Capable Wheeler On A Budget
Every once in a while you run across a vehicle that’s not quite what you expect. Such is the case with Charlie Vacha’s Suzuki Sidekick Sport. These four-door Suzukis were sold in the U.S. for three years, starting in 1996, and it was in 1998 that Charlie bought this one new. We hit the trail with him and were impressed with what it could do.
Charlie didn’t spend a big pile of money to build up this wheeler, which he uses to explore backcountry trails near his home in Apache Junction, Arizona. He added 3 to 4 inches of lift with taller coil springs front and rear, and installed quality shocks on all four corners. This gave him room to fit some bigger mud treads and gain useful ground clearance.
The factory automatic transmission works fine, but the drivetrain is enhanced with a set of 4:1 low-range gears in the transfer case. Charlie also made significant efforts armoring the underside of the Sidekick so he could crawl the tougher trails and bump around without harming components underneath.
The relatively light rig in the hands of a proficient driver was fun to watch, and we found it could tackle some fairly good-sized obstacles. It’s a sleeper built to play, but without breaking the bank.
Wheelbase is right at 98 inches, and overall track width is 66 inches, shod with LT235/85R16 Dunlop mud tires. The IFS works surprisingly well on this lightweight rig with locked differentials at both ends. The relatively tall, narrow tires help moderate the strain on the steering and front suspension components, while adding ground clearance.
The front suspension gets a boost with longer coil springs from Rocky Road Outfitters, and the damping chores are handled by Old Man Emu gas shocks. Charlie has found that the IFS components and steering parts have held up surprisingly well to the abuse he’s subjected the Sidekick to.
The rear lift is simple, but effective. Salvaged Jeep XJ front coil springs provide lift and a bit stiffer spring rate for trail running. The shocks were upgraded to longer Doetsch Tech ones. The factory 5.29:1 gears spin added Lock-Right lockers to increase traction at both ends of the rig.
Much of the drivetrain is beefier, hailing from the Vitara series of vehicles instead of the older Samurai lineage. Charlie swapped 4:1 low-range gears in the transfer case and then added a steel channel slider running front-to-rear under the case for greater protection.
1998 Suzuki Sidekick Sport
Engine: Suzuki 1.8L I-4, stock, fuel injected
Transmission: 4-speed overdrive auto
Transfer case: Stock with 4:1 low-range gears from Rocky Road Outfitters
Front Axle: Stock IFS, 5.29:1 gears, Lock-Right, manual locking hubs
Rear Axle: Stock axle with 5.29:1 gears, Lock-Right
Springs & Such: 4-inch lift springs and Old Man Emu shocks (front); Jeep XJ front coil springs and Doetsch Tech shocks (rear)
Tires & Wheels: LT235/85R16 Dunlop Mud Rover Radials on 16-inch Suzuki alloy wheels
Steering: Stock box and linkages
Other Stuff: Harbor Freight REW8000 winch with synthetic rope, Roof rack for spare storage, rocker guards and other undercarriage steel sliders, Optima RedTop battery