Buying your first pickup truck can lead to an addiction to modify it in as many ways as possible. The bug is usually caught after the first couple of mods, such as new tires, and other little upgrades. Everyone gets the feeling of having a Trophy Truck with a set of lift spindles, but it remains far from their dreams.
This was the case with our 2005 GMC Canyon, Project Storm Trooper. We thought we were king of the mountain with the minor upgrades we started with. The more extreme our off-road smarts became the more we wanted to do in the desert. The truck could not keep the pace we wanted.
The current mid-travel suspension had 10 inches of wheel travel, but still used the factory lower control arm and ball joint, which may not seem all bad considering the aftermarket lift spindle and uniball upper control arm that were already installed. The suspension was sufficient for some mild off-road use, but needed more of everything to handle what we really wanted to do – haul as fast as we could through the desert and feel like we are sitting on a comfy couch while doing so.
Getting to the next stage meant we had to do something drastic; that would alter the look of the truck and let people know that we meant business. It was time to install a long travel suspension, complete with boxed upper and lower control arms, fabricated spindle, and larger coilovers capable of cycling 18 inches of wheel travel.
Time To Be Different
Not every vehicle is treated to a silver platter of hardware for off-road use. There are times when you need to get creative with your project. Rangers, Silverados, and F-150s all have a wide range of off-road parts. However, since the first generation of the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon were neglected by the performance off-road market, we took matters into our own hands.
Taking what we had learned from past experiences with being around off-road trucks, and working on our Canyon, we created a long travel suspension, that would not only look great, but would perform the way we wanted. We will go more in-depth in a future article on our process, but for now, we are looking at the finished product.
This project would test our off-road knowledge and let us sleep easy at night knowing it was built, not bought. One huge benefit of doing the work ourselves was knowing how to fix something when it goes wrong. The last thing we wanted was to be off-roading in the desert, have an issue, and to be looking at the truck like a monkey scratching its head.
Making Everything Work Together
We decided to go with a heim upper control arm, heim steering, fabricated spindle with a vertical uniball, and lower control arm that used Delrin bushings and a uniball. We wanted to make sure our parts would withstand the dust and dirt in the desert so we decided to go with FK Rod Ends JMX series rod ends. FK Rod Ends are used in all types of off-road racing and if they can survive an atmosphere like that, they will work on our build.
Jeff Stacy of FK Rod Ends explained what type of rod end is best for off-road applications. “PTFE or Teflon liners on spherical joints on off-road vehicles work as a lubricator for the ball,” he said. “With a liner installed, the amount of force it takes to lock the ball up is raised considerably. Also, the liner works as a wiper, as it keeps the rod end from wearing out from the dirt and debris.”
Bilstein recently released its 8125 series coilover as an off-the-shelf option for off-roaders, and will help cushion our ride on and off-road.
“The 8125 coilover was designed to be an option for custom desert or trail applications,” said Shane Casad of Bilstein. “They are offered in 46 mm (2-inch OD) and 60 mm (2.65 OD). The threaded body allows the user to not only make quick spring changes but also allows for quick preload adjustments.”
“The 8125 Series is completely owner rebuildable and revalveable, and have a full manual that will help owners do it by themselves,” he continued. “The manual goes step-by-step through the process with pictures. The coilover uses a self-adjusting, deflective disc valving which can be tuned for rebound and compression. Once the shock is disassembled, damping force adjustments can be made by changing the valve discs that come in the valve kit.”
Bilstein 8125 Features
- Case hardened 22 mm piston rod
- Remote reservoir
- Bilstein velocity sensitive deflective disc valving
- Three-stage race seal pack
- Dual rate coil spring hardware
- Zinc-plated with sealant
- Owner rebuildable and revalveable
- Tech Manual
“A dual rate spring offers a huge benefit in allowing the user to adjust the transition between a dual and single rate,” Casad said. “This is a significant advantage for off-road, basically offering two spring rates within one application. The softer dual rate will provide a smoother ride over choppy terrain and the stiffer single rate will provide increased compression control. The crossover moment can be adjusted with the crossover nuts. These components are internally threaded and can be adjusted up and down the shock body above the spring slider. When the spring slider contacts the crossover nuts, the upper spring ceases to compress, only allowing the lower spring to compress. This effectively doubles the rate,” Casad said.
We had to discharge one of the shocks to make sure the kit cycled correctly upon installation. Bilstein recommended the shocks be charged to 200 psi and come pre-charged from the warehouse.
Shocks and springs work together, and Eibach had the latter covered with its race springs. Mark Krumme explained what makes these springs so unique. “The largest variation is in the raw material. Our race springs are engineered and manufactured using proprietary high tensile spring wire compounds,” he said.
We also wanted to get his take on dual rate springs in off-road applications. “There are a couple major reasons to utilize a dual spring setup,”Krumme said. “First, it allows for a progressive rate curve. The initial soft rate absorbs the smaller bumps, and the final high rate controls the vehicle over larger bumps. Second is the ability to tune that curve to your exact specifications. There are many different types of variable rate off-road springs in the market, but only the stacked dual spring setup allows for drivers to easily tune the rate and transition of the spring system.”
Calculating the best spring rate for your ride can involve plenty of trial and error, and as Krumme said, “Use calculations to get close, then test, test, test until you find the best balance.” Eibach offers tools on its website to help off-roaders figure out what may be the best spring for their application.
Biting Off More Than We Could Chew
With off-the-shelf kits and bolt-on applications installation is usually a breeze as everything is made and designed to work properly. Our situation was different, as a lot of parts were not meant to go together.
We can tell you now that the install is complete, that this is not a one day project, but rather a very long weekend project if everything goes as planned. It is also not for the faint of heart, as you will be cutting and removing a lot of your precious baby.
The first step to getting our new suspension on the truck was removing all of the suspension components. This meant the parts we used to beat and work on were being retired.
To us, this was the easy part. The front suspension had been removed many times before, so much so we could almost do it with our eyes closed. A 19-mm socket here, and a 21-mm socket there; the numbers engraved into our head after countless hours under the front of the truck.
The truck looked funny not having any control arms or suspension components hanging. With our slate cleared, it was time to drag the plasma torch out to the truck and make additional cuts. The factory coil buckets would also need to be removed to make room for the new coilovers.
Working on a truck in the heat is never fun, but working on a truck in the heat and creating more heat is even worse, especially when you get a piece of slag down your boot. Once everything was removed, it was the grinder’s turn to clean up the area.
With everything cleaned, it was time to move to the lower control arm mounts. We would not torch these off, but did address one issue that may plague the vehicle down the road. The lower control arm on our truck contains the alignment cams for aligning the truck. While off-roading they can create a groove that the lower control arm can slide on when mashing through the whoops which will screw with the alignment on the truck.
To solve this, we fabricated a bracket that would use the alignment cam pinhole and one hole for the new lower control arm bolt. Using the pinhole as a marker, we would be able to make sure that the lower control arm would be mounted in the exact same place on all four mounting points.
These plates would be welded on to make sure they were not going anywhere, and also increase the strength of the lower mounts. We were not worried about losing the alignment capabilities on the lower mount because we had the adjustment in the upper control arms. Once the rod ends were set we would not have to worry about them moving.
With the welder still out, we added a gusset for the upper control arm mounts. A new plate connected the left and right sides, and each side had their own individual triangular plate. Next, the lower control arms, spindle, and upper control arms went in with a fair amount of ease.
Our 10-inch stroke 60 mm 8125 series Bilstein coilover would not fit in the factory location as they were larger than the previous coilovers, which is why we cut out the old mounting location.
To fit our new shock hoops in we needed to remove the majority of the fender well. We were cautious of what was on the inside of the fender to make sure we did not cut a wire loom in half.
Sliding the shock hoop in and tacking it in, we cycled the suspension to find out exactly where the upper shock tabs needed to be placed. We had to find the location where the coilover would sit at bump and full droop. Once located, we created a shock tab to hold the top of our coilover in place. There are two sides to everything on this install, and this meant repeating the same process on the other side of the vehicle to make sure they were the same.
The shock hoops would also receive gussets in each of the lower corners for added structural support. With the truck on its own weight, we realized that the driver side hoop made contact with the steering column shaft. To ensure that the shock hoops would not move, we added an engine crossmember that, for the time being, we welded in place.
Prerunners have a particular stance to them: the front sits a tad bit higher than the rear, but when our Canyon sat on the ground, it looked like a stink bug with the front end looking as low as it was from the factory. Which meant we had to adjust the ride height on the coilover with the spring retainers.
This isn’t something that happens on the first try, but is a benefit to having adjustable coilovers. With a factory strut, you are stuck at one ride height and have to look to other products to achieve lift. The adjustability on the coilovers allows for fine-tuning the ride height with a turn of the retainer.
We set our ride height to 44 inches from the ground to the fender lip, and 28 inches from the center of the hub to the fender lip. This leveled the truck out a bit, but still gave us an aggressive stance. The alignment needed adjusting, as the tires were cambered in, more than we preferred.
A short drive to our shop pulled the truck in to get the alignment straight. The truck sat at a track width of 89 inches now; in comparison to a Ford Raptor, that sits at 73.6 inches.
At this point in the build, we have left all traditional alignment fixes behind and have to go the harder route. The alignment was something that needed to be fine-tuned and done by hand.
We set tape on the ground in front of each tire marked center and 30 degrees out in both directions. We then gathered starting measurements using a camber caster gauge, saving the toe for later. While the truck started at more than three degrees of negative camber, we set the truck up with one degree to help with higher turning speeds in the desert.
To adjust camber and caster, we needed to remove the upper control arm, thread out the rod ends, reinstall the arm, recalculate camber and caster, and adjusted again as needed. Luckily for us, after doing it twice, we were exactly where we wanted to be.
A tape measure was used on the front and back of the tires to measure toe. The front of the tire measured less than the rear, indicating we were toed in. We loosened the jam nuts on the tie rods to make adjustments and get toe in line. A couple of drives around the business park later, and we had the truck dialed in to exactly where we wanted it.
Eating Whoops for Breakfast
The summer sun is coming quick to Southern California, and desert trips are becoming less of a daily occurrence until the fall weather returns. Nevertheless, we tested the truck to see how much of a difference the new suspension made.
The truck felt noticeably wider driving. Turning is not the truck’s forte’, and most U-turns are a minimum two-point turn. Despite these minor issues, Project Storm Trooper is still a blast to drive.
On-road small bumps in the road, sewer drains, and dips are hardly noticeable. The new suspension soaks up everything. The dual rate spring setup does exactly what it was intended to do – allows passengers to ride in comfort.
Driving on the pavement is great, but the truck really shined off-road since the new suspension is at home in the dirt. The tires stayed on the terrain more thanks to the added suspension travel, and there is no hard bottoming out if you hit a dip too hard.
The truck turns great in the dirt and maintained traction. We can tell driving around that the rear of the vehicle was trying to play catch-up with the front. The rear is still stiffer than the front which gave the truck a bucking feel when going over whoops in the desert or speed bumps on the street.
We will look at installing longer bypass shocks in the rear to help soften the ride even more, but overall, we are extremely happy with how Storm Trooper looks with its mean, aggressive, bulldog stance now and how it performs off-road.
Stay tuned for future build updates to Project Storm Trooper, as we spend more time in the dirt. Is this an install that you think you can do? What concerns do you have? Tell us in the comments below!