I want to build a moderate trail rig. I know Hendrix Motorsports offers a tube frame designed to fit on a Toyota pickup frame. I was wondering what would be my best option for axles, gears, and suspension setups. I plan on using a four-cylinder diesel and five-speed transmission from a ’78 VW. It would mostly be for light crawling and some mud, mostly just family fun. I have never done something like this. I was just looking for some help.
I am all for building a rock buggy. They are fun to drive, they can take a lot of abuse if built right, and they are often free of bodywork for less external damage. Nonetheless, there are many things to consider before going this route.
To start, where are you going to take it wheeling, and how will you get it there? Do you have a tow rig and a trailer? Are there trails near you that will be challenging and fun in a buggy? Are you going to go through all the extra work and headaches of making it street-legal? If not, can you use it on your local trails without a license?
The Hendrix Motor Sports buggies (www.hendrixmotorsports.com) are some of the easiest on the market to build. They start with a Toyota truck chassis and suspension and grow from there. They do require moving the engine location backward for better weight balance, but they are still slam-dunk simple and a great first buggy project. Changing to a Volkswagen diesel engine and transmission can complicate that design, but it isn’t impossible.
As for axles, I’d recommend Toyota solid axles, leaf springs, and dual cases such as those offered by Marlin Crawler (www. marlincrawler.com).
You mention keeping the VW transmission, but I’d suggest going to a Toyota transmission and adapting it to the VW diesel. Acme Adapters (www.acmeadapters.com) can help with adapting the engine.
However, if this is your first 4x4 I probably wouldn’t recommend a buggy. I’d say get a Toyota 4x4 if you like the Hendrix buggy design and start wheeling it. Many of the parts you add to the Toyota, such as dual cases, you can carry over to the Hendrix buggy down the road. You may find that having an enclosed cab is more your style than having a buggy. There is something to be said for keeping warm and dry if you wheel where it is cold, snowy, and muddy. Also, you can usually drive a lifted Toyota 4x4 truck or 4Runner on the road without too much drama from the local authorities, which is less true with a buggy.
I don’t want you to give up your buggy dream. They are very cool, but understand you don’t “need” one to go wheeling—99 percent of the trails I’ve been on can be done in a moderately built 4x4 with gears, lockers, and a reliable powertrain. A buggy will open up some “extreme” options, but it comes with a price in time to build, and equipment to tow it with.
I was given a ’90 GMC 1500 work van with 44,000 miles on a Jasper 305 TBI replacement engine, and I want to tow a Jeep with it. I also have an ’80 Dana 60 from a J20. Should I throw it under the rear of the van and add a few leaf springs? If I add G20/30 coil springs and shocks up front, what else should I beef up? Do I need bigger rotors and calipers?
Many people think towing with a half-ton is a bad idea, but that isn’t always true. Consider a few important properties of a good tow rig.
First, is it heavier than what is being towed? If the Jeep is being flat-towed, the answer is most likely yes. If the Jeep is on a moderate car trailer, then still probably yes. If the Jeep has a heavy engine, a 21⁄2-ton axle, 50-inch tires, and half-inch plate body armor, then you might be pushing it. You often want the tow rig heavier to help control the towed load behind it.
Second, can the tow rig stop the trailer? If the tow rig has good brakes and the trailer has electric brakes then this shouldn’t be a problem. A flat-towed Jeep likely won’t have brakes that can help stop it, but is also lighter than a Jeep on a trailer. Upgrading to larger brakes wouldn’t hurt, but they are only mandatory if the trailer has no brakes.
Finally, can the tow rig handle the weight of the trailer? This is a matter of checking the tow rating and tongue weight allowance of the tow rig—in your case the van. These numbers can be found in the owner’s manual and often on the door frame. If we guess your Jeep is 4,500 pounds or less, then you’re probably fine towing it with the van as is, but be sure and double-check those ratings. They are based on the suspension weight rating, axle load rating, brake stopping ability, engine and transmission power, and also very importantly the cooling system. Can it cool the engine and transmission in the van?
The idea of upgrading your rear axle and springs isn’t bad, but that ’80 Jeep Dana 60 is most likely an eight-lug variant with a full floating hub design. Good axle for a half-ton tow rig, but you will have to change wheel bolt patterns from your van and they will not match the front. A rear axle from 3⁄4- and 1-ton vans of the same era would be my first direction. Are the axles similar in spring perch width? Do the front end parts work on the half-ton? A lot of this can be figured out with a tape measure and a trip to your local junkyard.
Other items to consider when making your van into a tow rig include a proper trailer hitch rated to the weight of your Jeep and trailer, an additional transmission cooler, proper service to your transmission, slightly lower axle gears for towing, and a mural on the side of Conan the Barbarian.