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Kopycinski's Brain: Off-Road Tech of Old & New

Posted in How To on September 1, 2012
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Photographers: Source Interlink Media Archives

A lot has changed in the world of off-road vehicles. Back in the late ’60s, there was little high-tech off-road development and many of the early innovations were homegrown. A few years later after desert racing took hold, more products began to emerge. This bright red Blazer was built by the legendary Vic Hickey in 1972, about four decades ago. Contrast it to Scott McCracken’s 1977 Chevy truck built several years ago as a Class 8 racer. Both show tech of their era, but things sure have changed!

Under the front axle of the Vic Hickey-built Blazer: A bolt-on axle truss was designed to eliminate bending and breaking of the front axle housing. Steering wander was an issue with these older GM 4WDs, so Hickey developed their Shimmy Dampner Kit, which sold for $12.50. It used a heavy spring to pre-load the ball socket of the tie-rod end to reduce shimmy.

Look under the fast dirt trucks of today and you’ll typically find long-travel IFS up front, be it 2WD or 4WD. High-quality rod ends replace OEM-style ball joints. Custom steering setups are used to accommodate the huge suspension travel and custom suspension structures are TIG-welded from chromoly plate.

The early Blazer was setup with a Hickey dual shock kit up front. It used one regular hydraulic shock and one additional shock with a helper coil spring. Forty years ago, there wasn’t an array of high-performance shocks. Builders typically sprung suspensions overly stiff to survive bouncing in the dirt.

Gone are the primitive dual shock pairs. In their place is typically a long-travel coilover shock working in tandem with a position-sensitive bypass shock. Remote reservoirs and external coolers assist with keeping shock temperatures down when they’re cycling fast and working hard. Hydraulic bumpstops further tune a truly progressive suspension that is supple on small bumps but soaks up the big hits as well.

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