A Budget Trail Machine That Works
When Jim Springer purchased his '86 Chevy Blazer for a paltry $250, he didn't see it as a ready-to-wheel truck. Instead, the biomedical engineer and imaging specialist by day and self-avowed tinkerer by night saw it as merely a foundation for a super low-buck trail rig.
"I wanted to build a rig that was inexpensive but that did all aspects of off-roading really well," he says. "I spent a lot of time and late nights building and working on this, but it's all worth it. I really like to do my own fabrication-just to see if I can, and to see if what I build and the ideas I come up with work well and stay together."
Springer's rig is a fascinating low-buck mix of pirated, custom-fabbed, and aftermarket components. We had a chance to watch Springer's rig in action and we think it's a fine example of what can be done with a minuscule budget, a few ideas, a welder, and some late nights.
Springer lopped 4 inches off the rear of the Blazer for better departure angle. Guarding the rockers are a pair of rock sliders made from 2x3 square tubing (Springer has a thing for square tubing-we'll get to that in a moment). Custom bumpers made from 3-inch tubing reside on each end, and the front bumper holds a Hi-Lift Jack. Bolted to the framerails are a 22-gallon fuel cell and three rock lights so he can illuminate what's under his rig at night. Springer carved his own half-doors out of the stockers and sprayed the whole rig flat black. In a nod to cutting-edge graphics he created his own camouflage flames, which he amusingly calls flame-o-flage. To keep the Blazer's center of gravity low, he added no suspension lift. This meant he had to do some serious fender trimming to create ample room for the 39.5-inch tires. Another neat thing: To relieve stress on the rear body mounts and the core support mounts when the truck is flexed, he installed spring-loaded mounts using bolts, washers, and big-block valve springs.
The original Dana 44 front axle is gone, replaced by a Dana 60 pirated from a parts truck Springer purchased on eBay. The axle has 5.38:1 Yukon gears and has been welded up to create the ultimate low-buck locker. The flexy front suspension is comprised of relocated stock 52-inch rear leaf springs (the stock front springs were 47 inches) with the overload springs removed. Springer moved the front spring hangers forward 4 inches and the rear hangers forward 1 inch and up 1 inch. Pro Comp 15-inch-travel shocks are mounted to the stock lower axle mounts and to relocated F-250-application upper mounts. Helping to point the 39.5-inch Super Swamper tires is a homemade hydraulic-assist steering system. Other components of the crossover steering system include a WFO drag link and tie rod and Poison Spyder steering arms. Springer also boxed the front of the frame around the steering box to increase durability.
A shaved and welded 14-bolt is anchored under the rear of the Blazer to 63-inch leaf springs (the stock springs were 52 inches in length). These springs are '88-and-up 1/2-ton-application units with the overload spring removed. They are bolted to hangers that were relocated 6 inches from their stock location. A DIY shackle reversal kit resides at the tail end. Springer had to creatively mount the long Pro Comp 15-inch-travel shocks, so he added a rear crossmember to act as a mounting location for the upper end of the shocks. The lower shock ends bolt to new mounts on top of the axlehousing.
Power comes from a tried-and-true 350ci V-8 engine with a Summit cam, port-matched heads and intake, Quadrajet carb, Summit headers, 3-inch-diameter exhaust, and Flowmaster mufflers. Also lurking under the hood is a homemade on-board welding system. This unit gets power from its own 100-amp alternator that Springer installed next to the stock alternator using a custom mount. Power is transferred through a TH350 transmission to a twin-stick (homemade, of course) NP205 transfer case. The torque is then split to a shortened rear driveshaft and (this is where things get weird) a custom front shaft made from square tubing. Springer fabbed this super-low-buck front shaft after the flex of the front suspension kept pulling his stock driveshaft apart. He simply mounted the stock yokes from the stock shaft to slightly different sizes of square tubing and then slid the tubing together. He says the result is a 'shaft with over 6 inches of travel that works great at low speed.
Inside the rig, there's a full rollcage fabbed from 2-inch DOM tubing, a pair of Summit seats, a Clarion audio system, a Uniden CB radio (with the antenna tucked up under the dash so it doesn't get torn off on the trail), and no carpet.
Owner: Jim Springer/Hermitage, Pennsylvania
Vehicle/Model: '86 Chevy K5 Blazer
Estimated Value: N/A
Type: 350ci Chevy V-8
Aspiration: Quadrajet carb, Summit headers, 3-inch exhaust, Flowmaster mufflers
Output, hp/torque (estimated): N/A
Transfer Case: NP205 twin-stick
Front: 52-inch leaf springs, relocated mounts, Pro Comp 15-inch-travel shocks
Rear: 63-inch leaf springs, relocated mounts, shackle flip, Pro Comp 15-inch-travel shocks
Front: Dana 60/welded
Rear: GM 14-bolt/welded
Ring and pinion: 5.38:1 Yukon
Wheels: 16.5x12 aluminum
Tires: 39.x13.50-16.5 Super Swamper