My frame builder came by last night to toss around ideas with me for the Jeep’s frame. Robert, the owner of and master fabricator at R & W Custom Sliders and Offroad, in Marana, had been over on my side of town for the day, playing in Redington Pass with his well-built Suzuki. Since he lives on the far, FAR northwest side of Tucson (actually, on the west side of Marana, for those of you who are familiar with the region), I thought it would be a good time for him to stop by and save himself somewhere between 80 and 100 miles of driving. He agreed.
I had taken a lot of measurements of the existing frame, at least back to the firewall, and had drawn a fairly accurate (by my standards, anyway) diagram of the driver’s-side framerail. I told Robert I thought we could start with the front axle’s current location as the zero-point for things under the frame, and the grille’s current location as the zero-point for things above the frame. I had also made up a short list of changes I wanted made, like extending the front of the frame two inches and moving the power-steering box forward a total of 3.5 inches. I also thought it would make things a *little* simpler if the frame were widened from 29.25 inches (outside to outside) to 30 inches. [I have no idea why the frame width was set to 29.25 inches in the original design, but it was. It *could* be a leftover dimension from earlier Jeeps, possibly going all the way back to the original prototypes for the Army at the start of WW II. Note to self: I should research this.]
Armed with all this information, I assumed that it would be a fairly simple thing to tell Robert what I wanted; let him ask any clarifying questions he might come up with; and let him be on his merry way to go build the front part of the frame.
Keep in mind that there are still a lot of unknowns at this point, like whether (and how much) the engine will need to be moved back from its current position, whether the engine and transmission should (or could) be raised to get them farther off the ground and therefore less prone to saying hello to rocks, how far back the middle axle will be set, how much farther back from *that* the back axle will be set, and on and on and on.
Robert wants to know all of these. [smh]
I can certainly see his point. It would definitely be easier and faster to build a complete frame all at once, and to have all the dimensions, distances, lengths, etc., known ahead of time. But that’s not how this sucker is gonna get built. So we spent just over two hours debating things and trying to understand each other’s point of view. I have to say that I think we did a pretty good job, overall. Although Robert kept insisting on trying to plan six steps ahead, and I kept insisting on working out the details of the first step so we could *get* to Step 6 (eventually), we gradually impressed on each other the validity of our own view, and accepted the validity of the other’s view.
Case in point: The steering shaft that connects the steering column to the steering box, which actually turns the tires left and right. It’s a simple, solid bar that goes from point A (the firewall) to point B (the steering box, which sits inside the frame in front of the grille). Well, other things also want to be in some of that space, like the exhaust system, a frame crossmember, and possibly a fender or tire. Right now, it all fits (sort of). But I’m putting bigger tires on the Jeep than I used to have, which means they’ll need a larger space in which to turn. This means I might have to move the axle forward of its current position. Moving the axle changes where things might hit each other when the axle moves up and down. So I might have to move other things. Also, I’m changing the radiator to a larger one for better engine cooling. It’ll have to sit farther back than the current one in order to miss the headlights. This means the engine has to move back, which moves the exhaust system back and possibly into the angled space currently reserved for the steering shaft. And if I move the steering box forward, that changes the angle of the steering shaft and therefore the location of the space it needs. If I raise the engine, does this mitigate or exacerbate the other items? Do the larger tires mean I have to reroute the exhaust? (Right now, the Jeep uses fenderwell headers, which take the exhaust outside the frame and then under the body to the mufflers. Will the tires hit the headers?) If I have to reroute the exhaust, where can I put it? Can I still get it around the steering shaft?
And that’s just the *steering shaft*!
I know it’s going to be impossible to have all (or even, probably, a majority) of the questions answered ahead of time. I know I’ll have to fit, cuss, adjust, refit, cuss more, and so on. But Robert came up with some good ideas I hadn’t thought of that will help with the fitment trials, like building temporary engine mounts that sit on the framerails and slide fore and aft a few inches until it looks like things will line up all right.
So after two hours, we settled on a couple of initial action items: I have to take the current axle out from under the Jeep and place the new axle there. Then I have to decide where it’ll work best, whether it’s in the current axle’s location or a few inches forward of that. And I need to do this by jacking up and/or dropping down the front end of the Jeep, and jacking up and/or dropping down each end of the axle (with the tire on), to see where and how badly the tires might hit the body, or frame, or …
I also have to start ordering parts for the engine bay – the new radiator, an A/C condenser, and any other items (like an electric radiator fan) that will have to sit between the grille and the engine. And, of course, I have to start stripping out stuff I’m not going to use any more, like a broken Italian-style air horn and a chain-drive clutch linkage, so they don’t distract from what is still necessary and has to have space.