Metal Row Rockwell Tech: Mar. '09 Tear Down: Apr. '09 Axle Buildup: May '09 Suspension: J
Finishing a project vehicle is both a blessing and a curse. Sure, you're seemingly finished for the moment and out of the shop, but now you have to see how it matches up against the tough terrain that you built it for. With the first turn of the engine, your mind begins to race harder than ever. As flashes of the past few months race through your head, you search rapidly through your mental tech library, wondering if there were any bolts left loose or if your buddy remembered to fill the differential before he left the shop last night at 3 a.m.
When we first embarked on our '99 Dodge Durango project build (aka Heavy Metal Mudder), our goal was to build a simple and affordable Rockwelled rig that could handle almost any terrain but really shine in mud. Looking back, we genuinely feel that we accomplished our goals. We credit a lot of our success to starting with a great build platform. While 2 1/2-ton Rockwells and 44-inch Boggers are not for everyone, a strong and reliable drivetrain is something all wheelers can benefit from. Keeping the stock 5.9L V-8, 46RE transmission, and NP242 transfer case saved us from feeling like we are recreating the wheel and let us focus on getting the low-buck rig out of the garage and on the trail in a timely fashion.
As of right now the Durango has been running and driving for four months. Though we would like to tell you that we've spent thousands of miles and hundreds of hours testing it, the truth is that we can't. We definitely have put it through some tough stuff, but we are anxious to get more time behind the wheel before we sign up for any testimonials. So far we can proudly say that it has performed excellently while rockcrawling and hillclimbing, and we have yet to get it stuck in any So Cal mud pits. But that's not to say that it's unstoppable. For now our plans are to continue dialing in the rig and look for ways to improve it as we go along.
For more information on the build and to keep up with the progress of our Heavy Metal Mudder, be sure to check us out at 4wheeloffroad.com.
Road Or Tow
How streetable a vehicle is depends on the vehicle, driver, road conditions, and highway patrol. We've had our Durango up to highway speeds, and although we think it's fine to drive down the road to your local wheeling spot, it's not exactly something we would like to drive cross-country. That's not to say the vehicle couldn't do it, but it would be slow and potentially expensive (depending on what state we're passing through). Does this mean that if you build a Rockwelled rig, you need to factor in a trailer? Yes and no. Being that our Mudder is 98 inches wide, a traditional U-Haul car hauler won't cut it in a pinch. We suggest looking into a custom 102-inch-wide trailer, if not for hauling then for peace of mind. You can get from place to place worry-free. Look for a future issue where we explore all the trailer possibilities and what you need when hauling a massive rig.
The biggest and most pleasant surprise of the build is how well the suspension works. The Jeep JK and WJ coil springs support the weight of the Mopar Monster without issue, and the link suspension doesn't pop, bind, or handle quirkily off road. Though a custom sway bar would be nice, it isn't necessary. We are still tinkering with the adjustments on the Pro Comp MX-6 shocks and think that one of our biggest challenges may be keeping the massive unsprung weight of the 2 1/2-ton axles in control. We'll continue to work with the setup that we have until we deem it necessary to upgrade or break everything from playing monster truck!
Back To Work
After a recent four-wheel outing where we dunked the Durango in a few mud holes and did some light wheeling, we loaded it back onto the trailer and headed home. By the time we got to the house the rear tire looked like slime had exploded all over it. We had a bad feeling when we removed the differential drain plug and a couple gallons of water came rushing out. Since the 2 1/2-ton axle is a full floater, we went ahead and pulled out the axleshafts to see if the grease was shot too. There's an old saying that for every hour you play in the mud, expect to spend two in the garage.