, along with sorting out the bodywork. Also added were Mitch Clark and Daryl DeLaere to help expedite the process. A build like this can take months—if not years—to pull together. In Copeland’s case, this one was started ten weeks prior to its planned unveiling at SEMA—with only a finite set of hands and a limited budget.
As the chassis came together, the body also underwent its makeover. Making the process a lot smoother was the fact the sheet metal was in exceptionally good condition. However, the GTM suspension pushed the track width 12.0 inches beyond the Rampage’s stock dimensions, which required an aesthetically functional solution. That came in the form of 4.0-inch flares at each corner that Joe crafted from steel sheet.
Once the bodywork was wrapped up, the team of Chuck Standhardt, Mike Felver, and Mike Felver, Jr. were tasked with laying down the paint. Copeland always liked orange on a Mopar, and the Rampage was destined to wear such a hue. Instead of going old school with something such as Hemi Orange, Copeland decided to bathe the little pickup in a coat of Punk’n Metallic (a Jeep color).
Also on the checklist was the installation of a rear wing. Some might say it’s a bit over the top, but as Copeland pointed out, “Trucks have an issue with lift. The wing in the back was added to create downforce. It’s adjustable, and it looks great. The front spoiler was also installed to create downforce.”
Outrage was planned around a Hellcat drivetrain, but the blower and block combination presented some packaging issues. As a result, Copeland opted for a 6.4-liter Hemi crate engine, capped off with a Borla stack injection. His crew at Arrington was tasked with the responsibility of building up the engine. They kept the bottom end stock but added Arrington’s drop-in piston and rod setup. The pistons are Wiseco 10.7:1 forged pieces and the rods are from Manley—an ideal combination because the new pieces weigh the same as the factory units, meaning there was no need to rebalance the engine. The heads were CNC’d, ported, and milled 0.060 inch. Combined with a thin head gasket, the final compression ratio came in at 11.0:1, while the camshaft is a custom Arrington grind.
Dimensionally the Hemi is similar to the LS, however, installing it required the use of hydraulic engine mounts from a Challenger, as well as a custom lower mounting support to hold it in place. The other issue that Copeland needed to sort out was the marriage of the Hemi to the Mendeola gearbox.
“No one makes a bell housing for the Hemi to mount on that unit. ATI offers a kit to mount a Chevy trans to a [Hemi], so we adapted that to work with the Mendeola. That combination wasn’t without its problems because that bell housing is smaller than a traditional Mopar one, and a…Hemi dual-disc clutch didn’t fit inside it, so I had to work with Centerforce to create a smaller dual-disc setup that would fit,” he explained. The exhaust system was also a custom-fabbed assembly that started with a 1 7/8-inch forward-facing LS kit mated to 3.0-inch custom bent pipes, and Kook’s stainless steel mufflers capped off with Mopar exhaust tips.
As the paint and chassis came together, the only problem that surfaced was a clearance issue with the injection stacks and the front wall of the bed. The simple fix was to install some Arrington Stack Extensions, which added some visual bling and also helped with the performance curve.
The interior on the Rampage was one of the last things to be addressed. That task was handed over to Chris Starbird. Starting with what was an exceptionally nice original interior, Chris added a set of SCAT Procar carbon-fiber seats, a MOMO steering wheel, one-off gauges from Classic Instruments, and a custom trans tunnel that houses the shifter. Most of the interior was rewrapped in a combination of black suede and black leather, while Daryl had the tedious task of rewiring the entire car.
Rampage on the Road
With the SEMA show on the horizon, and the body and chassis united, the team was left fitting Outrage with proper rolling stock, brakes, and suspension pieces to give the car the proper stance and aggressive road manners Copeland sought. QA1 shocks and springs were added to all four corners, as were Baer XTR six-piston calipers clamping 14-inch rotors. The wheel choice came from the Forgeline portfolio courtesy of a set of EX1 monoblocks. The front set measure 18×10 inches and are wrapped in BFGoodrich g-Force Rival S 1.5 rubber, while the rears measure 18×11 inches and sport the same tires (albeit wider) as the fronts.
With such a tight window of time, you might be wondering just how finished Outrage was by the time it got to the SEMA show. Well, when the transporter pulled up to take the little Dodge away, Copeland and his team were still bolting on the front spoiler. Once SEMA concluded, Copeland drove Outrage onto the Las Vegas strip and headed north to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for two days of all-out road and rallycross racing. He also entered the Rampage in a road rally through the Nevada desert.
He beat the snot out of it, too. As Copeland put it, “It was an absolute beast, reliable, and very fast.”