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Off-Road Project Vehicle Update

Posted in Features on April 11, 2014
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Contributors: Contributing Writers of Off-Road

There have been countless project vehicles at Off-Road magazine over the last four and a half decades. Whatever they were, whoever they were owned by, these project vehicles became our learning tools that taught us not only about off-roading, recovery, and automotive engineering, but also gave us a respect for what enthusiasts could come up with and what could be done with a modified vehicle. While we’d love to give you the status on every project vehicle ever built, we only have room to check in on the project vehicles from Off-Road’s last few years. All of these trucks have become valued tools of our trade, and we wouldn’t have been able to do the job we did had it not been for these trucks.

Blumer’s Toyota 4Runner
There are over 170,000 miles on the odometer by now, and our 2004 Toyota 4Runner continues to take Kevin Blumer everywhere he needs to be. Recent modifications come under the category of “tying loose ends.” The front bumper is now powdercoated and has a Warn 9.5 XP-S winch loaded inside. Total Chaos suspension, custom fiberglass work, and a lot of rear body reworking allow for 35-inch tires to fit on this 4x4 4Runner. The next endeavor will be to finally make the ARB Air Lockers functional, although, we can tell you a neat little trail trick to pressurize unplumbed Air Lockers in an emergency. We’ve been rolling on classic BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KOs since last May and can report they’re as good as their sterling reputation. If there’s a bummer to the Toyota 4Runner, it’s that the engine has thrown Diagnostic Trouble Codes P0420 and P0430, which likely means a couple of oxygen sensors need to be replaced before the Toyota 4Runner can pass smog later this year.

All in all, this has been an excellent do-all 4x4 for Blumer’s daily driver, and we think he’ll probably replace the engine twice before he goes and buys a new Toyota 4Runner.

If there was one truck that challenged our 2003 Ford F-350 Super Duty in down time, it would be Jerrod Jones’ ’94 Dodge Ram 1500. But it’s a truck that he’s enamored with. We’re guessing he’ll request to be buried in it someday.

And after three engines, nine transmissions, three rear axles, four front axles (same NP231HD!), countless suspension variations, and a number of different engine modifications, we think he’s just about done with this one. And he should be. Tons of mods including Fox coilovers, National leaves, Off-Road Evolution suspension links, a Dynatrac Pro Rock 44, a Currie rear Dana 60, a hopped-up 360ci V-8, and dual winches should be enough to keep him happy during off-road excursions. For now, we’re going to classify this one as “Completed.”

Matilda—the Giant Cherokee
The “Big Chief” came into our lives around late 2009, when editor Jerrod Jones got the idea that he wanted to build a truck on 47-inch tires that he could drive to work on the 5 freeway. (And he did it. You wouldn’t believe the looks you get cruising down the freeway at 70 mph.) Using Jeeps R Us’ fullsize Cherokee Chief, they got started with the Jeep’s suspension and getting the tires to fit. After three out of four axleshafts failed in one tiny incident (plus a couple driveshafts in another minor hiccup) Jones got the right combination of Dana 60 and 14-Bolt parts with ARB lockers, Superior chromoly axleshafts, PSC steering parts, and a number of other upgrades that allowed the drivetrain to actually live with 47-inch Pit Bull tires. And it stayed living until a Klune-V underdrive was installed. So much torque was produced—thanks to gearing and the AMC 401 built by Jeeps R Us—that the gears of the Dana 300 transfer case sheared teeth off.

These days, it resides with Jeeps R Us in Laguna Beach, California. They still take it out occasionally, and it gets romped on like you wouldn’t believe. We are extremely impressed at how well everything has held up with 47-inch tires.

1974 K5
With a Glassworks ’98 front clip and just a frame and tub left of the original K5 Blazer, Jones’ creation is what some purists would call an abomination. But how can you argue with what he and Fabworx Offroad built? Raise your hand if you don’t want a fuel-injected big-block, a 4L80E transmission with an Atlas four-speed, 21-inches of travel with a four-linked 14-Bolt, a Dynatrac front Dana 60, 40-inch Toyos, and Warn winches on both ends. This K5 just reeks of a good time. But, nothing lasts forever.

Our editor has learned some lessons about bracing and what is possible when it comes to metal fatigue, and has decided to scrap this K5’s frame and body and use the parts to build a new one with the help of Kibbetech Off-Road; one that will withstand what he wants to dish out. Considering how cool this Blazer is, we can’t wait to see Version 2.0.

The Almighty Dime
The Almighty Dime was one of those deals where our ex-publisher convinced a guy in his band, Costello, to give us a ’96 S-10 Blazer that he was otherwise going to sell. And we managed to cost this guy thousands. We’re a little surprised his wife still talks to us. What started with a BDS IFS lift kit and 33-inch Hankook MTs, eventually turned into a new engine and transmission, a Dana 44 solid axle swap done by Revolution Vehicle Dynamics, 35-inch Baja Claws, and Rancho remote reservoir shocks. Oh, and a couple new doors and some roof massaging after a late-night mishap. It’s one of those used-to-hate-but-now-love relationships that Doug Mitchell has with his S-10 Blazer. He tells us it now drives better than it ever did with stock IFS, and after he gets it back from Mercenary Off-Road (new crossmembers and possible caging), some 4.56 gears are going in to finish off the Almighty Dime.

Without a doubt, this is our most notorious truck. This 2003 Ford F-350 Super Duty has given this magazine’s staff headaches since Day One, and when Jones hit the Editor’s chair in early 2008, he appropriately gave this truck its moniker: The STD. For years, this stood for Super Terrible Diesel to those of us working here. Multiple turbochargers, injectors, head gaskets, fan clutches, and boot leaks have made this truck a tough daily driver. But we have become quite fond of this one, and after finally getting most of the engine issues figured out, we have redubbed this truck the Super Terrific Diesel. Countless hours of help from Bullet Proof Diesel, Diesel Tech, and South Bay Truck kept this truck alive and heavily modified, and we can’t thank them—and everyone else who has helped with this project—enough. Our online editor, Gusto, has loved this truck ever since he was an intern here, so a deal is being worked out, and with a little luck, our parent company will allow Gusto to take home this old company truck.

Acuff’s ’04 Dodge 2500
Jon Acuff brought his 3/4-ton Ram to the magazine in 2008. It was a perfect platform to build the ultimate tow and play toy; a Quad Cab 4x4 with a Cummins 5.9L diesel engine and a six-speed manual transmission. The truck was built using DT Products’ control arms and track bar, Lorenz coil springs, Deaver rear mini packs, Sway-A-Way 12-inch-stroke 2.5 remote reservoir shocks, and was set on a variety of 37-inch tires over the years. Exterior upgrades are purely functional with an ADD front bumper, HID lights, a Line-Xed bed, Bushwacker flares, and some wonderful retracting Bestop steps. Drivetrain upgrades were minimal: A Truetrac in the rear AAM 11.5-Inch axle and an ATS external transmission cooling system on the six-speed. With only a few external engine upgrades and a Bully Dog tuner, this truck puts out 1,000 lb-ft of torque at the wheels and gets around 18 mpg at sea level. With great fuel economy and power, good off-road ability, and still low mileage, we don’t see Jon ever getting rid of this truck.

2011 Ford F-250 Super Duty Company Truck
This truck turned our Editor. He was a Dodge and Chevy guy for sure, but there is no denying good quality. Shortly after hopping in the driver’s seat, Jones went to work carefully modifying this truck for real-world use. It’s 61,000 miles later, and the 2011 Ford F-250 Super Duty has ended up with a 4-inch Pure Performance four-link suspension, 37-inch tires, a few simple towing mods, and an H&S tuner that allows unbelievable amounts of power (we’re talking quadruple-digit torque numbers) to be wrung out of Ford’s in-house 6.7L Power Stroke diesel. With a locking rear differential, massive amounts of power and towing ability, there was little need to modify this truck further. It acts as a daily driver, tows whatever we need it to, can get us anywhere we need to be in the dirt, and makes a great recovery vehicle. Plus the air-cooled and heated seats are just awesome.

This truck has been, without question, our most reliable and useful project truck to date.

Po Boy Prerunner
It’s been quite a while since our Po Boy Prerunner Project Truck has graced the pages of Off-Road magazine. Unfortunately, the cause is all too common, as it is with most other projects–way too many trucks and not enough common sense! But our former intern, freelancer, and now online editor, Agustin (Gusto) Jimenez, owns the Po Boy Prerunner and has been making good progress.

After some Chassis Tech extended control arms were added and some 35-inch Baja ATZs, Gusto found out that the front coils could support a cement truck, and the ride proved it. Since this, SMP Fabworks has been busy adding a rollcage with 1.75-inch DOM tubing, PRP seats, and Crow five-point harnesses. An aftermarket Jazz fuel cell has taken the place of a sketchy behind-the-seat tank, and the transmission was recently gone through. Gusto’s next steps are to retrofit coilovers in front and throw some decent paint on the body. He’s also talking about trying TTB in the front, but he has more ideas than time. Either way, it’ll be one cool old-school prerunner when it’s done.

All-Purpose XJ
What started out as a $400 XJ with a bad head has turned into a really fun little Jeepspeed-style prerunner. Our All-Purpose XJ was purchased with the intent of modification from top to bottom, leaving almost nothing but the transmission alone. A Hesco aluminum head and lots of external engine bolt-ons helped wake up the 4.0-liter engine, while a stock tranny and JB Conversions-parts-equipped NP231J put power to J.E. Reel driveshafts. Soon after a built-and-trussed Dana 30 was installed with a RockKrawler four-link and suspended with Bilstein 5160 shocks and 2.0 hydraulic bumpstops. The rear saw a similar treatment with a trussed Ford 8.8-Inch (Super 88 kit included, of course) hung from a RockKrawler four-link and Bilsteins. After some ample cutting easily left room for 12 inches of travel with 35-inch tires, we still decided to keep our XJ on 33s, so it would stay more maneuverable and see less fatigue in the unit body.

The Juice
‘Long term’ is an appropriate way to refer to Jeff Dahlin’s project Bronco, The Juice. First making an appearance in this magazine way back in ’07 with a Skyjacker kit and 35-inch Cepeks, we’ve built our ex-publisher’s ’93 Ford in stages, much in the way that our readers’ trucks evolve. Today, the Bronco is a high-performing head-turner equipped with a Camburg long-travel front and Autofab/Deaver rear suspension mated with Bilstein coilovers and bumpstops. Both the rear Currie 9-Inch and the front extended-beam TTB are packed with 4.56 gears and Truetracs. McNeil fiberglass allow 37-inch Grabbers on forged Center Line rims to almost fit, but there is a pesky firewall and ECU rubbing problem that other Bronco owners with 37s might be familiar with. Under the hood, an ATK crate engine (5.8L) works more efficiently with a K&N intake, BBK throttle body, MSD ignition/coil/distributor, Edelbrock shorty headers, Magnaflow cats, and a Flowmaster exhaust. A Flex-a-lite radiator with electric fans and twin Derale transmission coolers keep the Juice from cooking itself.

At this point, The Juice is ultra capable but still comfortable and fun to drive (and still street legal). We’re about done with major work—the final big task will be the interior rollcage by Metul Munky Fab. Building the Bronco has been a labor of love for Dahlin (with plenty of speedbumps on the way), and we’ve learned a lot about this ’80-to-’96 Ford platform, which remains one of the most popular for go-fast trucks. Look for The Juice to be blasting around trails in the southwest for years to come.

Jay Kopycinski’s ’06 2WD F-150 project started simply enough. A little bit of a leveling suspension and some 33-inch tires looked nice on a white truck that would blend in with a sea of work trucks. But that was a while ago. After adding a JD Fabrication long-travel front end and some Bilstein 9100s, it was on. Jay started building custom bumpers and removing sheet metal while adding Glassworks fenders and bedsides, and 37-inch Baja T/As looked perfect on the Weld T52 rims. Instead of starting totally custom, Jay built the stock rear axle to Raptor width with custom axle tubes, dropped in some Yukon Gear parts, new axles, and U-bolted it onto Deaver nine-leaf packs. A rear-mounted winch, custom bumpers, a Rigid LED bar, a custom spare tire carrier, and lots of recovery gear keep this truck safe and moving in less-than-ideal circumstances.

With some final additions like rear Bilstein bumpstops and shocks and some possible caging, this project should be close to wrapped up. Jay’s Fast-150 is a stellar example of what a great off-road toy and daily driver can be built from an affordable, used F-150.

The Carson Off-Road Trailer
I think the cargo on our Carson trailer says it all: This is one heavy-duty car hauler. Our 12,000-pound capacity trailer has been serving us excellently over the last 10,000-plus miles it has been towed. We’ve had it in for one service for one wheel bearing, but that’s not bad considering how much time this trailer spends in the dirt. We’ve towed it through terrain that requires 4WD, and we’ve loaded it down with giant trucks like our 2003 crew cab F-350 Super Duty. It has never shown any signs of frame fatigue. And we love the wood deck. Unlike steel-deck trailers that clank and bang as they are towed down the road, our wood deck trailer is almost silent.

We ordered ours with a flat deck (instead of one that dovetails down at the rear) for maximum clearance, and dual 8-lug axles—trailer brakes on both axles—held on by a Slipper Spring suspension. Modifications include a hitch-mounted Come-Up winch, an Odyssey PC1700 battery, and some lights. Our tire of choice is the General Grabber HTS mounted on a Classic III wheel, and they still show no signs of cracking or even much wear for that matter. If we had to get a second trailer, we’d order it exactly like this one.

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