Perhaps more than any other air-ride supremo, Ray Ramsey of Rayvern Hydraulics has a lot to live up to.
Having essentially brought air suspension to the UK VW scene 20 years ago (after developing his own setup in the US), Ray has a serious rep.
“i could have created a Mk6 or Mk7 with a lairy—coloured leather interior with my eyes closed but no matter how well it’d have been engineered, it would have just been an ‘alsoran’ on the show circuit," Ray tells us. “lt’d have been done in a day or two and there would have been no challenge. After a few older VWs — like my
Jetta [which graced the cover of PVW 01/08] —I knew we had to do something really mad this time. Those who've known me a while often say I can be a bit eccentric, and that’s why we wanted to really blow this project out of the park and
create something so extreme only Rayvern could have built it; no one else would be this bloody minded to see it through. The custom car scene knew my company from our insane mini-trucks of the Eighties and I wanted to go that low with a modern VW.
Ray tells us that once a guy asked him to drop an old Mazda mini-truck and that he wanted it lower than his nearest rival, whose mini-truck already sat with the sills on the floor. Ray duly obliged and engineered the shell so it didn’t really have sills at all and on full drop, it was the door bottom that scraped the ground as you opened it. That’s how much Ray loves a challenge!
Now we have to confess for having a bit of man-love for Ray. We’ve known him more years than we care to admit to and one of the coolest things about him is that you just never know what he’ll come up with next. Every time we visit his workshop (hidden in deepest Fenland), there’s always an eclectic mix of bizarre
projects: air-cooled VWs rub noses with US hot rods and modern hot hatches at any one time, and that’s not even including Ray’s own projects stashed away in the barn.
THE BASE MODEL
Back in 2012, when Ray told us that Rayvern wanted something 'New Age’, we knew there’d be no half measures. Ray smiles as he recalls how it all started: "I thought that a project Passat or bigger Audi just wasn’t mad enough; the Amorok had only just come out the year before, so it was the perfect proposition to chop up into pieces!"
Ray started his search and quickly realised that his dream of a Toffee brown model would be dashed by the fact that they were all only available in the highest spec at that particular time. In fact, the local VW dealer told Ray that there were only 51 around at that time in brown. “l didn’t want the fancy chrome bars and bumpers, though, but fortunately a dealer in London got in touch and told me of an oddball
Amarok he had coming in. It was brown but a base Startline model. However, the factory order from the supplying dealer had seen every option added to it, yet it still had all the base model external features. Basically, it was a base model with most of the extras on (which account for the premium model being £12k more
normally)." It had to be fate...
The innocent Amarok had only 587 miles on the clock and was blissfully unaware of what was about to come its way. Before the truck was delivered, Ray had already done the research and borrowed a brand-new Amarok for the day and stripped the suspension off it to assess how he’d tackle his when it arrived. Ray’s concerns started there: “Because it’s 4WD, the driveshafts have plenty of travel. But because I was planning on such an extreme drop, you’re expecting so much more travel from the components such as the suspension arms, and very quickly I could see I would run out of travel before the truck even hit the floor. We realised in those few hours just how much reengineering would be needed."
Starting by taking the front struts off and just letting the truck drop, Rayvern quickly found it left the sills four inches off the ground. And that four inches equated to 88mm — the crucial amount Ray and the crew would need to cut out of most of the body shell to ‘body drop’ the Amarok. This is where Rayvern really steps up and others flounder. ‘We knew we’d be looking to run 22” rims on the Amarok to fill the arches, so we needed a benchmark wheel to use with the same rolling diameter to trial fit. The back was cool and I knew we could create enough clearance to get a 22" tucked hard, but the front was a different matter: a 22" wheel would actually have come all the way up through the engine bay and out of the top of the bonnet with a full 457mm drop to get the sills on the floor. The only way around this would be to run a staggered setup of 205 up front and 225 on the rear. With a mock-up wheel at each end before the first cuts were made, Rayvern pulled the wings off and started welding braces across the structure and making a jig to ensure the shell wouldn’t twist and move when the chassis and body were cut up.
“We started with an airbag strut on the front but that didn’t give anywhere near enough travel,” Ray says. “Plus, the physical space was so cramped (thanks to the 4WD) that it just wasn't possible so we had to revert to hydraulic rams and a fluid dispersal system where the reservoirs would be in the back under the bed. The way we've got the hydraulics tuned now, the ride quality is easily as good as air but it’s
instant lift and drop and there’s no waiting for a noisy air pump to fill a tank.”
THE STRIP DUWN
“Next, we took the rear bed off to reveal the rear chassis that was running leaf springs from the factory,” Ray continues. “The rear axle was removed to make way for the extreme clearance Rayvern would need to lift the rear beam 18”. With big lows, some cars need what’s called a chassis notch. This is where (largely on FWD
cars) a section of the chassis is removed to allow driveshafts clearance to move up and not catch. Normally on a FWD car that means cutting a small amount from the inner wing area/chassis leg and then welding it back up for strength with a closing piece. In Ray’s case, from the factory the rear chassis of the Amarok has two giant old-school ladder ‘girders’ that the rear suspension all hangs from and the rear bed
sits on. Now, if this was a normal lowering job, Rayvern might have taken a relief notch out of these rails to give clearance for the rear beam axle. But because this drop is so extreme, Rayvern had to cut the whole chassis rail completely, and effectively made a bridge shape from new metal to weld in place, creating what’s
called a ‘step notch'. Ray — being Ray — has massively over engineered the notch, too; the standard steel thickness of the factory chassis rail is around 2mm. Ray‘s new steel is nearly quarter of an inch thick.
Rayvern binned the factory rear leaf springs which the rear axle used to mount to, and instead, Ray created what’s called a parallel four-bar link rear setup.
To do this he set the rear ride height to the ‘drive height’ and then, after careful measuring, made four new suspension link arms with adjustable ends. These parallel link arms connect the rear axle to the chassis. By using four bars running parallel, as the truck is lowered the wheels can only move up and down in a straight line and won’t pull forward in the arch or try and bend the rear propshaft. The
arms are adjustable to refine the geometry of the whole thing.
“We wanted to do something trick at the back, even though no one would ever see it,” Ray explains. "Instead of just running airbags, I designed a cantilever system that would use ‘lever' arms to magnify the effect of the airbags to give the massive drop.
“The most extreme drop I can achieve with a conventional airbag is around 8" but I needed another 10" extra (18" in total). I achieved this by using hydraulics, too, as part of the cantilever setup. The hydraulic ram acts as a booster to aid the airbags. So the hydraulic arm extends and lifts the truck but once lifting and dropping duties are over, the hydraulic arm locks solid and then the airbag helps give
a soft ride. With the back end also running dampers, the ride quality is as close to factory, if not better."
THE BODY CHOP
Although Rayvern had gained the full drop it needed to get the Amarok sills on the floor, the rear chassis section of the truck needed lowering the magic 88mm (4") to drop the rear bumper mount and bed mounts down further or they'd have been too high.
But the hardest part of the build was still to come, as Ray tells us: “When you body drop a vehicle, no one realises just how much needs doing. You’re effectively chopping a 4" (88mm) slice from the waistline of the truck body to lower it over the chassis. With the section removed and the whole thing welded back up, the roofline is lower so the seats need to be dropped 88mm. The brake servo, clutch pedal and accelerator are all too low and need lifting 88mm. The steering column is in the wrong place, too, and so we needed to strip the assembly, before machining 40mm off it to allow it to move further away from the driver."
THE HlDDEN DETAlL
Don’t forget, the whole dash needs to move, too. No small feat in itself. But climbing into the Amarok cab, you'd never know: it feels factory in here! As a consequence of the dash moving and the modified transmission tunnel, there was no room for the massive heater/air-con system and so Ray had to reengineer that, too. All these
jobs go unseen but take days at a time.
Ray tells us: “The hardest part of all this work was ensuring all the electronics still
worked. I didn't want any compromises with this vehicle compared to the factory model.
Under the bonnet there were so many problems, things that you just don‘t think of
straightaway when you first plan a project like this. Crazy jobs like having to ‘section’ the washer bottle to give enough clearance so the front tyre wouldn‘t hit it."
And on the other side it was even more severe: the tyre came up so far on full drop that Ray had to do some plastic surgery to the air box. As he was doing the work, Ray even sent us a photo looking up from under the wheelarch into the engine bay showing how he’d even had to trim the air filter down at one end to fit in his newly modified and lifted air box. Even the battery had to be moved, as there wasn’t
enough room to lift it enough to get out of the way of the tyre top. The engine and gearbox mounts all needed cutting and sectioning or the engine would have come through the bonnet. Ray says: “Back in the day, it was okay for the minitrucks to have a bulge or even the motor top popping through the bonnet but the Amarok
was totally different and Ray was resolute that it had to follow factory lines. Mind you, it's a close call: the top engine hoses literally touch the underbonnet sound deadening!"
What Ray tackles head on would have most of us floundering. He talks about how he ran out of travel on the front suspension ‘A’ arms and while most of us would consider that as being the truck’s way of telling us that was as low as it was going to go, not Ray. "The ‘A’ arms were at a crazy angle: almost vertical. So to gain even more drop, I cut the ‘A’ arm mounts off, and moved them 20mm further up to gain the extra drop I needed to touch the sills on the floor," he reveals.
The lastjob under the bonnet was the front end. After everything else was moved, Ray’s job was, as he put it, to “just chop the front off the chassis and move it all down 88mm, taking with it the front panel, radiators and headlights before welding it all back in its new place."
Unseen is the huge amount of work that has gone into lifting the transmission tunnel, crossmembers, propshaft mounts and chassis rails, which all had to be lifted by 88mm. The fuel tank would hang too low and had to be lifted, too, but that meant cutting out the floor to create room for the tank. And that wasn't all. The fuel neck was now too short and had to be sectioned, just like so many other parts.
The last area for attention was relatively easy for Ray in comparison to what he’d tackled over the last three years. “I’d trimmed the interior panels shorter, which was no small job because they become a different shape when you cut them down and many times they didn’t fit properly straight away. Even the carpet needed to be
trimmed. To put it in perspective, have a look in the cab in the photos. You can see that the footwell isn’t very deep and the seats are level with the top of the centre console. ln isolation you don’t notice it so much but if you had a stock one next to ours you'd really see it. One of the funny quirks is where the seatbelts mount at the
bottom. After taking the 88mm from the cab area, the old seatbelt mounting points would have been outside the cab! We’ve had to fabricate over-engineered mounts and reinforcement to mount the seatbelts back in."
Words: Neil Hunt / Photos: Ade Brannan
Words: Neil Hunt / Photos: Ade Brannan