Off-Road Trailer Opinions?
Q: I read about your trip across Russia last summer, and you didn’t seem very pleased with your Adventure trailer [“Suzukis Across Siberia,” Mar. ’11]. Was there a problem with that trailer specificly, the suspension, or all off-road trailers? I’m trying to determine if a trailer is right for behind my Dodge truck with slide-in camper. I have a basic camper with no kitchen, and with a wife and two kids it gets crowded. We’re considering an option for camping and exploring. My Dodge is a diesel with a utility bed with toolboxes that I use for work, but then I haul the family in it for weekend trips. What is my best option so I can camp but still go exploring?
A: The trailer we towed across eastern Russia was built by Adventure Trailers (www.adventuretrailers.com), which has since informed me that the suspension was supposed to be set to ride height upon my arrival in Russia. This may have made some of the issues with the trailer obsolete, but not all of them. I feel that off-road trailers are cumbersome, and towing one tells me you either have too much stuff or too small a vehicle.
For example, I think a properly outfitted 4x4 can support four people, giving them places to sleep and stow their gear, and will travel off-road better than a smaller vehicle with a trailer. I’d take a Suburban with a rooftop tent and a mattress in the way back over a four-door mini truck or Jeep towing a trailer in this situation.
The Suburban’s big power, the ability to more easily back up, and the simplicity of fewer tires on the ground make more sense to me. That being said, everyone has his own degree of comfort. Some families could cram in a CJ-5 with a few ground tents, a cooler of drinks, and a bag of beef jerky, and be happy as clams for weeks on end. Others need bathrooms, running water, fresh coffee, hot meals three times a day, and TV/Internet or they’ll be miserable. I crossed Australia years back with a large group, and there was a cook truck with a trailer that they set up and cooked everyone’s meals out of. That was pretty cool, but they were feeding a dozen or more people.
If you wanted to set up a base camp and then go explore in your 4x4, that is a different situation. That’s where I can see a trailer being useful—say, one fitted with a tent, kitchen, coolers, where maybe part of the family stays and hangs out while the rest go on a drive-about. But you could, as a different option, bring a truck with a massive slide-in camper with beds and kitchen and tow a small 4x4 to go exploring with. Again, you have to decide what’s enough and what’s too much.
There are always situations when you may need a trailer. Say you only have a small 4x4 and must haul people and gear. Adding a trailer is a cheaper option than, for instance, upgrading to a larger vehicle. In your case, your camper is the bedroom, but you need a place to cook and eat. I think outfitting the camper with a canopy and putting a folding table or two, a small cook stove, and a cooler in the side toolboxes would make for a more svelte and compact exploration vehicle. A trailer behind won’t simplify what you bring; it will just allow you to bring more stuff.
Q: I have an ’01 Chevy 1⁄2-ton and want to do a solid-axle swap on it. I have not been able to find anyone with a kit for it, only for the 3⁄4- and 1-tons. Someone told me that the frames on the 1⁄2-ton trucks are weak. If I do a solid-axle swap will the frame bend and twist?
A: We actually did a solid-axle swap on a 1⁄2-ton Chevy back in 2008 for the Ultimate Adventure. The work done on our truck was accomplished at Off Road Evolution (www.offroadevolution.com) and helped the company develop a link and coilover shock kit for these trucks. However, those guys will admit that the project is very involved and requires a serious investment of time and money to install, as they plated and supported much of the frame with crossmembers and additional metal.
Off Road Direct (www.offroaddirect.com) and Sky’s Off-Road Design (www.sky-manufacturing.com) also offer kits that can be made to work on half-ton Chevys using leaf springs. The frames of half-ton trucks can be thinner material, and as such, plating them for added rigidity isn’t a bad idea, but care must be taken because too much welding can itself cause frames to warp and twist.
How to Trar
Q: I am thinking of doing a project with an ’85 Chevy 4x4 regular cab truck. The body is shot, but the running gear is in excellent shape. Is the wheelbase on a short box frame the same as a regular box frame? I am also thinking about putting an ’83 Firebird body on a 4x4 frame; are there any good articles on that subject?
A: The ’85 Chevy longbed wheelbase is 1311⁄2 inches. The shortbed wheelbase is 1171⁄2 inches. An ’83 Pontiac Firebird has a wheelbase of 101 inches. As such, neither frame will line up perfectly with the Firebird body, but that doesn’t mean this Trar (truck/car) project won’t work. Issues you’ll encounter are body mounts, steering, pedal, and shifter controls as well as fuel tank and brake plumbing. A Trar project hasn’t been done in this magazine in years, but we admit we’ve considered a few in the past. If you really think we should do a piece on breeding a car with a truck, send us an email with the subject “Build a Trar!” to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us the frame, engine, axles and most importantly what car you want to see on top. We aren’t promising anything, but we aren’t saying it’s out of the question.