Some folks think sitting around a campfire sipping beverages from cans is a total waste of time, but for us this is where some of the greatest story ideas come from. Recently we were halfway through a cooler when the latest trend in off-road vehicles came to the center of our discussion. We weren't discussing the merits of rock buggies or cab trucks. No, it was these off-road carts also known as side-by-sides (or glorified golf carts depending on who you ask), made popular by the Yamaha Rhino that we have seen booming on and around all of our favorite tracks. But as the night progressed and the cooler got lighter, the discussion began revolving around whether or not these little rigs were any good or worth the $10,000+ price tag many of them carry, and there were definite camps with differing opinions. Before the last can was tilted bottom-up we realized there was only one way to answer our query. It was simple, we would get one and run it head to head against an equally priced 4x4 and really show whether or not these little buggers are all that good. For some reason I volunteered my Cheap Truck Challenge Suzuki Samurai for the competition. I figured with what I had done with it so far, and with a few more upgrades, this little rig would send the Rhino running with its tail between its legs and a few Samurai sword scars to boot. In case you missed the multiple articles on this little truck over the past three years, I bought it for less than $500 and proceeded to upgrade the suspension and tires. Then I bought another Samurai that also got some upgrades like lower transfer-case gears and better steering. Next I decided to combine both little trucks and put all the best parts on just one since I didn't have storage space for two 'Zukis in Los Angeles. Over the following months I also added a winch bumper and winch, a better fuel tank, and power steering. So with less than a month before my showdown with the Rhino, I looked over the list of components my Japanese warrior had and found a serious deficit in the traction and gearing categories. Yep, the Samurai needed lockers and gears, especially since I knew the Rhino has these bits in its goofy full independent suspension-and I wasn't about to be spinning tires out in the bush. Luckily the Samurai is also one of the easiest and cheapest trucks to upgrade these parts in, and it can be done well within a Rhino hunter's budget. This month we upgrade. Check back next issue when we go head to head with the latest trend off road. The '91 Samurai is fuel injected with a rebuilt computer and plastic fuel tank from Petroworks, 5.14:1 gears in the transfer case, a power and crossover steering kit from Calmini, a spring-over suspension from the guys at SpiderTrax, a conversion power-steering pump and box from Hawk's Strictly Suzuki, a winch bumper from Trail Tough with a mini rockcrawler 9.0R winch from Warn, and some BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain tires. Walker Evans Racing adjustable shocks have been added along with some awesome headlights with built-in turn signals from Chevs of the 40s. With some basic tuneups and a head gasket change after the previous one blew, the result is an $8,200 trail rig.The '91 Samurai is fuel injected with a rebuilt computer and plastic fuel tank from Petrow To be dominant in our Trail Truck versus Side-by-Side test, I realized that axle gears and lockers would be needed. In another Samurai I had welded the rear axle and, though it never failed while I owned it, it definitely did chirp the tires on turns. This time I definitely wanted a real locking differential. As a refresher, a locking differential goes within your axlehousing and sends power to both wheels on that axle, whereas an open differential always sends power to the axle with the least traction. There are some selectable locking differentials available for the Samurai, but I chose a less-expensive Lock-Right locker from Richmond Gear for this build. With a phone call to Spidertrax I had the Lock-Rights shipped to my door.To be dominant in our Trail Truck versus Side-by-Side test, I realized that axle gears and Since I was going to be pulling the axle apart for the new lockers to be installed, I decided to go with lower gearing as well. I only run 31-inch tires on my 'Zuki, but even with the 5:1 low-range gears in the transfer case, I still wanted more crawl ratio. In the end I decided on 4.56 ring-and-pinions down from my stock 3.72. (Note-Having now driven this Samurai off road, I would recommend going even lower to 5.13 gears.) Luckily for me the Samurai has a removable carrier-style axlehousing which means there is a third member which houses the ring-and-pinion along with the differential. This allowed me to pull the third members, box them up, and ship them off to West Coast Differential where a set of Sierra gears and the Lock-Right lockers could be installed. Thus no special tools were needed. Simply remove the axleshafts, pull some bolts to release the third member, and you're ready to send the parts away.Since I was going to be pulling the axle apart for the new lockers to be installed, I deci When the differentials returned from West Coast Differentials, they had brand-new bearings, gears, and the Lock-Rights, and were ready to be stuffed back in the housing. Be sure to clean and reseal the mating surfaces between the third member and the housing.When the differentials returned from West Coast Differentials, they had brand-new bearings Running a locking front differential can put added stress onto the steering joints, and the Samurai birfield CV joints are very small. Luckily Spidertrax also offers birfield rings to strengthen the birfield housings. You will need a press in order to install the rings, and some slight grinding with a die grinder to the axlehousing is needed to make clearance for the rings when turning.Running a locking front differential can put added stress onto the steering joints, and th With the axle all back together, including new seals from Spidertrax, I was almost ready to go wheeling. Gear break-in is another important step when changing ring-and-pinion ratios. Proper break-in involves running the vehicle a short distance to heat up the gears and then letting them cool. On the Samurai I tried a new method by simply putting the truck up on jackstands, and letting the axles spin for 30 minutes in gear, before doing the same in reverse. Then I changed the gear lube and all was ready to go. Next month we hit the dirt to see how a true 4x4 compares to the Rhino.With the axle all back together, including new seals from Spidertrax, I was almost ready t SIDEBAR '91 Suzuki Samurai (used) $450 Oil change and battery $68 Computer upgraded $250 Spring-over axle kit $250 Welding to install SOA kit $100 Rollcage $400 Winch $1,700 Winch bumper $380 Power-steering kit $240 Power-steering box $450 Crossover steering $300 Low transfer-case gears $600 Transfer-case bearing kit $200 Tires $700 Wheels $220 Headlights $190 Shocks $1,200 Gas tank $365 Fuel pump $125 Axle gears 4.56:1 (pair) $500 Bearings (pair) $260 Install (both axles) $520 Lock-Right lockers (pair) $540 Birfield rings (pair) $100 Samurai Total $10,108 VERSUS Yamaha Rhino MSRP $9,799 SOURCES Warn 5-03/-722-1200 www.warn.com Petroworks Suzuki T-cases, parts, and kits Trail Tough Suzuki Low gearsets, T-case rebuild kits, heavy-duty Suzuki T-case mounts, "Rock Block" gear-reduction units, Suzuki rear drives Walker Evans Racing www.walkerevansracing.com Calmini www.calmini.com Hawk's Strictly Suzuki www.hawksuzukiparts.com BFGoodrich Tires 877-788-8899 www.bfgoodrichtires.com Spidertrax N/A www.spidertrax.com Chevs of the 40's 866-681-7484 www.chevsofthe40s.com West Coast Differentials www.differentials.com Enjoyed this Post? 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