Project Red Sled 1991 Chevy Truck - The Sled Is DeadPosted in Project Vehicles on July 1, 2008
Taking The Torch To Your IFS swinging A-arms and letting the halfshafts drop into a pile on the garage floor isn't as scary as it once was, but getting everything back under there is still a challenge. Luckily the off-road aftermarket and enthusiasts have done enough research that you shouldn't be scared of the challenge.
Around the mid '90s guys started seriously modifying their 4x4s as the solid-axle swap craze came to be. At first it was an exclusive undertaking of expert fabricators with the cajones to cut their IFS truck apart in hopes of making it better, but over the past few years solid-axle swaps have become so commonplace that they're attempted in driveways across this nation, and often done over a long weekend with some serious prep and a dedicated crew of mad fabbers.
Now before we go another step let's stop and think for a second about the millions, and we mean millions, of dollars spent to design and engineer that independent front suspension. Many very smart people working in OEM engineering studios from Detroit to Japan have made it their goal to offer us a flexible front suspension that allows each wheel to move independently while still carrying the load required. Unfortunately they have not yet come to market with a wobbly front end that can hold up to the real-world abuse that off-roading dishes out. Understand that these guys have to answer to the American buying public, who told them that a comfy ride is more important than an axle-and-suspension combo that will survive the barrage of battering and masochistic misuse that we wheelers like to dish out. As such, they build what sells and what their marketing people tell them people will buy, and we do just that.
We buy their trucks, drive them for a while, take them off road, break all that fancy double A-arm wambly jambly stuff and then drag it home, fire up the plasmatic super cutter, and leave all their millions of dollars in engineering sitting in a smoldering pile under the framerails before rolling a good old solid axle underneath and fashioning up some sort of leaf-spring mounts or coil/linky system.
Can you hear those OEM engineers clicking their pens and gritting their teeth as we outsmart them? Well, guess what, it's not their fault. We've met many of those guys and have heard, from their smartest engineer minds, that they don't see a problem with cutting all that stuff out and swinging something solid underneath. Heck, they would do it if the job given to them was to come up with a suspension that can take the abuse. It's just that their job is to sell trucks, not build trucks to take wheeling over rocks the size of Yugos while spinning 40-plus-inch-tall tires with V-8s at redline. That's too bad because we'd love to apply the OEM's millions of dollars and brainiest of brainpower to building a truck with an unbreakable front axle, either solid or independent. (On that note, let's all tip our hats to the Ford Super Dutys, Dodge 3/4- and 1-tons, and righteous Jeep Wranglers that haven't been lost to the dark side. May those engineers and product coordinators all take a bow for their solid stand against feebly wobbliness).
Over the past year we have tried to address the independent front suspension under our '91 3/4-ton Chevy, commonly referred to as the Red Sled (because it's long and turns like a toboggan). We have lifted and locked the truck, added gears and a transfer case that would allow for front-wheel-drive-only maneuvers, and gone through a plethora of different halfshafts. And to what end? We have come to a point where wheeling the truck isn't possible, at least if we want to wheel for more than five minutes. The truck is practically allergic to dirt. It's too bad because we had dreams of building the "be all, end all in IFS," but it was more like "be expensive and broken" after every trip to the dirt. The fact is we could have gone further, but we didn't.
However, we hope you will, and by "you" we mean that one guy somewhere in his shed with more free time and money than us. Or maybe that one engineer who is too stubborn to let us badmouth his beloved IFS, because we truly do want to see one that will work. And by "work" we mean take a 7,000-pound truck with a big-block running torque through a 5:1 transfer case, and send all the power down the front driveshaft where only a set of halfshafts attached to a locked centersection spinning some 37-inch or larger tires can drag the rest of the behemoth over rocks the size of those cute Mini Cooper commuter cars. Build the monster of all IFS and let us know how you did it, but until then this is how far we got and some options if you're ready to cut the A-arms off and swing something stronger underneath.
We should have known better, but we thought we would try the elusive front dig. All was going great as the big behemoth was crawling around and we felt the IFS might actually live, so we headed for some rocks. Now remember that this was with the front diff unlocked, and after the front-dig maneuver, which worked but made some bad noises, we shifted back into four-wheel drive. We crawled into the rocks, which were more basketball-size than Yugo-size, and heard some silly poppin' and banging up front. We crawled out to check it out, and both halfshafts looked fine, both the high-dollar RCV passenger-side and the original driver-side stock version. But then we noticed the front aluminum housing was blown in two and dribbling gear lube, and the time on our watch was just five minutes since low range was engaged.
So where does this leave us on the Sled? We could go to the next level and build some sort of custom centersection out of steel or iron, but we already sank over $3,000 into axleshafts and custom steering. And then what about the A-arms and steering knuckles. Should we go and have those all fabricated la trophy-truck style? Or maybe we could find a set of the portal box knuckles used in Hummer H1s and work them into the mix, making for a strong suspension that reduced the abuse on the halfshafts and everything else upstream. However, the fact is we've spent so much time trying to go wheeling with this truck and not making it very far that we are ready to do something different. We have a great solid front axle in the wings, but we may just pull the rest of the drivetrain and stuff it all in something smaller and more nimble since the 153-inch wheelbase hasn't revealed itself as the winning wheelbase for our narrow local trails. The fact is that our IFS testing resulted in way too many wasted Saturdays when we wanted to be wheeling rather than wrenching. Days we'll never get back, mind you. That is reason enough for us to steer clear of the independent stuff and take the next step to a solid new beginning.