1971 Suburban Project


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I really love my XJ. However when I take the wife, two kids, and dog camping, it just isn't big enough. Here is how the poor thing looked on one of last year's camping trip.


So I wanted something bigger. I consider a Land Cruiser, or a full size Wagoneer, but they really are only about a foot longer and a few inches wider. Hardly worth starting over.

So I settled on a suburban. I've also had the itch for a classic car, so I decided a older one would maybe scratch that too. I ran across this article and love how this guy's suburban looks:


Turns out its hard to find the cherry 'barn find' 4x4 suburbans like this guy did. They all have rust issues. Many are just trashed. Not many of them are 4x4. After about 8 months of looking I found this one in Chico.


It has had all the body work done and a repaint in the 90s. The interior was tuned up. It got a Goodwrench 350 installed then. Lots of the little things were done and I got to start with a decent running/driving rig. Since I have two little kids, I couldn't take on a major project, but can do some things here and there when a weekend frees up.

The goal is for it to be a family offroad exploration rig. Not a crazy rockcrawler, just reliable, simple and fun.

Here is the plans for this thing:
1. Install aftermarket AC/Heat (Classic Air system already bought)
2. Get some more oomph from the 190hp 350
a) upgrade to HEI (already purchased)
b) Install mild cam and intake (already purchased)
c) Headers or performance rams horn exhaust manifold
d) down the road do a Holley sniper or similar fuel injection upgrade
3. Upgrade to 3/4 ton or 1 ton axles, some kind of locker in rear
4. Mild lift and 35" tires
5. Upgrade bumpers and winch - hopefully find a nice vintage Warn 8274
6. Mild cage to add some protection for the family in case I manage to flop it somewhere.
7. Roof rack

So if anyone has a set of Chevy 1 ton axles they'd like to sell cheap, please let me know!
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Oh, and I'd like to keep it looking fairly period correct. Like it was all built in the 70s or 80s. Hence the desire for an older winch. A challenge will be finding bumpers that look right.

I got a roof rack/basket ordered and happen to have a set of these vintage cast aluminum rack mounts that will look appropriate.

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Before I could even get into the cool projects, I had an issue with it not starting. The battery cables were pretty corroded and nasty. It also had a dual battery setup where one was isolated but you could connect it to the other via a soleniod. However it was only connected with a 12 gauge wire. And I couldn't figure out how the second battery was even getting charged.

A long time ago my CJ was needing a new battery and I realized a dual battery tray and two group 24 marine starting batteries cost less than one new Optima, so that is what I did and it worked great. They lasted 10 yrs and didn't mind when I didn't start the jeep for months at a time. So that is what I decided to do here.

I dropped the solenoid and got two new batteries and wired them in parallel. I built my own cables with copper lugs , solder pellets and heavy duty heat shrink. Its super easy to do and you can make your cables for less than crappy pre built ones.

I used this method:

I also used 'military' battery lugs which allows you to stack other wires on the bolts.


Since I plan an upgraded alternator at some point, I also dropped the fusible link wire and went with this cool resettable breaker. I'm using an 80A now (63A alt), but will change when I upgrade.

Yes I still need to clean up some of the other wiring.
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Here is the winch that is currently on it. It has a great retro look, but they don't have a great reputation. Tenson TX2.


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Last weekend I had meant to install the HEI dist and start the AC project, but brakes went out on the wifes car, and had a tire blow out on the highway (in my XJ). So never really got around to Suburban projects.

This weekend my wife is working so I have our two small boys, so its not good to tear into major projects, so I decided to install my roof rack. This is the Smittybilt Defender and its pretty decent for the price. I used these vintage rack feet I had and I think they look very appropriate. The rack starts to change the look of the rig from 'classic show car' to 'vintage off road vehicle'.

I also just scored a canoe that just happens to have the same color scheme. The blues are almost exactly the same. I think they look like they were made for each other.



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Been installing my aftermarket air conditioning kit. It is a complete unit that replaces your heater core, blower, controls, as well as adding AC and new ducts.

It was a major pain in the ass. I probably have 15 hours into it. Its one of those projects that snowballs as you discover other things to fix/update once you start digging in.

All the old stuff comes out:


New unit gets wedged behind the dash:

This is the new heat/AC controls. I don't really like them. They totally clash with the look of the vehicle. I hope I grow to like them.

New heater control valve:


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Scary part - cutting into your dash for new vents. I think they wanted to be sure you didn't cut this hole too big as the template was undersized, so there was lots of filing to make it fit. Note, I am not the one who cut the radio hole

New side vents - required a 2 1/4" hole saw which apparently is not a common size. Was not in either of my hole saw kits, and wasn't available at Home Depot. Apex Saw had it though, and it was priced the same as the ones at HD. I highly recommend this place for your cutting tool needs.

Center vent installed.

All the hoses run and ready to have the glovebox reinstalled (which is now about 3" deep unfortunately)

New AC compressor. Looks like they sent me the wrong length hoses, so I'm getting that straightened out.

I didn't bother to take a pic of the stuff that goes in front of the radiator - which I had in and out about a dozen times before it was all done.


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Got the radiator filled and did a test drive. I still need a belt for the AC pump, and maybe swap those hoses, so can't test that part. However it blew hot air really well and with much more velocity that the OE system.

I took three days off this week hoping to tackle some of the work on this project. After the AC kit I'm pretty burned out, so the HEI, headers, and intake will have to wait. I was bummed to realize I will have to unbolt a bunch of this same stuff again to do these - especially the cam.


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The previous owner regeared it to 3.08 to try to get better mileage. That combined with the ~200hp engine makes it woefully underpowered. The TC's low range of 2:1 doesn't help, so I haven't really taken it offroad yet.

However I'm hoping to do some camping trips next year and maybe a trip to moab, so the pressure is on to sort out the suspension and drivetrain.

It doesn't make sense to regear the 1/2 ton drivetrain, so I've been looking for a deal on 3/4 ton or 1 ton axles and haven't been having much luck. I hope to find a set with at least a 14b full floater and 4:10 or 4:56 gears. However that will mean moving to 8 lug wheels, so I'll also have to buy wheels and tires, which means I'll have to do the suspension at the same time, as I'd want to get the planned 35" tires at the same time.


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Winter, lack of garage space, young kids and a travelling wife have all conspired to kill forward progress on this.

However, I just picked up some 3/4 8 lug axles I'll be putting on (4.10 gears). I have some cool wheels, and some 33" BFG ATs too. I also have an intake, cam, headers and HEI ignition for the engine. Between the better gearing and the engine mods, I hope it will really pep this up.

Hopefully I have time to dive into it shortly!


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As long as the timing chain is good and the factory cam isn’t flat, the headers are your best bang for the effort. Back in the day, we went from 10 mpg to 14 by ditching the Quadra jet and putting on a good exhaust. Power went up a lot too. Went from wheezing past 3k rpm to pulling hard to 4.


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I have a new timing chain to put on while I'm at it. The cam I got is pretty mild, but a bump up from the stocker. For headers, I'm just going with corvette style ram's horns. All the other full length tube style headers hung down past the frame rails and I'd rather not give up ground clearance.

The engine is the cheap GM 'Truck' replacement 190hp unit. Based on the paperwork, it has about 19,000 miles on it now. I'm basing my mods on this article where they build one up:

Mild cam, intake and headers should put it at 250-275hp. I'm debating having the heads worked just a bit when I have it apart like they do in the early stage of the magazine article.


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Which cam did you get? I've used the most common SBC cams and I can tell you some are much better than others when you use manifolds. I read through the first part of the article. They got a lot more torque than I expected to see. I've actually built a motor with the OEM aluminum intake and I liked the performer we used better by far but when you're broke, you do what you can. I know everyone likes the Q-Jet for off-road use and I have a couple laying around for a project but I've always gotten much better mpg out of an Edelbrock or the Summit type Holley carb with the annular boosters and the gasket on top. They used to be called the 4010 and 4011 series carbs. The difference was always 2-5 mpg with the Q-Jet losing to bone stock, out of the box aftermarket carbs.

You have the 4 speed so that's a huge plus for you. With the stick, you will get at least 1-3 mpg more than the auto and you can run all the rpm out of that thing between shifts to help cover the gaps between gears. If you are planning on hitting any technical trails, set aside some money for a doubler. Having a big girl with a crawl box makes tight trails a breeze.


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This is the cam I got. Pretty mild and should work well with stock heads/springs, etc. It is supposed to work well in the 90s TBI engines, and I may add GM TBI at some point. It currently has an Edelbrock 1406.


My dad offered me a brownie box with under, direct, and overdrive the other day. That would be super cool, and I certainly have the length to accomodate it, but not sure I want to monkey around with trying to make it work.


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The specs on that cam are pretty good. There are better cams but hat one is tried and proven to be pretty decent. Should smog o.k. too. Get the biggest exit manifolds you can. Ebay is a decent place to find the big ones. I think they have 2.5" diameter outlets instead of the 2" or 2.25" ones. Heads are where the power is at. If you can, watch a few of the enginemasters shootouts for SBC stuff. You'll get a great idea of what you can do on the cheap. That Eddy carb is a good one. Just block off the fuel crossover passage in the rear and your sidehilling will improve immensely. So will your ability to corner hard. Keep the fuel pressure regulated low and the bowls will work pretty good for a mild wheeler.

A brownie over/under/direct box is worth as much as a doubler to the right people. They are getting hard to find.


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14 bolt Full Floater ready to go in. Replaced seals and added RuffStuff diff cover and disc brake conversion. The ruff stuff parts have all been great BTW.

Front is also getting a Ruffstuff diff cover. One hub doesn't seem to lock, so I've got to figure that out. Then just wait for a decent weather weekend to swap them in. This thing doesn't fit in my garage!
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Slow progress, but at least it is progress. Got the 8 lug Dana 44 ready to go in. I fixed the warn hub on one side that wouldn't engage. Put on new calipers and ruffstuff diff cover.