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Just Kickin It

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Ben Stewart | Writer
Posted July 10, 1999

A '92 Sidekick Built to Tackle the Tough Trails

Step By Step

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  • The stock 1.6L Sidekick mill received a custom-mounted K&N cone filter and custom after-cat exhaust.

  • The front IFS was replaced with an '84 Toyota axle slung by Samurai leaf packs. The custom steering was accomplished by mounting a second Toyota knuckle on each side of the axle upside down, to raise the tie-rod above the leaf springs and gain proper steering geometry.

  • The stock coil-sprung Suzuki rear was replaced with leaf packs and a '79 Toyota axlehousing, 5.71:1 gears, and a Detroit Locker. Notice how the new spring pads are narrower than stock to match the location of the leaf springs. The custom gas tank has been narrowed to fit between the springs.

While we love to see built up CJs, Scouts, Toyotas, and fullsize iron running the trails, sometimes it's the out-of-the-ordinary four-bys that we get the biggest kick out of. This is one of the first heavily modified Sidekicks we've ever seen, and as the photos show, it had no trouble conquering Moab's tough Pritchet Canyon trail at last year's Easter Jeep Safari.

Jason Kemerer of Freedom, Pennsylvania, wanted to build a trail rig to haul his family around the country's tougher runs. So with a '92 Suzuki Sidekick already in his stable, he decided to tear it down and start building. Converting the 'Kick from IFS to a solid front axle seemed the right way to achieve maximum wheel travel and durability for larger tires. With the help of Brian Kemerer (Jason's brother), Joe Mulcahey, and Jim Webb, the stock IFS was chopped out and an '84 Toyota 4Runner front axle was bolted in and slung with stock Samurai front leaf packs with an additional Toyota leaf. All the stock IFS coil-spring mounts were left in place, just in case Jason wanted to replace the leaves with coils at a later date. Out back, a '79 Toy axle was swapped in and suspended by 3-inch Rancho front springs for an '84 Toyota. Though stock Sidekicks have a coil-spring rear, leaf springs seemed to be a simpler arrangement. However, the stock Toyota spring pads were a bit too wide for the Sidekick frame, so Jason made new pads that sat 4 inches farther inboard per side. This interfered with the stock gas tank, so Jason built a narrower tank that held two more gallons than stock. All this fabrication resulted in a wheelbase 4 inches longer than stock. Single Black Diamond A/T shocks with a 13.5-inch stroke control the motions at each corner, while custom crossover steering with a tie-rod running above the springs controls the 33-inch BFG mud meats mounted on 15x10 steel wagon wheels. A smaller, 31-inch trail spare is mounted on a stock Toyota steel wheel.

Power and traction for the tough trails were also concerns, so 5.71:1 gears were swapped into the Toy axles along with a Detroit for the rear. While the transfer case remains stock, torque multiplication through the stock four-speed automatic allows the little 'Kicker to crawl with the best of them. Future drivetrain mods include adapting a Toyota 'case to the Sidekick 'case and getting a matching Detroit for the front axle. The motor was left mostly stock with the exception of a custom K&N cone-type filter and custom after-cat exhaust built by Terrace Muffler and Brake in Ogden, Utah. Power gets to the new axles with a shortened front driveshaft and lengthened rear by Six States distributors.

Inside, the stock interior received a Sony CD player along with Autotek 44 and Phoenix Gold MS250 amplifiers powering Pioneer tweets and mids in the stock locations and two 12-inch Pioneer subs mounted in a custom box. A Cobra Ultra 19 CB keeps Jason in contact with trail buddies.

Like most 4x4s, this little 'Kicker is still being built and perfected. While we think it's pretty neat the way it is, Jason hopes to fabricate a more complicated coil-spring arrangement for both axles in the future for more flex. Whatever the outcome, we applaud Jason for creating one of the more original trail rigs we've seen.

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