with Jeff Pollock
Back to the Basics
Remember when Samurais first hit the USA auto market? They were hot, so hot that dealerships had a hard time keeping them on the car lots. What made them so appealing? Well, the fact that they were cheap, nimble, economical, reliable four wheel drive vehicles that in stock form performed surprisingly well off road. Initially, there were very few aftermarket products for Samurais but as time passed the aftermarket industry began to manufacture lifts, gearing and other amazing products to make these cheap little four wheel drive vehicles into exceptional off-road vehicles that rivaled the other four-wheel drive vehicles on the trail.
Originally it was insane to see a Samurai with 35 tall tires while 31s were the tires of choice. Now with the addition of axle swaps and new stronger axles in the market 31s are considered small since quite a few Samurai owners now run 33s and 35s as the norm. As we progress and make these modifications we have taken these great vehicles where the smallness, one of the best attributes of the Samurai, is beginning to be lost. On the trail where the larger Jeeps, Pickups and Land Cruisers had to squeeze through the tight spots, Samurais just drove through the obstacle as if it was driving down the road. Another attribute of the Samurai that makes them so appealing is their lightweight. If you dump your Samurai over you and a couple friends can flip it back over and continue on down the trail. I know about this first hand! 😉
As our zook's evolve, some of us myself included, have made our rigs into trail only rigs and have lost the ability to drive them on the road (legally), which is hard to accept since the majority of us enjoy driving our rigs to run errands. Recently I purchased another stock 87 Samurai for my wife and we agreed to keep in mind the basics of the Samurai as we built this zook. The goal was to build an inexpensive daily driver that retained more of the stock appearance yet be more functional than stock for trail rides. Basically it boils down to this, my wife wanted her own zook to drive back and forth to work and on mild trails. With these goals in mind we began the build-up.
We first began with the decision of what tires and suspension we wanted and we figured wed build the zook around that. We did not want to run too big of tire just something bigger than stock that did not require major gearing changes throughout the drive train so we decided on 30 tires. After surfing the various tire warehouses and checking with the local tire stores we decided to go with 30x9.50x15 BFGoodrich MTs on 15x8 American Racing Atlas aluminum wheels from 4Wheel Parts Wholesalers. These are great tires for both on and off road. 4Wheel Parts Wholesalers had the best package deal going so the order went out.
Since we knew the tire size we wanted, we needed to find a mild lift that would fit these tires and provide a nice quality ride on the road yet work well off road too. Furthermore we wanted to keep the suspension modifications to a minimum. The less modifications required, the better. Luckily we found a great deal on a used Calmini 2 Shackle Reversal Lift Kit. This lift combined with NAPA Deluxe Gas Shocks provides a smooth ride and excellent handling on the road. The lift only required two other modifications to fit the 30 tires, massaging the inner lip of the front and rear wheel wells and trimming of the front factory bumper corners approximately two inches. With a 48 oz. hammer and a sawzall that was quickly accomplished. The zook was finally taking shape and beginning to look respectable but there was something still missing. It needed a slightly wider stance so a call went out to Spidertrax for a complete set of 1 wheel spacers. When they arrived we pulled out the floor jack and began installing them. Combined with the 2 lift and BFG MTs the two-inch wider stance make a big difference in the appearance of the zook. Now as my wife says, it looks beefy! Now that we had the lift and tires, we needed to decide on how we were going to gear the zook. After doing some number crunching we decided to use the Petroworks GRS 2 transfer case I had in the garage. This would make up for the power loss due to the bigger tires on the road plus provide a decent crawl ratio (66:1) on the trail. To hold the GRS 2 in place we utilized our old Hardcore 4x4 and Custom Fabrication reinforced transfer case arms and a Spidertrax poly mount kit. This should more than hold the transfer case in place. The motor in this zook seemed fairly peppy so we decided to leave it stock for now. We will be keeping our eyes open for a 1.6L 16 valve MPI engine to eventually install in its place. You know the saying, More Power! As we were changing all of the fluids in the zook we noticed that the stock gas tank skid plate was beginning to loose some of its integrity due to these wonderful Ohio winters so we decided to install a Hardcore 4x4 Gas Tank Skid Plate to replace the old decaying factory skid plate. This is a beefy plate that will ensure the gas tank will remain undamaged as it sees trail time or the occasional backing incident! 😉 Moving to the interior of the zook, which was a JA model, it needed some creature comforts added to make it just right. We decided that first we wanted the factory gauge cluster with the tachometer so after searching through my boxes of spare parts I found an old JX gauge cluster. I removed the old cluster and plugged in the new cluster and bingo we now have a functioning JX gauge cluster. Next on the list was the steering wheel. On our other zook we had swapped in a 4 prong Sidekick steering wheel and we really liked the feel of that wheel a lot more than the standard zook steering wheel so with a quick call to Hawk Suzuki the kick steering wheel was on its way. The steering wheel sits about an inch or so closer to the driver and has a thicker wheel so it is way more comfortable than the stock zook wheel plus it is a simple direct pull and swap modification. While I had Hawk on the phone I also ordered their poly bushing and shifter pin for the zook transmission since the tranny shifter was extremely loose. It was so loose that it difficult to determine if is was in gear and if so, what gear it was in. I had heard that this swap really makes a difference so I was anxious to make this mod. Well, after replacing the stock rubber bushing with the poly bushing I was genuinely impressed with the firmness of the shifter. Now it is obvious what gear it is in. As I was messing with the sloppy shifter we decided to order a Samurai Special Edition Shifter Knob from the local Suzuki Dealership to add some more comfort and character to the zook. This shifter knob is considerably bigger and is more of a rubber knob, which makes shifting combined with the firm shifter a lot more comfortable than before. The lame stock JA seats in this zook were trashed. There are quite a few different seat swaps on the market so we needed to decide what we wanted to do. Luckily, a friend of mine said he had some seats he was thinking of putting in his zook that he would be willing to part with in trade so the trade went through and the seats were ours. The seats were out of a Ford Festiva. These seats were a little bigger than the stock zook seats and with some very minor modification would bolt to the stock zook seat rails. This was definitely a worthwhile swap. These seats are very comfortable and supportive due to the molded bucket construction and side supports. Now we moved back to the exterior of the zook and with summer around the corner we wanted to make the doors removable. Once again I enlisted the help of the sawzall and within a few minutes the hinges were cut and the doors made removable. We still have a few more things we want to do to our newest zook but that will be down the road. These things include a rear locker, roll cage, stereo and other items of that nature. The best part of all of these modifications we have made is the zook still retains all of its original attributes that make it such a great vehicle to drive on the street as well as the trail.
- Sources: 4Wheel Parts Wholesalers 801 West Artesia Blvd Compton, CA 90220 (800) 284-9905 www.4wheelparts.com Calmini Products Inc. 6951 McDivitt Dr. Bakersfield Ca. 93313 (800) 345-3305 firstname.lastname@example.org www.calmini.com Hardcore 4x4 and Custom Fabrication (Temporarily closed) Hawk Suzuki 535 Pleasant Valley Rd Merlin, OR 97532 (888) SAMURAI Hawkins@hawksuzukiparts.com www.hawksuzukiparts.com Local Suzuki Dealership Local NAPA Store Spidertrax 11755-B North 75th Street Longmont, CO 80503 (800) 286-0898 email@example.com www.spidertrax.com