Mechanical Adventures With Vintage Suzuki’s Ted Holman.
-Story and pictures by: Ted Holman
GRANTS PASS, OR. -Mr. Mutt was a finished project and I was left wondering what was offered in my next mechanical adventure. The Samurai had been everything that I had expected it to be, but it was lacking in daily driver refinement. It rode well for a small 4×4, but for a day-to-day experience, the lack of multiple mechanical options, the choppy ride and the cramped interior had me wondering what would suit my geriatric needs next.
I acquired an X90, a two door Sidekick and then a four door, automatic Sidekick wagon that had only 22,000 miles on it. I had these choices and decided that the four door presented the greatest challenge to the Wheeling Worlds idea of the ideal Rock Crawler. Steve at Calmini had modified a two door and the X90 was just too rare to tear apart and modify. Choice by default. The four door had been hit in the left rear when I bought and it and it came with a salvage title, making the choice even easier. Some of my best choices have been because of calculated planning. The fun ones have come about by accident, my four door was going to be perfect, at least I thought so.
My first call was to Steve Kramer at Calmini in Bakersfield, CA. I could hear that famous grimace he uses when confronted with blatant stupidity when told of my choice, but he humored me. Calmini had been developing parts for the Sidekick/ Tracker models and my four door, automatic appealed to Steves sense that the any Suzuki four-wheel drive can be modified into becoming a great rock-crawler.
ON THE LIFT AT THE CALMINI FACILITY
The first step was the three-inch body-lift kit installation. This was relatively painless using the Calmini 3 inch body lift kit. John at Calmini made custom brackets to install the stock bumpers three inches higher to match the newly lifted body. He is a master at fabricating new parts and patterns and it was a pleasure to watch him work. With the stock wheels in place, the car looked lame!
Various highlighted steps of the body lift procedure.
The next step was the installation of the three-inch suspension kit that has just been recently introduced by Calmini. This took me a very long couple of weekends as I also pulled the front and rear third members for trail modification. I had a friend install Calminis 5:83 Ring and Pinions gear sets, their limited-slip unit in the front pumpkin, a Lock Rite Locker with couplers in the rear. Once I had the units reinstalled, the rest of the kit went quickly. I opted to use my stock front shocks as they had very little wear on them and my main mission with this car was to keep it livable on the street. The 5:83s were 12% taller overall and allowed me to run a 30×10.5 tire and maintain my stock original high range gear ratios.
Installing the suspension lift.
I had Willamette Wheel in Portland, OR build five 7×15 rims with a 2-½ backspacing. I wanted a tough, scratch resistant finish, I sent them over to NW Industrial Coatings to be colored and cleared. Powder Coating is so cool! I mounted a set of BF Goodrich All Terrain T/A KOs and stood back to look at my work. Lame was out, killer was in!
new pretty wheels
I loaded the rig on a trailer and drove to Bakersfield for the next step. The visit was really very exciting. To watch experienced designers, fabricators and welders work as a team to develop parts as the need arose made me appreciate the great effort and planning required to create this process. Calmini is one of many manufactures that I have dealt with, but their systematic approach to the challenge of new product design, prototyping and full on production was fascinating. Problems are part of the process and it is the determined approach that I watched that impressed me in my short visit to Bakersfield. I want to thank the crew at Calmini for allowing me to observe them at work. Most of us only know Calmini when we get their finished product. To have seen the massive effort that is required to fill those boxes with quality products has left me in awe of Steve and Randy Kramers drive to stay on top of this industry.
CALMINI building another new rockcrawler t-case
Steve had invited me to watch the next evolution of Spyderman (as the rig would become known). The full crew at Calmini greeted me and the magic began. John pulled the transfer case out to install the new 90:1 low-range gear set that Calmini is just introducing. Tim and Steve installed their new winch bumper and complete four door under carriage skid plate system to match my 3-inch body lift. Spyderman was looking the role! With all these parts bolted on, Steve and John recommended that I allow them to add Rock Sliders to protect the rocker panels. I had no idea how important and useful this last addition would be on the trail, the Rubicon the following weekend.