In Search Of An Elusive Unimog....
Reader: I live in the UK and own an M-B 404 Unimog, which I am drastically going to modify for challenger events in the very near future. I have plans to fit a Chevy 350 behind the cab, which will be coupled to a TH350 gearbox. I've been doing a number of hours of research and came across a guy named Stephane Belanger who ran much the same setup as I hope to. (I came across a video of his truck at the 2004 Top Truck Challenge event on your website.)
If it is true, it would be extremely useful if you could send me this review so I could read through it and get a bit more information about the vehicle. If you have any more video of this vehicle that you're willing to share, it would be very helpful.
Beggars Folly, Milford Road, Elstead
Editor: We gotta admit, we're suckers for those UK mailing addresses. "Beggars Folly" just sounds a lot cooler than "Wilshire Boulevard," doncha think? It also sounds like a place where most of our sales guys would live, come to think of it.
Okay, we sure do remember Stephane and his amazing Unimog. The feature we ran on his vehicle, "Top Truck Challengers," appeared in the October 2004 issue. Reprints can be ordered from Wrights' Reprints at +1-281-419-5725 (overseas line; for everyone else, it's 877/652-5295). Be sure to specify the name of the story, and the issue it appeared in, when you order. The only additional video of this event that we shot was featured in our Top Truck 2004 DVD. Log onto www.4wheelparts.com. They may still have some copies floating around.
The Best Bargain In Rollbars?
Reader: My question is about safety. Could you publish an article on bolt-in rollbars for pickups? I've been looking for a used bar because the price of new ones runs a couple of hundred for 2 -inch tube, to almost $1,000 for a custom piece. I see so many trucks mashing on it sideways that have no rollbar, and the Interlake area where I wheel has a lot of steep hills with muddy terrain. I wonder about my safety and the people who ride with me. We all know what a pickup looks like after a rollover, and it's not pretty. What I'm looking for is an article on what's good for go, and what's good for show, and where to get them. I see lots of ads for motors, lift kits, and tires in your mag, but never anything on rollbars.
Fort Branch, IN
Editor: First, when it comes to any type of safety equipment, forget about buying anything used. The reasons should be self-explanatory.
Second, even the best bolt-on bars can fail in a bad rollover. For one thing, the bolts themselves can corrode over time, or shear off completely if subjected to excessive shock loads. In addition, if you end up on your lid, you've only got a single bar holding up the weight of your entire vehicle--usually, from a location behind the cab (i.e., behind your head). And if the bar's been chromed, as many are, the metal beneath has possibly been embrittled, which can potentially weaken it, depending on the process that was used.
The answer? If you plan on serious wheeling where the chances of rollover are high, your only real solution is a full four- to six-point rollcage--one which protects your entire cab--that's welded directly to the frame. That way, the weight of the vehicle is more evenly distributed among all the bars should you end up rolling over, and since it's integrated to the frame, the chassis itself can act as a weight-distributing device as well as to support any unsprung weight such as wheels and tires. Yes, welds, just like bolts, can also fail, so it's important that any quality 'cage be installed by a experienced and certified welder. And yes, this will add to the cost. But when it comes to protecting the safety of you and your passengers, we think it wise to spend the extra money.
How To Build Your First Jeep?
Reader: I just bought an `89 Wrangler. I want to run 35- to 37-inch tires. I have the I-6 engine and automatic tranny. I want to use it for snow, mud and trails, and also on the highway. What would the best way to build it? Also, what lockers do you use? This is my first Jeep.
Editor: We could write a book on this subject, and other folks have, but the first questions to ask--and they'll affect every other decision you make--are these: how much money do you have right now, and how much time can you spend to do it right? Sounds to us that, given your intended use, a simple leaf-spring lift with upgraded shocks would be the easiest and most cost-effective way to go, and just about every major aftermarket suspension company offers lift kits for your Jeep in the range you're looking for. (A spring-over swap using your stock springs will get you the amount of lift you want, too, but you need to possess a thorough and comprehensive understanding of suspension, steering and driveline geometry to do it correctly, and there are literally a thousand ways to get it wrong.) Price? You can figure on spending close to a grand for a quality lift kit and shocks, and probably a bit more if you have someone else install it for you. Then bolt on those 35x12.50s and hit the trails, right?
But wait. You need to remember the "one thing leads to another" principle: After you've lifted your Jeep and installed those bigger, heavier wheels and tires you want, you'll need to consider upgrading your brakes and wheel bearings, and possibly some of your steering components. And trust us, that Dana 35 rear axle of yours won't likely have a long and happy life lugging a set of 35-inch tires around, so axleshaft upgrades (or better yet, a Dana 44 swap) should be considered a near-must. And did we mention the new set of ring and pinion gears you'll need, and a speedo recalibration, too? And we haven't even discussed the strain that all that added weight and rolling resistance will place on your OE cooling system, and what it'll do to your mileage, hence more frequent trips to the pump...
As you can see, the price tag for one seemingly simple modification can multiply rapidly when you consider all the other factors that need to be considered when modding up a bone-stock 4x4. Our best advice for now is to do a little research on the Internet, figure out what's likely to work best on your budget, and talk with some folks who've been-there-and-done-that with their Jeeps already. That way, you can learn from their mistakes, and you'll get a better idea of what you need to do--and how much you'll need to spend--to build your Wrangler the right way the very first time. Where to start? How about logging onto the forums at fourwheeler.com, where you can chat with lots of experienced wheelers?