Richards Bay, KwaZulu-Natal - Thinus de Beer is a muscletruck fan - the bigger the better, especially Chrysler's Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500 monsters. But Chrysler has never made them available in right-hand drive, which means they can't be legally registered in South Africa.
Well aware that he wasn't the only frustrated Ram enthusiast here, De Beer made a plan; in 2006 he formed US Trucks to import a few selected models, convert them to right-hand drive and supply them to like-minded South Africans.
More than 200 conversions later, US Truck now has about 18 trucks on order at any given time which equates to a three or four-month waiting list. The greatest demand has come from fishing enthusiasts who need powerful vehicles to tow their large boats.
"However, an increasing number of trucks are being sold for everyday use too."
According to De Beer, the conversion process takes about nine days; all the mechanical and gearing components, brake boosters and electronics are moved from the left-hand side of the vehicle to the right.
As far as possible, he sources export-spec trucks from Europe, so their instrumentation is already metric, and he tries to retain as much original-equipment componentry as possible.
"The most visible change is moving the instrument binnacle from one side of the dashboard to the other,” he said. “We have to be mindful of the original style and re-finish the fascia in as similar a style as possible."
"It's important to keep the original look and feel of the truck."
That takes time; converting a modern vehicle with complex electronics (all routed through controls on the dashboard, of course!) is an intricate process, and the conversion is expensive - about R200 000 a time, on top of the import cost of the vehicle.
Dodge Ram trucks available through US Trucks include the top-of-the-range 3500 Series Mega-Cab 4x4 Laramie, with leather interior and on-board electronics as standard and a 6.7-litre Cummins turbodiesel delivering 271kW and 1085Nm, rated for a 1.3 ton payload and towed loads of up to 6.9 tons.
Also available is the mid-level 2500 Series Crew Cab 4x4 Laramie, with the same Cummins engine.
"This is a niche market," conceded De Beer. "It'll never grow to a production line - but increasing demand from urban customers in particular means we are considering opening a branch in Johannesburg in the foreseeable future."
He may have to; Chrysler SA media liaison manager Richard Sloman explained to us that, since it cannot legally import Ram trucks ("How does De Beer do it?" he wanted to know) the technicians at Chrysler dealerships in South Africa aren't trained on them - and they don't keep spare parts for them - so they couldn't service your Ram truck even if they wanted to.
The same, obviously, applies to warranty claims; if your Ram has a problem, it has to go back to US Trucks, currently in Richards Bay.
1500 4X4 Crew Cab - R1 045 000
2500 4X4 Crew Cab - R1 250 000
3500 4X4 Mega Cab - R1 450 000