Until Jessie Dornbush of Rancho Santa Margarita, California, started driving the Suburban her granddad built for her, she thought a 4x4 was just her primary track-and-field event: Jessie runs anchor for the Trabuco Hills High School 4x4 (four laps by 400 yards) relay team. When her grandfather found out that Jessie is slated to run track and major in veterinary medicine at U.C. Davis, he immediately made plans to modify his '87 K2500 (4WD 3/4-ton) Chevrolet Suburban for her.
The 17-year-old Orange County resident now knows the difference between four-wheel drive and 4x4 relay races and thoroughly enjoys both - even if her truck is older than she is. And, it's large enough to carry her entire relay team and their dates to the local sushi bar, the prom, or the Glamis dunes for a weekend of fun.
After driving it for over six months, Jessie thinks the 4WD Suburban is very possibly the ultimate in dual-purpose, dual-sport, and dual-fun vehicles. Being an O.C. girl, she's used it to go skiing in the mountains, camping in the deserts, and hauling her and her friends' surfboards to the beach. It's large enough to sleep in, if necessary, small enough for trail-riding, and it's also capable of towing a trailer full of toys into the dunes.
Although she wasn't involved in the building, she was involved in the planning. First of all: larger, more aggressive tires than the skinny ones it had when it was bought in San Jose. For the all-around use SoCal four wheeling requires, BFGoodrich LT315/75R16 All-Terrains on Pro Comp Xtreme Alloy 1879 16x10 wheels were chosen. These tires give good traction in all kinds of weather and trail conditions without undue highway noise.
The 35-inch-tall tires, while providing better bite and more ground clearance, create problems with fender clearance and turning radius on an unmodified Suburban. Having nearly 150,000 miles on its odometer, the '87 Suburban had seen some rough duty over its lifespan. Although its 3/4-ton factory springs had not started to sag noticeably, they needed replacement. The shocks weren't controlling rebound too well any more either
Having installed several Skyjacker lifts previously on other Suburbans and Jeeps, Jessie's granddad decided a 4-inch lift would be just right - not too high to cause rollover problems and high enough for good ground clearance along its entire length. The same kit (C140BKSS) is used on all straight-axle Subs - 1/2- and 3/4-tons - only the U-bolts are changed because of the 3/4-ton's larger axlehousings.
Although this is an install that a reasonably experienced home mechanic with common handtools can perform, the technicians at the 4Wheel Parts shop in Colorado Springs, Colorado, did the actual install, tire mounting, and alignment. With the 4-inch lift and 35-inch tires, the Sub sat 6 inches higher at all four corners. Once this modification settled in, a slight bumpsteer was noticed - both on compression and on rebound - which was corrected with stiffer, higher, modified steering components designed and installed by Precision 4x4 in Kingman, Arizona.
After adding the Skyjacker suspension, Pro Comp wheels, and BFG tires, the big Burb was ready for the next phase: a swing-away spare-tire carrier (the 10-inch-wide, 35-inch-tall tire was too big for the inside spare-tire location), a winch, and supplemental lighting for those late-night drives into a campsite.
Ramsey's newly designed Patriot winch, rated at 15,000 pounds, is perfect for the 6,000-pound Suburban. The wireless remote control for the winch is icing on the cake: no more standing in mud, snow, or water to winch out - just use the wireless remote from behind the steering wheel or behind a tree.
A Wincher front bumper/grille guard and Multi-Carrier rear bumper from Kennesaw Mountain Accessories were chosen for protection and utility. Precision 4x4 also mounted the bumpers and Ramsey winch.
Hella model 550 foglights and driving lights were mounted on the welded tabs Kennesaw installed on the Wincher front bumper. The 550 driving light produces a long, narrow beam for highway driving, and the 550 fog produces a flat, wide-angle pattern to spread illumination close to the front of the vehicle for use in rain, snow, blowing dust, or fog. This Suburban's headlights were also changed for aftermarket quartz-halogen models, and the dual-filament lights were moved to the bottom position and single-filament high beams were moved to the top position. When all eight lights illuminate the highway, Jessie says it's just like driving in daylight.
Red and chrome may not be U.C. Davis's colors, but opposing track teams will soon learn to fear the blue-and-gold 4x4 relay team when they see Big Burb pull into the parking lot.