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Suspension Swapping: Using Off-The-Shelf Parts to Solid-Axle-Swap An S-10

Posted in How To: Suspension Brakes on March 6, 2019
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One of the challenges when building a truck with limited aftermarket support is that you have to be rather creative when it comes to reaching your goals. For our ’01 Chevy S-10 4x4, we knew that the few off-the-shelf suspension systems available wouldn’t suffice for our lofty wheeling goals. This was mostly due to the light-duty independent front suspension components the truck rolled off the assembly line with. Removing the IFS from the truck would require ditching the front driveline components and the torsion bar suspension as well.

In a previous issue, we gave you the rundown on the junkyard 1-ton axles that were built for our Crew Cab Chevy you see here. In this story, we’re turning our attention to the suspension that will be securing the high-pinion Dana 60 front and 14-bolt rear under the pickup. While building a custom suspension initially seemed like the best (and our only) option, we quickly discovered that a few suspension companies had parts that would cut down on time and money spent at the shop.

Once we cut out the stock IFS and front crossmembers, we slid the high-pinion Dana 60 under the truck to get the approximate location of where the axle would be at full bump. Here, we’re checking for clearances from things such as the engine oil pan and steering links, as well as eying a location for our track bar mounts.

This realization came thanks to the fact that we’ve been working on our truck at Low Range 4x4 in Wilmington, North Carolina. Low Range 4x4 works on a wide range of Jeeps, trucks, and SUVs, day in and day out. As such, the company has hands-on experience with many of the latest aftermarket suspension parts. As luck would have it, Low Range had installed a Rock Krawler X Factor long-arm suspension on an ’05 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. We checked out the triangulated four-link rear and three-link front that came with the kit and quickly realized that the arm lengths and suspension design could work perfectly for our needs. Couple this with an assortment of DIY fabricator parts from another North Carolina company, Barnes 4WD, and we quickly had an idea of how we could easily and efficiently create a custom suspension with readily available aftermarket parts. While we still have plenty left to do to our S-10, we’re happy to get this mini-truck flexing in the right direction.

To achieve our desired ride height and uptravel, we trimmed the front fenders on the S-10 substantially. While most of our 40x13.50R17 Nitto Mud Grapplers sit outside of the body, the inner fenders would be trimmed as well. We completed most of our cutting via a small air saw and angle grinder. Of course, we’ll have a little fine-tuning to do once we move into the armor section of the build.
One of the first items to get welded to the frame would be this JK track bar bracket we picked up from Barnes 4WD. Given that we had already installed our forward-swing steering gearbox from PSC Motorsports (more on that in a future issue), we knew where our drag link would reside. This setup allowed us to stretch the 122-inch wheelbase out a bit and get the steering and suspension geometry in sync.
With extremely limited control arm spacing on the driver side, we decided to opt for a three-link system from Rock Krawler. These 2-inch, solid-wall steel links were originally intended for the front of a long-arm kit designed for the ’97-’06 Jeep Wrangler. However, the 40-inch-long lowers and 42-inch-long uppers were ideal for linking the front suspension under the S-10.
Each control arm is fit with Rock Krawler’s Pro Krawler Joint. These fully rebuildable units offer 30 degrees of misalignment, resulting in smooth and bind-free travel. The housings are comprised of heat-treated chromoly and come zinc-plated to keep corrosion at bay. Having used these in the past, we’ve found they make for a strong joint that offers years of trouble-free service.
Since our Ford-sourced Dana 60 had the leaf-spring perch cast into the housing, there wasn’t much surface area for additional brackets to be welded to the axle. After cutting the casting down with a Sawzall, we welded on these Super Duty 60–specific lower control arm brackets from Artec. The big advantage of these brackets is that they allow you to retain the plug welds for the casting.
To ensure we could have a long track bar with geometry that would match up with our steering, we welded on a track bar mount from Barnes 4WD. Sitting just inside the track bar mount is the upper three-link bracket from Rock Krawler.
Barnes 1/4-inch-thick control arm brackets were welded to the bottom of the S-10’s chassis, putting the links in line with the lower control arm mounts. With the S-10’s chassis being boxed in this location near the front of the truck, it allowed Low Range 4x4 to fabricate a mount for the upper control arm.
With the links holding the axle in place, we could turn our attention to the 12-inch-travel Trail Runner series coilovers from Rock Krawler. These 2.625 coilovers are actually designed for the front of the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited JK. We did a little number crunching and found the weight figures were similar enough between the two platforms that the 225- over 300-pound springs should work well for our needs.
Packaging a coilover can sometimes be a challenge, but the performance and adjustability of them over leaf springs and/or a conventional coil and shock setup made them worth the challenge. After examining a host of options, we ultimately decided to craft our coilover towers from scratch using 1 3/4-inch, 0.120-wall DOM tubing. These were then heavily gusseted and braced for strength.
To cleanly package the front shocks, we ended up sweeping the coilovers back a bit. While this changes the leverage on the shock, it does allow us to squeeze out a few more inches of travel. Currently, we have the front set up for 4 inches of uptravel. With the shocks swept, we were able to get approximately 14 inches of travel out of the 12-inch-travel coilover.
At full bump, the clearance between the Nitro Gear differential cover and track bar is tight. Despite this, we were able to build a straight track bar using Barnes 4WD heat-treated Heim joints.
With the front buttoned up, we moved out back where the stock leaf springs and rear axle were quickly discarded. To secure our 14-bolt rear axle, we opted for Rock Krawler’s triangulated four-link designed for the ’04-’06 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. These arms are for a 4-inch stretch, giving us 43-inch-long lowers and 47-inch-long upper arms.
The long uppers attach to a set of adjustable Barnes control arm brackets. These triangulated uppers tie into the Rock Krawler truss, which eliminates the needs for a rear track bar.
To keep the lower control arms from hanging up on obstacles, we welded on Barnes high-clearance control arm mounts to the side of the S-10’s frame. Given the 12 inches of travel and overall height of the truck, these work nicely for our setup.
Continuing with the high-clearance theme are Barnes lower control arm axle brackets. These sit just in front of the custom coilover tabs, which keep our Rock Krawler shocks out of harm’s way on the top of the axletubes.
Like the front, we are using Rock Krawler’s Trail Series 2.625 coilovers intended for the front of a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited JK. Since the bed will be holding our fullsize spare, fuel cell, and assorted gear, we built a custom hoop tower similar to the front. The difference here is the 12-inch-travel coilovers are vertically mounted.
Our late-model 14-bolt is extremely wide, which is one of the reasons we are able to mount the coilovers vertically inside of the wheelwells. While gracious fender trimming was needed to ensure the 40-inch tire would clear, we went ahead and cut more from the bottom of the bed as well. This will eventually be protected via a custom bumper Low Range 4x4 is currently crafting.
We still have a bit of fine-tuning and gusseting to do on our suspension. Adding on additional armor and gear will also likely require us to dial in the coilovers a bit more. These are all easy things to address when the time comes.

Suspended Thoughts

A few things to note. First, you may notice we did not cover sway bars. That’s simply because we’re still unsure if we’re going to go with a dual sway bar setup that would always stay connected (Currie Antirocks are a good example of this). Or, we may go with a more conventional single bar with disconnects at the front. We still need to address the exhaust system that has to be completely redone and find a new home for our fuel supply. While there are plenty of custom touches to this pickup, going with readily available suspension parts greatly reduced the time and money spent.

PhotosView Slideshow


Nitto Tire
Cypress, CA 90630
PSC Motorsports
Azle, TX 76020
Low Range 4x4
Wilimington, NC 28412
Nitro Gear & Axle
Sacramento, CA
Rock Krawler
Barnes 4WD

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