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Project Trial Hugger Part 2 - Wheels, Tires, and Shocks

Part 2: Wheels, Tires, And Shocks

Ken BrubakerPhotographer, WriterGT Inc.Photographer

In the previous installment, we dechromed our H3 and wrapped it in flat goodness. That was a big job, but thanks to the crew at Burnsville Off Road and Auto Body, it went off without a hitch and we no longer have to look at icky chrome and yucky shiny paint. In this installment, the mods are much simpler in the form of upgraded shocks, beefier tires, and a set of unique wheels.

But wait a minute. The standard school of thought is that the first mod underneath an off-highway vehicle should be a lifted suspension. So you may be asking yourself: Why are they putting shocks, wheels, and tires under their rig before the lift? Well, the answer to that question is simple. There isn't going to be a lift. Heck yeah, we love lifts like we love manifold burritos, and we have lifts on all of our other project rigs, but we're doing something different on this rig. With this project we're going to leave our H3's suspension height stock while enhancing it with a variety of readily available aftermarket components. When we're finished bolting and welding things on, we will have a suspension that is more durable, while still retaining outstanding ride and handling characteristics. So here we go.

Upgraded shocks are a simple and popular mod that can produce big results, so naturally we started here. We chose to install a set of Rod Hall Racing piggyback-reservoir shocks. These Fox Racing-manufactured shocks are available through Boulder Accessories as well as Hummer dealers, and have a 2-inch-diameter body and are nitrogen-charged. They are valved to retain the H3's outstanding ride and comfort, but thanks to the increased oil volume, they run cooler than the stock units and compensate for oil expansion due to heat buildup. They come with a 12-month/12,000-mile warranty.

Selecting tires was pretty easy once we decided how the vehicle would be built and used. Like most SUVs, ours will be shackled to paved roads most of the time. It'll have to do everything from extended highway driving to trailer towing to grocery hauling, and it'll have to do these things well. With that said, those characteristics will have to coexist in harmony with above-average off-highway skills. For this reason we chose a set of BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO radial tires in the same LT285/75R16 size as the stock Bridgestone Duelers. The BFGs are fantastic all-around tires that shine on-road, with two full-width steel belts that help create a stiff tread area for precise steering response and outstanding cornering control. They also have high-strength single-strand bead construction that improves the ride and increases bead strength. Off-highway, they benefit from a three-ply polyester carcass that gives them exceptional bruise resistance under the tread and in the sidewall. Further, ShoulderLock technology, mixed with a built-in rim protector, means they'll be happy and capable when aired down.

We wanted a rugged set of wheels that looked all business. GT Inc. offers a variety of wheels, but when we saw their Simulock wheel, we instantly knew we had found what we were looking for. These unique wheels are stock 16x7.5 factory H3 wheels that have been modified to accept a very realistic-looking bead-lock ring. Because their foundation is the stock wheel, they obviously retain the factory offset and backspacing, which means we're not increasing the leverage on the spindles and bearings by pushing the tire-and-wheel combination outward on the axles. We also like the fact that these wheels retain the familiar Hummer look.

As you can imagine, installation of all of these products was quick and easy. Following are the highlights of the upgrades as performed by the team at Attitude Performance.

We expected a stiffer ride after installing the Rod Hall Racing shocks and the load range "D" BFG A-Ts (the factory Bridgestone Dueler A/T RH-S's were load range "C"), but the ride ended up being only slightly stiffer. Our H3 is still very smooth and comfortable, but we now have the beef needed for extended off-highway jaunts. We think the Rod Hall Racing shocks, at $225 each, are a worthwhile investment. Ditto for the BFG All-Terrain KOs. We've put about 4,000 miles on these tires so far, and have had no issues. They're quiet and they've performed extremely well in ice, snow, and dirt. We're also digging our black GT Inc. Simulock wheels. They are a premium-priced wheel at $475 each (plus exchange and shipping), but they're ultra unique and they give us the rugged bead-lock look we want without the bead-lock hassle or a change in offset and backspacing.