Step By Step
At first glance the engine compartment looks as you would expect it to, but then you realized thats a Holley 2D TBI under that K&N instead of the worn-out Q-Jet. Iron Vortec heads were bolted up to an Edelbrock Performer RPM Vortec intake and plunked down on the bored-0.030-over 350 to get all the power available from the Crane Max Velocity Cam (260/272 degrees duration and 0.427/0.454-inch lift).
Nelson couldnt fit the 13-inch RS 5000s he wanted to run in the stock location so he fabbed up custom mounts inboard of the framerails that actually mount to the subframe of the bed. If you look closely, you can also see that he raised the shock mounts on the axle to keep the Ranchos from getting bashed on the trail. That spare rear driveshaft hangs under the custom flatbed in case of drivetrain emergencies.
Rock of Gibraltar strength comes from a 14-bolt out back with matching gears and a Detroit. Rear springs are Superlift and pivot off the shackles at the end of the frame. The four-wheel disc brakes were made cheap and easy with front rotors and calipers from an 80s 3/4-ton Chevy truck out back. Nelson even kept the stock proportioning valve and master cylinder.
The donor Dana 60 with 4.56 gears was transplanted from an ex-military 1-ton pickup and fitted with a Detroit Locker and 4-inch Skyjacker springs before being put back into active duty up front. A crossover steering was built using a late-70s two-wheel-drive Saginaw box and a custom-made drag link to turn the 36x12.5-15 Swamper SX tires.
Mount a computer screen up next to that Auto Meter tach and youd have our dream office. Phantom series water and transmission temp gauges augment the factory interior offerings to clue Nelson in when he is having too much fun. A steering wheel from an 89 Blazer and an Art Carrgated shifter replace the old components for better feel and more control.
Its just downright too easy to build a 73-87 GM truck. All you do is start with whatever body style suits your needs and bolt on a few off-road parts here and there. Heck, you already have a GM engine, so drag it through the local speed shop and see what sticks. Your drivetrain is usually up to any task, but if you start breaking stuff just find a K30 parts truck and bolt on the heavy-duty goodies. These trucks dont need a lot of fancy adapters to mate the engine/transmission/transfer case of your dreams together. Chances are that if there is a drivetrain part you want to use, GM offered it from the factory at some point. You dont even need to do a lot of custom fabrication to the suspension or steering for trail use, as even crossover steering kits have become a nearly bolt-on affair.
Lee Nelsons Colorado Chevy is a classic example of how a slacker can go out and build a capable GM 4x4 for use in almost any terrain. Nelsons master plan focused on a 76 ½-ton that he made into a 117-inch wheelbase flatbed truck to take him rockcrawling, snow bashing, and camping. Axles are typical 1-ton bolt-ons, and the engine is proven Chevy tech with a dash of Holley and Edelbrock sprinkled in. A rebuilt TH350 spins the power through an NP203 that you might think is junk, but it holds up just fine and has 2-Hi after a part-time kit was bolted in. The less time you spend in the garage trying out different combos to see what works, the more time you get to play out on the trail. Look for Nelson not working on his rig in Las Cruces, Moab, and all over Colorado.