If you are new to the sport of four-wheelering it is easy to get the impression that you must have huge tires, 1,000 hp, and massive axles to have fun on the trail. Obtaining these parts can drain your bank account and your free time, and it might be a while before you can reap the benefits of all of that hard work. While we won’t deny that this path is rewarding, it is not the only way.
To illustrate this point, we drove this bone-stock 1999 Chevy Tracker into the garage on a Friday, thrashed on it all weekend, and took it to Moab on Monday for the Easter Jeep Safari. We called up a couple of hardworking friends who owed us some favors and installed all of the parts at home in the garage.
Bringing a cute-ute to Easter Jeep Safari is not for the thin-skinned
For more clearance on the trail we chose a 2-inch coil spacer lift from Low Range Off-Road and then cut the sheetmetal wherever the 32-inch-tall (265/75R16) Dick Cepek Mud Country radials rubbed. We mounted the tires on strong and affordable 16x7 Black Rock Dune steel rims, and we were even able to run a fullsize spare on the tailgate without any modifications.
Even though the Tracker came with 5.12 gears in the diffs, the paltry 1.8:1 low range in the transfer case was not going to cut it in Moab. Fortunately Trail Tough Products manufactures replacement gears with a 4.24:1 low range ratio that are desperately needed to offset the lack of torque from the 1.6L four-cylinder engine. The last part of the puzzle before we headed for Moab was an American-made mini spool from Trail Tough for the rear differential. Yes, it chirped the rear tires around every corner, but the cheap and easy installation and the added traction made it worthwhile.
The Tracker definitely stood out in the sea of Jeeps, though not always in a good way. Bringing a cute-ute to Easter Jeep Safari is not for the thin-skinned, but once the Jeepers saw how well the Tracker worked on trails like Hells Revenge the heckling died down a little. With a few grand and a weekend of wrenching with your friends this would be an easy wheeler to replicate, and the smiles-to-dollars ratio was off the charts.
Why Would You Build a Tracker?
Believe it or not, we actually sought out this Tracker. Finding a two-door convertible with manual trans and 4WD proved to be difficult. Most two-doors we found were 2WDs pulled behind motorhomes. We did end up settling for the smaller 1.6L engine instead of the 2.0L, but Trail Tough offers a kit to swap in the larger engine if we want it later.
• Body-on-frame construction
• Gear-driven transfer case
• Low-geared diffs from the factory
• Steering rack (instead of steering box)
• Low horsepower
• Small wheelwells
• Lack of aftermarket support
• Doesn’t look remotely tough or cool