At this point in his career, Mike Copeland is a man that needs no introduction. Currently, at the helm of Arrington Performance, Mike is responsible for some of the most jaw-dropping and recognizable street machines on the road today.
Most know him from his profoundly influential years with General Motors, Lingenfelter, Diversified Creations, and as the brains behind the famed General Mayhem Charger. Let’s just say, Mike has had quite a career.
Mr.Copeland – who, because of his humble nature, doesn’t like me to call him that – took things a few steps further in 2019. He battled some stiff competition during Power Automedia’s Pony Wars challenge by putting together a monster 2019 Scat Pack Challenger to handle the autocross, dragstrip, and engine dyno. Not only did his team kick ass on the challenges, but he also made time to tackle a standout SEMA build.
While filming Pony Wars in Las Vegas, I had a chance to speak with Mike between the challenges. He told me he had something exciting up his sleeve for SEMA. After a little prodding, he let slip the ute-“ilitarian” nature of the vehicle. Being the auto-file I am, that hint narrowed it down to only a few possibilities.
I spurred him on a bit more, and he spilled the beans – he’d be bringing a Dodge Rampage.
Wait! The brains behind some of the most beastly builds in the last few decades was bringing Dodge’s red-headed stepchild? A Rampage? Really? The funky ’80s minitruck/car cruck thing? The wannabe El-Camino?!
I’ll admit I had my doubts, but soon snapped out of it and realized I was speaking to Mike “MOTHER-EFFIN” Copeland. So, I knew whatever he brought wouldn’t be the boxy, bland-colored ute from the mini-truck archives, which the name Rampage calls to mind.
Well, fast-forward to the first week of November when all anyone in the auto industry can talk or think about is SEMA. I had been patiently waiting and watching for sneak previews on both Mike and Arrington Performance’s social media accounts – to no avail. Nary a glimpse of anything telling.
But, the time had finally come for SEMA 2019. My editorial cohorts and I stood at-the-ready with cameras and cell-phone voice recorders in-hand, waiting to capture all the blood, sweat, and tears it took to get so many builds into the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Secretly, though, all I could think about was what Mike had mentioned to me those months prior – the Rampage. I made my way to the Redline Oil booth bright and early on Tuesday morning as soon as the doors were open to the media. But, while I could see the front-heavy silhouette of the Rampage, it was hidden under a neoprene vail. Who would do such a thing? Didn’t they know I had been waiting months to see that damned Dodge? Ah, pay no mind, I would just have to wait for the reveal like everyone else.
The scheduled reveal time was 2 p.m., and it couldn’t come soon enough. I scrambled around interviewing and snapping photos, all the while glancing at my Seiko – the hour hand taking entirely too long. I held my breath…
Finally, it was time for the big unveiling. I fought the crowds and wriggled my way to the front. Mike was there, wearing a big white smile, his gray hair stlightly tousled as if he’d been turning wrenches. His constant smirk told a story his Instagram page never could – he definitely had something up his sleeve.
When they finally pulled the cover off, the cacophonous applause from the crowd seemed enough to silence the rest of the convention center and stop everything in its tracks. The blazing orange paint radiated a glow like the Fertility Idol from Raiders Of The Lost Ark, or the contents of Marcellus’s suitcase in Pulp Fiction.
Mike’s Rampage had been transformed from a weak ’80s relic to a totally radical race car! I snapped a few photos during the reveal, but the crowds were such that I couldn’t get anything worth publishing in these digital pages. I knew I’d be back after hours to get the good stuff.
In the meantime, I observed as Mike signed autographs on posters of “Outrage” – the nickname he’s given his creation. As soon as he was done, I caught up with him for an interview where he gave me the specs on the build and his plans for what’s to come next.
“This year, we built a 1984 Dodge Rampage. If you don’t know what that is, it’s a half Omni/ half pickup truck. They were powered by a thundering 90 hp 2.2-liter.” Mike said jokingly. “I bought this one at a charity, used car lot. It was a one-owner truck that I found at Gospel Mission Motors in Spokane, Washington. An 85-year-old woman was the original owner – she drove it only 13,000 miles in its life. When she got to the point where she couldn’t drive, she donated it to the church.”
Mike explained how he became aware of the well-cared-for little Dodge. “A friend of mine, Dave [Chapelle], who’s the host of Dirt Everyday had taken a picture of it because he lives in Spokane. He sent that picture to a friend of mine, joking about it. And another friend got ahold of it and posted it on Facebook. So, I chased it down and bought it.”
Of course, the Arrington Performance creation looks a hell of a lot different than when Mike picked it up in Spokane. It features a whole host of outrageous upgrades – please forgive the pun.
“It’s a mid-engine car now. It’s got a Gen-III Arrington Hemi in it. That includes our CNC Ported heads and camshaft. When people ask, ‘what’s the cam?’. I say, from one to 10 – it’s a 13. So, it’s a big roller. It’s also got Borla stack injection on it, and we run it with a Holley dominator fuel injection system. That’s fed with Aeromotive, and we cool it with Flex-A-lite.”
Of course, Mike couldn’t just lay that monster engine in between any old frame rails. I asked him to expound on the chassis portion of the build. “I started with a Factory Five GTM Chassis. We cut it and lengthened it three-inches, and narrowed it seven-inches. So, basically, we cut the two ends off and built everything else under the car, brand new.”
I asked Mike to go into a little bit more detail about the chassis design, engineering, and weight distribution because it’s plain to see, Outrage is made to run!
“Well, you kinda lay one out when you do it right. You try to figure out the bias and move weight where you need it. Its 2,900 pounds complete. That’s with air conditioning, and it’s got a 1,200-watt pioneer audio system in it with subwoofers and everything. You add all that together and the car is 2,900 pounds, makes 650hp, and 60-percent of the weight is on the rear tire. And, that’s with fuel loaded.”
As Mike explained his thought-process, I knew a build this well-thought-out didn’t spring up overnight. His tangerine vision is the culmination of countless hours of planning. So, I asked Mike what the impetus for designing Outrage was.
“I’ve had this idea to do a mid-engine car for like five years. I knew I wanted to do one, but I just couldn’t find the right platform. I looked at doing a Fiero, and looked at doing all these different things.”
“But, two years ago when I bought Arrington, I made 15 trips to Virginia to move inventory and everything else to Michigan. Well, there was a BBQ place down there that I’d have lunch at. Across the street from the BBQ spot was a closed down auto repair shop. In the parking lot, there was a Dodge Rampage someone had abandoned.”
“I kept looking at that thing every time I’d go there, and just felt like, it is so cool – it has so much potential. So, then I actually went online and found the original body design dimensions for the Rampage.”
“I laid that out, and compared it to what I knew about the engine. I had previously used a Mendeola transaxle, so I knew what the dimensions were. Basically, I laid all that out and said, this thing will fit in here!”
When I asked him if he felt bad about cutting up such a pristine example of ’80s minitruckin, Mike said, “NOT AT ALL.”
“I turned down three-times what I paid for it before I started, and I didn’t feel bad at all. The Rampage…it wasn’t like it was a collectible car, and it wasn’t like it was anything, right? They did only make them for three years. There were about 5,000-total produced over those three years, and they made a Plymouth Scamp version with a different front end. But yeah…no, not at all.”
Well, when one of your claims to fame is being the pioneer behind stabbing a then-brand-new Hellcat engine into a derelict Charger named, General Mayhem, preservation for history’s sake probably isn’t high on the priority list. Especially when you’re creating something this epic.
I kept digging for more info, and Mike dove into the technical side of the suspension. As you can imagine, it’s all custom. Outrage sports Corvette control arms and QA1 Mod series coilovers all the way around. Factory Five doesn’t use a sway-bar on either end, but they were must-have items for what Mike had planned, so he crafted one from a Chevette’s sway bar.
Mike went on to explain how Chevy parts made their way onto his Dodge-heavy build. “There’s actually a group of guys who road race a GTM [chassis], so they had a lot of experience with it, and I found a lot of their posts on the internet. I could have made one [a chassis], but that’s a lot of money, and we only had 10-weeks to build this – that includes body and paint.”
“While it uses Corvette suspension, one of the advantages to the GTM chassis is, it’s four-inches narrower than a Corvette. They’ve also already designed it and created axle shafts that work for that package. So, when you have a really short time frame, you can’t go invent a whole bunch of stuff, right?”
Mike’s chassis choice for Outrage also helped when his team laid out the body. “We were four-inches outside the wheel well after I had custom wheels made to the maximum backspace possible. It’s got 275/35R18s in the front on 10-inch wheels with 5-3/4-inches of backspacing, and the rears are 18×11 with 315/30R18s – all BF Goodrich Rival 1.5’s. But, it has 8-1/4-inches of backspacing on the rear wheel. I worked with the folks at Forgeline, and they custom made those wheels to my dimensions.”
“That let me do a four-inch, all-steel flare that we hand fabricated and welded into the body at all four corners. Then the color – I knew I wanted it bright, and I really like orange – It’s a Hemi, right.” Mike said with a big smile on his face.
“It’s a brand-new color for Dodge for 2020, and it’s called Pumpkin Pearl – then we added 40-percent more pearl to it,” he said, as his smile grew even bigger.
That’s what was so great about speaking with Mike about Outrage, it seems as though he’s just as giddy about this build as he’s ever been about any other he’s done – and there’s quite a few!
When he’s explaining something to you, it’s like he’s doing it for the first time, even though he’s probably told the story what seems like a million times. He’s the real-deal who dreamt something with his mind’s eye, and executed it perfectly. His Outrage is superb and purpose-built.
And, when I say purpose-built – I mean it.
“Just watch, I’m gonna beat that bitch like a rental!”-Mike Copeland
Of course, I’m speaking about what Mike has in store for Outrage. To begin with – the reason for all the chassis stiffening, flared body panels, and wide rubber stem from his desire to build something capable – nay, proficient – at going around a corner. Why, you ask? As if Mike Copeland needs a reason – the Optima Ultimate Streetcar Challenge, that’s why!
Mike mentioned his intent. When I asked him to go into further detail, he said he had to run, but he left me with this quote “Just watch, I’m gonna beat that bitch like a rental!” And with that, he walked off…
From the looks of Arrington Performance’s social media posts, he’s done just that! Just like Mike told me he would, he’s abused his creation, thrown it into hard corners, smashed the go-pedal, and given the Outrage all-out hell. Check out the photos of him tearing it up during Optima’s Ultimate Streetcar Challenge Invitational above.
It’s safe to say, Mike took a lame, weak, bunk, ’80s relic, and transformed it into the fresh piece of choiceness it’s meant to be. To quote Ferris Bueller, “If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”