Click for Coverage
  • JP Magazine
  • Dirt Sports + Off-Road
  • 4-Wheel & Off-Road
  • Four Wheeler
Subscribe to the Free
Newsletter

A Clean 1997 Chevy S-10 ZR2 Rockcrawler

Posted in Features on June 29, 2016
Share this

Getting compliments from your friends and peers is great. Getting pictures shot and a feature written up in the largest off-road enthusiast publication in the world generally doesn’t hurt a person’s ego either.

What Kelly Ludwig of Castle Rock, Colorado, the owner of this awesome S-10, doesn’t know is that he also received yet another meaningful compliment on the day we shot the feature on his truck. We were out riding with none other than Chris Durham of rockcrawling competition fame and owner/head fabricator of Chris Durham Motorsports in Pickens, South Carolina, when Chris himself pointed out Kelly’s white S-10 parked in and amongst a few other rigs. Kelly was grabbing a bite to eat near the entrance to Area BFE in Moab, Utah, when we rolled up. After a bit of closer inspection (and waiting for Kelly to finish his sandwich) we talked Kelly into doing some more wheeling for the camera.

The result is what you see here, a feature shoot on a good-looking rig that works. Our job is to dig into the story that surrounds every build, and that’s just what we did here. Kelly built the “mostly full-bodied” rig that is certainly “not a Jeep” himself over the course of several years. He did this as we all should, starting with a basically stock truck, learning how to drive without the reliability of 1-ton axles, 40s, the ease of full-hydro steering, and the constant traction of lockers. Then he modified and upgraded what failed along the way, building the truck into a reliable and capable rig following this constant pattern of modifying what he could when he could afford to. On top of all that, Kelly is a pretty darn good 4x4 fabricator, and the truck shows it.

We don’t always find ourselves drawn towards purpose-built rigs with full-hydraulic steering, coilover suspension, and really big tires. We like 4x4s that fill many roles and stand out from the crowd. This ZR2 S-10 definitely stands out and pushes the limits of capability for a full-bodied rig with fiberglass in all the factory locations. The body modifications show form following function, and the fabrication is topnotch, especially for an owner-built vehicle that was built slowly as funds allowed. Kelly Ludwig says he has been building the truck over the past four years, starting with a stock daily driven truck.

Kelly has plans for a V-8 swap, but for now the stock 4.3L V-6 and NV3500 five-speed transmission do the work necessary to get the job done while his bank account can keep up with his wish list. The stock NP231 transfer case was chopped down, with the low-range gearing portion serving as crawler box in front of a Dana 300.

We dig the low stance and flexy suspension. An early PSC full-hydraulic steering setup Kelly bought used steers the Dana 70 front axle. The front suspension is a three-link with track bar, while a double triangulated four-link locates a full-float 14-bolt out back. The truck is suspended by four 16-inch-travel, 2 1/2-inch remote-reservoir shocks: two FOAs up front and Fox Performance out back. As said, the truck was built as time and budget allowed with an eye to buying new or used parts. Anything that didn’t come out of a box or was on the truck as factory equipment was designed and built by Kelly himself.

The front Dana 70 spins a Detroit Locker via 5.13 gears with 35-spline chromoly Dana 60 outers from Yukon and 35-spline Synergy drive slugs. The front suspension is a tight fit to keep the center of gravity low. Kelly fabricated lots of the front frame sections and built an unconventional track bar that runs from the passenger-side framerail to the driver side of the axle. Above all this a Superwinch EPi9 winch reliably serves recovery duties.

The aforementioned rear axle is a full-float GM 14-bolt with 5.13 gears and a Yukon Grizzly locker. The rear four-link attaches via a beefy axle truss. Weld-on caliper brackets round out a disc brake conversion for the stout rear axle. Twisted six-ply Trail-Gear limit straps (Kelly needed 20-inch straps, but in a pinch all he could source were 22 inchers) help keep the Fox remote-reservoir shocks from overextending the rear suspension.

Retaining a usable bed in a serious rock rig like this isn’t a detail everyone pays attention to, but Kelly did. This usable bed space justifies the extensive chopping and massaging the rear sheetmetal has received. A GoatBuilt fuel cell sits in front of the “bed,” and a Optima YellowTop lives next to it.

Peeking in towards the transfer case you can see more of Kelly’s clean fabrication work. He says that many of the tabs and a few of the brackets are from Chassis Unlimited and Ballistic, but the axle trusses and fabricated pieces were all cut by hand.

The interior of the S-10 is clean and looks fairly pedestrian until you notice the extra shifters (the Dana 300 has a Currie twin-stick conversion) and the clean ’cage. The interior is comfortable and does everything Kelly needs it to do.

We love the looks of these 20-inch TrailReady HD Beadlocks wrapped in 43-inch Super Swamper SXs. Kelly had a little bit of fender rubbing to work out, but the truck worked well on the rocks near the entrance to Area BFE.

Above the axle views of Kelly’s clean fab work helped clinch the feature on this rig. The tube work is well thought out and the welds are clean.

The massive front fender trimming helps give the truck its low, aggressive stance. Lots of sheetmetal and supports had to be removed and replaced to make it happen.

This truck, like many, has been modified slowly over the years as time and money allowed. Despite this, the whole build looks consistent. New melds with old. If that trend continues we can’t wait to see this truck in Moab next year.

Tech Specs
1997 Chevy S-10 ZR2
Drivetrain
Engine: 4.3L V-6 Transmission: NV3500
Transfer Case: NP231 range box bolted to a Dana 300
Front Axle: Dana 70 HD, 35-spline Dana 60 outers, Detroit Locker, 5.13 gears
Rear Axle: GM full-float 14-bolt, Yukon Grizzly locker, 5.13 gears
Suspension
Springs & Such: 3-link front and triangulated 4-link rear with 16-inch-travel, 2 1/2-inch coilovers on all corners
Tires & Wheels: 43x14.50-20 Super Swamper SX on 20-inch Trail-Ready HD beadlocks Steering: An older PSC full-hydro system bought used Lighting: Cheapo LED lights from Amazon.com
Other Stuff: bobbed and dovetailed bed, full ’cage retaining factory interior, back-halved frame, extensive skidplate and tube work integration.

PhotosView Slideshow

What's Trending

Connect With Us

Newsletter Sign Up

Subscribe to the Magazine

Browse Articles By Vehicle

See Results