For the first time in my Ultimate Adventure experiences, I wimped out and took a trailer to the starting point. I wasn't sure if Clampy would make the more than 24-hour drive needed to get to the start of Ultimate Adventure, and I wasn't about to receive the wrath of Editor Rick Pw for being late. So Feature Editor Jerrod Jones and I hitched up the Ultimate Avalanche and towed my Project Clampy Toyota truck from Los Angeles to Missouri, where we unloaded the little beater and went wheeling for a week. I was a little worried that being on full-width 1-ton axles (Dana 60 and 70) was going to hurt me, but now I won't trade it for the world. I was able to side hill some crazy obstacles, and had to get really stupid to make the truck feel light. The spring-under suspension did get caught on a few boulders, but not enough for me to want to change it. The front springs are very flat now, but I'm just so happy with the low stance that I probably won't change it.
All in all the damage report was pretty minimal. I now have a new alternator, as the old one died during the week, but otherwise everything under the hood worked amazingly well for a 200,000+ miles powerplant. I bent one of the rear springs pretty badly by backing a shackle into a rock, and Tuff Country came through big time to get me another within 24 hours. I should also have replaced the exhaust, as it broke apart twice - even when rewelded - and now hangs from bailing wire and aluminum foil. Though the engine leaks from every gasket, it doesn't seem to use that much oil, and ran so well that I wished I had driven it out there and back. Of course that would have required a set of rear fenders that wouldn't keep falling off during every high-speed rutted dirt road excursion, and I'm already working on them. All in all I am very happy with the results of my one-month buildup of a desolate beater into a total sleeper. I only wish I had another month to spend out wheeling in it.
By this point I was barely started with Clampy, and my month was already half gone. Luckily I convinced the boss that I would be working from home for the next two weeks, and could somehow write last month's stories and build Clampy at the same time. To give my tired four squirrels some needed leverage over the 39-inch BFGoodrich Krawlers, I contacted Advance Adapters about a dual transfer-case adapter. I chose to run stock low gears in both cases rather than swap in lower gears at this point. Rather than go into the step by step of dual cases here, I'll let you in on some upcoming secrets. AA is going to release its own cast Toyota low-range box that will not need machining for the 5:1 gears and will include all new pieces. Plus the company is working on an adapter, which will mate its new box to a Jeep Dana 300 or Atlas, thus allowing true twin-stick ability. And finally, Advance Adapters might be working on an adapter from the early Toyota transmissions to the Atlas in case you don't want to run Toyota gearing at all. Watch for it.
To protect the cases, I bolted up a BudBuilt crossmember to the frame. This 3/8-inch-thick crossmember bolts into the stock crossmember mounts and has a secondary 3/16-inch skidplate that attaches to it giving 9/16-inch of total protection as well as increasing belly clearance by 2 1/2 inches. During our trip I bellyflopped the Clampster hard on Bud's two-piece skidplate more than once, and not only did it barely show a scratch, with it's smooth snag-free surface, I could grind over rocks with nary a concern.
With the rear end in place I measured for my rear driveshaft, and determined what angle to weld on my spring perches. I pointed the pinion a degree below the center of the rear output, and this resulted in vibration-free runs at highway speed. I bolted on the 39-inch Krawlers wrapped around a set of 17-inch Walker Evans bead locks and took Clampy outside. There I lifted the tires with a neighbor's forklift in order to measure for shocks. By measuring the distance from the axle's shock mounts to the frame in each corner at full stuff and full droop I could decide where the top of the shock should go. I had left the front shock hangers from the Total Chaos kit on but needed to determine where to weld on new axle tabs.
In the rear I used a set of Sky's front shock hoops as well as some gussets from Con-Ferr as my upper shock mounts. The Poly Performance BBCS-15 LT shocks offer 15 inches of travel and digressive compression and rebound valving specifically designed for slow-speed rockcrawling. Unfortunately my front suspension would only use about 3 inches of uptravel. However, I did like the built-in bumpstop feature of these shocks, and didn't need any other bump stop for the UA trip.
With the suspension in and driveshafts in the works, I had some time to get the front Dana 60 axle assembled at Drivetrain Direct. Before I headed there I had gotten a set of 7.17 Yukon gears from Randy's Ring & Pinion as well as a set of Randy's chromoly axleshafts. I didn't really need the chromoly inner shafts, but I wanted to try the chromoly 30-spline stub shafts so I could run locking hubs. Randy's claims the strength to be comparable to - if not better than - stock Spicer 35-spline stubs, and after the abuse I put them through I have to agree. I had Drivetrain Direct install my gears and an ARB Air Locker. I had always used Detroit Lockers front and rear in the past, but felt I needed to try something different so I could have the experience. Other than simply forgetting to turn on the front locker once during the trip, I was completely satisfied with these Australian traction aids, and am going to struggle when deciding between ARB and Detroit next time.
Other than some fender trimming for the shocks and the steering improvements, I did very few underhood upgrades, though I did find space in the back corner to install ARB's new mini compressor. Truth be told, I didn't get it installed until the start of UA when I convinced Sam Gillis, Trent McGee, and Keith Bailey to help me mount, plumb, and wire it in the hotel parking lot. If you can imagine four guys with adult beverages installing a mini compressor by the light of a lamppost, then you can imagine just how easily it went in. We plumbed it with some of Russell's stainless steel-coated Teflon hose, and didn't have any issues with it all week. The new mini compressors aren't designed for filling tires, but they do seem to be a little quieter than the larger design and are great where space is a premium.
I had needed steering knuckles and found them at Drivetrain Direct where they had an old Dodge front 60 laying in the corner. The Dodge spring perches are slightly wider than the Chevy, so I used my GM housing with the Dodge knuckles and hubs. Unfortunately, the Dodge hubs use a classic design where the selectable hubs bolt on externally, and no one offers those hubs in 35-spline. In fact, the only hubs I could find were a set of Selectro's currently offered by MileMarker. These hubs worked pretty well, but on one particular obstacle I had the front end bouncing and tires spinning and grenaded the passenger-side unit. Yes, I was pushing a bit more than this classic design was prepared for, and as such I spent the remainder of the our trip running drive flanges which required removal for every road day. It was not the most convenient setup, but it was a good test of the Yukon shafts, which took some serious abuse.