Toyota mini trucks are plentiful, popular, easy to build, and relatively inexpensive as a base platform to make into either a rockcrawler or go-fast prerunner. Ford Rangers have a great following and plenty of support to be modified as well, especially if you want to bomb one across the desert on a shoestring budget. However, for Cheap Truck Challenge 2014 I went with a Chevy S-10 mini truck, and here’s why.
When I was a kid my local grocery store was giving away an S-10. I stole a pile of the tickets by the entry box, filled them all out, and waited for the call to get my new truck. It never came. Apparently thievery and gambling doesn’t pay off.
“My poor little poor-boy’s truck”
So when I had a chance to come home with a $1,400 Chevy 4x4 S-10 with a 4.3L V-6 and automatic transmission I felt like I was finally getting my winning truck. The 4.3 is almost a V-8, the regular cab truck should be light and thus fast, and the 700R4 automatic would give it a good low First gear for crawling. At least I thought it would be a winner.
I cut and chopped and welded and bolted the dime truck into a little off-roader, but would my poor little poor-boy’s truck survive (much less win) Cheap Truck Challenge? Or would I be back next month showing you how I fixed it?
In stock form my S-10 was nothing to write home about. It was a fine commuter truck and great for exploring dirt roads, but the tires were getting bald, the truck was low off the ground, and it really had nothing exciting to brag about.
A set of 33x12.50R15 Falken Wild Peak A/T on used 15-inch centerline wheels set me back $875. I realized later that 33s were a bit rambunctious for the little S-10 and it would probably have been wiser to stick to a 31- or 32-inch tire, but bigger always seems better. Body trimming would be required.
To clear the bigger little Falkens, I tracked down a suspension kit by Rough Country that offered 21⁄2 inches of lift for just $500. The rear suspension is simple with just a pair of longer shackles and new shocks. Even so, I opted to trim some to clear the 33s.
My trimming got out of hand quickly, and before I knew it the entire back of the S-10 was gone. I cut the body and frame just shy of the rear shackles, resulting in an 11-inch bob off the back.
I marked and chopped the back of the frame to help the departure angle for when the S-10 is dropping off or climbing up steep obstacles. Then I capped the frame with a piece of steel strap 3 inches wide and 1⁄8 inch thick. The steel was pretty cheap because I was able to buy a remnant, or “drop,” at the local steel yard for $20.
By making two cuts (first a cut that removed the back section of the bed, and then another cut that removed another 11 inches), I was able to then reinstall the rear section. The bed was now 11 inches shorter and I still had all taillight and tailgate functions. Better care should be taken when cutting to get a straight cut than what I did with a reciprocating saw.
I welded the bed back together and capped the frame with this Eastwood 110-volt welder. The welder comes with a simple mask, but I sprung for the auto-darkening hood as well. 110-volt welders are not always the best for high-stress or life-dependent welds, but the little Eastwood packed with flux core .030 wire actually did just fine and the welder retails for about $300.
The front half of the suspension was rather aggravating to install but mostly because one of the old torsion bars wouldn’t come apart easily. I eventually had to remove the entire crossmember that holds the torsion bars, and drill small holes in the old torsion bar key until I could smack it with a hammer and break it in half. I imagine a more rusty truck than this California specimen would be a real bear.
The Rough Country lift does requires cutting and dropping the front axlehousing slightly with a new bracket installed. In order to remove the front axlehousing to cut it, I needed to disconnect the factory vacuum to cable actuator for the 4x4. This would eventually become a problem at Cheap Truck when the S-10 would never go back into 4-wheel drive.
The front suspension replaces both the upper A-arms and the torsion bar keys to clear a 31-inch tire. I would eventually trim and pound heavily on the sheetmetal to clear 33s. The new tubular A-arms come with new bushings and upper ball joints.
To protect the sides of the little S-10 should I get into the rocks, a pair of Trail-Gear rock sliders was added. Trail-Gear offers various length of sliders; I chose the 67-inch sliders that retail for $198. Again I used the 110-volt welder to attach them to the frame of the little truck.
On the back of the S-10 I welded a simple straight piece of pipe to the back of the frame and ran the old license plate lights up to the tailgate to keep it legal. The tube cost $52 but came in a 20-foot length so I have plenty left over should I want to build a matching front bumper someday.
In the bed of the truck I mounted a Hi-lift jack I bought at a yard sale for $20. It uses a Daystar jack isolator ($13). I also mounted a pair of Daystar Cam Cans to the bed side, one a 2-gallon fluid tank and the other a clamshell-style storage bin perfect for storing our Voodoo recovery rope.
|1993 Chevy S-10 $1,400|
|33-inch Falken Wild Peaks on used wheels $875|
|Rough Country suspension $500|
|Used Hi-Lift jack $20|
|Daystar jack isolator $13|
|Daystar Cam Cans $188|
|Trail-Gear rock sliders $198|
|Eastwood MIG 135 welder $300|