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Miraculous Makeover

Our IFS Chevy gets an X-Pak

Ken BrubakerPhotographer, Writer

One of the first mods we make to our rigs very often involves a suspension lift and a set of larger, more aggressive tires. This combination gives us more ground clearance, better approach and departure angles, and improved traction. And, of course, the result makes our rigs look better.

RCD Suspension and Mickey Thompson Performance Tires have announced a new cross-promotion that they call the Extreme Makeover for Trucks, which features kits called X-Paks. Each X-Pak offers packaged wheels, tires and suspension components to consumers and dealers. The benefits of this deal are twofold: Simplicity in ordering and substantial dollar savings.

We wanted to experience the X-Pak for ourselves so we ordered a kit for our '99 Chevy Tahoe. With the included RCD 6-inch suspension system, we had our choice of either 33- or 35-inch Mickey Thompson Baja Radial MTX or Baja Claw tires. Wheel choices included either M/T Classic II or M/T Classic Lock wheels. We chose the 35-inch MTX radials and M/T Classic Lock wheels. It was as easy as that. Street price of the kit is $2,929. Purchased separately, the lift, tires and wheels would have cost $3,130, for a savings on this kit of $201.

We had all of the components shipped to Attitude Performance in Arlington Heights, Illinois, and then we hung out while the crew at Attitude transformed our Tahoe from a boring stocker to a more capable attention-getter. RCD recommends that a professional mechanic install this kit. Special tools are required for the safe removal and installation of the ball joints, tie rods and torsion bars. What follows will give you an overview of some of the parts and steps that went in to our Tahoe's 10-hour makeover.

The Lowdown on the Lift Kit
When RCD Suspension introduced this 6-inch suspension system in October 2001, it was unique in that it was the first subframe-and-spindle system on the market for the "old-body-style" six-lug Chevy/GMC pickup, Suburban and four-door Tahoes and Yukons. The benefits of this system include fewer frame modifications and utilization of the factory steering system components. The kit comes with a new lower subframe, CNC-machined replacement steering knuckles, front differential relocation brackets, billet steel antiroll-bar links, extended stainless-steel braided front brake lines, Bilstein 5100 Series shocks, rear lift blocks and all required hardware.

On the trail
The off-highway benefits gained by the increased ground clearance include improved ramp-over angle as well as approach/departure angle, which makes a dramatic difference in where our Tahoe can go. A slight amount of trimming of the lower valance was required to allow the front tires to travel completely. The new Bilstein shocks are a remarkable improvement over the factory dampers, and their valving allows them to soak up the sharp impacts on both trail and road without transferring the shock to the passengers.

The M/T Baja Radial MTX tires are amazingly quiet on pavement, yet offer a vast improvement in dirt traction. They seem to work well in everything except mud, which is no surprise because of their all-terrain-type tread design. The M/T Classic Lock wheels show excellent craftsmanship and have been trouble-free, though the simulated beadlock ring does lack drain holes, so a fair amount of water gets trapped in gaps between the ring and the wheel.

We didn't opt for the available add-a-leaf for the rear springs, and we now wish we had, because the rear of the vehicle sits just slightly lower than the front. The addition of the lift blocks has also amplified some axle wrap issues that we're having with our high-mileage factory rear springs. We believe that these two issues are related to the tired factory springs, but it's something for you to consider if your truck is older and still has the factory leaves.

We really like the fact that the RCD lift components come in basic black, as they matched our truck's black/silver exterior. Up front, the kit gained us 8 1/2 inches of height, for a total of 21 inches from the valance to the ground, while at the rear we gained 5 1/4 inches, for a total of 25 inches from the bottom of the bumper to the ground. Finally, we have a decent 15 inches of clearance between the bottom of the center-mounted RCD torsion-bar lowering bracket and the ground.