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A DIY 1989 Chevy S-10 No One Else Has Built

Taylor Wise did the seemingly impossible: Building a Chevy S-10 for overlanding and four-wheeling

"Have I mentioned that there are no parts available for S-10s?" Taylor Wise asked that a couple of times while telling us about building his '89 Chevy S-10. Then why did he pick that vehicle, you may ask? It found him. Kind of. The story of this pickup begins at the side of the road when Taylor was 14 and in the seventh grade.

"My grandpa traded a Mercury Grand Marquis for a trailer, and the guy he traded to said he could also have a truck that his son had left abandoned on the side of the road." It had a blown engine and transmission. Cut to later that day: Taylor came home from school and spotted what his grandfather had collected. "I saw it and sat in it and asked what he was going to do with it and he said I could have it," said Taylor. "Since then, I've just really grown fond of it."

"Overlanding seems to be the best of both worlds, because I like being able to drive to places off the beaten track yet still have the ability to stay there instead of having to rely on finding a hotel or something," Taylor explained. He's mainly been exploring the East Coast and is partial to the Blue Ridge and Smoky mountains. "I like the mix of rocks and mud on the trails here, as it tends to keep things interesting."

Thankfully, Grandpa had some pretty solid wrenching skills. "He has done mechanic and welding work since he was a teenager and I have spent my entire life helping him in the shop and tinkering on various things." However, let's return to, "Have I mentioned that there are no parts available for S-10s?" because "I will admit, though, that some of the add-on parts on my truck were out of the 'wheelhouse' of my grandpa and I had to research how to do it myself." Taylor went on to complete his studies at Greenville Technical College, after which he saw a Facebook post from Chris Durham of Chris Durham Motorsports looking for help. "I sent him my resume and started a couple days later. Been there ever since."

The now-mechanic became interested in being off-road when he was young, first "the ATV world and then the truck scene." The S-10 started as a rockcrawler built on a budget, but his interest then turned to overlanding "when my desire to get out and see places overcame my desire to beat the tar out of my truck."

The S-10 still has the factory engine and Taylor hasn't done much to it in terms of performance mods in an effort to maintain its reliability. "I've been pretty good so far at minimizing weak areas as I've been building it, I think. But as the hills of West Virginia showed me, I probably need a bigger radiator." However, finding any performance parts for this engine has been challenging. "I do have a 350 small-block sitting in the shop waiting to go in though. Soon enough, I will have V-8 power when the 4.3L dies." The transmission is stock, but with a larger-capacity pan from B&M and a Derale plate-and-fin cooler. The stock manifolds keep time with a MagnaFlow muffler.

Some upgrades and add-ons were "added preemptively," like the winch. But most have been as needed, including the S-10's onboard air and lockers. "I guess other mods, such as upgraded axleshafts and steering and whatnot, were to prevent failures before they happened." But you'll still find parts on it from those original teenager days, "and you can see the progression as my skills developed." He really enjoys building and fabricating. "That has served me well, as I usually try to avoid buying things if I can make them myself."

But if Taylor could do it all over again, it's not to say he'd skip building an abandoned, broken-down, bone-stock vehicle with aftermarket upgrades few and far between. Rather, "about the only thing I would have done differently would be to skip to the point I'm at now instead of having to rebuild everything multiple times to get it the way I want it."

Taylor points to the more recent buildups being a "direct result" of working at Chris Durham Motorsports. "Having Chris Durham's expertise to guide axle and gear and equipment setup has been very valuable." And the most invaluable, can't-live-without item on the truck? The Little Shop Mfg York onboard air for the convenience of running air tools or putting air in a tire, "just by turning the truck on."
When Taylor first started driving the S-10, he and his friends would frequent forest service roads around where he lived, but "being a lone Chevy truck in a sea of Toyota hunting trucks, I would bottom out pretty frequently. On one such bump in the road, I decided it was time for a lift kit. Let's just say that all the upgrades I have done have exponentially grown from a rock on a forest service road." He admits that the voluntary separation from the stock axles for a solid-axle swap was the hardest modification he's made to date, "because I had to design and make everything myself from scratch. At the time, there was no kit available for an S-10." Up front is a high-pinion Dana 44 from a '79 Ford F-250. The rear Dana 60 is from a '79 Ford F-250 and bored for Ten Factory chromoly 35-spline axleshafts. Both axles have Detroit Lockers and 4.88s.
The front suspension is a three-link with 10-inch Fox Racing coilovers, while the rear is stock leaf springs and a spring-over-axle setup; Taylor is unsure how much lift resulted. The skidplates are "1/4-inch plate mostly, with some 3/8-inch braces holding the front skid off the oil pan." He also added Chevy 1-ton steering coupled with Reid Racing high-steer knuckles, while the steering stabilizer is all junkyard. The pitman arm is from a Jeep Wrangler TJ. The brakes use Ford dual-piston calipers and a Lugnut4x4 disc conversion.
"The worst part of fabricating is getting started, in my opinion. The best part about it, though, is being able to make cool stuff that is unique," said Taylor. "It really gives you a sense of accomplishment when you are done." The modifications that get the most questions? Flatbed, front bumper, and onboard air. "The bumper I made is mostly just questioned by the S-10 junkies. Have I mentioned that there are no parts available for S-10s?" Taylor painted those flames when he was 16 years old.
The S-10 currently runs Milestar Patagonia mud-terrains with aluminum Hummer H2 factory wheels. When that V-8 swap happens, 37s will also happen.
Taylor explained the bumpers: The front is "3/8-inch winch mounting plate and frame mounting plate with 1/4-inch plate on the rest of it. Clevis mounts I machined out of some 3/4-inch plate, I think. I just found some cheap LED lights to do my turn signals and park lights. The bumper is as low profile as is physically possible without modifying the radiator support. The rear bumper is just a thick piece of square tube with a hitch receiver in the middle and some tube 'bumper' pieces."
Taylor built underbed storage for the flatbed. "The one part of the truck that I think came out great is the flatbed. It works just like it is supposed to and I haven't had any desire to improve it." He used 2-inch square tubing for the general frame and then 1 3/4-inch tubing for the headache rack. He admits that there are "too many details to even begin to describe here for sure, especially about how I built the slide-out drawer in it. Lots of trial and error to come up with a home-brew solution to my space constraints."
Another custom add-on: rock sliders. Taylor used 1 5/8-inch welded seam tubing with 3/8-inch plate on the framerails for mounting. "I've made a few sets for friends and they are honestly pretty easy to make and hold up well. The style I use also works really well as pivot points to get around tight turns in trees."
On the to-do list: Rebuilding a transfer case he has and adding a 2-Lo shift fork and 1350 front yoke so that the front driveshaft can be upgraded.
Taylor made the center console from 3/4-inch square tubing. "Best mod about the console is I made my own drink holders that are big enough to hold about any drink I want."

At A Glance

General
Vehicle: '89 Chevy S-10
Owner: Taylor Wise
Stomping grounds: Easley, South Carolina
Build time: 12-plus years

Drivetrain
Engine: 4.3L V-6
Transmission: 700-R4
Transfer case: NP231C
Low range ratio: 2.72:1
Crawl ratio: 40.6:1
Front axle/differential: '79 Ford F-250 high-pinion Dana 44/Detroit Locker
Rear axle/differential: '79 Ford F-250 Dana 60, Ten Factory chromoly axleshafts/Detroit Locker

Suspension
Front: Three-link w/10-in Fox coilovers, Zone Offroad Nitro Series shocks, Chevy 1-ton steering, Reid Racing high-steer knuckle, Jeep Wrangler pitman arm
Rear: Factory leaf springs, spring-over axle, Zone Offroad Nitro Series shocks

Tires/Wheels
Tires: 35x12.50R17LT Milestar Patagonia M/T
Wheels: 17x9 Hummer H2

Miscellaneous
Armor: Custom-made rock sliders/bumpers
Cool stuff: Warn M8000 winch, Carolina Driveline 1350 joints, MagnaFlow muffler, White Performance and Machine distributor, Premier Power Welder alternator/welder, B&M trans pan, Derale cooler, Corbeau Baja seats, Grant steering wheel, Garmin GPS, Cobra CB, Kenwood stereo, Hi-Lift jack, VooDoo Offroad rope, Southeast Overland soft shackles, towhooks, 5-gal jerrycans, recovery equipment, Little Shop Mfg onboard air, custom-made flatbed, Hi-Vis Overland rooftop tent

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