Any monkey can install a leaf-spring suspension lift. Eight main-eye bolts, four shackle bolts, and sixteen U-bolt nuts and you're done. So why should we show you all of that when all you really care about is how it will make your truck perform?
When we were in Australia covering the ARB/Warn 4x4 Outback Challenge ("Outback Challenge," Nov. '01), we visited the ARB/Old Man Emu headquarters in Melbourne. We were way impressed with the amount of research put into the company's products, especially its suspension systems.
After the tour we went on a grueling 1,200-mile trip across the outback. The stock vehicles spent most of the time slapping the bumpstops because their shocks faded on the corrugated "roads," but the OME-equipped rigs were in control the entire time. It's handling this type of punishment that the OME suspensions are designed for, so when it came time to pick a lift for our daily driver/weekend warrior '85 4Runner, only one came to mind.
The Old Man Emu lift for pre-'97 leaf-sprung pickups and Hilux (4Runner over here) measures 50 mm. That's about 2 inches up here. We chose front springs (PN OME 99A/B) for light loads and rear springs (OME17) for medium loads. If you're running heavy winch bumpers or lots of cargo you can also opt for heavy-duty springs. The suspension also included OME nitro-charged shocks, a steering damper, greasable bushings, heavy-duty shackles, and a special front U-bolt that's necessary for drag link clearance with the thicker front spring pack.For wheels and tires, we chose good-looking, lightweight 15x8 Pro Comp Xtreme Alloys from 4 Wheel Parts Wholesalers and a set of 32x11.50 Goodyear Wrangler AT-S.
The OME springs are designed to give the vehicle a slight rake when unloaded so it will sit level when loaded for the trail. However, since our vehicle has a super-light Can-Back instead of the heavy stock top, the rear sat even higher when unloaded, tricking the proportioning valve into shutting off the rear brakes. We unbolted the proportioning valve rod from the axle and fastened it to the frame for full braking power, and haven't experienced any rear lockup problems under hard braking.
The ride is firm on road, but not harsh. Between the wider, stickier tires and the springs and shocks, freeway onramps are a non-issue and it's actually fun to carve twisty mountain roads. We did a few before and after tests over some nasty sections strewn with potholes, twists, rollers, and dips. The stock suspension would bottom on the big bumps and steering control was minimized as the tires bounced uncontrollably on the rough stuff. However, the OME system soaks it up while maintaining total control. Even with the tires working up and down a mile a minute, you always feel confident.
The new suspension improved everything about this truck's off-road capabilities. Flex is way improved, bottoming is all but eliminated, and control over really rough and uneven terrain feels one thousand times better. It almost feels like you're driving a Baja Pro Truck. You still feel the bumps, but they don't beat you up. There were even a few times when we got all four tires about a foot off the ground. The truck returned to earth smoothly and held its line without getting squirrely.
In the rocks, the added flex both front and rear helped keep at least three tires on the ground at most times, but with the sway bar hooked up, forward progress was invariably hampered. However, we were able to go farther into the rough stuff than we ever were before and the added ground clearance kept rocks out of our gas tank.
The stock springs were prone to axlewrap in the sand, but the OME packs resist this and translated more of the throttle input in to forward motion. We still don't have enough power for big sand hills, but with the added control and wider tires, it doesn't totally suck anymore.
Man, were we ever impressed with the ride quality of the Goodyear AT-Ss. They're every bit as quiet as passenger car tires, really stick to the pavement, and feature two wide circumferential grooves for good wet weather handling (and we did try them in wet weather, believe it or not). Off road, they bit into loose dirt without digging and worked very well in the sand. They give really good bite around corners or on dirt roads and claw and grab when climbing loose dirt or sandstone hills. They are very soft, however, and feature Goodyear's older, more vulnerable two-ply sidewalls so we didn't air them down for rocks.
We've spilled brake fluid on the wheels, coated them with brake dust, and slathered them in alkaline mud and they still look great. The finish has held up, but the best part is that they contribute to the wheel/tire combo, being 5 pounds lighter than the stock steel wheels with 31s.