You always run into problems along the way when doing a project, especially a big one. And sometimes you can plan for it, sometimes you can't. We had to change our plans a little this month, as we ran into a metaphorical brick wall of a problem. Last time we told you we'd be showing you how we built the front hoops, mounted the front coilovers, mounted a track bar, and added airbumps (Sept. 2003). Well, we haven't quite done all this yet. As we cycled the suspension with the new Cepek control arms on, we noted two big problems. The first we sort of expected, but the second was a shocker. With the front suspension fully drooped, the driveshaft is the most binding factor. So much so, in fact, that the front axle won't even droop the last 3 inches. The second bump in the road was the 2mm-wide crack in the top of the centersection. The centersection! We had bent lots of axletubes before, but this was a first for us.
Instead, this month we're stepping sideways a little and showing how and why we chose to build the bumpers and other body modifications, and some of the problems we're currently addressing. Remember, we're building this truck to be an all-around fun toy and driver for the desert, dunes, trail, or street. Because of this multiple-duty configuration, we had to make some decisions and compromises that we would not necessarily have made for a purpose-built vehicle.
For the bumpers, we went to see an old friend. Chris Hill runs Hill 4 Wheel Drive in San Luis Obispo, where we spent many years trying to get through college. In that time we saw many projects that Chris had done. He stuck Larry Smith, Martin Jefferson, and Mike Scott on the job to come up with some great-looking and functional protection.
Hank Van Gaale of Imperial Welding is still finishing our suspension, but he can only dedicate so much time to our pile, as he, like Chris Hill, has a real job with real responsibilities and doesn't have time to namby-pamby around the U.S. with a camera in hand. Hey, wait a sec. ...!
Martin Jefferson and Mike Scott started on the bending of the tubes to get the bumpers and rollbar shaped. We used DOM seamless 2-inch tubing for the rollbar and rear bumper, and DOM 1 3/4-inch tubing for the front bumper.
All the tubing was first tacked into place as all the bends were made and checked. To attach our front bumper, Larry Smith smoothed off the factory front-bumper mounts and built a front crossmember using 2-inch square tubing. Once the bumpers were complete, Smith and Jefferson pulled the equipment back off and finalized all the welds. The front bumper had come out very light, like we planned. That's part of the reason Smith used smaller tubing up front: More weight savings, but we still have a strong enough bumper with a great approach angle.
Knowing that this was going to be an all-around truck, we wanted a winch. But this is a fullsize truck, not a rockcrawler Jeep. If we get stuck, all we want to do is get back out the same way we go in. Also, we wanted additional weight in the rear and less up front. The natural solution was to incorporate a Warn 9,000-pound winch into the back bumper.
This is the finished product of the rear bumper. It's actually a pretty slick design, if we do say so ourselves. We asked Hill 4-Wheel Drive to use our factory tow hitch as the mount for the bumper, so they cut and welded the bumper in place of the 2-inch square cross tube of the modified hitch. It bolts into the stock hitch location, we made no additional holes, and we can still tow with it because a new hitch was built into the bumper. A winch was added above the hitch, and there is enough tubing strength back there to drop the truck on its butt without fear of any damage.
The element of human protection was a bit of a dilemma. We wanted so badly to go with a full cage, cut through the body, and hack into the bed. But remember, this is an all-around truck and daily driver too. We needed to keep the bed, we didn't want the extra holes in the body, and the cage would take up more room than we wanted it to in the cab. But we did need some type of reinforcement. A double-tube rollbar was decided upon. Now stop right there--we know what you're thinking, and we were worried about the lame factor too.
But Jefferson and Smith did such a stupendous job that it turned out beautifully. The tubes were angled toward the cab to match the contour of it, and all welded mounting points had steel plating reinforcements. If we were ever to roll, the rollbar would actually support this truck, and even if it bent a little, it would be towards the cab which would be buckling in the opposite direction.
There's one more reason we built the rollbar like we did. We wanted to add in an old rear bench seat from a Blazer into the bed. We used four 9/16-inch bolts and wingnuts to mount it and Filler Safety lap belts to make it safe and legal. This way we have room to carry a couple extra friends out for some fun, they are protected by the rollbar, and the seat removes easily and quickly in case we need to utilize the entire bed. As far as legality goes, it's a little fuzzy, but we've already been pulled over by three different cops to check it out, and each has let us go (to their dismay it appears to be legal). They looked really excited about busting us too.
On the inside, no mere stock seatbelt is going to hold you in place very well once you start really moving. For added safety, we welded in a 1 1/2-inch bar under the rear window and ran four-point harnesses from it. And yeah, we like big stereos.
Since we had the suspension partly completed, and all the new tubing was on the truck, we just had to go romp around a little bit and see what was off. And boy, did we find a few problems. First, look at the track bar angle compared to the draglink's angle. These should be parallel, but they are obviously not in this picture. This is creating a massive amount of bumpsteer right now. Something we'll address next month.The second problem was the rear shocks being way too long. Our eyes had gotten a little big when ordering shocks, and now we have barely any compression travel. We will swap the 12-inch-stroke shocks for 10-inch stroke-shocks to solve this problem.
We also found the brake lines to be too short, and since EGR Performance Brakes are the only ones making front steel-braided brake lines for Dodges, we'll be calling them soon enough.
The final problem is really just more of a preference: The lower coils on our front coilover shocks are too stiff and we'd like to switch them out for softer ones. This was definitely expected, though, because it's hard to know how soft of a coil you want without actually driving the truck. So check in next month, when we'll complete Jinxy for its maiden voyage.
EGR Performance Brakes
Hill 4 Wheel Drive
1200 SE Capps Rd.