Over the course of a year we feature vehicles in the pages of 4-Wheel Off-Road that we hope will help you dream up, plan, and build your ideal 4x4. Sometimes the vehicle is a high-dollar work of mechanical and engineering art, and sometimes it's a truck your neighbor down the street built in his barn. We try to cover as broad a spectrum of vehicles as we can, and that means traveling all over the country and searching out rigs that combine radically new technologies with proven off-road concepts in a 4x4 package that works better, looks cooler, or goes further than anything else out on the trail.
We can't discriminate between vehicle brands because a functional 4x4 will prove itself whether it's a GMC or a Scout 800. It's true that certain vehicles make better foundations than others, but ultimately it comes down to what you build and not what you buy. So every year we compile a cross-section of reader-built rigs that have been inspired by trucks, tech, and trends that are brought to you every month in the pages of this magazine. We are happy to say that we have never seen so many capable rigs out on the trail, and bringing you 4x4s worthy of your attention gets easier every year. Flip through the following pages and start planning your next rig or next modification. We can't wait to see it, and more importantly, we can't wait to show it to the rest of the world.
The 4x4 Equivalent Of Your Backyard HammockGMC-Mog
Daniel Tibus built this K15 in Germany and then had it shipped over to Moab for the Easter Jeep Safari so we could check it out. We had toyed with the idea of putting Unimog axles under a fullsize truck ourselves, but could never have done as clean an install as this. The portal Unimog axles he runs have a lot of advantages over even the Dana 60, and after Daniel narrows the housings and converts them to disc brakes the only downside is the 7.54: 1 axle ratio, if you consider that a downside.
Vehicle: '85 GMC K15
Owner: Daniel Tibus
Tires: 39.5x15-16.5 Swamper
Wheels: 16.5x9.75 Hummer bead lock
Front Suspension: Radius arm two-link with track bar, Eibach springs, and Koni shocks
Rear Suspension: Three-link wishbone system that uses an upper triangulated arm from a Rover and lower arms from a Mercedes G-Series truck with Eibach springs and Rough Country shocks
Engine: 6.2L GM diesel with 4,800 engine rpm injection pump, 170 bar injectors, and J-code intake manifold
Transmission: 4L80E with Jet TCM
Transfer Case: 2.61:1 NVG218 AMG clocked up for better ground clearance
Front Axle: Killer Axle 404 Unimog portal, 3.54 gears in diff, 2.13:1 geared hubs at knuckles, Unimog selectable locker, and eight-lug hub conversion
Rear Axle: Killer Axle 404 Unimog portal, 3.54 gears in diff, 2.13:1 geared hubs at knuckles, Unimog selectable locker, and eight-lug hub conversion
Advantages: Extreme ground clearance, flexible suspension, and more room than a Jeep
Drawbacks: Early Hummer 218 transfer case has not held up. In Germany a 39-inch Swamper costs $700
If you hate getting covered in mud, and you can't afford to compete in desert racing or rockcrawling, there's still a ton of fun to be had roaming the desert range. Unlike with mud and rocks, you are far more likely to take your daily driver out for a day in the dirt without needing to spend a week in the car wash or the body shop undoing the fun-damage.
These seven rigs are about having fun with as little stress as possible. That's what being a Desert Dog is all about-relaxing and cruising your favorite trails with as little work as possible. These rigs will hardly ever break and always make for good trail companions, and the drivers will always be in good moods.
We found Dave Silverthorne cruising the high desert seas of TDS and immediately asked him where he got the five-lug Dana 60 rear axle that he had swapped into his F-100. When he told us that it was the stock rear axle that came with the truck back in 1967, we were floored. Knowing that he had our attention he pointed out the front Dana 44 axle that uses kingpin open knuckle outers. We didn't even know such an axle existed! He then broke it to us that the truck had no power steering and it was plagued with a single-speed Dana 21 transfer case. Still this truck is capable enough to qualify as a Desert Dog and so unique we just had to show it to you Ford guys out there.
Vehicle: '67 Ford F-100
Owner: Dave Silverthorne
Tires: 32x11.50-15 BFG
Wheels: 15x10 steel
Front Suspension: Radius arms with 4-inch lift Rancho coil springs
Rear Suspension: Rancho 4-inch add-a-leaves
Engine: Ford 302
Transmission: T-18 four-speed
Transfer Case: Dana 21 single speedFront Axle: High-pinion Dana 44 with kingpin knuckles and 3.55 gears
Rear Axle: Dana 60, 3.55 gears, and original limited slip
Advantages: Factory Dana 60 rear axle in a 11/42-ton truck. Guaranteed to initiate bench racing sessions wherever you go
Drawbacks: No low range Dana 21 transfer case means you have your fun in the fast stuff and leave the crawling to somebody else. Kingpin Dana 44? Try finding parts for that axle!
OK, so there aren't a lot of deserts in Jeff Cramer's home state of Maryland. So what! Jeff's got a tow vehicle and doesn't mind racking up the road miles all over the country in search of off-road challenges for his LT1-powered S-10. Jeff's S-10 buildup plan revolved around mounting the mini-truck body on his old Suburban frame, and when the going gets really tough he ditches the doors for better visibility. Now he has the strength of a fullsize truck in a much more trail (and trailer) friendly package.
Vehicle: '82 S-10 on an '80 Suburban chassis
Owner: Jeff Cramer
Tires: 38x13-16 Super Swamper TSL
Wheels: 16x8 Rockcrawler
Front Suspension: 511/42-inch Skyjacker front springs with Off Road Design extended shackles
Rear Suspension: 64-inch long, 5-inch lift National Springs packs with shackle flip
Engine: '95 LT1 350
Transmission: '87 TH700R4
Transfer Case: NP208
Front Axle: '77 Dana 60, 4.56 gears, ARB air locker
Rear Axle: AAM 14-bolt, 4.56 gears, Detroit Locker
Advantages: Using a Suburban frame means automatic solid axle swap and room for a V-8 and 1-ton drivetrain
Drawbacks: Hood and fenders had to be lengthened 8 inches to fit frame and clear larger radiator.
Long Suburban wheelbase leaves the rear driveshaft too vulnerable in the rocks. Not having doors means bringing a lot of warm clothes
This K5 is a perfect example of a simple 4x4 formula that anyone can follow to achieve off-road hero status without selling your soul to the local off-road shop. Tim Sprouse's K5 uses the proven SM465 four-speed combined with an Off Road Design Doubler to get all the gear reduction he could ever need, while keeping the stock 4.10 gears that came in his donor K30 axles. After a little spider gear welding out back and a Lock-Right up front the axles were done. The money Tim saved on the axles went toward the crossover steering, high-steer arms, and an AGR Rockram that solved every steering problem Tim ever had.
Vehicle: '74 K5 Blazer
Owner: Tim Sprouse
Tires: 38x12.50-15 Swamper
Wheels: Trudesign modular
Front Suspension: 4-inch-lift leaf springs
Rear Suspension: Factory springs with shackle flip and taller spring perches
Engine: '77 Chevrolet 355
Transfer Case: Off Road Design Doubler
Front Axle: '81 Dana 60, 4.10 gears, and a Lock-Right
Rear Axle: '81 AAM 14-bolt, 4.10 gears, and welded spider gears
Advantages: Rocker panels were completely cut out and replaced with 3x3 tube steel for the ultimate in ground clearance and rocker protection. Rust-Oleum Safety Red paint only costs $35 a gallon so he's not afraid to scratch the bodyDrawbacks: Department of Transportation doesn't like it when you ditch the side marker lights
Poore Man's Tacoma
On the contrary. We're sure that this TRD Tacoma buildup cost Ben Poore quite a bit of money, but it made for such a cool package that we couldn't just keep it to ourselves. Never mind the solid axle swap using a Ford Bronco Dana 44 or the TRD blown V-6 under the hood. Tacomas just look so right on 36-inch Swampers. In a truck this light the full-width Dana 44 front axle will live forever, and is a perfect match for the factory electric locker that came in the rear axle.
Vehicle: '99 Toyota Tacoma TRD
Owner: Ben Poore
Tires: 36x12.50-15 Super Swamper
Wheels: American racing 15x10
Front Suspension: 9-inch lift custom front leaf springs
Rear Suspension: Northwest Off Road extended rear shackle and springs
Engine: 3.4L V-6 with TRD supercharger
Transmission: Stock Tacoma
Transfer Case: Stock Tacoma
Front Axle: High-pinion Dana 44 from a '79 Bronco with 4.88 gears and Lock-Right
Rear Axle: Tacoma rear axle with 4.88 gears and TRD electric locker
Advantages: The bed was bobbed 12 inches for better departure angle, custom solid axle swap with leaf springs, and Scout steering box works so well that Toyota engineers would be jealous
Drawbacks: The local Toyota dealership is sure to go into stomach convulsions if he ever has to bring it in for warranty work
OK, it's got a number on it and coilover shocks, and could be considered a "Competition Crawler" if owner Charlie Copsey hadn't been driving it while on vacation. We like Charlie's ride because it breaks new ground in the small engine, low gears, light weight category and shows everyone that rear-wheel steering can make the difference between wheeling and winching up a trail.
Vehicle: Just-4-Fun custom tube chassis
Owner: Charlie Copsey
Tires: 37x12.50-15 Goodyear MT/R
Wheels: 15x8 Trail Ready bead lock
Front Suspension: King coilovers
Rear Suspension: King coilovers
Engine: '97 supercharged Buick 3800 V-6
Transmission: '87 TH700R4 from an S-10
Transfer Case: NP231
Front Axle: Unimog 404 portal axle with 3.54 gears in diff, 2.13:1 geared hubs at knuckles, and selectable locker
Rear Axle: Unimog 404 portal axle with 3.54 gears in diff, 2.13:1 geared hubs at knuckles, and selectable locker
Advantages: Lightweight blown V-6 gives it the power of a V-8 in a much smaller package. Unimog axles give the ground clearance of 44-inch tires even on 37-inch radials
Drawbacks: Not a lot of storage space in a tube-frame rig, and Charlie's original steering arms weren't up to the strain of hydraulic steering
We can't wait to see what Tim Odell's Toyota looks like next year. As it is, Tim's home-brewed solid-axle swap and unfolding front shackle took him some impressive places. Too bad a longer front driveshaft and some lower gears weren't in the budget this year. Still, Tim's Toy showed a lot of potential as he pushed it to its limits-and beyond-at Moab this year.
Vehicle: '91 Toyota pickup
Owner: Tim Odell
Tires: 33x14.50-15 SuperSwamper SSR
Wheels: 15x10 Eagle Alloy
Front Suspension: Straight-axle conversion using 4-inch lift leaf springs
Rear Suspension: Re-arched springs and blocks
Transmission: W56 five-speed
Transfer Case: Geardrive 21-spline
Front Axle: '85 Toyota solid axle with 4.10 gears
Rear Axle: '91 Toyota solid axle with 4.10 gears and welded spider gears
Advantages: A true daily driver/weekend warrior trail Toyota. Homemade fabrication that could work as well as a professional job after a few bugs get worked out
Drawbacks: Homemade front shackles allowed so much droop that the front driveshaft kept pulling apart. Crawl ratio with 4.10 gears and stock transfer case means limited lifespan for Toyota clutches