Opinions on a Jeep Fighter
Q It is no secret that Chevy powerplants are the most swapped in motors across the board in automobile projects. That said, why doesn’t the General build a 4x4 that is a direct competitor for a Jeep? A small solid-axle selectable transfer case vehicle from GM would be great, in my opinion. Do you think there is any chance in persuading them to get started on such a thing?
A Wow, great question! General Motors almost had an awesome competitor with the Hummer HX concept vehicle revealed back in 2008 that was pointing toward a cool open-topped 4x4. However, with the economic slump the Hummer brand died and with it the last GM 4x4 dedicated to off-roading. With the booming success of the Jeep Wrangler you would think GM would delve into that arena, but I don’t think you’ll see anything soon—especially since GM doesn’t have a solid front axle in any of its 4x4s. I do think the new Colorado (or whatever is slated to replace the Colorado) could be a great little 4x4. The rumor mill says small diesel engine options. But again, I doubt you’ll see a solid-front-axle competitor from GM.
So if not GM, why has no one else shown up to compete with the Jeep Wrangler? Ford opted to build a go-fast truck instead, and that is admirable, though I still wonder if we could ever see a new Bronco. Imagine one with an EcoBoost V-6 and solid axles. Toyota built the very capable FJ Cruiser, but it could have used a better body design for visibility, plus I agree a solid front axle would have been great for rockcrawling. Nissan’s Xterra is no slouch off-road, and yet it also is missing the solid front axle that so many off-roaders covet. Land Rover is still spinning around a new Defender concept, but its vehicles are usually priced outside the Wrangler market. The same with Mercedes and its übercool solid-axle G-Wagon, which cost more than two new Wranglers.
The body-on-frame, solid-front-axle recipe seems to be a hang up for many OEMs, especially now that fuel economy is so important to our government, and thus regulated to the automakers. In fact, Jeep is probably working double time to both fulfill all the Wrangler orders and figure out how to make it more fuel efficient, or offset these sales with other more fuel-efficient vehicles in the Jeep lineup.
Finally, this brings up one big question. If a Jeep was built by any other company and it wasn’t called a Jeep, would it sell as well? I’m sure GM and Ford guys would buy a new Blazer or Bronco, but would they buy a solid-axle, body-on-frame 4x4 made by someone else, like Hyundai? Kia? Or …?
Q I am looking for some insight on an SAS (solid axle swap) on my ’84 S-10 Blazer. I have had this truck since I was 16 and can’t give up on her. I have always wanted to do a SAS on it. The IFS stinks—no flex—and has bound me up before. I am interested in the Offroad Design kit, which suggests a few axles that will work with the kit. I have recently run across a ’79 F-250 D44 front with 4.10s. The spring perches are the correct width, but I am unsure about the pros and cons of a full-width axle under a midsize truck. The axle measures roughly 68 inches wide and with rims will increase my track width by 8 inches on each side if I get 5-inch backspacing on a 10-inch wide wheel. I am hoping to run 33-12.50 or maybe 35s if I can fit them. I also found an ’02 Sterling rear axle from a Ford that I could swap for the rear; this would also increase the width by 8 inches. I figured I would contact the pros. Thanks for the Info.
Eric L. Via email@example.com
A You have a great little truck with your S10. However, I assume you don’t have the more powerful 4.3L V-6. I understand your desire to build the truck, as it holds some emotional attachment for you, but I will warn you that you may want to upgrade to a more powerful engine down the road.
The solid-axle swap kit offered by Offroad Design, aka ORD (www.offroaddesign.com), is for a fullsize truck, not your S10. However, the ORD you’re talking about may be Off-Road Direct (www.offroaddirect.com), which does list a SAS kit for your truck.
I think it would suit you best to find a set of axles from the same truck if you are on a budget. Getting a matching set of, say, a Ford 44 and 9-inch (F-150), or Ford 44 and 60 (F-250), should ensure that you have matching gear ratios, bolt patterns, and similar overall widths. Ford was pretty good about running matching front and rear track widths.
I do not see a major problem with going with a full-width axle under your midsize (small) truck. Off-road you’ll have the benefit of stability and tires that can hold the body away from rocks, trees, and other obstacles. On-road you will likely need to run mud flaps or some sort of removable flares. If you go with an eight-lug axle, note that most factory late-model eight-lug truck wheels have a lot of backspacing, good for helping pull the tires back in near the body. One I’d suggest is a set of late-model Dodge Power Wagon wheels. They have a lot of backspacing and are a lightweight forged 17-inch aluminum wheel with an 8-on-61⁄2 bolt pattern. Finding a 5-on-51⁄2 bolt pattern wheel with a lot of backspacing and a center hole to clear a front Dana 44 hub will be more difficult, especially if you are looking at a 17-inch rim.
Q Prior to Chrysler’s bankruptcy, I understood they were developing a bolt-in kit to fit the VM 2.8L diesel into the TJ and possibly the YJ. Is the new Chrysler/Fiat going to still offer that kit through, perhaps, the Mopar division, or is it a scrapped project? It would be too bad if they shelved that project since not only were the torque numbers at low rpm a little more than the gas sixes, but the mileage should have been in the 20-plus range both in city and on the highway.
Lake Balboa, CA
A We actually reported on this engine swap back in 2008 and since then have heard that it is not going to happen. You can stop holding your breath. Sorry. If your heart’s set on a diesel swap, Burnsville Off Road (www.burnsvilleoff road.com) offers 2.8L conversions. Another option is a Volkswagen TDI conversion from Coty Built (www.cotybuilt.com), as shown in New Products this month.
Tire Store or Store Tire
Q Is there any way to beat dry rot if you have to park or store a vehicle for long periods of time? Due to moving eight hours away and living in an apartment in a bad neighborhood, I had to park my Jeep at my parents’ house for about four years. After finally securing a nice duplex in a safer town, I towed my ’81 CJ-5 up here. I had some decently new (plenty of tread) 35X12.50 Kumho M/T Road Ventures mounted prior to parking. After about two weeks of driving I noticed tiny cracks in the sidewalls. Shortly after that my tires would no longer hold air, and I ended up having to replace my 35s with some $100 32X10.50 A/T tires. I am planning to put some work into my Jeep, and it might have to sit while I’m doing so. Any tips to avoid this problem again?
A The best way to store tires is put each tire in a bag (say, a large garbage bag) so they are airtight to reduce oil evaporation, then stack them in a cool dry place. This means putting your Jeep up on jackstands or other roller tires you’re not concerned with if possible. Sunlight can really affect tires, so storing them like this in a basement is a better option. Tires do have build dates on them and will not last forever, but care can be taken to make them last a while. If you can’t store them like this it would be better to sell them or have someone drive the Jeep periodically to keep them flexible.
Of course, tires are only one concern for a vehicle that is stored for a long time. If you have to store your vehicle again, we recommend you fill the gas tank and add some Stabl to keep it from gumming up. Stuff a rag or some steel wool in the tailpipe to keep any critters from making a home in there, and don’t set the parking brake because the shoes can stick to the drums. Disconnect the battery and plan to charge it prior to driving the vehicle. I’d also recommend changing all of the fluids (oil, coolant, brake fluid) when you start driving it again, as they can absorb water over time.
Q I own a ’76 Dodge W100 with a 318ci engine, four-speed transmission, and the dreaded NP203 full-time transfer case. I know there was a time when Mile Marker made a conversion for the Chrysler NP203, but they are non-existent now. Is there any way to get rid of this transfer case? Will later years of NP205 transfer cases fit on the Dodge four-speed? Is it even worth it in the long run?
A You have two options. You could swap in an NP205 in place of your 203, or use your 203 to build a 203/205 doubler. I would recommend the second option. This will give you more gearing options and let you reuse part of your 203. If you replace the 203 with the 205 you will need new driveshafts because the case is shorter and you will need front selectable hubs if you do not already have them. Since you are already investing this much into the truck I would go to the next step as well and get the doubler kit and use your 203 low-range box in front of the 205, then when you build new driveshafts you already have plenty of gearing. Offroad Design (www.offroaddesign.com) offers the doubler adapter kit.
Spooled 60 by 30
Q I have a ’78 Bronco that is a low-budget toy. I have a 6-inch lift, 38-inch Boggers, and a 460. I just blew up the 9-inch, and someone gave me a ’78 F-250 4x4 frame. I want to put the rear Dana 60 and front hubs on my Bronco. I can’t seem to find a spool for the 30-spline 3.54 rearend. I’m building it cheap and don’t want to change gears or bore out the spindles for 35-spline shafts.
A Yukon Gear & Axle (yukongear.com) offers a 30-spline Dana 60 spool for 4.10-and-down or 4.56-and-up gear ratios.
Nuts, I’m Confused
Q I have a ’79 Ford F-250 single cab that my grandfather and I were supposed to restore. His health and mind are rapidly failing him, and it’s no longer going to be possible for him to help me. The truck is a “Snowfighter package” (yes, dual Dana-60s ), the cab is badly rusted, but the drivetrain is still good. I love that old truck and would hate to have our dream crushed because of oxidation. I’ve talked with friends, family, and coworkers. We’ve come up with three options: (1) Try to find an old cab in good shape and restore it (which doesn’t really meet my needs of a four-door truck but stays true to my pappy); (2) Drop a HMMWV body on there and rock the trails (the issues are cost, time, and staying true to the old man—however, it does everything I want with a bulletproof chassis); or (3) Use what’s left of my firewall and build something like a buggy. I have to move in three years, so I have a little bit of time, but I seem to get stuck everywhere I go. When I find a good cab, I don’t have the money, and vice versa. What should I do that can counterbalance everything while keeping the heritage that my grandfather brought into my life?
P.S. The truck’s getting a 6BT no matter what.
A I picked this for “Nuts, I’m Confused” because I think your dilemma is something a lot of guys encounter. They inherit a truck that has meaning to them, and yet it isn’t exactly what they want or need. I can tell from your options that you want to keep the old Ford, but you seem to need a four-door vehicle, maybe to haul a family. You also mention a buggy, so I assume you want something for four-wheeling.
I think you should keep the frame and chassis and drop on a crew cab from the same era. This may be hard to find, but I think you’ll end up with something really cool. I vote for this because no one will know it’s a Ford if you take all the body away. In fact, most people won’t care, but I know people really dig those old Fords. The HMMWV is more work and cost than it’s worth, in my view. Then you’ll end up with some oddball truck that does nothing for your grandfather’s memory. The buggy idea is cool, but you’ll need a truck to tow it places, and a trailer. If you build it as a Ford you can probably still drive it on the street.
I assume your regular cab F-250 truck had an 8-foot bed. If you drop a crew cab on the truck you’ll need to cut down the bed to about 4-5 feet. Don’t make it too short or it will look funny, but don’t let it hang off the rear too much either or it will also look funny. Another option is to build a tube-frame bed for the back (see photo).
You should build the truck the way that will make it most useful to you. Restoring a truck so it can sit in your garage isn’t very useful. Trucks are meant to be used. Also remember, it’s just metal. You can cut, grind and weld it, and eventually turn it into something you want. Time and money are always factors, but this is time and money spent on a family heirloom, so if calling it an investment in your inheritance makes you feel better then by all means call it that. As with any 4x4, build it for what you will use it for. If you need a truck to haul stuff keep the long-bed regular cab. If you need seats for more than three drop on a crew cab. If you need a bed and inside storage you could look for an extended cab.
You could also look for a two-wheel drive and swap your parts into it and build a 4x4 with your axles and transfer case. I think anything other than a regular-cab longbed will require significant fabrication work and money, but it sounds like you are already considering that as one of your options.
Since you were picked for “Nuts, I’m Confused” and since you have a Ford, I will be sending you a shirt from the 2013 Ultimate Adventure, which is sponsored by Ford. Thanks for writing in!
Confused? Email your questions about trucks, 4x4s, and off-roading tech using “Nuts, I’m confused” as the subject and include a picture (if it’s applicable). Digital photos must measure no less than 1600 x 1200 pixels (or two megapixels) and be saved as a TIFF, an EPS, or a maximum-quality JPEG file. Also, I’ll be checking the forums on our website (www.4wheeloffroad.com), and if I see a question that I think more of you might want to have answered, I’ll print that as well. Otherwise drop it old-school style with the envelope addressed to the address below. Letters published in this magazine reflect the opinions of the writers, and we reserve the right to edit letters for clarity, brevity, or other purposes.
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