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September 2010 Nuts & Bolts

Posted in How To on September 1, 2010
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Black Sheep Bumper
Q I read "Project Black Sheep," the article on the '09 Dodge Ram (Mar. '10), and the tubular bumper caught my eye since I am trying to get a bumper exactly like that for my '05 Dodge Ram 1500. There is not one made in the aftermarket, so I believe I will have to get one custom made. Could I get a build sheet for that bumper and maybe the name of who fabricated it so I could get one built to fit my truck?
Cheyenne, WY

A The front bumper was a custom build by Randy Ellis Designs (602.803.1122, in Phoenix. RED does all types of fabrication, from cages and bumpers to race trucks and custom suspensions. In addition to the custom stuff, RED also has a full line of light bars. I'm sure the company would build a custom bumper for you if you're willing to come to Phoenix.

More Black Sheep?
Q I read all three articles on the '09 Ram Black Sheep project (Mar.-May '09) but was still unclear of the suspension system that was put on it. Was it just a front leveling kit or a full system? How much lift did it provide to fit the 37s?
Brad B.

A Fitting the 37-inch Mickey Thompsons was done more by removing body and less by lifting the truck. The factory front bumper, inner fenderwells, and all four fender flares were removed. Luckily the Ram wheel openings are quite large so no body trimming was needed, though some body seams were knocked down inside the wheelwell.

The front suspension consists of an Edelbrock coilover shock, which does raise the front end about an inch, and some Edelbrock big-jump air bumps that stop the front tires from bottoming out aggressively. The rear suspension is the heaviest-rate coil spring that Dodge offers with the Edelbrock shocks and air bump stops.

Unfortunately we have not heard whether the front shocks and air bumps have ever gone into production. Also, the rear coils are not adequate for towing, and we will soon be swapping in some Icon Vehicle Dynamics progressive-rate rear coils.

The tires never rub in normal driving, but they just barely kiss the front of the front fenders and corner of the tube bumper under extreme bottoming out of the front suspension. This is an easy fix.

The low stance doesn't make it the best trail vehicle, as there is plenty of rocker panel to tag and not much underbelly skidplating, but for dirt roads, desert exploring, camping, and daily driving it's excellent. All in all it is one of the smoothest-driving project trucks we've ever built on 37s.

Geared For More Rubber
Q I need help getting the right gear ratio on my '95 Ford Bronco. It has a 5.8L V-8 engine with an auto trans and overdrive. It runs 3/4-ton axles with 42x15 Super Swampers and 4.11 gears. I want to use it as a daily driver and play in the mud on weekends. It jumps in/out of over drive at 55-65 mph and does not have a lot of power on takeoff. I looked at some gear ratio charts on the Internet, but they are based on manual trans and I'm not sure what to go by. Most say to go with 5.71 gears, but I can only afford to buy gears once, so I need to be right the first time.
Dwayne R.
Cragford, AL

A A 5.71 would be excellent, but I would go with 5.38 gears. From the looks of the photo your rear axle is a Ford Sterling 10.50-inch, and I believe 5.38 is the lowest ratio available for it. You have a lot of tire, and I think any less gear (as in 5.13, 4.88, or 4.56) will be hard on the driveshafts and the transmission and transfer case parts. Plus, with the overdrive transmission you should still be able to run down the high way no problem. The Off-Road Connection (800.792.2280, in Fultondale, Alabama, is a local shop that could help you with this gear swap if you don't want to do it yourself.

Get in the Back!
Q I would like to install a bench seat in a CJ-5 (to seat three) and leave room in back for cargo. Any suggestions?

A Bestop has what you need: the TrailMax II fixed rear bench seat. But putting in a back seat and still having cargo space in a CJ-5 is going to be tight. It is not exactly a fullsize truck! Another option is to put just one small bucket seat in the back, and then you'll have space for a cooler beside the seat. Of course this means you'll only have seating for three. Check out all the Bestop seats at

Lift a Super Ranger
Q I have been thinking for a while now about putting 31-inch tires on my '98 Ford Ranger. It is the XLT with the 4.0L V-6. I wanted to get a larger lift to accommodate the tires, but I noticed I can only get a 3-inch body lift and no suspension lifts. They make them for almost every Ranger except the 4WD '98 (I have seen them for the 2WD). I was just wondering if you knew the answer and what you suggest. Take note that I am a working college student so I do have a bit of a budget, but I am willing to spend a little because I'd like to start wheeling.

A The Ranger is a great truck, and you need to talk to the guys at Superlift Suspension Systems ( They have a 3- or 4-inch lift for your pickup that they say will clear 33-inch tires, although I've heard you can fit a 35 with the 35-inch size.

Mopar Axle Increase
Q Hi. First off, great mag. My question is about the JK crate axles. I would like to purchase them to put under my '95 Grand Cherokee, but when I call and give them the part number I found in your magazine they are telling me that the rear axle is about $2,500 and the front axle is about $3,000. In your mag it says they are around $1,400 a piece, so I would like to know where you got them for that price. I know the rear brackets will have to be modified, but that's not a problem. Thanks for your time. Talen N.

A I'm sorry to say that those early prices have been raised. Supply and demand can have that effect on things. I do know that you can currently purchase a Dodge Power Wagon axle from dealerships. Those come with 4.56 gears and selectable lockers but are eight-lug (Power Wagon front, PN P5155087AB, $3,904; rear, PN P5155088AB, $3,504).

There are also front and rear portal axles in the works, PN P5166670 and P5155671, but those will not likely be available until late 2010.

Baby Grappler
Q I have a newborn baby and tire compatibility issue. Born May 13, 2010, at 0623 hours is my beautiful little girl, Jacqueline "Gracie" Brabble. She is my new pride and joy, taking the place of my '03 Dodge 2500. I have always known that the current tires I am running, Nitto Mud Grapplers, were loud, but I never took into consideration the sensitivity of a newborns ears. As we began on our trip home from Alexandria Hospital with my wife and little one in the back seat, Gracie became more and more agitated as the speeds increased. The louder the tires screamed, the louder Gracie would scream.

Now, with great sorrow, I must depart with my beloved Nittos. Nearly every car and truck I have ever owned has rolled on Nitto. But I have lost the desire for flashy tires and want something a bit more brawny. I will likely stay with 35s to help my 4:55s keep my 5.7L happy while at play. I have a set of 17-inch KMC XD222s on the way and need some rubber for them, and need you guys to tell me which to go with.
Wade B.
Fairfax, VA

A If you like Nittos, I'm going to suggest the Nitto Trail Grapplers. I, too, have run the Mud Grapplers, and although they ride great and wheel excellently the noise reminded me of riding in a double-prop airplane with the windows open. The Trail Grapplers offer the same great ride and good off-road performance but with much less noise. I'm not promising little Gracie is going to fall asleep to the sound of 35-inch Nittos, but they're definitely not as noisy as the Mud Graps, nor as flashy. For good all-around rubber I think they're your ticket.

Mud Sucker
Q I'm a 17-year-old kid living in Fairplay, Colorado. I have a '91 Bronco Silver Edition with 9 inches of lift and 38-inch tires. I was just wondering about hydro-locking an engine. I have a K&N air filter, but I do lots of muddin' and often get huge waves of water over my truck. I just want to know if water can make its way through my K&N air filter. I have heard of hydro-lock socks but can't find them on the web. I really would like some info on this because I don't want to ruin my engine. Thanks.

A I use K&N air filters on many of my projects, but they will not waterproof your engine. The only surefire way to waterproof it is to raise the air inlet high above the water line, or run it inside the cab. I think inside the cab is going to make your ride less enjoyable, as the intake can be really loud.

ARB makes snorkels for many late-model trucks but not Broncos, though you might be able to make one fit. I think you'll find the easiest solution is to build your own out of some black PVC pipe. It may not look the best, but if properly sealed around your air cleaner, it will keep the H2O out of your engine.

As for a hydro-lock sock, I've never seen or heard of one, though supposedly Gore-Tex breathes and repels water when used in raincoats, so something like that may be true. If any readers know of such a thing, please contact us. We'd love to test such an item.

Why no Common Sense, Gents?
Q In your Drivelines section, it looks like Ford and GM forgot about just one thing, miles per gallon ("Diesel Wars: And the Winner Is...," July '10). Are the Big Three or Four not taking any hints about just what is happening in the world these days? It costs over $3 a gallon for gas and more for diesel in the Northeast. Why in common sense can't someone put out a small diesel truck (three- or four-cylinder) that gets over 75 mpg? Toyota had a good little truck in early 2000, then they went bigger and the mileage (23) went down. Terry K.

A You want to have your cake and eat it too. I agree that 75 mpg would be great, but neither of the two trucks you own (in the photo) gets anywhere near that mileage, nor are they small trucks. I believe that many folks, like you, want to see a small diesel truck on the market but still buy and own large trucks because we need something to actually do the work of daily life. Unfortunately, big trucks are getting even worse mileage than they used to (at least the diesels; the gas trucks are a lot better than previous).

I'm not saying they shouldn't build a small diesel 4x4-that's a given-but unfortunately the rest of the world (i.e., weird people who drive cars?!) have convinced the Big Four to build hybrid cars. It all comes down to consumer spending. If people buy trucks that get 23 mpg, then that's what they'll make. I'm actually hoping this Indian company, Mahindra, comes to the U.S. with its little diesel truck and that it sells well. Then maybe the Big Four will follow suit. I doubt we'll ever see a 75-mpg truck that is worth its salt, but I like your style. If you want a kitten, ask for a pony.

Nuts, I'm Confused!
Scouting Around
Q I currently own a '63 International Scout 80. It has an old 152ci four-banger that is being upgraded to a Cummins 4BT out of a Frito Lay delivery truck. Along with the engine swap I'm rebuilding the entire body and lengthening the frame and tub due to the fact that I'm 6 feet 11 and can't fit in it to drive the three-speed manual for more than half an hour before my legs fall asleep.

Do I try to build up and strengthen the original frame, which was never built to hold anything larger than the 152, or do I build an entirely new frame? Either way I'm definitely ready and excited about the buildup and all the wrenching. I just want to be sure the first step is done correctly for the base of the truck. Chris A. Tucson, AZ

A This is the type of ingenuity and project that really makes me smile. When the rest of the herd is trying to find the latest bumper or GPS mount for their new 4x4, you decide, To heck with that. I'll just build what I want from scratch.

I cannot see your frame so you need to do a little evaluation on your own. Your Scout 80 frame should be boxed the entire length, and because you are from the Southwest I'd hope your frame is in pretty good condition. If so, I don't see a major problem with lengthening the frame, but you'll have to verify that it's not full of rust (you'll know for sure when you cut it in half).

Also, if you decide to use the original frame, do yourself a favor and get it cleaned and sandblasted. This will make welding new motor mounts and suspension points that much easier. On the other hand, if you build your own frame you could make it a little taller out of 2x6x1/8-inch rectangular tubing, which will greatly increase the strength.

Section height is one of the secrets to a strong frame; look how tall a 1-ton truck frame is. Plus it will act like an impromptu body lift if you mount the leaf springs below the frame. You'll also have to miter and reinforce each rise and fall of the frame, add body mounts, and build all your crossmember and plumbing mounts. The bigger framerails will also result in a heavier frame and overall truck.

I think if this is a project you really want to put some time into and if strength is the goal, you should build your own frame. If you want it done quickly, stretching your frame is the better solution.

I like your question because a lot of guys are in your position, wondering whether to rebuild or start from scratch. Many old 4x4s (like Willys Jeeps) have very flimsy frames. I have one, and every time I start daydreaming about how cool it would be with a linked suspension and new axles I run into that frame question and realize that to really make the most of the Jeep I'll need to replace it. Leaving it stock is great for most trails, but when you start doing the rough stuff that's when the cracks show up.

Since your project sound neat and your question should help other guys I'm picking it as this month's Nuts, I'm Confused question. You'll be getting a voucher for a new set of General Tires. General has a full line of light truck tires, such as the Grabber AT2 all-terrain, which is a great all-around tire, and the new Grabber, which has quickly been making its name amongst desert racers and off-road enthusiasts. I'm sure you can find something from General's offerings for under your Scout project. Find out more at

Submission Information
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 (, 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. Write to: Nuts & Bolts, 4-Wheel & Off-Road, 831 S. Douglas St., El Segundo, CA 90245 fax to: 310.531.9368 Email to:

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