Two-speed transfer cases are what separate the off-road men in the dirt from the boys in the sandbox. Despite what you might call it, anything labeled 4x4 or all-wheel-drive but without a low range in the T-case is like bringing a vehicular knife to an off-road gun fight. Most every 4x4 we respect has a two-speed transfer case (and some have more low-range speeds than two). Our 1987 Suzuki Samurai is no exception. This representative of a small but solid cult 4x4 group is unique in a few ways. For one, Samurais are, in general, light and nimble. Much the same can be said about their transfer cases. In fact, most off-roaders can easily carry the entirety of a Samurai T-case with one hand. They are that light.
Although Samurai T-cases are light, that isn’t their only positive characteristic. They have several other good features. Sami cases are gear-driven, which means they are relatively strong (especially when it comes to the vehicle’s light weight and the anemic 1.3L four-cylinder turning these things). These little transfer cases have a slight gear reduction in high range, which allows Samurais to have a slightly taller (numerically lower) axle ratio. For example, our Samurai has 4.30:1 ring-and-pinion gears, and the aftermarket low gearset has a high-range gearing of about 20 percent, making our 4.30s work like 5.13s ( 4.30 multiplied by 1.20 equals 5.16:1). Generally, numerically lower axle gears have more teeth and are stronger, and stronger is better. Sami cases can also be outfitted with a bunch of aftermarket parts, including several different low-range gearsets. Our Samurai came with a freshly rebuilt transfer case with 6.5:1 low-range gears and the aforementioned 20-percent high-range reduction.
Unfortunately our transfer case was in the back of the Samurai and not mounted underneath it. The case did come rebuilt with the lower gears and with an older Low Range Off Road transfer case cradle, but that cradle needed some repairs. A quick search on the ol’ internet led us to Low Range Off Road’s latest (and said to be greatest) Suzuki Samurai EOS Extreme Duty Transfer Case Cradle. At a price of $249 this product seems like it’s too good (and inexpensive) to be true. With a call to the company we got our hands on this new and improved cradle, which has a bunch of mounting points on the aluminum-encased Samurai T-case and adds what Low Range calls a steel “backbone” to the housing for a ton of extra strength. So follow along as we assemble this new cradle and bolt it under our Sami.
Our new-to-us 1987 Samurai is a project, albeit one with lots of cool parts, including a recently rebuilt transfer case with 6.5:1 gears inside. It came with the older Low Range Off Road transfer case cradle seen here, but a few of the tabs had broken off and needed to be welded back on. Sure, we could have done that, but why not see what the internets say is the newest and best cradle available?
Here is what you get with the Suzuki Samurai EOS (End of Story) Extreme Duty Transfer Case Cradle kit from Low Range Off-Road. The kit comes with two boxed side pieces, the backbone that surrounds the case, and a skidplate all laser cut and zinc plated for corrosion resistance. The hardware bag has all the bolts you’ll need, one OEM Suzuki transfer case mount (you’ll need four total, but they assume you already have three), and two drill bits. Instructions are easy to find online, and there’s even a YouTube video that shows most of the assembly.
We got Low Range Off Road to toss in the three extra factory transfer case mounts. These little units are made of rubber and have hardened hardware with them and keyed locator tabs. Other transfer case mounts in the aftermarket are inferior and won’t last.
Assembly is pretty straightforward. One of the first steps is to remove almost all of the factory bolts that hold the two halves of the T-case together so you can add on the “backbone” with supplied longer bolts. You have to leave these two bolts in place so the case stays together while you’re bolting the backbone on.
Next, with most of the new hardware finger tight, you leave out one long bolt and one shorter one so that one of the side pieces can be brought into the action. It will secure using these two holes and bolts that hold the case halves together as well as four other holes on the side of the case.
Here’s the side piece bolted to the two holes from the last picture. All of these mounting points help add strength and distribute the load these little T-cases see with 6.5:1 reduction.
The other side piece also uses the original four mounts for the transfer case mount as well as grabbing a big tab off the steel backbone.
With these three parts of the four-part cradle in place you can go back and add blue locking compound to all the bolts that go into the aluminum transfer case and torque each mount to specifications laid out in the instructions. Once that’s done the case is ready to be lifted into the Samurai.
With three of the four transfer case mounts bolted in place you can lift the cradle and T-case up into position. The fourth mount will need two holes drilled through the Sami’s factory crossmember. Luckily the drill bits are included in the kit and you can use the side piece as a drill guide for the holes. With the holes drilled and the other mounts loose, you can wiggle that fourth mount into place and tighten all the hardware.
Last things to do underneath the Samurai are to reconnect the speedometer cable, fill the transfer case with about 1 quart of gear oil, hook up the 4WD indicator light, bolt on the driveshafts, and secure the supplied skidplate to the cradle.
We did have to reroute some of the exhaust components of our Samurai to clear the cradle, but our exhaust isn’t factory; it consists of a Doug Thorley Header and Trail Tough MagnaFlow exhaust.
The shifter is installed into the transfer case from the top with a spring and retaining ring. Don’t forget the rubber seal that keeps dirt out of the shifter.