Planning and Prepping
The prep work was absolutely laughable on some of the vehicles waiting in the contingency line at a King of the Hammers desert race I attended several years ago. I wouldn’t have tried to make a short trip to the grocery store with some of the stuff I saw, much less enter a race. There were frayed fan belts, leaky power steering systems, bent driveshafts, oozing water pumps, and more. It’s no wonder the attrition rate of this race is so high. Any on-road competition would have black-flagged vehicles with such hack prepping.
I’m a pretty meticulous guy. I generally plan my 4x4 builds in my head and try to put a hand on every bolt. If something goes wrong with my rig, I often know what it is before I get out to inspect the noise, smoke, wobble, spilling liquid, or vibration emitting from underneath. When checking out other people’s 4x4s, I’m the guy that spots loose or missing bolts, chafed fluid lines, things making contact that shouldn’t, and so on. It’s not that I’m actively looking for this stuff—it just jumps out at me like a groom’s crazy stripper ex-girlfriend pops out of a wedding cake.
It just jumps out at me like a groom’s crazy stripper ex-girlfriend pops out of a wedding cake.
Nobody really wants to be “that guy” stuck or broken on the side of the trail, especially me. When building a 4x4, I don’t like leaving anything to chance. I often go wheeling alone so I need to rely on my vehicles. Among other things, I like to test fit my tires and mock up the suspension using jackstands to try and figure out how much lift and fender trimming I might need. This helps avoid excessive tire rubbing and a limited turning circle.
I recently put my ’85 M1008 on jackstands for tire and suspension mockup. I’m working with a set of 18/39.5-15 Super Swamper Boggers mounted on 15x12 Eaton steel beadlocks. The kicker is that I ordered the wheels with about 1.5 inches of backspacing. Yeah, they stick out—a lot. There were several reasons for this, including inner-bed fenderwell and front brake caliper clearance. If I were to do it again, I would have started with a M102A2 bed instead of the M102A3 bed that I have. This would have given me more room in the rear wheelwells.
Anyway, with the 39.5s on the Eatons, there is plenty of clearance in the rear with no lift at all. Up front is a different story. I originally thought I could clear the tires up there with 4-inch Tuff Country lift springs and copious amounts of trimming, and I still can. It’s just that I will likely need to completely remove the inner fenderwells, requiring me to fabricate new battery mounts among other things. I want to keep the truck simple, so I think it will be best to scrap the 4-inch lift idea and go with a 6-inch lift up front. I’ll still need to trim quite a bit and lower the bumpstops, but it will be more realistic and easier for someone else to replicate. Out back I’m steering toward an Offroad Design 4-inch shackle flip. I’m not worried about having a ton of flex, so I’m not interested in custom spring swaps or fabrication. I want to keep the truck sort of bolt-on, at least for now. Overall, I’ve also found that I typically end up with fewer problems elsewhere by having only a moderately flexible suspension. I think this combo should work out nicely, but the truck sure is wide at about 101 inches.
Now before you start scoffing at my build plan and tell me that my truck will be wider than the wheelbase of most Jeeps, keep in mind where I like to go wheeling. The terrain I frequent is typically in the wide open deserts and giant mud pits near my home. I’m not building this truck to be an extreme rockcrawling rig, and it will probably never be threaded through a forest of trees, but it should still fit on some difficult trails and actually be quite fun and challenging to drive off-road. In the end, isn’t that the point of all this? If I wanted it to be easy, I’d buy a Prius and stay on paved roads.
Ultimately, even though my “monster” truck will surely be out-classed on the trail by a built Jeep Wrangler or full-blown buggy, it will at least be different. I may struggle on some of the tighter trails, and I’ll probably never even enter some of the really tight trails. But that doesn’t matter to me. I’ll still be out there behind the wheel off-road. And if it’s a competition you want, I’ll be the one having the most fun because it won’t be easy to maneuver my rig, and hopefully I will have planned and prepped it well enough not to break down.