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1986 Suzuki Samurai Buildup - Project Sami Supreme

Posted in How To on October 1, 2009
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Contributors: Matt Rust

Sami Supreme has come a long way over the past year and a half. This project began with a Toyota dual t-case drivetrain swap in a 1986 Suzuki Samurai and soon evolved into a full-blown competition-grade trail buggy. Outfitted with Diamond Axles and a custom three-link, air-shock suspension, the stretched wheelbase Sami Supreme now sports 37-inch tires and screams through the rocks with the help of four side-draft Mikuni carbs. A few outings in the newly-built Samurai, however, revealed some noticeable issues that were compromising performance in certain off-road situations.

The first problem was encountered while ascending an off-camber granite slab on the world famous Rubicon Trail. The side-hill terrain caused the vehicle to lean so severely that it actually pulled a wheel off the ground. A professional builder happened to witness the incident and suggested adding an off-road sway bar like the Currie Antirock sway bar kit. Off-road sway bars are often used to cure body roll commonly associated with vehicles running air shocks, and while it may not be as desirable as upgrading to coilovers it is much more affordable and is a useful addition either way. A Currie Antirock universal sway-bar kit was soon mounted in the rear and an immediate improvement was apparent just cruising the driveway.

With one problem handled, there were some other noticeable shortcomings on the trail that needed to be addressed. There had been several situations while crawling on large rocks where the steering seemed limited. Further investigation revealed that the steering draglink was, in effect, fighting the front panhard bar. The front panhard bar was considerably shorter than the draglink. Ideally, the panhard bar should be the exact length as the draglink and also in the same plane, meaning that the Heim joints should align with the ball-joints for the draglink. Relocating and lengthening the front panhard bar would be a considerable undertaking. After hours of measuring and test fitting, a solution was discovered, requiring a serious notch in the frame rail, a bent panhard bar and an elaborate custom bracket to accommodate the passenger steering knuckle. Tackling this seemingly endless job was not easy, but definitely offered peace of mind knowing that it was finally done right.

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Next up were some necessary additions, considered standard fare for any off-road suspension. Until now, the Samurai had no bump stops or limit straps to control excessive travel or compression. The 14-inch Sway-A-Way 2.0 RaceRunner air shocks were eventually dialed in with just the right pressure, oil, and valving for slow trail driving, but they were often on the verge of bottoming out on fast bumpy fire-road blasts. Installing bump stops of any kind requires careful measuring, precise positioning, and custom bracket fabrication whether it's a basic $10 rubber unit or the ultimate, yet pricier, hydraulic bump stops. Considering the huge amount of fabrication it would take to outfit the suspension with bump stops, it was clear that hydraulic units were the best choice. Thoroughly impressed with the performance of the Sway-A-Way air shocks, a set of matching Sway-A-Way RaceRunner hydraulic 2-inch bump stops were soon on the way. To make the installation as easy as possible, a set of pre-fabricated mounting cans were ordered from AA-Fab. Specializing in custom brackets, mounts, and tabs, AA-Fab also builds custom-fit limit straps, so with a set of limit straps also in order, we were about to cure the last of our suspension woes.

Until now, axle droop was controlled using only center-mounted limit straps. The rear center strap was initially installed at an awkward angle due to clearance issues, so some real attention was finally spent redesigning a more effective setup. The new, custom-fit limit straps from AA-Fab were then installed on each shock using the existing shock bolts. With the bump stops and limit straps mounted, the shocks were now properly protected, allowing the Sami to be pushed to its full potential without worrying about shock damage.

The new modifications had now affected the shocks, requiring them to be re-tuned with different oil levels and nitrogen pressures. While shock tuning can be done in the driveway, the only true way to get it right is testing and tuning on the trail. Power Tank recently unveiled a new portable shock inflator kit designed specifically to address this need. The kit includes a small, lightweight nitrogen bottle, an inflator, and all required tools, packed into a portable case. Realizing the new hydraulic bump stops would also need to be tuned using nitrogen on the trail, there was a real need to invest in the Power Tank shock kit.

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Sami Supreme was soon on its way to the Sierras for some testing and tuning on the Dusy Trail. First impressions were amazing as the hydraulic bump stops allowed the Sami to blast through the roughest sections without hesitation. An off-camber granite slab, very similar to the one on the Rubicon Trail was used to test the improvements to the rear suspension. The Currie Antirock sway bar worked perfectly, stabilizing the rig on a severe side-hill without any noticeable leaning. Steering response was also noticeably improved with the newly reconfigured front panhard bar. Steering from side-to-side at a dead stop previously raised and lowered the front of the rig as the draglink fought the panhard bar. The front end now remains level when performing, making the steering much more effective when bound up on tough obstacles.

Making frequent stops to adjust the bump stops and shocks was easy using the Power Tank shock inflator kit. By the end of our Dusy Trail test run, the suspension had been fully tuned to perfection and Sami Supreme was riding as smooth as a Cadillac. Reflecting back on the use of a Toyota suspension kit on a Samurai, and all of the necessary work to get it right, it's easy to see what mistakes we made. No one said the road to glory would be easy but this project was not built for taking easy roads anyway. Before taking on a project of this caliber, you must anticipate unforeseen imperfections and then patiently address and correct them to make the most of your invested time and hard work. Stay tuned, as there will surely be more to come on Project Sami Supreme.

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PhotosView Slideshow


Power Tank, Inc.
Sway-A-Way, Inc.

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