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Upgrading & Repairing Our Bashed 14-Day 1989 Chevy Blazer

Posted in Project Vehicles on May 14, 2015
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Photographers: Verne SimonsTrenton McGee

Last summer we ran a two-part series covering the buildup of this14-Day Blazer, a tired 1989 Blazer on 1-tons that we picked up locally and then proceeded to thrash on just prior to the start of Ultimate Adventure. We then wheeled the snot out of it and put well over 2,000 miles on it in 10 days. The build turned out better than we expected and was surprisingly trouble-free throughout the trip, especially considering the tight timeframe and the fact that we knew practically nothing about the truck when we bought it. Other than some electrical problems and some busted motor mounts, we really didn't have to do much wrenching on it while on the UA. We got it home after the trip and parked it. Other than one quick desert trip, personal and business commitments kept us from really doing much with it.

While the 14-Day Blazer behaved itself on the UA, that's not to say there weren't plenty of things we wanted to change. It came home running rough, some exhaust leaks had developed, and after living out of the truck for a week we absolutely hated the seats. We decided to follow up our initial build and show you some of the aftermath that comes from a typical UA as well as some things we should have made a priority during the initial build. We corrected a few nagging issues, performed some badly needed maintenance, and even managed to make the Blazer far more comfortable to drive on the street and trail. While the 14-Day Blazer isn't done (is a project ever really done?), we no longer hesitate to grab the keys when planning our next off-road excursion.

Our fullsize 4-wheeling skills were a little rusty, and the tight trails on the Ultimate Adventure didn't help matters. We managed to put healthy dents in both doors as well as the rest of the sheetmetal. Somehow the door glass remained intact, but we can't say the same for the passenger wing window. We thought about popping the door dents out, but when we pulled the door panel we discovered that there really isn't much access to the outer skin from the inside. Oh well, we like character anyway.

We wisely left the removable top at home when we went on the UA, as it would have gotten destroyed by all the tight trails. The downside was that the open back left a large chunk of the muddy trails inside the Blazer. Make no mistake: A great deal of cleanup comes with being a part of 4-wheeling summer camp. This was just the passenger floorboard!

Water crossings are cool, but they take their toll on axle parts. We pulled the drive slug caps off of the wheel hubs and were greeted with lots of rust and contaminated grease. Apparently the inner wheel seals were bad and allowed water to get into the wheel bearings on both sides. The only fix was a complete teardown and repack. Luckily we caught this before the bearings went bad and wiped out the spindles and hubs. If water is common where you go wheeling, check the wheel bearings often.

Packing wheel bearings is a nasty, time-consuming job, but it isn't particularly difficult. Use a good-quality grease (we like a semisynthetic that Valvoline makes, but there are several excellent greases on the market) and try and get the numbers off of the old wheel seals when you order new ones. There are a few variations, and the seals we initially purchased by guesswork turned out to be wrong.

Since water had gotten into the wheel bearings, we decided to check the differentials as well. Thankfully there was no evidence of contamination, in part because we extended the breather hoses as part of our prep for the trip. It doesn't take much water to turn gear oil into sludge. Even a small amount of contamination can ruin bearings, gears, and other expensive parts.

With the axles sorted out, we moved on to chasing down why the engine was running like poop. The source ended up being a combination of things. A burned plug wire caused an intermittent misfire, the cap and rotor were pretty well worn out, and the EGR valve was bad. Throwing a basic tune-up at the engine had it running much better.

The previous owner had put some cheap long-tube headers on the Blazer at some point, and these were a constant source of headaches. They leaked, they got hit a few times on the trail because they hung low, and the passenger-side collector hit the front driveshaft when the suspension compressed. They had to go. We opted for a set of JBA Shorty Headers, which are designed to be bolt-in replacements for the factory exhaust manifolds. They came with a ceramic-coated finish and are way nicer than anything else on the Blazer.

The JBA headers came with a set of gaskets, but we've never had much luck with header gaskets in general. We opted to use some copper-based, high-temperature gasket material to mate the headers to the heads instead, because we've had good luck with it in the past. We also used some locking fasteners on the headers that won't back off and cause leaks down the road.

The headers fit perfectly and were even designed so that it was relatively easy to get to all of the mounting bolts. JBA provides a high-temperature spark plug lead for cylinder No. 5 because the tubes run close to it, which was a nice and much appreciated touch. The headers will bolt up to the stock collectors, but our exhaust had been modified for the long-tubes. A quick trip to the exhaust shop had them hooked up to the rest of the exhaust. The Blazer's exhaust woes were (hopefully) gone for good.

The seats in the 14-Day Blazer were actually in decent shape, so we didn't mess with them; in other words, there were no major rips or tears. The issue was that the seat bottoms were broken down and the buckets may as well have been a bench, as there were no side bolsters or anything other than the seatbelts to keep occupants in the seats while off-road. Plus the factory shoulder belts tended to lock up and pin the users in the seat while steadily sawing themselves into the necks of the driver and passenger.

Our solution was to replace them with seats that are better designed for performance driving and general off-road use. Corbeau Baja RS suspension seats were tailor-made for off-road enthusiasts, with medium side bolsters on both the bottom and back to keep occupants in their seats during off-camber situations. They fully recline, and what's better, Corbeau has an impressive array of mounting brackets that provide bolt-in installation for many applications, including our old Blazer. We also opted for a set of Corbeau’s five-point, 3-inch-wide harnesses to combat the pesky stock shoulder belts.

Corbeau had two choices for seat mounting for our application (and many others): adapter brackets that enable the new seats to be mounted to the factory brackets, or complete replacement mounting brackets. The seat adapters raise the seat position a little, so we opted for the complete replacement brackets in an effort to keep our heads away from the interior rollcage. The replacement brackets include nice towel-bar seat adjusters, which unfortunately turned out to be installed backwards on the brackets we received. We didn't find this out until we mounted the seats in the truck and discovered the seat position was far outboard of where it should be. We flipped them around and seat position ended up being perfect.

Call us crazy, but we actually like the stock shoulder belts for driving around town because you don't have to fish around for the belts on the floor. Plus some stringent officers of the law can actually ticket you for using race belts instead of DOT-approved factory belts. As a result, we decided to mount the Corbeau lap belts to the original seatbelt anchors while retaining the stock seatbelts. We used a short spacer so that both belts would swivel and still have plenty of bolt engagement. The lap belts are perfect for rockcrawling, and we plan on building a harness bar tied to the rollcage.

Installed, the Corbeau seats look great and made us regret not paying more attention to the rest of the interior, such as the cracked dash, worn-out steering wheel, bootleg ammo can center console, and bare sheetmetal floor. Regardless, the seats made the Blazer genuinely enjoyable to drive rather than physically painful.

Sources

Corbeau Seats
Sandy, UT 84070
801-255-3737
www.corbeau.com
JBA
909-599-5955
www.jbaheaders.com
Valvoline
Lexington, KY 40512
800-832-6825
www.valvoline.com

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