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Reader's Rigs Special - Mud Monsters of Florida

Posted in Features on January 21, 2005
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Do 4x4 owners modify their trucks differently depending on what area of the United States they 'wheel in? Clearly, North America contains many different types of terrain, and each creates its own obstacles to four-wheel-drive vehicles. Yet the question is, are there modifications that are universal to the four-wheeling world, or are they regional?

To answer that question, we introduce our "Trucks Of..." series, which will run every three or four months (or depending on how often we can sneak out of the office to visit these areas). In this special series we'll feature vehicles that provide insight into how folks in various regions build their trucks. Some will be trail toys, some will be daily drivers. While in the area, we'll also visit with a local 4x4 shop or two and see what's going on in the local tech scene. Of course, we'll also explore trails with a local club to see what obstacles lurk off the paved roads.

This month, we kick off with a visit to the state of Florida. The following five trucks offer an insight into the modifications required to reign supreme over the area's deep mud and serious water.

Scott Allen's Wrangler
A V-8-Powered mud plow

Florida mud has a way of sucking horsepower from even the hairiest engines. So you'll understand why Scott Allen of Ocala, Florida, did what he did to his 2000 Jeep Wrangler.

Opening the hood of this Solar Yellow beast reveals a Chrysler/Jeep 4.7L V-8. This 250hp engine sports a custom dual exhaust with high-flow catalytic converters and Flowmaster mufflers. The changeover from the stock 4.0L engine to the new V-8 required scores of custom parts, including significant modifications to a Dodge Dakota wiring harness. As you can imagine, the work didn't end there, as a Lakewood bellhousing was highly modified to allow the engine to be mated to a new NV4500 transmission (with custom fabricated flywheel and modified hydraulic clutch slave cylinder). Other drivetrain mods include an Atlas II transfer case, custom American Powertrain driveshafts (with beefy 1350 U-joints), a front high-pinion Dana 60 differential with Spicer axleshafts, a rear high-pinion Dana 60 differential with Strange Engineering axleshafts, Detroit Lockers front and rear, and 5.13 gears.

PhotosView Slideshow

Scott then went to work creating a long-travel, flexy suspension, which is based on a modified Rubicon Express Long Arm conversion kit. A custom steering assembly was created using 1 1/8-inch diameter chrome-moly rods and rod ends. A Currie Antirock antiroll bar keeps the Jeep from being a handful at highway speeds while still ensuring full suspension travel off road, and Doetsch Tech shock absorbers help create a smooth overall ride. The Wrangler rolls on aggressive 38.5x16-15 Mickey Thompson Baja Claw tires, which are mounted on 15x10 Center Line aluminum Thruster wheels.

The Jeep features scores of functional exterior bolt-ons, including a Currie rear bumper/tire carrier/receiver hitch, Tomken 3-inch Rocker Skids and front bumper, Warn HS9500i winch, and Hella driving and foglights, while the interior of the Jeep sports a custom full rollcage, Permatech lining, a Realistic CB radio, Garmin GPS, Nextel cellular phone, modified center console, and Wet Okole seat covers.

With the help of Jeff Priest at Jeff's 4x4 in Ocala, Florida, it took Scott about 6 months to complete the buildup of this Wrangler, which is impressive when you consider the number of custom parts that were fabbed for the Jeep. The finished product is more than capable of handling the Florida terrain, and Scott uses it regularly on club outings with fellow members of the Ocala Jeep Club.

Gene Kerr's Dodge
Built to take a beating

Look up the word "extreme" in your handy Funk and Wagnall's and you might just discover a photo and description of Gene Kerr's '96 Dodge Ram pickup. This truck defines extreme in every sense of the word, and it was purpose-built for one thing: abuse. However, Gene has zero tolerance for breakage, so a tremendous amount of time and energy was devoted to building a truck that could withstand the thrashing to which he was going to subject it. The result is a truck that contains a variety of heavy-duty components as well as a number of surprising and interesting mods.

A 525ci Chevy big-block engine resides under the Dodge's hood. It generates a whopping 804 hp. But give it a shot of nitrous and that number jumps to a stunning 1,029 hp. A TCI manual-valvebody transmission hands the power off to a heavy-duty NP200 transfer case.

The first surprise greets you when you peer under the Dodge's hood and see a nitrous-fed Chevy big-block engine that's been heavily modified with a boatload of go-fast parts including J&E Pistons, Competition Cams camshaft, valve springs, and roller rockers, Canfield heads, Ferrera valves, Edelbrock Victor intake manifold, 1,150cfm Holley Dominator carburetor, Melling oil pump, Moroso oil pan, MSD Blaster coil and billet distributor, Hooker Headers, and Dyno Max mufflers. Gene is a technician at Central Florida Machine and Speed in Orlando, Florida, and he integrated his many years of experience building high-performance engines into this powerhouse.

Gene's completed 525ci engine boasts a compression ratio of 13:1 and spews out a mind-boggling 804 horsepower at 6,250 rpm (or 1,029 horsepower with nitrous), and 714 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm. Obviously, significant driveline mods were required to handle the power generated by this potent engine. They begin with a manual-valvebody TCI transmission that features machined drums to allow for use of more clutch packs (thus eliminating slippage), a GM extra-capacity oil pan, and a TCI oil cooler.

The power is then handed off to a divorced heavy-duty NP200 transfer case salvaged from an M38. From there, custom driveshafts (by Advanced Drivelines in Orlando, Florida) connect to massive Rockwell 2 1/2-ton military axles that were sourced from Chuck's Trucks in Orlando. The axles, narrowed to fit the Dodge frame, are stuffed with Detroit Lockers, and the front diff features Chuck's Trucks custom front disc brakes.

Custom hydraulic-assist steering helps control the 44-inch Boggers, and a custom Chuck's Trucks disc-brake kit stops the big Dodge on a dime.

Significant frame and suspension mods reside under the Dodge, and include reinforcing 1/4-inch steel plate on the frame from the cab forward, while from the cab rearward, the stock frame was replaced by 3x5-inch square tubing. The big-block engine was relocated rearward and the transfer case was reoriented to alleviate extreme driveline angles. A custom four-link suspension system includes 1 1/4- and 3/4-inch rod ends, custom laser-cut brackets (cut by Superior Laser, Orlando, Florida) and 2 1/4-inch seamless tubing. The whole works is kept in check by 18-inch-travel Race Runner coilover shocks with dual-spring kit, and custom front and rear antiroll bars. The truck sits on massive 44x19.5-15 Boggers which are mounted on powdercoated steel 15x18 Option wheels. Steering is enhanced via hydraulic-assist. Other chassis mods include a 26-gallon fuel cell, front and rear pintle hitches, and a 3-inch body lift.

The interior of the Dodge remains mostly stock with the exception of a JVC stereo system and an array of Auto Meter gauges, including tachometer, water temp, and oil pressure. While building the truck, Gene had help from a number of friends in the Orlando area, including Mike Gardner, Jeff Ross, Matt Doctor, and Jon Adams, as well as Marc Patterson in Clermont, Florida. Gene uses the bulletproof Dodge for a number of off-road activities, including competition truck pulls, trail rides, and mud racing, but it's also street legal so he can run to the store for a loaf of bread--very, very quickly.

Mike Pavelka's Tundra
A Solid Axle and 20 inches of lift make this Toyota unique

To some, Mike Pavelka's pickup typifies how one would build a truck in order to traverse the thick, bottomless, tire-swallowing mud that's inherent to the state of Florida. It has gobs of height, it sports large, aggressive tires, and is V-8-powered. The fact that it's a Toyota Tundra may be a surprise, but even more interesting is that it sits on a solid front axle and sports 42-inch tires.

That's a Dana 44 under the front of the Tundra you see here. It's suspended by Superlift 12-inch-lift Chevy springs. It benefits from a Ford track bar, Pro Comp shocks, and an AGR Rock Ram.

As you can imagine, fitting the Dana 44 front axle required a significant amount of planning and design time. After the installation details were formulated, the stock IFS suspension and stock driveline components were carefully removed. Four new frame crossmembers were installed in the front of the vehicle. The Dana 44 is suspended by Superlift 12-inch-lift leaf springs (normally designed for a full-size Chevy pickup), and features Pro Comp 9000 shocks, a Ford track bar, Chevy 4-piston disc brakes with braided-steel brake lines, custom traction bars, AGR hydraulic-assist steering, and loads of custom mounts and components.

Custom white-face gauges designed by Rage Gauges dress up the dash. Other dash mods include a brushed-aluminum dash kit by Florida Auto Trim.

The rear of the Toyota was lifted with custom leaf-spring packs, and the stock rear axle also was fitted with Pro Comp shocks. Gearing was changed to 4.88:1 to help offset the big 42x15-15 Super Swamper tires, which are mounted on 15x12 Weld Sidewinder wheels. Gary's Driveline in Holly Hill, Florida, fabbed a pair of custom driveshafts, and they distribute the power coming from the 4.7L DOHC V-8 engine, flowing through the 4ECT four-speed automatic transmission and Aisinseiki transfer case. The engine has been modified with a few power-inducing goodies like a custom air intake, K&N air filter, Helix throttle body spacer, and a 2 1/2-inch dual exhaust with Magna Flow mufflers, while the tranny benefits from a Perma Cool transmission cooler.

The exterior of the Tundra was dressed up with a Trendz billet grille and a custom-fitted Westin Safari Bar (modified from its original Ford F-150 application). A Bed Rug keeps cargo from scratching up the bed. Lighting was enhanced with PIAA high-output replacement bulbs and Pro Comp driving and backup light kits.Inside the Tundra we find a stunning number of mods, including custom white-face gauges by Rage Gauges, a brushed aluminum dash kit by Florida Auto Trim, and a massive amount of audio and video equipment (including a PlayStation 2), which was installed by Jeremy Carlson and Scott Palmieri at Evolution Audio and Design. This one-of-a-kind Tundra stalks the swamps of Florida thanks to the help of Chris and Paul at Volusia 4x4s and More, in Holly Hill, Florida, the folks at, and Mike's girlfriend, Bridie Laing.

Ernie Prevedel's YJ
Built to handle sand and swamps

The first thing about Ernie "Big E" Prevedel's '88 Wrangler that catches your eye is the stunning Prowler Orange paint, but this YJ is much more than a good looking coat of paint. That's because Prevedel has incorporated a number of custom mods into his Jeep that result from his experience four-wheeling in and around Lady Lake, Florida.

Under the Jeep, Ernie installed a Dana 44 front axle pirated from an International Scout, while the rear axle is a beefy Dana 60. The front diff sports a Trac-Lok locker, while the rear contains a Detroit Locker. Disc brakes reside at both ends, and 4.56 gears offset the 35x12.50-15 Pro Comp Mud Terrain tires that are mounted on 15x10 Rock Crawler wheels.

Ernie designed his YJ's suspension to excel in the type of terrain he routinely explores (mud and sand), and the system contains a hodge-podge of components manufactured by a number of different companies. It includes Rubicon Express 4-inch-lift leaf springs, Skyjacker Nitro shock absorbers, pitman arm and steering stabilizer, TeraFlex Revolver shackles, an AGR steering box and pump, and a custom tie rod and drag link fabbed by Central Florida Race Cars Inc., Fruitland Park, Florida.

Under the hood is a heavily modified 400ci Chevy engine which generates an estimated 375 horsepower. It drives through a TH400 transmission and a Dana 300 transfer case.

The YJ is powered by a 375 horsepower, 400ci small-block Chevy V-8 that's been balanced, blueprinted, and stuffed with Keith Black pistons, a Competition Cams Xtreme camshaft, Melling oil pump, and Harland Sharp roller rockers. The engine is topped with a Weiand intake manifold, aluminum heads, a Mallory distributor, Mallory ProMaster coil, and Holley Pro-Jection. It spits exhaust through Dyno Max headers, a custom 214-inch dual exhaust, and Flowmaster mufflers. Engine power is routed through a Turbo 400 tranny modified with a B&M Torquemaster torque converter and shift kit. Keeping automatic transmissions cool in the Florida heat is very important, so Ernie added a Perma-Cool tranny cooler, complete with electric fan. The Jeep sports a Dana 300 transfer case, and this unit splits the power to custom driveshafts made by Jungle Industries in Leesburg, Florida.

After Johnny Bullion of Weirsdale, Florida sprayed on the eye-catching Prowler Orange paint, a number of functional items were bolted on, including custom bumpers, nerf bars, spare-tire carrier, and tow hooks (all designed and built by Ernie), four Hella off-road lights, and a Warn X8000i winch.

Finally, the interior of the Jeep was fitted with a pair of Bestop Super Seats, a Tuffy console, custom rollcage, an Alpine AM/FM radio, Cobra CB radio, Garmin GPS unit, and plenty of trail tools such as a Hi-Lift Jack, folding shovel, 3-drawer tool box, and much more. Ernie and his wife Beth use the YJ to explore the vast four-wheeling areas around their home, as well as for exploring with the Ocala Jeep Club, of which they are members. Ernie says that numerous friends and club members helped make the YJ what it is today, including Lee Myers, Troy McCall, Joe Smith, Steve Felder, and Ray Woo.

Kaylene Woo's Cherokee Chief
Built from the ground up to pull double duty

Soccer moms often drive very unremarkable minivans, but not Kaylene Woo of Gainesville, Florida. She drives this way cool (and rare) '83 Jeep Cherokee Chief, which was purchased in pieces, and completely restored to perfection under the direction of her husband Ray, who just happens to serve as president of the Ocala Jeep Club. The Cherokee now pulls double-duty as a daily grocery-getter as well as a pack mule for family four-wheeling throughout Florida.

The crew at Central Automotive & Marine in Tavares, Florida, completely rebuilt the original AMC 360ci engine, and enhanced it with Federal-Mogul pistons, an Edelbrock double-roller timing chain, and an Edelbrock camshaft. The engine is topped with an Edelbrock Performer intake manifold, Edelbrock 750-cfm carburetor, K&N air filter, and Mopar air cleaner. It blows exhaust gases through ceramic-coated Hedman headers, 2 1/4-inch dual exhaust, and Flowmaster 50-Series Delta Flow mufflers. Other engine mods include an ignition upgrade to an HEI unit, and the addition of an Optima Yellow Top battery with heavy-duty battery cables. Dyno testing shows that the engine creates 300 hp at 4,000 rpm, and 360 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm. To handle this increase in power, the stock Torqueflite 727 transmission was rebuilt, and a shift kit added to enhance performance. A B&M Supercooler keeps the unit cool, and a Dodge truck shifter-cable and kick-down linkage replaced the stock parts.

To make the interior as soundproof as possible, Kaylene fully Herculined the body tub before installing a sound-absorbing Dynamat. The interior also features Wrangler seats, a Tuffy console, Edelbrock, B&M, and Sunpro gauges, and a huge stereo system.

Underneath the Jeep, an NP208 transfer case distributes power to the front Dana 44 axle (with ARB Air Locker, Spicer axleshafts, and Superwinch manual hubs) and the rear AMC 20 differential (with Detroit SoftLocker). The suspension lift comes from a Rusty's Off Road 4-inch kit, and Daystar polyurethane bushings are incorporated into all applicable areas. Rancho shock absorbers and a Pro Comp steering stabilizer keep the truck riding smoothly, and Rubicon Express anti-rollbar disconnects give the front axle the freedom to articulate. The stock steering assembly was chucked and replaced with the steering assembly from a Jeep J-10 pickup.

Finally, the truck was provided with a set of Goodyear MT/R 35x12.50-15 tires mounted on Eagle Outlaw II wheels. The body of the Jeep was given a 2-inch Performance Accessories body lift before being painted 2000 Jeep Silverstone Metallic with flat-black accents by Johnny Bullion of Ocala, Florida. Then a slew of exterior components were bolted on, including a True Radius Bending brushguard, custom Big E bumpers (with air chucks for powering air tools from the Extreme Air continuous-duty air compressor and 10-gallon onboard air tank), custom David Allen Racing nerf bars, custom Big E rear bumper, Draw Tite trailer hitch, Warn 10,000-pound winch, and exterior lighting from KC and PIAA.

The inside of the body tub was completely coated with Herculiner, and generous quantities of Dynamat (a sound deadening material) were installed before the interior was outfitted with new vinyl flooring, front seats from a Jeep YJ, a Tuffy center console, Edelbrock, B&M, and Sunpro gauges, and enough Sony, Infinity, and Eclipse stereo equipment to rattle the fillings from Kaylene's teeth.

The truck is an ongoing project with more mods being added after each trail ride. Well, we all know how that goes. Getting the truck to its current state was possible with the help of Lee Myers, Beth and Ernie Prevedel, Troy McCall, Jeff Priest, Dale Gibson, and Brian and Scott Allen.

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