1989 Chevy Blazer - 14-Day Blazer: Part 2Posted in Project Vehicles on November 18, 2014
Last month we introduced the 14-Day Blazer, the mini-project we purchased shortly before embarking on the Ultimate Adventure. With title in hand, we had just two weeks to get it ready for the trip. We gave you an overview of what the Blazer had and what it needed, then we filled the differentials with a bunch of goodies from Nitro Gear & Axle and Eaton. We also added an Offroad Design front bumper and Warn winch, and then started tackling a bunch of little problems.
This month we continue our two-week thrash by fixing the suspension, addressing the steering, and adding a few other key items that were needed or required to be a part of the trip. Then we took it 4-wheeling on a bunch of tough trails and put over 2,000 miles on it in only seven days. Did we fail? Did we win? Read on.
We noticed the Blazer had some driveline vibration, and we initially chalked it up to a worn-out U-joint. Closer inspection of both driveshafts revealed more serious problems. The rear driveshaft angle was wrong, and the yoke at the axle was damaged due to axlewrap. The front driveshaft was too long (the previous owner didn’t shorten it when he installed the Dana 60), and both the slip joint and CV joint were completely worn out. We took some measurements and then called JE Reel for advice. After we explained what we were doing, the company recommended upgrading the rear driveshaft to 1350 series joints and adding a CV at the transfer case. JE Reel also built a 1350 front driveshaft to match. The company’s Canyon Crawler driveshafts are made with heavy-wall DOM tubing and have proven to take a beating in our other rigs. The shafts bolted in perfectly. We thought our driveshaft woes were behind us.
The popping and groaning coming from the rear suspension continued after we fixed the shackle bushings and regeared the differentials, plus the driveline vibrations persisted even with our shiny new driveshafts. Here’s why: Both rear spring pads were no longer flat. We think that the rear U-bolts were never retorqued when the previous owner installed the 1-ton axles, so they stretched and loosened and allowed the axle to wriggle around under the springs. We cut off the old bent spring perches and welded on new ones, being careful to reset the rear driveline angle to work with the new JE Reel CV- style rear driveshaft.
In addition to the bent spring perches, we discovered that both rear spring centering pins were broken. The head was completely missing from one of them, and the other came out in three pieces. Rather than replace them with new pins, which are ungraded, we used graded socket-head bolts and ground the heads down slightly to fit the holes in the new spring perches. This rear suspension revamp ate up valuable time we didn’t have, but between the broken centering pins and the bent spring pads, the rear suspension had been a disaster waiting to happen.
After noticing that one of the aluminum shims on the front springs was mangled, we suspected the same loose U-bolt/broken pin scenario had happened on the front. Sure enough, the passenger front centering pin was broken and the other one was badly bent. We replaced the aluminum 3-degree shims on the front with 3-degree steel replacements from Rusty’s Off-Road. We used new U-bolts from BDS Suspension and retorqued them several times before the start of the trip. We also opted to replace the rusty old shocks with fresh ones from BDS. These made a world of difference in ride quality.
The previous owner had installed a rollcage and custom rock sliders, but the cage wasn’t tied into the frame and the rock sliders were pretty flimsy because the factory C-channel frame they were welded to had a lot of flex. We tapped Senior Editor Verne Simons and his superior welding skills to fix the problem. Simons added two extra 13⁄4x0.120-wall DOM tubes to each rock slider and then tied the A-pillar and B-pillar of the rollcage to the sliders using short uprights. This not only made the sliders rock-solid but also made the cage much safer in the event of a mishap.
The Blazer was equipped with a decent crossover steering system, but it was controlled by some cheesy homebrew ram-assist steering that was painfully slow and used a ram that looked like it belonged on a tractor. We were planning on running it and thought a new pump would fix the slow steering problem, but it turns out there’s a whole lot more to it than that. PSC Motorsports explained that quite a few internal box modifications are required to properly run a hydraulic assist ram, and the system takes a pump that’s capable of much more volume than a typical stock replacement. PCS recommended replacing the entire system with one of their complete ram assist kits. As you can see, there’s quite a bit to it. However, the system is extremely well engineered and includes absolutely everything needed.
The PSC system utilizes a P-pump just like the factory one, but instead of an integrated “canned ham” reservoir, it includes a much larger remote reservoir. PSC recommends mounting the reservoir as close to the pump as possible, but there wasn’t a convenient place on either the engine or the fenderwell. In the end we chose to mount it on the core support using some angle iron we had lying around. We were worried that this might cause the pump to suck air on really steep inclines, but fortunately we never had an issue. The reservoir looks full-race and is way sexier than the rest of the engine compartment, while mounting the pump on the engine was a simple remove-and-replace procedure.
PSC mandates the use of a cooler in the system in order to protect the high-performance pump, and our kit included this large aluminum finned cooler that adds at least a quart of capacity to the system in addition to providing excellent cooling qualities. Unfortunately, we didn’t really have a place to mount it that would be open to outside air and well protected. We reluctantly mounted it under the hood on the driver-side fenderwell. If we had had more time, we would have found a better place for it. The cooler is plumbed into the low-pressure return line.
Like the pump, the steering box is a direct replacement for the stock box, but with a twist: The crossover steering system requires a four-wheel drive steering box with a sector shaft from a two-wheel drive box. This is a very common upgrade, and the special box can be ordered right off of PSC’s website. You can also see the capped-off ports for the steering ram and the reinforced steering box mount, which was done by the previous owner. We reused the pitman arm that was on the original box, but we were leery of the S-shaped draglink from the unknown brand of crossover system. Just to be safe, we replaced the draglink with a 1⁄4-inch-wall DOM draglink that was custom-built by Rusty’s Off-Road.
Since we were already going through the rest of the steering system, we opted to upgrade the tie rod as well. The one on the truck was stock and already bent slightly, and the tie-rod ends were worn out. Knowing how vulnerable the tie rod is, we upgraded it to match the rest of our hot rod steering system. After taking some measurements, we tapped Rusty’s Off-Road for a heavy-duty solution. Rusty’s sent us a beefy 1⁄4-inch-wall DOM tie rod with Moog Problem Solver ends. Just to be safe, we threw the old one in the back of the truck as a spare.
After cutting the mount for the old ram off of the axle and mounting the new Rusty’s tie rod, it was time to mount the steering ram. We once again turned to our Verne Simons and his skills with molten metal for help. After taking some measurements, we tacked the ram mounts into place, and then cycled the steering with the ram mocked into place. After a few adjustments, Simons set the welder on kill and burned the mounts into place. Once they had cooled, we built and plumbed the lines from the box to the ram.
The Blazer came with military-issue 37-inch Goodyear tires on cool 24-bolt Hummer beadlocks. Why would we change them? Because they required the use of wheel spacers, which we are not always fond of; they are 16.5 inches in diameter, a size it is getting harder to find tires for; and they had run-flats in them. Run-flats are neat, but they don’t do well when the tires are aired down to 10 psi, and the tire/wheel combination was a hernia-inducing 230-plus pounds per corner. It was a tough call made easier when we discovered some nasty chunks missing from two of the Goodyears. Since Nitto is the official tire sponsor for of UA 2014, Nitto got the nod for new shoes. We went with a set of 37x12.50-17 Nitto Trail Grapplers, which measured a solid 1 inch taller than the Goodyears on the truck.
We turned to another Ultimate Adventure sponsor for a set of Method 105 matte-black wheels. These measure 17x8.5 and have a 0mm offset, which turned out to be perfect for the truck. They are also true beadlocks, so we could air down without worrying about losing a bead. We don’t normally go for black wheels, but we dig how they look on the Blazer and wouldn’t have chosen anything else. We carefully torqued the lock rings to spec in three steps and, as a result, had no beadlock-related issues the entire trip.
One of the things we really like about the Methods is the inner lip underneath the lock ring, which properly centers the outer tire bead and provides a positive stop for the lock ring. It would be nice to see steel inserts for the lock ring bolts rather than threading the Grade 8 bolts straight into the aluminum wheel, so we used plenty of antiseize to ensure that the wheels would last for many years. We were impressed with how light yet strong the wheels were, and we’re pretty sure the new wheel and tire combo is half the weight of the old one.
One of the last pieces of the puzzle was addressing the infuriating ratchet shifter the previous owner had installed. We have more experience with manual transmissions, so we sought the advice of some friends for a suitable replacement. UA crony and Off-Road Connection owner Keith Bailey recommended a Winter’s gated shifter, so we ordered one from him and installed it. We like it, especially compared to the ratchet shifter that was in the truck originally, but we are probably going to cut out one of the detents to make it easier to get from Drive to Reverse, because sometimes you need to get from one to the other quickly.
How Did It Behave?
Compared to most of the other rigs on the Ultimate Adventure this year, our Blazer was low tech and pretty basic, which is exactly how we like to roll. The axles and driveshafts were built to be bombproof, and they proved to be just that, especially with a tired small-block under the hood. We were concerned about the transfer case and even picked up a spare that we carried with us on the trip, but it turned out we didn’t need it (probably because we had one on hand). We spent a lot more time fixing suspension issues than we had anticipated during our prep, but the extra work paid off with reliability and a surprising amount of flex for an old leaf spring truck.
The steering upgrades paid for themselves many times throughout the week, as the vast majority of the trails were tightly wound around trees and other obstacles. Even with the welcome amount of steering control, we still managed to put many new bruises in the bile beige sheetmetal, mostly because we drive by braille more than we should and our skills at stuffing 10 pounds of truck in a 5-pound hole were a little rusty.
Another big concern for us was the low-range gearing. With a crawl ratio hovering around 41:1, we were among the highest geared trucks on the trip. We were worried about not having the torque needed to climb big stuff, or worse, that we’d end up smoking the tranny. Fortunately, these concerns proved to be unfounded, at least with the type of terrain on this year’s UA. The trails were often muddy and slick, which demanded wheel speed, and the tired old V-8 had just enough torque to get the job done. We suspect that hard rockcrawling trails would have had us wishing for some deeper gearing, but overall we are very pleased with the tired old Blazer. While we weren’t able to hit all of the hardest lines, we didn’t spend much time blocking the trail, either. On the highway, the Blazer drove like a Cadillac.
The only failures we experienced during the trip were an EGR valve that worked loose on the intake manifold and a broken motor mount on the last day of the last obstacle on the last trail. At the end of the day, we ended up with a well-rounded rig that could hold its own in the rough while being perfectly happy on the blacktop. Not bad for something we threw together in two weeks.