Your 4x4 Questions Answered
Q I have a ’91 Toyota truck that I really want to build into a rockcrawler. I have been saving my money to buy a welder and just purchased a used MIG machine with some help from my dad. He has promised to help me with a solid axle swap, but we both agreed to start with other upgrades first, like bumpers and rock sliders and then maybe a rollcage. I am looking for some input on how best to build a bumper. I want a winch but don’t think I can afford a good one just yet. (I’m steering clear of the imports; I’ve heard bad things about them from my dad’s buddies). Do you have any input for a kid looking to build his own bumper? I have a welder and a grinder of my own and have access to a torch and tube bender at a friend’s house.
A You are on the right track, and that’s great to see. Building bumpers and sliders will get you good fabrication experience on components that would not be overly life-threatening if they failed, compared to a custom suspension or rollcage.
If you want a winch but cannot afford it, I recommend getting a winch mounting plate first and building your bumper around that. Most winch companies sell these to work with their winches, but double-check exactly what winches it fits. An 8,000- to 9,000-pound winch will be plenty for a Toyota mini truck. Most winch companies also list the dimensions of the winches on their website or catalogs, and you’ll want to be sure the winch will clear the rest of your bumper and grille and can be installed after the bumper is installed if you’re welding it directly to the frame.
Another recommendation I have is to make the bumper so it can bolt on and off, as this will allow you to remove it to better paint it and install the winch. Of course, many fabricators build bumpers that weld right to the frame, but just realize that you’ll probably destroy it if you ever try to remove it. With that size truck I think a tube bumper made of 13⁄4x0.120-wall tubing will look good and be relatively strong. Or you could use cardboard and design a flat plate steel bumper, but then you need to cut all those pieces out of plate with the torch, and I think you could make the bumper look better with tubing. I actually just built a super-simple front bumper, and you’ll see some of it next month in Cheap Truck Challenge.
Another item you may need is tabs and brackets for lights or to use as gussets for your bumper. I recently ordered up a Smith Pack from TMR Customs (www.tmrcustoms.com). This is a kit of various-sized tabs and brackets, and gussets and even light mounts and tube flanges, and it only costs $100 but gives you a variety of parts to start building with.
As a final note, remember to make your new bumper high enough not to hinder approach angle, tight enough to the body that you don’t just hit bumper when coming up to an obstacle, and strong enough that if you need to be pulled by it or run it into a rock it doesn’t crumple into your grille and smash your radiator or lights. Good luck!
Q I am building an ’87 Dodge Ramcharger and need help with my front axle. I found a Dana 60 out of an ’85 1-ton Dodge, and it has a center axle disconnect. I want to know who makes gears for this axle. I want to run 4.56 gears and 36-inch tires. Any help would be great.
A You are looking for a set of low-pinion or standard-rotation Dana 60 gears. Just about any gear supplier can sell you these. However, I do not believe there was a center axle disconnect offered in the Dodge front 60 in 1985, but there was starting in 1994, so it may be a newer axle you are looking at. Most axles have a bill of material, or BOM, number stamped somewhere in the axletube for you to verify what that axle is from. As an aside, you can replace the center axle disconnect with a solid long side axle. Nitro Gear & Axle (www.nitro-gear.com) offers these axleshafts (PN AXN48215).
Q I have an ’02 Chevy Silverado 2500HD 4X4 and would like to level out the truck by raising the front about 11⁄2-2 inches. It appears that there is plenty of adjustment left in the torsion bar bolts (11⁄2 inches showing), but I can see that tightening them up causes the A-arms to point down more, and likely the ride will suffer. Looking at the torsion bar keys available on the market, it appears that they would do the same thing and just allow more adjustment range due to the reindexing of the position of the torsion bar relative to where the key arm and bolt is positioned. For the same amount of lift, wouldn›t the torsion bar key give the same A-arm angle and stiffness of the ride as adjusting the stock bolt inward? Or am I nuts and confused?
A You are exactly correct. By adding more preload to your torsion bars you are in effect pushing down on the A-arms and raising the truck. The difference is that when you add a torsion bar key leveling kit such as those made by Daystar (daystarweb.com) can allow the torsion bar to be twisted more than a factory torsion bar key and in effect raise the vehicle more. The angle of the A-arms isn’t the main problem; it’s the angle of the axleshafts and whether you overextend the CV joint in these axles. That is why most IFS suspension lifts lower the center axlehousing so the angles are not so great on these joints.
Companies such as RCV Performance Products (www.rcvperformance.com) continue to develop axles that can take even more angle and power than stock units. Of course, the other problem is ball joints on the steering knuckles. Companies are addressing this problem as well, such as Synergy Suspension (synergysuspension.com), which offers a full line of upgraded ball joints for various 4x4s.
IFS, ands & Buggies
Q I’m trying to build a full independent four-wheel-drive, four-wheel-steer buggy. I need help on what to do about differentials and driveshafts. I’m looking to run 35-inch tires with a 4.3L V-6 and a five-speed.
A 15 years ago I would have thought you were crazy, but the current trend with high-dollar racing 4x4 buggies is just about what you are planning. The idea of a full independent buggy isn’t new, but the technology is just getting better and better to build it. A lot of ideas have been tossed around by successful race teams in the Ultra4 series (ultra4racing.com) for building strong IFS vehicles.
Here is one big issue: The differential that is closest to your engine—front if you’re going front engine, or rear if you’re going mid/rear engine—is going to have some severe driveshaft angles since you want the independent differential as close to the center of the chassis as possible and that means the driveshaft must come from the transfer case and wrap around the engine up to the diff. Most of the IFS rock-racing buggies have the engine in the rear and then use a solid rear axle with the differential pushed over towards one side or the other, but I think you could make it work with proper driveshaft angle with some work.
I think the most economical way to build a vehicle like this would be to use the independent axles and portal boxes from a surplus military Hummer H1. These are not designed with rear steering, but they look pretty easy to adapt to rear steer. I know Pat Gremillion from Premier Power Welder (premierpower welder.com) has built a very cool full independent Jeep CJ buggy with the Hummer differentials and portal box. This gave him a suspension with very flat A-arms helping the CV joints last, and the portals reduce the stress on the axleshafts. These parts are not impossible to find; you’ll just have to start hunting through the many government surplus yards to find them.
There are many other IFS differentials that you could build off of, but most are offset to one side or the other. A final option is to look into the many independent differentials that companies like Spidertrax Off-Road (www.spidertrax.com), Currie Enterprises (currieenterprises.com), and Dynatrac (dynatrac.com) have been developing.