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4-Wheel & Off-Road
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Tough Choice 2Question: I'm trying to choose between a '74 CJ-5 and a '71 Bronco. Both are around the same price, $5,000. The CJ has a 304. I'm pretty sure it has the three-speed, is lifted 3 inches, and has 33s. The price tag is $4,700. The Bronco is super-nice. It is red with a white hardtop, has a 3-inch lift also, but is only on 30- or 31-inch tires. It has a rebuilt 302, and a previous owner changed the tranny from a three on the tree to a three-speed on the floor. The only thing wrong with the Bronco is a dent in the driver-side door.
I've got the budget for either vehicle. I want a nice-looking classic that I can cruise around in with the top down, tow more than I can with my '05 2WD Tacoma, and something I can take in the mud and play in if I get the craving to get an orange paint job the easy way. Which way should I go: the American novelty 4x4 in the Jeep, or the classic-body-style Bronco?
Answer: I've never owned a Bronco, but I've owned eight Jeeps: two CJ-5s, two CJ-7s, a CJ-10, an FC-170, an XJ, and a CJ-3A. However, I think with the Bronco you'll get a stronger frame, stronger axles, more return on your money down the road, and just as much fun as you would get from the CJ-5. For some reason Broncos seem to go for gobs of money, while CJ-5s get ignored and sold cheap. I've never owned an early Bronco, but would definitely recommend one. There is plenty of aftermarket support for both vehicles, though definitely more for the Jeep. I do like the look of the Jeep more, but that's a personal decision you'll have to make for yourself.
Driving To DeafvilleQuestion: I own an '04 Ford Ranger XLT 4.0L two-door Supercab 4x4 that I bought new. I have been very happy with my purchase and have a Flowmaster 40-series muffler. The muffler sounds great outside but has a lot of resonance inside the cab. My Flowmaster finally gave in to rust after four years and 65,000 miles of northern Maine winters. I have been looking at MagnaFlow dual exhaust as a replacement. Have you any input on interior resonance from a system like this one? It is so loud that I cannot hear my cell phone ring and I have to talk very loudly when I have a passenger in the truck with me.
I have been through a lot with this truck and owe my life and a friend's life to its ruggedness. I struck a 900-pound bull moose with it going 55 mph at night. It came right into the cab with us, but its antlers caught on the roof and pulled back out. That's a ride you won't find at Disney World! The first three people who stopped for us asked if we were OK. The other 50 or so asked if I was going to keep the moose. The ambulance crew and police couldn't believe the amount of damage to the truck and that we were not hurt. They said that we were very lucky.
My poor Ranger had $10,000 worth of damage, but the frame was not hurt, just a lot of cosmetic damage. I wrote to Ford and sent pictures and thanked them for making such a rugged truck but never heard anything back.
Answer: Wow, that's one heck of a story! I'll tell my friends at Ford about your appreciation. As for exhaust, it's always a trick to find an exhaust that flows and sounds good without being too loud. Maybe it's old age, but I hate a loud wheeling rig. I like to hear my friends if they are helping spot me over some crazy obstacle, and a loud exhaust is tiresome after a long day on the trail. That said, I do like a healthy growl of exhaust as long as it's not annoyingly loud. I always liked my Flowmaster 40-series mufflers. Both Flowmaster and MagnaFlow make great products, and since I have not driven a Ranger with both I cannot tell you which is quieter, nor can I determine what is the right sound for you. Though you may have found the Flowmaster 40-series muffler too loud for you liking, Flowmaster also offers many others with less sound and resonance that may suit you better, such as the Flowmaster 50-series Delta. MagnaFlow and Flowmaster both have audio files on their websites (www.magnaflow.com, www.flowmastermufflers.com) that you can listen to. Some sort of in-cab sound deadening insulation may also be helpful.
Big QuestionQuestion: I would like to try to put 54-inch Boggers on my GMC 1500 and still make it street-legal.
Answer: It won't be cheap or easy, but I think it's entirely possible. Just remember that although these tires are street-legal, you need a safe, strong steering and braking system as well as a suspension that can control the movement of the large tires. It's very important to the off-road industry that a large lifted truck is safe to run down the highway.
First get some front and rear Rockwell axles out of a 2 1/2-ton military truck. These axles are pretty tough in stock form, but you might as well talk to Ouverson Engineering & Machine (320.983.3030, www.oemaxle.com) about its massive 2-inch-diameter, 47-spline violator axle kit, and a disc brake kit. Many Rockwell rigs run pinion-mounted brakes front and rear, but I would think that disc brakes at each corner, like the Ouverson Super 8 Kit, would be safer on the road. I think a hydroboost brake system is a must for these big tires.
Once you have axles big enough to handle the tires, you'll also need a suspension to put the truck over the rubber. My advice is a minimal lift and definitely a front and rear link suspension to control the weight of the axles and tires.
Fitting the 54s under the body will require extensive bodywork, and this is very important. Most big trucks are lifted sky-high, making them too dangerous to drive on the street, in my view, since you cannot see other traffic and the high center of gravity can make cornering and stopping a nightmare. Cutting the wheel openings larger and spreading the fenders outward to make them cover the tires will take a bunch of man hours, but if you can build a low-slung truck that still covers your 53s, then you'll have a very unique daily driver.
Steering is another tricky system that takes some time to do right. PSC Motorsports (817.270.0102, www.offroadsteering.com) can supply a ram-assist setup that uses a double-ended ram as the tie rod while still having a draglink and a steering box mounted to the frame. I would mount the steering box back beside the link mounts on the frame and run the draglink to a bellcrank on the steering knuckle. This will reduce or eliminate bumpsteer while keeping the system safe for street driving but will make your steering column complicated. Again, a complex and expensive design, but important for street driving.
Another concern is the strength of the half-ton frame. If it were me, I would start with a 3/4- or 1-ton truck, but the half-ton isn't terrible. In fact, many of the component that we used on the Ultimate Z71 built by Off Road Evolution (714.870.5515, www.offroadevolution.com) could probably work for your buildup. "The Ultimate Z71" ran each issue from Aug. to Dec. '08.
Find Your PathQuestion: I recently purchased a '95 Nissan Pathfinder. I know it has IFS and how most wheelers feel about it. But I'm not going rock bashing anytime soon. I am what you would call a weekend wheeler. I like to load up the dogs and wife and go for a ride up in the mountains. But I would like a little more capabilities in case I come across a fun-looking trail. I am having problems finding any parts for my Pathfinder.
Answer: When it comes to capability off road, I always recommend locking differentials and aggressive tires first. If I owned your Pathfinder I'd put in a pair of ARB Air Lockers and some 31x10.50 Mickey Thompson Baja MTZ radials. This combo would give you traction for exploring those mountain roads, while still letting you cruise to work in comfort. You may also want to look into some skidplates and bumpers for additional protection. Rasta 4x4 (877.973.2411, www.rasta4x4usa.com) offers skidplates for Pathfinders.
Nuts, I'm ConfusedFine WhineQuestion: I recently rescued an '88 Dodge 3/4-ton from a farmer looking to cash it in on scrap, only to get the thing running and be greeted by the most hideous whining/squealing coming from the transmission. I thought it might be the throwout bearing, so I took it to a mechanic and he said I needed another transmission. I personally think he just wants to get his hands on my clams. I'm just wondering if this tranny can be repaired and I can make this rig into the wood-hauling, scrap-towing, mud-bogging monster I need; or do I need to bite the bullet and find another gearbox?
Also, I love how you have readers win sweet prizes like winches and suspension kits, but I want to know if the winners are only folks close to your home base, or could a simple Kentucky boy like me could win too?
Answer: Matt, Not only can you win, but you just did! Your '88 Dodge 3/4-ton most likely came with an NP435 four-speed manual transmission. These transmissions are pretty darn tough, and the whining you hear may very well just be gear whine from this old granny tranny. The real question is does it work? From the looks of your fine machine I'd say if it works and has oil inside, just drive it. That transmission is over 20 years old and may well be getting tired, but for the type of use you are looking for I wouldn't lose sleep over some gear whine. Is the noise only when you push in the clutch or when you are driving? If the clutch pedal is in, then it's probably a throwout bearing. If it's whining when you're driving, then it could be the transmission and is maybe worth an inspection or a call to Novak Adapters (877.602.1500, www.novak-adapt.com) for the company's NP435 rebuild kit (under $200).
See how easy that was? Your question just earned you this month's Nuts, I'm Confused prize. To help you get your truck ready for some mud pits or wood runs I've got a brand-new set of Lightforce 170 Striker Off Road Lights (888.64.FORCE, www.lightforce.com). Outfitted with compact 6.8-inch lenses, these lights can be mounted up front for night runs or out back for easy firewood runs after sunset. I've run these on our Fun Buggy and '09 Dodge Ram Project with great results. The lightweight composite material housings, polycarbonate lenses, and Gore-Tex breathers make for sturdy lights that aren't too susceptible to moisture or contamination. Available in flood, spot, or combo patterns and with a variety of colored filters, these lights should be a perfect addition to your old Dodge.
Safe-T-C-JayQuestion: We have an '85 Jeep CJ-7. By "we" I mean me, my wife, and daughter. We all enjoy the ride in the Jeep on the weekends. Our biggest concern is the safety of our daughter in case of an accident or rollover. She is a little over a year old and has to ride in a car seat. We would like to know the safest place to put her in the Jeep. With the factory rollbar, we put her in the front seat in a five-point-harnessed car seat. Is this the safest place for her in case of a rollover? Then what do we do when we have our second child? I'm concerned that the back seat doesn't protect enough in the event of a rollover.
Answer: Off-road driving can be a dangerous pastime, and I think you need a proper six-point rollcage built for your Jeep if you want the safest setup possible for your family. The old CJ-7 rollbars are fine for a slow roll, but they offer little protection for rear passengers. Find a qualified local fabrication shop nearby, or, if need be, go see our friends at the Off Road Connection in Gardendale, Alabama (800.792.2280, www.offrdconnection.com). They do everything from engine swaps to bumper builds and can help design and build just the right cage for your Jeep.
Which Wheeler?Question: I am 14 years old trying to save up for my first rig. I think that a mid-'90s Tacoma or Jeep Cherokee would be a good choice, since they are both cheap and a great starter vehicle. My buildup plan wouldn't be too hard-core, probably around 6 inches of lift, 35- to 37-inch tires, lockers, a winch, and bumpers. I might do an SAS (solid axle swap) for the 'Yota, and a front/back Dana 44, Dana 60 upgrade combo for the Cherokee, depending on cost.
Can you recommend some quality build parts for less than $2,000 (not including vehicle)? Let me know if you think this buildup is doable on my budget, or maybe I'm just going in over my head.
Answer: You're only in over your head if you don't know how to swim, so just learn how to swim! My advice to you is the same as to anyone looking to get into four-wheeling is: Buy the most capable stock rig you can afford and just start driving. Learning to four-wheel in a stock truck makes you a better driver and sharpens skills that only get better as you modify your truck.
I like both your choices. The Cherokee is cheap and tough, while the Tacoma can be built into a rockcrawler or desert-runner by cutting or keeping the independent front suspension. If you go with the Tacoma, try to find a 4x4 version with the electric locking rear differential.
I believe your $2,000 budget is a little low since you would spend that or more on a built front axle, but with two years until you'll be of legal driving age in most states you have some time to save up. The Cherokee will definitely be the more affordable truck, in my view, what with all the accessories available and its cheaper purchase price; but the Tacoma prices are slowly coming down. If I had to recommend one purchase for $2,000 on a first 4x4, other than gears and lockers (since you already seem to be planning on different axles), I'd say get a quality winch and bumper from Warn Industries (800.543.9276, www.warn.com) and hit the trails. Then you'll have a way out until you can afford the bigger axles, tires, and suspension.
Reader WisdomQuestion: If possible, pass along this email to Brandon J., whose letter appeared in Nuts & Bolts, Aug. '09.
Brandon, don't lose sight of your goal to pass the CJ-7 down to your 2-year-old son when the time comes. That can be one of the most satisfying aspects of the off-road hobby. CJs are truly ageless, and even though, through the years, your interests may wander to other aspects of the automotive hobby, the Jeep can always be a part of your life. No matter how your interests change, hang onto that Jeep. It costs you nothing if you lose interest for a while and it just stays parked out back. Eventually you'll turn back to it.
I built a '57 CJ-5 in 1974. When my son was 10 years old I taught him how to drive out in the country by putting him behind the wheel with the gear in low/low. I could jump out of the Jeep and walk alongside, letting him drive "by himself." Three years later, when my second son was 9, I did the same thing with him. Again in 1980 I taught my third son how to drive in that old Jeep. When he graduated from high school I figured I had used up all the driving lessons, and I gave the Jeep to him.
When I turned 65 my three sons got together, hauled the Jeep across the country, and gave it to me for my birthday. Now I find myself jumping out of the Jeep and walking alongside as my 4-year-old grandson drives "all by himself." In fact, when he started to talk and I first earned a title, I became "Jeep-paw."
The old CJ-5 is pretty beat-up, but I'm slowly putting it back in shape. Not a total restoration, but a nice cleaning up. When my grandson graduates from high school I hope to pass the Jeep down to him as a graduation present.
Answer: Great advice, not just for Brandon but for all our readers!
Solid Liberty BuildQuestion: I have an '05 Diesel Jeep Liberty. I want to get a larger lift than 3 inches, so I was wondering if you knew where I could get a complete axle swap kit.
Answer: You lucky guy! Those diesel Libertys are really cool little wheelers, in my view. But I don't know of anyone who makes a solid axle swap kit for them, though it shouldn't be hard to find a custom fabrication shop willing to do the job. My advice would be to contact your local 4x4 shops and find out if they do solid axle swaps or could recommend someone. They can be done at home in your garage with proper tools, but it's not going to be a weekend project.