I have owned a ’61 CJ-5 since 1993. About five years ago I rolled it and bent the frame pretty badly. The cost to straighten the frame is almost as much as getting a new one, and then I’d have a 50-year-old straightened frame. I’d rather go new. If it makes any difference, the rig will be built primarily for overlanding—my wife and I are planning a yearlong expedition around the U.S. when we retire, and I want the Jeep to be as bulletproof and self-sufficient as possible.
Would you recommend I go with one of the aftermarket frame sources, or should I get a custom-built frame from a local shop? The shop owner is a member of my 4x4 club and he is into the sport in a big way, but more buggies than stock-type vehicles. With the customization I want to do and the shipping involved from other parts of the country, I think the overall cost would be about the same either way. What’s your take?
Aftermarket frames are not a bad option. In fact, I know you can order a new Throttle Down Kustoms frame from Quadratec (www.quadratec.com) and have it delivered to your door. I know that some of these frames have rails that are mandrel-bent out of a single piece of rectangular tubing and are designed for simple replacement, allowing you to bolt in leaf spring suspensions and the drivetrain just like your factory frame. I have seen these frames, and they look to be top quality, though I have never actually installed one. Plus I think they can be customized for various suspensions and powertrain.
Deciding between having a new frame ordered or having a local shop build you a frame is difficult since I have not seen the type of projects or skills that your local shop can do. If the shop has never done a Jeep frame before, it may be a big job, but if they are skilled fabricators it may not be too bad a project. I would ask the dealers of the aftermarket frames whether they have any customers local to you whom you could contact to inspect the frame you are interested in purchasing. Oftentimes companies that are set up to manufacture a product can do it better and cheaper than a fab shop trying a custom one-off build. But like you said, shipping costs can make or break the deal.
One suggestion I might add is to find a good suspension system, either some flat wide leaf springs or maybe a coil/link setup for a smooth ride. I have driven a ’73 CJ-5 across the country, and the stock suspension could use a little upgrade for “expedition” travel. Also, a CJ-5 isn’t the most roomy vehicle to travel in, but check out the book Around the World in a Jeep, available through Orvis (www.orvis.com), about two guys who circled the world in the ’70s in a CJ-5. It is a great story.
Worst case, you could add a small off-road trailer behind the Jeep. I have seen some very cool off-road versions of the classic teardrop trail that might be a good addition to your trip.
Why Not Dry?
I’ve worked on trucks, equipment, and machinery my whole life professionally and as a hobby. My question is about oil pressure or lack of it on a vehicle that is constantly being put into crazy positions and angles. How do you keep an engine alive? I realize that most people probably don’t think or worry too much about it and that there are simple cures (being careful, oil accumulators, thick oil), but none of these seem very good or reliable to me. I was at an oval track a few years ago and thought about this when I saw all the dry sump equipment on all the engines. (It had some high banks on this track.) I know the cost is pretty high for a dry sump engine, but wouldn’t it make sense? I’ve never noticed any on the vehicles in your mag. How do professional rockcrawlers and racers deal with oil pressure? We now use fuel injection instead of carburetors for the same reasons, correct? I just want your insight and thoughts on it.
Dry sump engines have been used in performance racing for years, but the cost has kept them out of competitive rockcrawling and trail riding. Many off-roaders seem to get by with oil pans with baffles to keep the pump fed, but a dry sump system isn’t a bad idea at all. I agree that as we explore technologies of fuel injection, custom suspensions with bypass shocks, and the sort, systems like dry sumps will likely become more common. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see homebuilt traction control systems, computer controlled suspensions, and even hybrid drivetrains in the future. Plus some dry sump systems also result in a very shallow oil pan, allowing the engine to sit lower in the engine bay, or offering more up travel, both of which can be beneficial depending on the type of wheeling you do.
I want to build a moderate trail rig. I know Hendrix Motorsports offers a tube frame designed to fit on a Toyota pickup frame. I was wondering what would be my best option for axles, gears, and suspension setups. I plan on using a four-cylinder diesel and five-speed transmission from a ’78 VW. It would mostly be for light crawling and some mud, mostly just family fun. I have never done something like this. I was just looking for some help.
I am all for building a rock buggy. They are fun to drive, they can take a lot of abuse if built right, and they are often free of bodywork for less external damage. Nonetheless, there are many things to consider before going this route.
To start, where are you going to take it wheeling, and how will you get it there? Do you have a tow rig and a trailer? Are there trails near you that will be challenging and fun in a buggy? Are you going to go through all the extra work and headaches of making it street-legal? If not, can you use it on your local trails without a license?
The Hendrix Motor Sports buggies (www.hendrixmotorsports.com) are some of the easiest on the market to build. They start with a Toyota truck chassis and suspension and grow from there. They do require moving the engine location backward for better weight balance, but they are still slam-dunk simple and a great first buggy project. Changing to a Volkswagen diesel engine and transmission can complicate that design, but it isn’t impossible.
As for axles, I’d recommend Toyota solid axles, leaf springs, and dual cases such as those offered by Marlin Crawler (www. marlincrawler.com).
You mention keeping the VW transmission, but I’d suggest going to a Toyota transmission and adapting it to the VW diesel. Acme Adapters (www.acmeadapters.com) can help with adapting the engine.
However, if this is your first 4x4 I probably wouldn’t recommend a buggy. I’d say get a Toyota 4x4 if you like the Hendrix buggy design and start wheeling it. Many of the parts you add to the Toyota, such as dual cases, you can carry over to the Hendrix buggy down the road. You may find that having an enclosed cab is more your style than having a buggy. There is something to be said for keeping warm and dry if you wheel where it is cold, snowy, and muddy. Also, you can usually drive a lifted Toyota 4x4 truck or 4Runner on the road without too much drama from the local authorities, which is less true with a buggy.
I don’t want you to give up your buggy dream. They are very cool, but understand you don’t “need” one to go wheeling—99 percent of the trails I’ve been on can be done in a moderately built 4x4 with gears, lockers, and a reliable powertrain. A buggy will open up some “extreme” options, but it comes with a price in time to build, and equipment to tow it with.
I was given a ’90 GMC 1500 work van with 44,000 miles on a Jasper 305 TBI replacement engine, and I want to tow a Jeep with it. I also have an ’80 Dana 60 from a J20. Should I throw it under the rear of the van and add a few leaf springs? If I add G20/30 coil springs and shocks up front, what else should I beef up? Do I need bigger rotors and calipers?
Many people think towing with a half-ton is a bad idea, but that isn’t always true. Consider a few important properties of a good tow rig.
First, is it heavier than what is being towed? If the Jeep is being flat-towed, the answer is most likely yes. If the Jeep is on a moderate car trailer, then still probably yes. If the Jeep has a heavy engine, a 21⁄2-ton axle, 50-inch tires, and half-inch plate body armor, then you might be pushing it. You often want the tow rig heavier to help control the towed load behind it.
Second, can the tow rig stop the trailer? If the tow rig has good brakes and the trailer has electric brakes then this shouldn’t be a problem. A flat-towed Jeep likely won’t have brakes that can help stop it, but is also lighter than a Jeep on a trailer. Upgrading to larger brakes wouldn’t hurt, but they are only mandatory if the trailer has no brakes.
Finally, can the tow rig handle the weight of the trailer? This is a matter of checking the tow rating and tongue weight allowance of the tow rig—in your case the van. These numbers can be found in the owner’s manual and often on the door frame. If we guess your Jeep is 4,500 pounds or less, then you’re probably fine towing it with the van as is, but be sure and double-check those ratings. They are based on the suspension weight rating, axle load rating, brake stopping ability, engine and transmission power, and also very importantly the cooling system. Can it cool the engine and transmission in the van?
The idea of upgrading your rear axle and springs isn’t bad, but that ’80 Jeep Dana 60 is most likely an eight-lug variant with a full floating hub design. Good axle for a half-ton tow rig, but you will have to change wheel bolt patterns from your van and they will not match the front. A rear axle from 3⁄4- and 1-ton vans of the same era would be my first direction. Are the axles similar in spring perch width? Do the front end parts work on the half-ton? A lot of this can be figured out with a tape measure and a trip to your local junkyard.
Other items to consider when making your van into a tow rig include a proper trailer hitch rated to the weight of your Jeep and trailer, an additional transmission cooler, proper service to your transmission, slightly lower axle gears for towing, and a mural on the side of Conan the Barbarian.
A Solid 10
My wheeling vehicle of choice is an S-10. It has done well on the trails here in Michigan, but a solid axle swap is in order within the next year or so. I am pursuing the goal of low center of gravity with about a 35- to 37-inch tire. I have been just throwing around the idea simple, light, durable leaves in the front and then doing a three- or four-link coil or even quarter-elliptical in the rear. I am not sure how effective this would be, or if it would be a considerable benefit over just leaving leaves in the rear. This truck does see a considerable amount of highway time, so stability is important. Any advice you have for me would be much appreciated.
The reason many S-10 owners go to a solid axle with a link suspension and coil springs is because the front framerails of S-10s and Blazers were never designed to support the vehicles’ suspension in front of the axle. This is different on the frame of early IFS Toyotas, where many owners use a leaf spring for the solid axle swap.
I feel that a leaf spring solid axle swap is definitely possible with an S-10; you just need to be sure the frame is properly reinforced to help support the truck. A kit from Metalshop Motorsports (www.metalshopmotorsports.com) and a kit from Sky Manufacturing (www.sky-manufacturing.com) both offer a new front crossmember and shackle hangers. The Metalshop kit also offers an under-engine crossmember for more strength.
In the rear I would just keep the leaf springs. The quarter-elliptical design is great for added flex, but I don’t see it as a benefit for your truck unless you are looking for a low-buck way to get a 90-degree departure angle. But this will require cutting off the rear of your truck and/or moving your axle rearward. By the time you link the rear end you’ll spend a lot of money for link material and rod ends, especially if you go with coilover shocks. Putting coils in the rear with additional shocks will require a fair bit of fabrication also. I have found rear leaf springs to be the most stable, otherwise you’ll probably need a sway bar. With a good set of conventional leaf springs in the rear you’ll be able to get flex and stability on a budget. A properly linked rear suspension can work great, but for simplicity’s sake I’d stick with leaves.
Nuts, I’m Confused
About My Cage
After spending 14 years riding dirt bikes I decided to get a 4x4 so I could take my wife and 3-year-old along on trips. I found an ’84 Bronco II pretty much complete with an exo-cage. It was a two-seater, so I added rear cage work and a third seat for my son.
While the cage is well built and strong, I want it to be as strong as possible. The exo-cage has enough welding in places that the body will never come off the frame. My plan is to weld the rollcage to the existing body where the cab roof and rollcage are close and tie the lower cage to the rocker panels. If I tie everything together I hope to gain strength by having the body and cage act as one piece. I was planning to remove the poly body bushings and replace them with steel tube welded in their place. Is this a good idea and what are the downsides to doing this? This is a trailered rig, so ride quality is not an issue.
Second, the Corbeau seats are mounted on a framework that is mounted to the body. You have said many times that the seats and belts should be mounted to the cage. If I change the mount of the seat frame to points on the truck frame where the cage is welded to, is that acceptable or is there a better way to do it?
A safe rollcage is very important, especially when hauling the family around off-road. I have picked your letter as this month’s Nuts, I’m Confused winner and am awarding you an air compressor from Slime. But first, the answer.
Exo-cages are great for protecting the body of a 4x4, but they are not always the safest cage for protecting occupants. Yours, however, looks very good. You have diagonal bracing behind both rows of seats, and, as you said, everything is tied into the frame. Since you stated that the body cannot come off the frame I wouldn’t worry about the body mounts; they are probably reducing some noise and harshness from transferring from the cage and frame, so you might as well leave them. If you weld the cage to the body, check out how they do in many rally racing cars where the cage is attached to the frame via thin sheets of steel such as along the A-pillar.
I would recommend tying the seats to the cage/frame if at all possible. It is OK to attach the seats to the body, but you need to be sure the mount is strong and spread over a large area. Simply welding to the body or bolting through the body with small fasteners isn’t a good idea. Mounting plates of thicker material that sandwich the sheetmetal but weld to the seat frame above and cage/frame below the body is also a great idea and a design I have used before.
The same goes for seatbelts. Have them attach solidly but not just through the floor with a nut on the underside, as they can rip through in a severe accident. Attach them to the frame or cage using a large, thick body washer through rust-free body panels if need be. Finally, always, always wear your seatbelt. Give Junior the job of seatbelt cop. He gets a prize if he catches Mom or Dad in the car without belts on. And make sure the belts are tight. So often I see folks with fancy race belts that aren’t tight. You’d be surprised how much they stretch if you go belly up, so tighten them down good. The Slime compressor I’m sending you is a great addition to your new wheeling rig. It runs off your 12V cigar lighter, has a built-in light for airing up those tires after dark, and has a 16-foot hose and a 150-psi capacity. This inflator is perfect for getting into four-wheeling. You can move it from vehicle to vehicle easily. It has a built-in gauge and comes with a carrying case that also houses adapters to air up pool floats and toys. Slime is known for its line of tire sealants that are a great precautionary upgrade for off-roading. The green Slime tire sealant is biodegradable, won’t affect tire balance, and helps in sealing punctures or hard-to-seal wheels such as beadlocks. We have even used it in trailer tires with great results. For more info check out www.slime.com.
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