Built to Fly, Mud, and Rock
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Jeremy Naeger scored a windfall when he traded some differential odds and ends for a ratted-out 72 Chevy Blazer. Immediately after taking delivery of the vehicle he cranked up the heat and began a complete body-off buildup of the truck that would, in fewer than 36 days, transform it from a junkyard candidate to a heavy-duty four-wheeler.
The first item of business was to completely strip the vehicle down to its frame. He then boxed the frame from the rear of the front spring mounts forward to enhance its strength in this high-stress area. Reassembly began with a pair of custom 14-inch-lift front leaf springs that measure 3 inches wide and sport big 5/8-inch eyebolts for strength. The rear suspension is composed of a pair of Ford 9-inch-lift coil springs, a custom cup/spacer assembly, control arms with 7/8-inch ball-end joints at each end and a homemade track bar. Now we have to stop right here and preface the next set of mods by telling you a bit about Jeremy Naeger. He owns Custom Differentials in Bloomsdale, Missouri, and he spends his days creating hardcore differentials for a wide variety of truckseverything from mud racers and rockcrawlers to monster trucks. He also hosts mud-racing events on his property, and theyre famous for drawing scores of trucks and hundreds of spectators for grass-roots mudding insanity in the Missouri goo. Obviously, a four-wheeler of this caliber needs a truck that wont make him look bad, so he injected his Blazer project with some serious strength. After all, he wanted the truck to be able to stand up to any sort of thrashing he felt like doling out, including big-air jumps. With that said, youll be able to appreciate the brawny driveline he built to go under the Blazer.
He began with a pair of Dana 80 rear axles pirated from an F-450 truck. The rear axle was fitted with heavy-duty axletubes fabbed from ¾-inch-thick seamless tubing, and the centersection was stuffed with 5.14 gears and a spool. Moser 35-spline chrome-moly axleshafts ensure that the big 44-inch Boggers (on 15x14 RSI beadlock rims) and the trucks significant horsepower (well get to that in a minute) dont constantly waste axleshafts. The front axle is fitted with the same gears and heavy-duty axletubes, but instead of a spool it sports a Detroit Locker. Naeger converted the rear axle to a front axle using 1-ton Chevy knuckles that he beefed using eight welded-in braces (per knuckle) to keep them from spreading under violent big-air landings. The knuckles are also adjustable, and they can be rotated to compensate for changes in pinion angle caused by modifications to the drivetrain.
The brawny construction of the axles is carried over into the custom crossover steering, comprised of a 1 ½-inch-diameter chrome-moly tie rod with beefy GM truck 73-87 drag link ends as well as a heavy-duty ¼-inch wall-thickness drag link. A Rock Ram steering system ensures durability and easy steering. Finally, both of the front and rear diff covers are protected from damage by custom bracing fabbed from a ½-inch solid rod.
With the chassis completed, Naeger sauntered down to his local GM dealer and ordered a 502ci big-block crate motor. Immediately after delivery, he took the brand new engine to Jason Jones Performance in Bloomsdale to have it tweaked for maximum power. The engine was completely disassembled and fitted with loads of performance items including a Melling oil pump, Moroso oil pan, Griffen oil cooler, JE Pistons, a Competition Cams roller cam, Manly valves and springs, 70 Chevelle cast-iron oval-port heads, Edelbrock Performer intake manifold, 850-cfm Holley carb, Accel coil, MSD ignition, Taylor spark plug wires, custom headers and two-chamber 3½-inch Flowmaster mufflers. These modifications help the engine create an estimated 500 horsepower and 580 lb-ft of torque, which is routed through a TH400 transmission that features a B&M torque converter and oil pan, manual valvebody and Perma Cool oil cooler. Driveshafts Unlimited in Arnold, Missouri created some beefy driveshafts from 5-ton military shafts, and they carry the power from the transmission to the divorced NP205 transfer case and on to the differentials.
The body of the Blazer had most definitely seen better days, so Naeger began the process of fixing it up. His intent was to restore the body to acceptable condition without taking it to the next level of show-type quality. After all, the truck was designed to be functional, above all else, and Naeger easily accepts body scars as the expected collateral damage of wheeling. With help from friends, he installed new rocker panels and some fender patch panels to replace the most rusted areas, and after a significant amount of welding wire and a couple of gallons of Bondo, the truck was ready to be sprayed with the Dupont Red paint. As a finishing touch, he and Phil Reichardt II at Phine Design in Crystal City, Missouri, taped and sprayed a flame design on the truck before installing a pair of Hella off-road lights, a Warn 15,000-pound winch and a homemade snorkel.
Inside the truck its almost all business, with a full array of Auto Meter gauges, RCI fiberglass bucket seats, a quick-disconnect Grant steering wheel, rear-mounted fuel cell and a full rollcage built by Brian Fox at Fox Fabricating in Arnold that integrates with the front and rear bumpers. We say the interior is almost all business because it also includes a large stereo system that includes a Pioneer head unit, a pair of MTX amplifiers, two 8-inch MTX subwoofers and two 5 ¼-inch three-way MTX speakers. Like Naeger needs a panacea for boredom.
We photographed Naegers Blazer immediately after it was completed, and its a good thing we did because shortly thereafter the truck was rolled end-over-end during an off-highway foray, and this resulted in a fair amount of crunched sheetmetal and rear frame and suspension damage. Such is the life of a functional four-wheel drive however, and Naeger immediately pieced the truck back together again to do battle.