Next on the upgrade list was the removal of the stock IFS and the swap to a front straight axle. Fellow club members from the Built-To-Grind Rockcrawlers pitched in to complete the transformation over a weekend. Plasma arc and grinding were used to strip a big pile of stock bracketry off the front of the frame and clean up the framerails. On went a custom front drop spring mount and shackle hangers. From there, they hung a set of All-Pro leaf springs with a trussed and armored front axle. Axle upgrades included 5.29 gears and Lock-Right locker, Long Enterprises heat-treated Birfields, Kong's high-steer crossover with 9/16-inch knuckle stud upgrade, and upgraded chrome-moly hub studs. Power is transmitted to the front axle via an All-Pro long-travel driveshaft, while Bilstein 7100 remote-reservoir shocks hang from Zager-fabricated hoops.
Rear suspension currently consists of a basic 4-inch spring and block lift damped with Rancho RS9000 adjustable shocks. While this setup offers reasonable performance, the light weight of the rear of the truck does not allow the suspension to flex significantly. A custom four-link suspension with Fox air shocks is in the works.
Motivation comes from a venerable 22R-E engine backed by a five-speed tranny. A Marlin Crawler 4.7:1 transfer case gearset can offer enough low gearing to keep the 37-inch Goodyear MT/Rs wrapped on Mickey Thompson Classic II wheels moving over rough terrain.
Creature comforts got some attention throughout the build of this rig as well. Inside is a set of 3R Racing seats and APC steering wheel. Lance at Creative Car Stereo filled the cab with tunes via a Pioneer CD system bellowing 600 watts of acoustical energy. Behind the seats, a custom enclosure houses 10-inch Rockford Fosgate subwoofers.
The project continues on as most projects do. The truck is continually evolving to improve its performance and fun factor. Thanks go to friends Mark Mason, Tony Owens, and Mark Owsiany for all their help. Mike also feels a special bond with his truck since some of the upgrade parts he acquired from the parents of his good friend Steve Custer who died in an untimely auto accident. Now Mike feels that maybe Steve's spirit lives on as his "spotter in the sky."