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Suzuki Lightning Conversion Chevy Engine - Flat Fender?

Posted in Features on November 1, 2007 Comment (0)
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Suzuki Lightning Conversions is well known for its complete kits that let Suzuki owners install Chevrolet V-6 and V-8 engines in their vehicles. Suzuki Lightning also builds turnkey 4x4s for customers and keeps busy doing these projects all-year round.

We were talking with Alan Kempton, owner of Suzuki Lightning, a couple of years ago. He mentioned that he had quite a collection of Samurai frames and other pieces from doing these projects over the years. We suggested that since the Samurai has just about the same wheelbase and track width of a flatfender Jeep, he should build a kit Jeep, using the Suzuki Samurai frame and other parts. Alan thought that might be a good idea and went to work.

Now, before you Jeep purists moan and go elsewhere, stop and think for a minute. The wimpy military and civilian flatfender frames have almost all gone away. Years of cracking, welding, modifying, and plain old abuse have left flatfender frames in good shape nearly nonexistent. Suzuki Samurai frames are boxed; they are the correct dimensions; and they even have gas tanks in back, just like later CJs.

Alan used a full Samurai frame, the Suzuki steering column, the Samurai brake pedal and accelerator pedal assemblies, and the Suzuki power brake booster and master cylinder on his project. While the Samurai gas tank bolts to the frame in back and comes with a nice skidplate, he chose to buy a 12-gallon fuel cell and install it higher in the body for ground clearance.

There are plenty of great fiberglass Jeep bodies out there. We had heard that Four Wheel Drive Hardware and AJ's made superior products, so Alan checked them out first. It turned out that Four Wheel Drive Hardware doesn't offer a flatfender body, so AJ's it was. Alan ordered the complete CJ-2A body kit and reported that the blue body exceeded his expectations. The only other parts Alan had to find were a CJ-2A grille shell and the windshield frame, which he did not install.

Given his specialty, Alan chose to install a Chevy 4.3L Vortec V-6, using the parts he already offers in the conversion kit. These parts include a Griffin aluminum radiator and a Howell wiring harness and computer. Behind the engine, Alan changed some things.

Instead of the usual 4L60E/700-R4 transmission, Alan chose to use a Chrysler 904 automatic mated to a Dana 300 transfer case. Used in CJs for years, the 904 is a reliable transmission that has a pan that allows for a lot more clearance on the right (passenger) side than the 700-R4 does. It's also the shortest automatic you can find. The Dana 300 is also shorter than most other offerings, and Alan left it stock with the 2.62 Low range it came with from the factory.

We suggested that Alan go with Dana 44s front and rear, but he decided to stick with Samurai axles because he had plenty of them lying around. He stated that anyone who wants to duplicate this project can order any frontend or rearend they want. The stock 3.73:1 gears were left in for strength, and Detroit EZ Lockers were installed, front and rear. Front Samurai disc brakes were retained, but the rear drums were removed in favor of a disc brake kit from Spidertrax.

For suspension, we thought that leaf springs should have been used, but Alan wanted more for his flatfender. He chose to go with coilovers from Sway-A-Way and a custom control arm system of his own design. When we saw the Jeep in Moab, he had just put it together and was still working out the bugs. While it impressed us on obstacles, we felt it sat too high. Alan agreed and has since lowered it a couple of inches. (Coilovers are nice in that they allow you to easily do that.) He also told us that the bracketry on the frame and axles was a prototype and that production kits will look a bit better.

The body easily bolted onto the frame with minor body mount mods. Auto Meter Ultra Light gauges keep Alan up on what's going on under the hood, plus they look fabulous. The new Auto Meter electronic speedometer can be easily calibrated and gives you correct speedo and odometer readings, even with multiple gear and tire swaps. JAZ seats and five-point harnesses were installed for occupant comfort. The full cage was custom-built by Suzuki Lightning. Up front, a Ramsey Platinum 9500 was installed to keep the rig out of trouble.

While we saw the flatfender when it was first completed, it is obvious that Alan and Suzuki Lightning Conversions have something here. The Jeep has plenty of power and can be ordered a number of ways, with aftermarket axles and the suspension of choice being two of them. The Suzuki frame is boxed, it's tough, and it turned out to be a great base for the project.

SPECIFICATIONS
Owner/hometown: Alan Kempton/
Tampa, Florida
Make/model: ’46 {{{Jeep CJ}}}-2A
Engine: Chevrolet 4.3L
Vortec V-6
Induction: Central port injection
Transmission: Chrysler 904 three-
speed automatic
Transfer case: Dana 300/2.62:1
Frontend: Suzuki, Detroit
EZ Locker
Rearend: Suzuki, Detroit
EZ Locker
Ring-and-pinion: 3.73:1
Suspension: Custom with Sway-A-
Way coilovers
Tires/wheels: 35x12.50R15 Mickey
Thompson Claws/
15x8-inch Mickey
Thompson Classic IIs

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