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Party Barge: A Duramax-powered 1972 Suburban With Seating For 12!

Posted in Features on November 9, 2018
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When you own 300 acres of wooded, central Missouri backcountry, it pays to have a vehicle that can traverse the mud, rock, and hills you’re bound to encounter. For homebuilder John Eilermann, the prospect of bringing family and friends along for off-road adventures inspired this one-of-a-kind build. While on the hunt for the perfect safari-type vehicle to prowl around his sizeable property, John came across a ’72 Suburban listed on eBay for $5,000—much more affordable than the starting price on an authentic safari rig. The Texas-sourced, sixth-generation SUV was all but ready for the paint booth when John took ownership of it in the fall of 2016, but obtaining the classic Suburban was only the beginning.

After asking nearby LinCo Diesel Performance to spearhead the project, the well-executed finished product was presented to John just 18 months later. Customized in virtually every way, the 350ci gas V-8 was replaced with a Duramax diesel, and the three-speed TH350 was ditched in favor of a six-speed, commercial-grade Allison 1000. A King Pin Dana 60 would make its way under the front end, along with coilovers and a four-link suspension, while a leaf-sprung AAM 1150 was bolted in place out back. Four 39.5-inch tires keep the 7,500-pound machine digging, and—thanks to limousine-style seating—as many as 11 passengers can tag along for the ride.

For aggressive looks and performance to match, a set of 39.5x18R16.5 Interco Super Swamper TSL Boggers were chosen. The tires are mounted on 12-inch-wide steel Super Trucker wheels from Bart Wheels that feature an 8-on-6.5 bolt pattern and 3.5 inches of backspacing. The original bumpers were retained, but the front bumper was modified to accept four LED switchback pods that serve as both foglights and turn signals. For better visibility during nighttime ventures, the team at LinCo retrofitted the factory headlight assemblies with Gravity LED headlights from KC HiLites.
Plucked from an ’89 F-350, the King Pin Dana 60 front axle has been treated to a Dana Spicer Trac-Lok limited-slip differential, 4.56 gears, and Warn manual-locking hubs. The crossover steering system takes its cues from a PSC hydraulic-assist system and custom pitman arm, while a one-off track bar quells the axle’s lateral movements. A high-steer kit from Ballistic Fabrication provides ample ground clearance and keeps things from binding up while out on the trail.
Though the Suburban is a definite showstopper, its original purpose was to excel when driven off the beaten path. Articulation and traction are optimized thanks to a four-link coilover front suspension. LinCo Diesel Performance fabricator Tyler Turay was responsible for not only building the one-off suspension, but also for many of the other structural upgrades performed on the vintage SUV. High-strength Heim joints connect the links to both the front axle and frame, while dual-rate coil springs from Viper Spring Technologies provide sufficient on- and off-road performance. A pair of 2.5-inch remote-reservoir shocks from ADS Racing complement the Viper springs.
Even heavily modified Duramax mills have a hard time killing the AAM 1150 rear axle employed in GM’s heavy-duty trucks, hence its use in this application. However, for optimum traction and utmost reliability, a Grizzly Locker from Yukon Gear & Axle was added, along with a set of 4.56 gears and a Mag-Hytec diff cover. Both ends of the one-piece Upland Truck Parts rear driveshaft feature a 1480 series U-joint, and axlewrap is a non-issue thanks to a burly set of traction bars tying the AAM 1150 in with the mid-ship crossmember cradle.
Leaf packs from Rough Country Suspension Systems provide the Suburban with 6 inches worth of lift out back, and fabricated steel lift blocks add another 3 inches of ride height to the equation. Custom-fabricated shock hoops provide mounting points along the frame for a duo of Bilstein remote-reservoir shocks on each side.
Pulled from a wrecked ’07 GMC Sierra 2500 HD, a highly-desirable LBZ Duramax turbodiesel sits between the Suburban’s framerails. Accommodating the 6.6L V-8 called for the front section of the frame to be widened and boxed, along with a custom engine crossmember, which nearby Bare Knuckle Choppers Machine and Zerr Engineering had a hand in. Repurposing the ’07 donor Duramax wire harness took LinCo employee Cameron Wheeler a full week to sort out what was necessary and what could be scrapped from the OEM wiring. A 100 percent duty cycle solenoid is mounted along the firewall to run all key-on power.
The LBZ Duramax packed 360 hp (and 650 lb-ft of torque) in stock form, but the addition of custom EFI Live tuning via Power Performance Enterprises Inc. (PPEI), an HSP Diesel Max Flow Y-bridge, and one of LinCo’s Stage 1 Billet 64/66 turbochargers (shown) is said to bring horsepower up to roughly 550 at the wheels. The 64mm turbo forces boost through an intercooler out of a ’94-’02 Dodge (Cummins) application. Other engine upgrades include Derale Performance dual electric cooling fans, an aluminum radiator, and a modified factory AC Delco water pump from Danville Performance (altered to handle higher rpm).
With diesel performance being a big part of the day-to-day operations at LinCo, the team knew the Allison 1000 would be due for a few reinforcements in order to handle the stresses of turning 39.5-inch tires and coping with 1,100 lb-ft of torque. After teardown, the six-speed automatic was fitted with Raybestos GPZ clutches, a 2,300-rpm stall speed 1058 torque converter from SunCoast Diesel Transmissions, and a Pacific Performance Engineering (PPE) heavy-duty aluminum transmission pan. The NP261XHD transfer case was rebuilt as well, with a Merchant Automotive pump rub kit addressing the unit’s fatal factory flaw. All Candy Blue powdercoating (oil and transmission pan, transfer case, diff covers, and select engine components) came courtesy of Extreme Powder Coating in Troy, Missouri.
Key highlights in the cockpit include the front seats out of the ’07 GMC donor truck, recovered by Muterts Auto Detailing Upholstery; a LinCo-built center console; a Winters Performance floor shifter; and a Grant Products steering wheel. The Suburban’s sound system is controlled via a 7-inch touchscreen JVC head unit; Isspro analog gauges are used to track oil pressure, fuel pressure, fuel level, and boost; and a CTS2 monitor from Edge Products keeps tabs on everything else—including what’s behind the big SUV—thanks to a backup camera. In the back is limousine seating, upholstered by Muterts Auto Detailing Upholstery in Wentzville, Missouri, and it brings rear occupancy up to 10. For a non-slip, weatherproof surface that’s easy to clean up, the floor was treated to spray-in bedliner by B&R Auto Body. A massive, waterproof MB Quart–sourced sound system helps keep each joyride entertaining. There’s also a full rollcage that was built in-house at LinCo using 1.75-inch-diameter DOM tubing.
If you were wondering why John’s Suburban is void of back glass, this moonroof might help explain things. From the outset, the intention was to build a safari-like vehicle, complete with a full rollcage, seating for a dozen occupants, and an unobstructed view of all surroundings. A roll-up tonneau cover serves as the Suburban’s roof when weather conditions are less than desirable.
The Duramax’s variable geometry turbocharger does most of its talking through a 4-inch-diameter stainless steel exhaust system. Also built in-house at LinCo, the system terminates with dual 4x6x18-inch polished stainless steel tips. From this angle you can also see the Dixie music air horn system from Horn Blasters and the fuel cell tucked between the rear framerails.

At a Glance


General
Vehicle: ’72 Chevrolet Suburban
Owner: John Eilermann
Stomping grounds: St. Louis, Missouri
Build time: 1.5 years

Drivetrain
Engine: 6.6L Duramax LBZ V-8
Transmission: Allison 1000 six-speed auto
Transfer case: NP261XHD
Front axle/differential: Ford King Pin Dana 60, Warn manual locking hubs, 4.56 gears/Dana Spicer Trac-Lok limited slip
Rear axle/differential: GM AAM 1150, 4.56 gears/Yukon Gear & Axle Grizzly Locker

Suspension
Front: Custom four-link, Viper Spring Technologies dual-rate coil springs, ADS 2.5-inch remote-reservoir coilover shocks
Rear: Rough Country leaf springs, custom 3-inch steel lift blocks, Bilstein remote-reservoir shocks on custom mounts/hoops
Steering: Ballistic Fabrication billet high-steer kit, PSC hydraulic-assist system, custom pitman arm and track bar

Tires/Wheels
Tires: 39.5x18R16.5LT Interco Super Swamper TSL Bogger
Wheels: 16.5x12 Bart Super Trucker

Miscellaneous
Steering: Ballistic Fabrication high-steer kit, PSC Performance hydraulic-assist and pitman arm
Lighting: KC HiLites Gravity LED headlights, LED switchpods
Cool stuff: LinCo Diesel Performance Stage 1 Billet 64/66 turbo, HSP Diesel Max Flow Y-bridge, ’94-’02 Dodge/Cummins intercooler, EFI Live tuning from PPEI (available on the fly via DSP5 switch), Edge Products CTS2 monitor, custom 4-inch stainless steel dual exit exhaust with 4x6x18-inch polished stainless steel tips, FASS Titanium Series 165-gph low-pressure fuel supply system, G&R Diesel tank sump

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