In 1990, 17-year-old Robert Szczepanik of Amsterdam, New York, bought a bone-stock four-year-old Chevy Blazer and hit the trail. Fast forward to 2005: Szczepanik, now 32, still owns the Blazer, but it's hardly bone-stock any more. As a matter of fact, the Blazer has morphed into an excellent example of an extremely capable, budget-friendly fullsize trail rig. It doesn't look too bad either.
The truck you see here represents the sum total (so far, at least) of years and lessons learned (and parts grenaded) on the trail. It sports some mainstream as well as some very unusual modifications that help it perform exceptionally well off-highway. Best of all, its still street-legal in his home state so he can drive it whenever he wants. So kick back and check out the righteous ride that this Empire State resident has been building.
A host of body and frame mods-both seen and unseen-reside on the Blazer. Most obvious are the cutout fenders, which help make room for the big 44x19.5-15 Boggers that are mounted on 15x14 Allied High Impact 32-bolt bead-lock wheels. Szczepanik chose to make modifications that would require less lift so the vehicle's center of gravity would be as low as possible. You'll notice that there is no front bumper and the Ramsey 12,000-pound-capacity winch is recessed in the grille on a custom mount. This was done to help improve the Blazer's approach angle. Hidden by the body are numerous improvements to the frame to bolster its strength. By the way, years of abuse, as well as a misadventure on a Pennsylvania trail, damaged the truck's original frame beyond repair, so a frame from a later-model Chevy was beefed and slid under the Blazer. The truck also sports a pair of front inner fenderwells fashioned from electrical tubing and covered by sheetmetal. Szczepanik also points out that he painted the truck himself for less than $30 with Case International Red paint purchased at his local Tractor Supply store.
The front end of the Blazer has seen a few axles over the years. The list includes the original GM 10-bolt as well as a Dana 44. Neither held up to the rigors of trail use, so Szczepanik installed a Dana 60 out of a '79 1-ton Chevy. It's beefed with Dynatrac 35-spline axleshafts and a Summit Racing spool. It has also had the bottom of the centersection shaved to enhance ground clearance. The front suspension uses standard off-the-shelf Skyjacker 8-inch-lift leaf springs, but they've been located forward 2.5 inches to move the big 44-inch Boggers away from the rear of the front fenders. Stock spring hangers are used to locate the rear of the springs, but the fronts are stout homemade units that create a 1.5-inch drop. Skyjacker Nitro shocks wrap up the suspension mods. The steering system is durable yet simple and uses a custom crossover system that features a homemade heavy-duty drag link and tie rod; Dedenbear knuckles; Jeep J-10 pitman arm; Rocky Mountain steering-box frame-support kit; and an AGR hydraulic-assist system. Finally, there's a homemade front driveshaft made from 0.25-inch-wall tubing to replace the one he annihilated on rocks.
After witnessing the death of his stock 10-bolt rear axle as well as a Dana 44, Szczepanik installed this beefy 14-bolt axle. It sports TSM disc brakes, a Detroit Locker, CV-type driveshafts from High Angle Driveline, and a custom truss that acts as a bottom mount for a limiting strap. Like the front Dana 60 axle, the 14-bolt has been shaved to enhance ground clearance. The rear suspension consists of 8-inch-lift Skyjacker leaf springs and Skyjacker Nitro shocks. Suspension flex has been enhanced with a pair of custom rear lockable cantilever shackles. These shackles allow Szczepanik to remove a pin, thereby allowing them to travel more than in the locked position. Because they increase rear suspension flex substantially, he had to install the aforementioned limiting strap to keep from over-angling the rear CV driveshaft.
Originally the Blazer was equipped with a 305ci V-8 engine, but that mill is long gone. A 350ci V-8 engine from an '84 1-ton pickup now resides under the Blazer's hood, and this four-bolt main engine sports Federal Mogul pistons, a high-rise marine-application intake manifold, Summit Racing high-energy coil, ACCEL spark-plug wires, 2.25-inch dual exhaust system with Flowmaster mufflers and Holley Pro-Jection fuel injection. The electrical system has also been upgraded with a 210-amp alternator and three 900cca DieHard batteries. The engine power is routed through a 700R4 transmission that has been heavily modified and is kept cool via its own cooler with a 10-inch-diameter fan. Over the years, Szczepanik tried a number of transmissions in the Blazer, including the original 700R4, a TH350, and an SM465, before he settled on the modified 700R4.
Owner: Robert Szczepanik, Amsterdam, New York
Vehicle/Model: '83 Chevy Blazer
Estimated Value: $10,000
Type: 5.7L V-8
Aspiration: Holley Pro-Jection, dual 2.25-inch exhaust, Flowmaster mufflers
Output, hp/torque: 210/unknown
Transmission: 700R4, cooler with 10-inch fan
Transfer case(s): NP203/NP205, ORD Doubler kit, cable shifter
Front: Superlift 8-inch leaf springs, Skyjacker Nitro shocks, custom front spring hangers with 1.5-inch drop
Rear: Superlift 8-inch leaf springs, Skyjacker Nitro shocks, custom rear cantilever shackles
Front: Dana 60, shaved, Dynatrac 35-spline axleshafts, custom crossover steering, Dedenbear knuckles, AGR hydraulic-assist steering/Summit Racing spool
Rear: GM 14-bolt, shaved, TSM disc brakes/Detroit Locker
Ring and pinion: 5.13:1
Wheels: 15x14 Allied High Impact 32-bolt bead lock
Tires: 44x19.5-15 Boggers