Matilda The Super Stomper
Did you ever play with Stompers when you were a kid? For those of us old enough to remember them, just hearing the name of those AA battery-eating little 4x4s brings a huge smile to the face. When we finally finished Matilda with all the hardcore parts we wanted and hopped in to take a spin, it felt like we were mashing down the highway in a super Stomper.
But apparently Matilda does not invoke the same happy childhood memories for all the Orange County residents we've been cruising next to during the last few weeks. While we've seen lots of thumbs-ups, we'll not lie that we've seen some scowls, a few middle fingers, and we've definitely upset one or two compact owners. Ah, the feeling of accomplishment. If they only knew that Matilda was sporting a bunch of recycled parts, running an updated Howell smog-legal fuel injection system to keep the air clean, and might even see a propane conversion soon.... But, that's okay. We take it as a compliment that they distance themselves from us.
We were just so happy to have finished our fullsize Cherokee project (only one month late) that we barely even remembered how much we time and money it took once we hopped in the big daily driver. If you've followed along with our build over the last three issues, we were working with Jeeps R Us to build a daily-driven vehicle on 47-inch tires. It didn't really matter what vehicle we started with because anything this big has to have a similar bombproof build. We were supposed to have it finished in three stories (Part One, Part Two, and Part 2.5) but gathering all the parts necessary to build a front axle from scratch took longer than we thought and necessitated a fourth installment (Part Three) to finish Matilda up and allow some time for testing.
The crew at Jeeps R Us worked into the nights during the last few days of the build to get it finished in time for the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area's first annual Roughneck Rendezvous in late January. Did we drive all the way to Ocotillo Wells, 'wheel all day, and drive back that same night successfully? You betcha. Did we find some things we still need to modify and address? Definitely. But overall, we'd call this a giant (Matilda-sized) success.
Our only real disappointment is how much money we ended up spending to accomplish the goal. Granted, we used many new parts instead of hunting around for used parts in classified sections and junkyards, but our "budget" axle builds got tremendously expensive very quickly. We originally intended on splurging on only two things-the ARB lockers and Superior USA-made axleshafts-and we intended for everything else we acquired to be well-priced while still being high-quality. In other words we wanted nice heavy-duty stuff but we didn't need $300 U-joints, titanium ring gears, 50-spline axleshafts, nor diff covers that cost more than our axlehousing. Unfortunately, we still ended up spending almost $6,000 on the front axle alone-and that was starting with an old bare Chevy Dana 60 housing! When you add up the two months of running around for parts and the fuel spent to retrieve them, it honestly would have been cheaper (and faster) to order a custom axle. Of course, there are certain instances where building a used axle is definitely cheaper than new-swapping a complete 1-ton Dodge Dana 60 into a half-ton Dodge of the same era, for instance-but starting from scratch with a totally different vehicular application and then beefing the axle up past what the factory specs were...that can get pricey. When you're considering your next truck build, try to factor in all the incremental costs you wouldn't normally think about. If you have to go pick up parts yourself, how much time did you lose doing so, and how much money would you have made during that time? We're guessing that you'll find that some seemingly expensive alternatives are actually more cost-effective than you originally thought.
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