We have good news and bad news. The good news is our Tracker is finally running. The bad news is it still isn’t quite ready for the trail.
Building a vehicle with limited aftermarket support gives you the opportunity to stand out from the crowd and raise a few eyebrows when you embarrass someone with all of the latest bolt-on components in a vehicle that looks like it should be driven to the beach by a sorority girl. The tradeoff, of course, is that constructing a vehicle with no aftermarket support means that every component has to be fabricated from scratch. This is neither quick nor inexpensive, but the low buy-in price of the Tracker offsets much of that bill when you add up the total cost.
As summer started heating up, Jesse Haines got busy competing in rockcrawling events all across the globe. Since it’s a one-man shop, when Jesse is gone the lights are out. So we picked up the Tracker and took it to nearby Samco Fabrication. We don’t necessarily endorse the idea of having more than one shop work on your project, but Jesse Haines and Sam Cothrun have collaborated in the past and have a great working relationship. Samco has built its reputation on prepping championship-winning desert race vehicles, so we knew it would do an excellent job on the details needed to get our little recreational rockcrawler on the trail.
Alex Baker did the yeoman’s work on the wiring at Samco Fabrication. We were caught in the purgatory between adding plug-and-play accessories and one end of the spectrum and wiring the vehicle from scratch at the other end.
Baker traced out all of the wires in the vehicle since the dash was out and the main wiring harness got cut in the process of trimming the fenders (oops). He methodically labeled everything to help us determine what should stay and what could go.
The CJK Offroad harnesses for our electric lockers use factory Toyota connectors that plugged right in to our electric locker solenoid. The harnesses come with a heavy-duty abrasion sleeve over the wiring. We routed the harness along the upper suspension link (this is just a mockup link) where it would be out of harm’s way.
Our front and rear Diamond Axle axlehousings are filled with Toyota factory electric locker third members. These are selectable lockers that do not require air to actuate and can even be manually engaged if the wiring fails. To keep that from happening we ordered plug-and-play harnesses from Josh Webb at CJK Offroad. All you have to do is plug them in and add 12-volt power, and they are ready to go.
The factory Tracker radiator was narrow and tall, fitting between the stock framerails. Since Haines made new, narrower framerails for the Tracker, reusing the stock radiator was not an option. We had a custom radiator made that sits on top of the framerails, so it is not as tall but is much wider than stock. Haines built custom mounts to securely capture the radiator without hard mounting it to the body or frame, since this can result in cracking as the chassis flexes.
A new radiator requires new radiator hoses. We could not find an application that would work for our new radiator, so Austin Hall at Samco Fabrication busted out these TIG-welded metal lines with short rubber hoses on each end. As we mentioned, the guys at Samco are typically working on race cars, and it shows in the quality of work.
Samco Fabrication built us custom hydraulic lines for our steering out of abrasion--resistant hose and AN fittings. The packaging of the front end required the hydraulic ram to be mounted to the custom fabricated pitman arm at one end and the frame at the other end. While this configuration puts a larger load on the sector shaft in the steering box, it is still a valid method of mounting a steering ram as long as special consideration is given to ensure that the ram’s travel is not greater than that of the steering box.
The lower radiator hoses also uses a TIG-welded tube with short hoses on each end. Notice the banjo bolt used on the steering system. This was a requirement due to the tight fit of the radiator hose above the steering box, but it also makes positioning the hose much easier during installation.
Haines built an adapter to use a 1 1/8-inch-bore CNC master cylinder with the factory brake booster. Sizing the master cylinder to the calipers is important to ensure that you move enough fluid to fill the calipers but do not have too large a master cylinder, which can result in a hard, touchy brake pedal. We sourced the master cylinder from Fibercraft, our local buggy parts store, which stocks master cylinders in a variety of bores and styles.
Samco ran steel braided brake lines along the suspension links to hard lines on our Diamond Axle axlehousings. Running the links down the upper links ensures that the brake lines move with the suspension while being neatly routed away from any damage. Some AN fittings from Summit Racing Equipment were used to keep the required flaring to a minimum.
On the rear axle it is possible to run a hard line all the way to the calipers, since there is no movement at the axle end. On the front axle we had to run short braided steel lines to the calipers. Samco Fabrication machined inserts to register the Spidertrax aluminum hat and cross-drilled rotor on the axleshafts, since the holes in the hat are larger than the 1/2-inch studs on our axleshafts.
Baker cleanly wired all of our Auto Meter gauges and used circuit breakers and toggle switches to control such functions as the seat heaters in the MasterCraft seats and the locker switches from CJK Offroad. All of the switches run to a common ground to make the wiring cleaner. Fewer gauges would have been lighter and simpler, but the peace of mind and the ability to troubleshoot issues were well worth the few extra pounds in our opinion.
Bakers used a Weather Pack–style plug that allows us to remove the entire dash for troubleshooting or adding more accessories. This is meticulous work and took more time and effort than just hard-wiring all of the accessories, but it is a better way to install the wiring if you ever plan to remove the dash in the future.
The completed CR Fab aluminum dash would look more at home in a Trophy Truck than a Chevy Tracker, but we like the contrast because cute-ute and race car. The Auto Meter Pro-Comp Ultra-Lite gauges fit our lightweight theme and monitor fuel level, oil pressure, coolant temperature, and voltage in addition to speed and engine speed (rpm).