Multi-Link Suspension, Solid Axles, And 44s On A Late Model? Believe It!
Since this issue of OFF-ROAD magazine celebrates the high art of suspension design and theory, we felt that it was only appropriate that a 4x4, which embodies a thoroughly radicalized suspension, be chronicled.
Thus, we now present a truck that never was - a customized hybrid, which blends technology from two disparate eras into one outlandish package: Allyn Keltner's straight axle-equipped late-model Bow Tie.
The multi-linked masterpiece is a result of and a testament to mechanical evolution. Similar to countless off-road enthusiasts before him, Keltner started the buildup on this Silverado with a conservative focus - a mild suspension lift was installed, a few cosmetic enhancements were performed, and slightly larger-than-stock wheels and tires were bolted in place - you know, routine stuff.
And so went the evolutionary process: The Chevy got a little more lift and larger tires one year; a few neat goodies became part of the package the next year; and before you could say "Hey, my truck won't fit into the garage anymore!", Keltner found himself at a crossroads. His truck had been scoring quite well on the show circuit and the '89 had performed capably during off-road bouts, but Keltner wanted more - he wanted more lift; he wanted more tire; he wanted more style; hell, he wanted more of everything.
Now came the plan: Keltner, working off secret blueprints stored in his brain, would use his skills as a fabricator to build a killer truck for show 'n' go. And that he did.
Major aspects of the truck's latest incarnation are the drive axles and the suspension. In order to achieve the height that is required to run massive tires, Keltner determined that his truck's IFS would have to be scrapped in favor of a solid axle. A '76 3/4-ton Dana 44 front axle assembly was located, on which Keltner made extensive modifications. The transfer case on late-model GM trucks has its driveshaft on the driver side, but the Dana 44's differential housing is on the passenger side. Keltner cut the axle tubes off the 44, found the proper location for alignment between the third member and the T-case, and welded new axle tubes in place, taking care to angle the differential case (and thus, the pinion gear) upward in order to keep the new front driveshaft's U-joints intact. Host Machine built a set of hyper-duty axles for the reworked Dana.
The front suspension is a complete scratch-built system. There are no traditional (read: metal) springs suspending Keltner's wild ride. Firestone airbags, intended for a big rig, provide adjustable spring action at each corner and are held in place by custom mounts. The suspension linkage is also slick. At the front, Keltner designed and fabbed a five-link setup using parallel upper and lower longitudinal bars and a transverse track rod. The steering system was converted to a crossover design to reduce bumpsteer and to enhance steering response.
The rear suspension is similar to the front in its overall design. A Corporate 10-bolt rearend, fitted with a disc brake conversion from Stainless Steel Brakes, is located by a multi-link system and suspended by airbags. Both diffs are stuffed with 4.88:1 gearsets, and each axlehousing, as well as the suspension links, were powdercoated by Eddie Marine/Fusion Coat.
There's a quartet of remote-controlled Rancho RS 9000 dampers at each wheel; the front shocks are attached to a multiple shock hoop with lateral struts from Explorer Pro-Comp, while the rear shock mounts were custom built by Keltner. Depending on the amount of air pressure in the bags, Keltner's Chevy rides on a suspension that's 10 to 17 inches taller than stock.
The wheels and tires on this trendy off-roader are the max: Polished, modular Weld Racing wheels, sized 15x16-inches, are wrapped by mongo 44x19.5/15-inch Super Swamper Boggers. The huge treads, which were mounted and balanced by All Tire, are powered by a clean-looking but internally stock powertrain. The 5.7L mouse was treated to a gaggle of reflective billet accessories from Empire Motor Sports, and the TH700-R4 tranny was upgraded by the performance experts at JET Performance, but is otherwise factory intact.
The beautiful body is largely original, save for a Stillen rear roll pan and a shaved tailgate handle. Danny's Auto Body shaved the 'gate and painted the pan, the tailgate, the Stillen grille shell, the door handles, and the smooth Stillen bumper with a coat of OE Victory Red. That front race-replica tube bumper is something Keltner whipped up at home in his spare time. The Chevy's nose is further customized with an Empire Motor Sports billet grille.
The Bow Tie's cockpit is functionally and stylishly enhanced through the use of Empire's polished billet inserts and covers for the dash face, the door panels, and the control pedals. A Budnik Half Rap billet tiller, wrapped with leather, initiates steering input, and a Smittybilt rollcage is at the ready for safety's sake. Keltner performed the stereo installation, which features Kenwood products, and the multi-talented Keltner stitched up the red and gray tweed upholstery on the door panels and the '96 Suburban power seat.
A couple of years and more than $50,000 ago, Allyn Keltner's better half, Trish, jokingly referred to this red ripper as Never Enough, no doubt in reference to her husband's ongoing mission to build his version of the ultimate 4x4. While we can't predict what the future holds for Keltner's heavily tricked truck, he's certainly close to the limit on what can be done with a trail-ready show winner - and that's more than enough to impress us.