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July 2010 Letters

Posted in Features on July 1, 2010
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Where To Write
Address your correspondence to: Four Wheeler, 831 S. Douglas St., El Segundo, CA 90245. All letters become the property of Four Wheeler, and we reserve the right to edit them for length, accuracy, and clarity. The editorial department can also be reached through the website at Due to the volume of mail, electronic and otherwise, we cannot respond to every reader, but we do read everything.

Recession-Era Wheeling: Good Times, Bad Times & a Little of Both
Read your May 2010 issue tonight. In Limited Articulation, you asked about the economic state of our wheeling. Well, dire straits, I'm afraid. My job as a press operator for a fab shop will be gone in October, and I'm down to 30 hours a week. No jobs in the area since my plant started layoffs and we went from 1,800 people down to 200. House payment, wife, three kids (one in college) and a grandson, van payment, blah, blah, blah, blue-collar drama. Most of my friends still wheel, but I'm sittin' out for now. Yeah, I suck, but I'm a great fabricator, an okay wrench monkey-and a broke-ass factory worker.

I have plans on swapping in the small-block 350, 14-bolt rear, and auto trans into my 1990 Wrangler as soon as I can find a better job or win the lottery. I figure that including the rebuilding junkyard parts and buying what I don't already have will cost about three grand to get all but the axles and suspension done. No garage and only my hand tools, fab skills, and a old AC stick welder-kinda inhibits building on the scale I would like if I had the means. But I'll bounce back.

For now, I'm stuck reading about wheeling instead of doing it-though my Jeep would look killer broke down with a Four Wheeler plate on the custom front bumper I made at my last job. Anyway, ya mag rocks-keep up the good work, and I'll see ya on the trail ASAP.
Mike Garland
Conway, AR

I just read your May '10 editorial. I'm also getting ready to head out to Moab for Eater Jeep Safari. You asked how the recession has affected our wheelin' plans. Well, my wife lost her job on January 1, so to pay for my Moab trip I am working one of my vacation weeks for Moab cash. In years past, I would have cancelled the trip, but my friend Scott and I have been bustin' butt to finish my rock buggy for Easter Jeep. So if you see a Tacoma-skinned buggy with a retro Ivan Stewart paint job going down Main Street, flag us down and we'll tell you what other sacrifices we made for this long overdue trip.

P.S. We have no idea who that Doug Evans character is that was ranting in your Letters section. Send us a "chill pill," and we'll look for him, then gladly administer it.
Paul Chowanec
Colorado Springs, CO

We'll keep an eye out for that Tacoma buggy at Moab, and we'll look for that Wrangler there next year if not sooner. And we'll know you when we see you since you'll both be sporting the FW stickers we're sending out to each of you (along with some other stuff, too). Thanks for writing in, and here's hoping the next year finds us all living in better happier financial times.

New Truck Tests: Nobody's Perfect
I would like to respond to some of the recent comments concerning truck comparisons. I for one enjoy reading your comparisons and the test drive section. I would much rather read about comparing Chevy versus Dodge trucks from writers who actually make a living with 4x4s and trucks than from car magazine guys who are more educated concerning cars.

I've been a longtime subscriber and actually enjoy reading all the articles, photographs, and learning about the writers who contribute them. From Willie Worthy's helpful hints with answering questions, to the shows that are covered, I can't think of any other magazine that covers such a wide array of topics as Four Wheeler does. There have been articles that held no interest for me, but I read them anyway, if not for anything else but a learning experience.

Nothing in life is perfect-people have to realize that what they may like, someone else may dislike, and you can't blame them for that.
Gary Heppner
Schuylkill Haven, PA

Oh, sure you can. Our corporate overlords blame us for not being perfect all the time. Then again, they get paid to administer that tough love stuff-keeps us on our toes and all. That said, we also know that we can always do a better job when it comes to testing new trucks and new products, and we always welcome any constructive criticism-and any surly rants, too-that our readers care to share with us about such stories, since they sometimes provide us with some insights that we otherwise might have overlooked. That "learning experience" you mentioned cuts both ways, you know.

GM Axle Answers . . . and Mysteries
I'd like to add a few unsolicited comments regarding Robin Stover's article discussing the GM 9.5-inch 14-bolt axle (Mar. '10). First, I'm thankful to see your magazine highlight a fabulous-yet-overlooked axle for the GM guys. I personally run one of these axles underneath my '96 Chevy Tahoe.

As for the accuracy of the article, the author overlooked plenty of opportunities to acquire this great axle. The six-lug, 9.5-inch 14-bolt is also found underneath 4x4 1988-98 GM 1500-series pickups with a GVWR of 6,600 pounds. Additionally, the same axle sits underneath both two- and four-wheel-drive configurations of the light-duty 2500 pickups for the same years. The key to finding the right axle for your 4x4 vehicle is to make sure the donor 14-bolt comes from a four-wheel-drive model. The 4x2 model uses a 65-inch wheel mating surface (WMS) to WMS, whereas the 4x4 model uses a 70-inch WMS to WMS for the '88-98s. I've physically confirmed both measurements.

Also, beginning in 2004, the 6-lug, 9.5-inch 14-bolt made a return in the Vortec Max 1500 trucks with the 6.0L (LQ9) engine. As a curious side note, there is actually a five-lug, 9.5-inch version of the 14-bolt found in the two-wheel drive 454SS Pickups built from 1990 to '93. Anecdotally, I believe some mid-'90s 2500-series vans also used this axle. Regardless, there are plenty of axles available for the enthusiast.

One final note: For my '96 Tahoe, I needed a Saginaw-to-1350 U-joint conversion to complete the swap. Hope this helps your readers hunt down a good replacement axle for their 1/2-ton trucks.
Cameron Carlile
Longview, TX

I have a 1968 Chevy K10. It has the 307ci V-8 with a four-speed tranny. The front axle is a Dana 44, and the rear axle is a mystery. I checked all axle codes on the Internet, but mine isn't listed. It has a 10-bolt diff cover. The yoke side is stamped "GM52." The top right forward tube is stamped "W A 0328," then "K OR W." Underneath the "A" is the letter R. When you spin the tires in the snow, the left tire spins immediately with the right and will not stop until the right does. What does the stamping mean? I assume I have a 3.73:1 ratio.
Oak Creek, WI

Argh, you would have to ask about older GM axles. They're among the hardest to identify of all the OE axles-outside of counting the number of bolts on the diff housing-since their ID stampings differed according to brand application (Pontiacs, Chevys, and Buicks, for example, might use the same rear axle, but each would have its own ID stamp), and the stampings often differed between model years, even if the same axle was a direct carry-over from the previous year. The most obvious answer would be that your truck has the Saginaw Model 52 full-floater rear drop-out, which has a very stout 101/4-inch ring gear. Unfortunately, this unit was only used in HD K20/30 trucks and has a 12-bolt diff housing. The next likely candidate would be the fairly ubiquitous 83/4-inch rearend that was used in a slew of GM car and truck applications in the 1960s-but again, it's a 12-bolt.

Our available information indicates that '68 K-trucks came from the factory with a semi-floating unit with a 3,300-pound rating, which pretty much leaves you with the Saginaw Model 33 9 3/8-inch "big 10-bolt," a semi-floating design with a 3,300-pound GAWR and 17-spline, 1.28-inch outers. (You can pull a shaft and count the number of splines to verify this.) The only catch is that this axle was supposedly discontinued in Chevy trucks after 1964 or so, though it's possible that (a) a previous owner swapped it in, or (b) your truck rolled off the assembly line towards the end of a model year, when assembly-line workers would often bolt up whatever components were left over in the factory parts bin. (This was back in the day before companies like GM outsourced most of their axles to independent third-party suppliers.)

There's also a slim chance that the axle's a 10-bolt Dana 41, which is a direct precursor to the more famous 44-but this is an ancient axle that saw very little use in OE applications beyond the mid-1950s, though some Chevy C-trucks of the mid- to late '60s were rumored to have ended up with them. They ran 10-spline outers, so again, pulling a shaft and counting splines will confirm what you have. Or not. Hey, is owning an older truck fun or what?

Your axle should-repeat, should-have 3.73:1 gears (it was the standard gear ratio from the factory), but with trucks of this vintage, nothing is certain, and your best bet to determine what ratio you have is to consult the RPO sticker on the inside of your driver's side door. Look for a three-digit alphanumeric code starting with the letter "G," and you'll be able to ID your gear ratio from a number of Internet sources. Missing the RPO sticker after 40 years? More fun!

Okay, secure your rear axle on jackstands so the tires are off the ground. Chock the front tires, and put the transmission in Neutral. Turn the rear tires slowly, and count the number of rotations the driveshaft makes for every single rotation of the tires. Using a pencil or a piece of chalk, make a mark on the top of the driveshaft before spinning the tires to get the most accurate measurement.

Anyway, that's our best guess, though we have a funny feeling that Cameron Carlile might know more about this than we do. Readers, your best guesses?

Plug-In Hummer: Fact Or Fiction?
Recently, as I was driving into San Francisco, I saw a Hummer H3 on the bridge. Nothing unusual there, but it had a "Hybrid" badge on the back. I looked into this and found there is a company in Utah that converts H3s into hybrid vehicles, claiming 100 mpg in the city and 33 mpg highway. Have you guys heard about this? Is there anything behind it?
Daniel Johnson
Petaluma, CA

Yep, it's legit. A company in Utah, Raser Technologies, has built a plug-in (120-volt) H3 hybrid in cooperation with GM as a rolling showcase of the latest green-vehicle technology. It operates on a similar principle to the GM Volt system, which means if you only drive it in-city for short distances and re-charge it regularly, you may never need to consume a gallon of fuel over the lifetime of the vehicle. Our own beloved governor Arnold drove it last year and gave it his thumbs-up as well. There's no word on whether this system will ever go into production on the Hummer platform (they do have new owners, or not), but such a system could certainly help to rejuvenate Hummer and/or SUV sales in the future. You can learn more about the H3 hybrid at

Needs Rebuild Kit for Mystery Chevy 4-Speed
Love the magazine (when I can get it around here-I live in a very small community, and no stores carry it). I have a question on where to find a rebuild kit for my '92 Chevy 1-ton NV 3500 manual transmission. It has a Centerforce dual-friction clutch system, so I need to have synchros, bearings, seals, etc., replaced. I have not found any place in Canada where I can get the rebuild parts in kit form. Apparently, they want the $2,900 (Canadian) to do the work, but won't sell the kit for me to do it myself. I have rebuilt six manuals before and got 200,000 miles out of them or sold the truck.
D'Arcy Swartz
Comberemere, Ontario Canada

In 1988, General Motors made the totally awesome decision to replace the virtually indestructible SM 465 four-speed truck transmission (with its very desirable 6.55:1 granny gear) with a less-expensive aluminum-cased alternative called the "NV 3500." Until the 1993 model year, however, these gearboxes were only assembled at New Venture's Muncie, Indiana, plant, and were not actually designed by New Venture Gear. Your transmission is actually a Getrag-sourced model known as the HM290. It's often mistaken for an NV 3500 since it resembles the later-version New Venture box on the outside, but its internals are vastly different from the "genuine" 3500 model, which debuted the following model year.

Utilizing four separate shift-rail assemblies, each with its own dedicated springs, detent ball and so forth, instead of one main shift rail (as is the case with the "real" 3500), it is a complex unit that's prone to excessive countershaft endplay, and it's notoriously difficult to rebuild, even for a skilled technician; it also requires a number of special tools to do the job correctly. (We're guessing that's why "they" quoted you such a steep price for the rebuild, whoever they are.) We couldn't find anyone who offers a rebuild kit for this gearbox, and frankly, we'd suggest you ditch this trans and consider swapping in a '93-or-later NV3500 from a Chevy HD truck instead. From what we understand, it's a relatively straightforward swap.

Where, Oh Where, Are the Dakota Lift Kits?
Why can't I find any lift kits for my 2002 Dodge Dakota? Was there some kind of problem with that model year of Dakota? I thought when I bought the truck in 2006 that there would be a ton of kits for it. I wanted to get five inches of lift. Could you point me in the right direction?
Pocatello, ID

A "ton of kits" for the Dakota? Bwahahahahahaaaa!!!

Sorry about that. For whatever reason, the Dakota has kind-of been the redheaded stepchild of the midsize truck segment for many years, with very few suspension lift options available for it. We don't know anyone who manufactures a 5-inch-or-greater stand-alone suspension kit, though you could combine, say, a 3-inch Rancho suspension system that was available at one time (essentially, it was a leveling kit) and a 3-inch body lift from Performance Accessories to achieve your desired amount of lift. There are other options for spacer/leveling/air-bag kits and body lifts out there, but you're going to need to mix and match components if you want to achieve the amount of elevation you're looking for.

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