Not every dart hits the bull’s eye. Whether by bad design, poor execution, absence of common sense, or just not knowing when to leave well enough alone, some projects kind of go wrong. Nobody is perfect; least of all us. The annals of history have proven that in five of the projects you see below.
Common sense? Not on this build, bub. Covered back in the halcyon days of chrome shocks and over-the-top graphics (1989, to be exact), the 1988 Chevy 3500 pickup was first treated to normal upgrades like a bedliner, shell, and 33x12.50R16.5 General Grabber tires. Then it happened. Magazine article on a CB and radar detector install? Sure. Rear-mounted winch? Sounds good, but let’s go with an 8,000-pound one since this is only a 1-ton pickup.
Don’t wanna get too crazy, do we? Engine mods to the factory 454-cube big-block? Nah, let’s yank it and stab in a mega-dollar 381-cube small-block stroker. But not before building the Chevy engine with a gazillion dollars in “performance” heads, a roller cam, and a crazy-expensive Hilborn injection system. The result was a show-car engine installed in a work truck chassis. Throwing the same amount of money at a big-block Chevy would’ve certainly resulted in more than the 403 hp and 428 lb-ft the stroker dished out. But when you’re so focused on your paint scheme, we guess it’s hard to keep track of the little things.
This project makes the list not so much because of the vehicle itself, but because of the sheer amount of time, energy, and money tossed at it for so paltry a return. Indeed, the level of detail that went into the data collected on power and mileage gains certain modifications had on this 1988 Ford F-350 Centurion was staggeringly impressive. It was a great scientific experiment and probably one of the most thoroughly complete examples of project vehicle data-logging. After each and every modification was installed, the vehicle was dyno tested and then run through a grueling and repetitive city and highway mileage loop to determine the power and mileage difference from its baseline of 4.6 mpg city and 8.9 mpg highway.
Everything from exhaust mods, restrictor plate, custom EFI chip, auxiliary overdrive, and even fuel pressure mods were done. However, in the end, the 7,010-pound pig’s factory 460 EFI engine, C6 transmission, 4.10 gears, and 1-ton axles spinning 235/85R16 BFG AT tires only realized a mileage gain of 4.3 mpg in the city (8.9 mpg total) and 3.4 mpg on the highway (12.3 mpg total) for $4,822 spent. Given the price of fuel back in 1999, those mods would’ve taken about 8-10 years to pay for themselves.
Covered in the later months of 1999, this 1999 Chevy Silverado 1500 is without a doubt the worst project vehicle ever spewed forth from this magazine. It’s recent enough to have personally touched the lives of many current Source Interlink off-road staffers, including Editor-in-Chief Hazel, who had the aftermarket 4.56 gears inside the 10-bolt rear axle blow while simply driving down the highway. Then, there was the time we tried to use the front Warn winch, only to have the whole winch and mount tear off the front of the vehicle.
The 35-inch Swampers delivered an absolutely horrible ride, and their out-of-round performance constantly wore the steering idler arms and tie-rod ends, unitbearings, and other IFS-related components. Problems with the Autotrac NVG246 T-case, electrical gremlins, and just an overall unpleasantness about the project hammered home our suspicions that more thought and effort went into the paintjob than the mechanics on this pile of garbage.
The “Bummer Dude” project series came on the heels of a very cool “Project Blazer” buildup series by Jim Allen that began in the May 1998 issue of Four Wheeler. Project Blazer was Jim’s buildup of his 1983 K5 Blazer including a sane and modest Rancho 2.5-inch lift to clear 35s, mods to the 6.2L diesel to gain 40 hp and 87 lb-ft at the tires, and a complete upgrade of the 10-bolt front and rear axles, including ARB Air Lockers, 4.10 gears, and chromoly axleshafts.
The finished result was a clean and cool Blazer build that, admittedly, was only lacking a pair of surplus 1-ton CUCV axles since the built 10-bolts were marginally adequate at best. Allen knew that lighter is better, so when the company Tatonka Products developed a fiberglass open-air body retrofit for the Blazer chassis, Allen pulled the trigger on the conversion in 2000 and renamed the project to Bummer Dude. The installation of the Bum-V fiberglass body dropped the weight of Allen’s Blazer from 6,400 to 3,880 pounds but, in our opinion, made it hideously ugly in the process. Adieu, Project Blazer. We hardly knew you.
Back 2 Basics
The title of the magazine is Four Wheeler. So why in 2007 would we have featured Jimmy Nylund’s buildup of a 2005 two-wheel-drive Chevy pickup? Nothing better on TV? Apathetic editor-in-chief? We’ll put our money on both. Anyway, the buildup covered such riveting upgrades as a new stereo head unit, bed tie-downs and shell, a spare set of tools, a stock-sized tire and wheel upgrade, and some 3.73 gears and a Truetrac diff in the factory GM 8.6-inch 10-bolt. Oh yeah. All in all, they were good modifications for a grocery-getter, but not really worth the pages wasted in the world’s best-known off-road-oriented magazine.