Step By Step
One of the main problems ORU had to address was how to fit the tires we had selected onto the Dakota and still have a decent amount of articulation. As you can see, the Dakota wheel openings are very small and don’t allow for large tires. We ordered our tires from National Tire & Wheel, and our wheels from Weld Racing, and we used tires and wheels off of Rozo’s 1957 Chevy for mock-up purposes.
Once the factory independent front suspension was torched out of the way, the time-consuming task of frame preparation could be performed. The Dakota frame comes with a concave center section that had to be covered with a plate to give ORU a flat surface to weld onto.
More frame preparation occurred on the inside of the framerail. To mount a steering box, this section of the frame had to be made flat and boxed for strength.
Along with wheels and tires, we also had to borrow a front Dana 60 from ORU for mock-up purposes. After installing the mock-up driveline and axle, ORU was able to take all the necessary measurements to determine where the front differential needed to be on the new front axle. A reverse-rotation front Dana 60 and rear Dana 60 were then ordered from Dynatrac. In the meantime, the driveline was installed which was covered in last month’s issue.
As soon as our Dana 60s arrived from Dynatrac, the prep work began. Using the measurements taken from the mock-up front axle, brackets for the suspension links were tacked into position on the reverse-rotation Dana 60 equipped with a Detroit Locker and 4.88 gears from Reider Racing.
Next to go on were these rough versions of the brackets to mount the rear of the front links to the frame. The lower links mount to the bottom holes of the brackets, while the upper links mount onto the side of the bracket, but inboard of the frame.
After the brackets were in place on the front axle and on the frame, the links could then be made. The mock-up versions were made out of mild steel while the final versions of the links were made out of chrome moly. Aurora spherical rod ends were used at all ends.
With all the arms and brackets in place, the suspension was cycled to check the pinion angle and to make sure nothing rubbed or hit anything. After everything was finalized, the TIG welder was fired up and used to finish up all the welds.
The next step was to figure out the correct shock length. After the length was determined, the upper shock hoops could then be built. A crossover tube was also fabricated to lend additional support.
One of the trickest pieces on the suspension, besides all the cool custom fabrication, are the Bilstein 2-1/2-inch nickel-plated coilover shocks with remote reservoirs. They were equipped with two Eibach coils per shock, which allows for the initial coil to be softer and give a better ride.
Once the suspension was complete and the vehicle was at ride height, the challenge of fabricating a Panhard rod to minimize lateral movement of the front axle could be tackled. Strength was a primary concern as the top mount had to drop down far enough to allow the Panhard rod to be in line with the draglink eliminating bumpsteer. This beefy bracket was made to mount the top part of the Panhard rod.
To mount the Panhard rod on the lower side, ORU fabricated this mount. It ties into the lower shock mount and also the axle. Rod ends were used on both sides of the Panhard rod.
For steering duties, we turned to Tommy Lee of Lee Manufacturing. Tommy builds lots of steering boxes for NASCAR and also SCORE, so we were more than confident he could build a nice unit for our Dodge Dakota. A steering box out of an early Ford was used to fit the tight space between the framerail and the engine.
Another trick piece from Lee Manufacturing was this small hydraulic ram, which fits onto the tie rod similar to a steering stabilizer. It runs off the power steering box and helps to turn the big Boggers, making steering effortless.
With the front suspension done, the crew at ORU then turned their attention to the rear. The first step was to prepare the Dana 60 that had come from Dynatrac, complete with disc brakes and a Detroit Locker and gears from Reider Racing. It was stripped of paint and then this massive mount for the upper wishbone was designed and built. Ideally, the crew at ORU wanted to fabricate a truss off of the mount, but there just wasn’t enough time.
Next to go on the rear axle were the mounts for the lower links. Measurements were taken to ensure the mounts were in the proper location as well as at the correct angle. The mounts were then tacked into place and later TIG-welded to the axle.
These brackets were then made to attach the trailing arms to the frame. Plasma, cut out of steel plate and then TIG-welded together, they bolt onto the boxed and sleeved section of the rear frame. They are similar in design to the front brackets, and are actually upside down in this photo.
Finishing off the upper wishbone was next. The solid piece of rod and massive rod end (shown earlier attached to the rear axle) were fisheye-mounted and TIG-welded to the tubes, while bushings were used to attach the wishbone to the frame brackets.
Next to be fabricated was the lower links for the rear suspension. In this photo, one can be seen in the early stages of fabrication being notched.
After the rear suspension was assembled, it was cycled from full bump to full droop and also articulated to make sure nothing rubbed or hit. The pinion angle of the rearend was also checked at this time. Then, ORU made a rear driveshaft and all the final welds were performed.
Initially, ORU had mounted the Bilsteins on the inboard side of the frame on top, and on the axle on the bottom. However, to keep the shocks from hitting the frame as one side of the suspension went to full stuff, and the other side went to full droop, would have required the shocks to be laid over too far, which throws off the valving. Plus, we wanted to show off the Bilsteins so they were moved to the outside of the frame.
The same super-trick nickel-plated 2-1/2-inch-body Bilstein shocks that were used up front were also used in the rear. Two Eibach coils per shock were also used to provide a smooth ride. Here the shocks can be seen in their new position outboard of the frame, which required a new top mount to be made along with mounting the bottom of the shock on the lower trailing arm.
A detail photo of the upper-shock mounts shows how they were built. A solid piece of rod (seen in the upper left) attaches to the backside of each mount and then a tube runs across the frame between the two shock mounts for support.
Mounting the Bilsteins on the lower suspension links also required some re-engineering, since a lot more stress would now be placed on them. Another tube was welded onto the original one to double up the tubing and help distribute the load. The original rod ends were also removed and beefier units from Aurora were used in their place. Limiting straps from Beard were then put into place to keep the suspension from drooping out too far. Ideally, gussets would have been welded in between the tubes but there wasn’t enough time.
In the last installment, we covered the installation of the awesome driveline for our Dodge Dakota project. In retrospect, that seemed kind of easy. Make a couple of motor mounts, fabricate some crossmembers, bolt up a tranny and transfer case, and you're done. Of course it wasn't that easy, but compared to what lay ahead of us, it seemed that way.
Yes, it was time to make a completely custom suspension for the Dodge. Like our driveline, we wanted the suspension to work well. It needed to have a great ride and a decent amount of articulation. To top things off, we wanted to run 39.5x18-inch Boggers!
Those parameters and the fact that we were short on time led us to the idea of using leaf springs on all four corners. However, that idea didn't fly with Maurice Rozo of Off Road Unlimited (ORU), who was building the suspension along with the rest of the truck. He felt anybody could put leaf springs in the front of a 2000 Dodge Dakota Quad Cab and wanted to use coils instead. We agreed, thinking that Maurice might have been out in the sun too long, but knowing that he could handle the task. So it was decided to use coilover shocks in the front and leaf springs in the rear.
Well, the next thing we knew, Maurice and the rest of the crew at ORU was hitting us up to use coils in the rear. Confident that ORU could turn out a quality product in a short amount of time, we agreed and couldnt wait to see the results. On many late nights the sounds of custom fabrication could be heard coming from the shop. Feeling like kids on Christmas Eve, we became more excited as ORU worked their magic and the Dodge Dakota Quad Cab came closer to completion. Follow along as the suspension is built from scratch.
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
Lee Manufacturing Co
Sun Valley, CA