Monday, August 19, 2013


The building of


Rocksanne is a rock buggy/desert car designed to have the ability to take 4 people through the toughest rock trails in America as well as giving them the ride of their lives in the deserts of Southern California.

2003 Dodge Ram 1500
I started by purchasing a donor truck. A 2003 Dodge Ram with 80k miles that had been involved in a fender bender. I saved the 5.7L Hemi, the RFE545 5 speed automatic transmission, wiring harness and the engine computer. Then I parted out the rest of the truck to help pay for more parts for the buggy. I also purchased items like seats, axles, and a jeep JK hood so I could start working on the design of the car. I used a CAD program to draw a side, front and rear profiles. 

2-1/2 Ton Rockwell Hubs being sandblasted
I purchased 2 used Rockwell 2.5 ton military axles. Both of these axles were designed to be used on the front of a truck called a Deuce-n-half (2-1/2 ton). So yes, we will have 4 wheel steering. They have double gear reduction resulting in a final drive ratio of 6.72:1. These axles are really old and really heavy. We disassembled them, cleaned them, and sandblasted them to look like new. Then we recycled all of the unwanted parts like brake drums, backing plates and axle shafts.

The bottoms of the Rockwell differentials were cut off (mohawked) to improve ground clearance and the strength of the pan. The sides and bottom were plated with 3/8" steel and a recessed drain plug was installed on the side.

Next I purchased a brake disc that was designed for a Ford F-650 front axle and a brake caliper that was designed for a F-350 front axle. The next challenge was to design and build adapters for the brake discs and caliper mounts. 

I designed a 1" thick aluminum adapter to attach the brake disc to the Rockwell hub. The adapters were machined by Brakeaway Products in Hillsboro, Oregon. They were anodized blue and attached to the hub with the lug studs. The brake disc is attached to the adapter with 8-9/16" grade 8 bolts. The caliper bracket was water jet from 1/2" steel and attached to the spindle mounting holes with grade 8 bolts. I think I will drill the rotors later on to help cool and lighten them up a little.

The wheel is a Pro Comp 20"x10" aluminum wheel that has a 6 on 5.5 bolt pattern. I chose it because the design will allow us to remove the center and cut the Rockwell bolt pattern into the wheel. An aluminum wheel adapter was designed to inset into the back of the wheel and get welded. The wheels were sent out to Trail Ready for beadlocks.

Finished Wheel and Brake assy.

I designed these drive cap covers to cover up the ugly Rockwell drive caps.They were machined from aluminum by Brakeaway Products in Hillsboro, Oregon. They bolt on with grade 8 allen head bolts that also attach the drive caps. They were later anodized blue and then we machined off the end to expose the logo.

The finished wheel, beadlock, and hub cap look great with the 49" Irok tire. These tires are BIG. They are 49" tall, about 18" wide when mounted on the 10" wide wheels and weigh about 160 pounds each. They have tread over an inch deep and huge side bitters.

I started the chassis by laying out center lines end to end and side to side on my 48 x 120" rolling table. Then I set the engine and transmission in place and shimmed them to the correct height. I purchased a 4 speed Atlas transfer case from Advance Adapters in California and bolted it up to the transmission. At that point I could move on to the beginning stages of the chassis. I used 3x3x.1875 square tubing for the main frame rails because I liked the way I could incorporate the link mounts into them cleanly. I tacked them in place and started to add tubing as per my drawings, keeping everything square and right on with the center lines.

It didn't take long (with a lot of help from my sons cutting and tacking tubing) before the basic shape came to life. As with most one-off projects, issues started to show up almost right away. I was very happy with the overall look of the car, but we were having trouble with some strength in a few areas, mainly where the front and rear of the chassis transfer there load to the center section at the floor level. We solved this by making some changes to the design and reworking those areas. The chassis is made almost completely from 1-3/4" x .120 wall DOM tubing. There are a few pieces of 1-1/4" x .120 wall DOM in some tight spots and I used it for grab handles.

After I completed as much as I could do on the bench, I picked the whole car up with my fork lift and moved it to a place that I could set it down on some custom stands and place the axles under the car. The stands will hold the car safely at ride height while I build the remainder of the chassis.

One of the issues that I was really not comfortable with was the use of the rubber based rod ends shown in one of the pictures above. They only have 9/16" through holes to attach the suspension link to the axle and to the chassis. This car is big, heavy, and is going to be fast. The last thing I want is for the suspension to fail at a high rate of speed. So I ditched the joints (sold them on Ebay) and purchased a complete set of Chromoly 1-1/4" x 1" rod ends and stainless steel misalignment spacers. I rebuilt the mounts from 3/8" steel plate and cut the old mounts off and tacked the new mounts in place. The links now bolt up with 1" grade 8 bolts. Much better! Now I feel great about the link system in this car.

The upper links are made from 2" x .25 wall DOM tubing and the lower links are made from 2-1/2" x .5 wall DOM tubing. I chucked the lowers up in the lathe and tapered the ends so they will slip off the rocks better and because they look cool. I built a contraption from some old skate board wheels and a small 110v motor with a speed control to rotate the links while I welded them. I also drilled 2 1/2" holes in the tubing and plug welded the tube adapters in 2 locations.

The next project was to build the trusses for my axles. These axles don't really need trusses but they look great and give me better ways to attach all of the needed mounts. I incorporated the link mounts, sway bar link mounts, bump stop perches, and shock mounts into the design. The entire center section unbolts and lifts off the differential for service.

I then chucked up some 1-1/2" solid round bar in the lathe and drilled and tapped the ends for my shock mounts. They run through the truss and create mounts on both sides. I water-jet some 3/8" steel for the link mounts and some 1/4" steel for the shock mount and link mount support, then tacked them in place.

This is the shock mount on the front of the front axle and the rear of the rear axle. They were water jet cut from 1/4" steel plate. The shocks use a 1/2" grade 8 bolt that threads into the 1-1/2" round mount.

It took me forever to decide on how to mount the top end of the front shocks. The problem was that in order to fit the shocks under the hood, the ride height of the car was too high. So I spent a long time reworking most of the front tubing and working in some shock hoops.

Then I just cut some holes in the hood and voila, front shocks! I am using a 2-1/2"x 18" King coil over and a 2-1/2"x 18" triple by-pass on each corner. Both shocks have remote reservoirs but the coil over reservoirs are hose attached so I will build mounts for them later.

The lower mounts with the shocks bolted up look great. You can also see the link mounts incorporated into the shock mounts. The lower links are not tapered or welded yet in this picture.

Next, the front steering. I purchased 2 complete Rockwell specific full hydraulic steering systems from PSC in Texas. They build a kit for these 4 wheel steering cars with Rockwell axles. The cylinders are 3"x9". There is an orbital valve that will mount in the dash area for control of the front steering and a joy stick valve that will mount in the console area for control of the rear steering. I designed the mount/skid plate on my CAD program and had the local fab shop laser cut and bend them. All I had to do was tack them together and onto the housing. The reinforced hole in the front is to attach my winch cable for controlling the front suspension from unloading on steep obstacles.

Now for the rear. I welded up the rear skid plate and installed the mounts for the PSC steering cylinder. It also has provisions for the winch cable because this car will have a winch on the front and on the rear.

This is the rear axle ready to be installed into the car after getting the truss, shock mounts, link mounts, steering skid plate with cylinder mounts, brakes, hubs and calipers.

A few minutes later she's under the car and bolted up.

The upper shock mounts were fabbed and the shocks were mounted.

This is where we stand after the rear shocks and suspension were installed. The ride height has been lowered 2" and may need to be lowered a little more. I'll wait to see it sitting on the tires and adjust the shocks accordingly.

I designed these aluminum high steer arms on my CAD program and my brother at Side by Side Innovations machined them from 1" thick aluminum. I bolted them up to the knuckles and installed a drill bushing in the lower arm. Next I drilled a center hole through them to line up with the holes in the lower steering arms.

I rotated the vise on my mill until the compound angle became one angle. Then I adjusted the head angle on my mill and cut the 1-1/4" counter bore for the lock washer and nut. Then I drilled the 3/4" bolt hole at the same angle.

I installed the arms on the knuckles and cut some chromoly tubing for the spacers and installed the 3/4" grade 8 bolt. Then I fabricated the tie rods from 1-1/2" x .250 wall chromoly steel tubing and 2 tube adapters were welded in using the "skateboard contraption." I used chromoly rod ends to complete the steering.

I designed this winch mount. Had it laser cut and bent. Then tacked it in. I will fill in the radiused corners later. I am using a 10,000 lb winch on the front and the back of the car.

I tacked the rear winch mount in place and worked in the rear bump stops and tail lights.

Next I completed the front bump stops and perches. The perch shown here is on the drivers side front and has 2 bolts for the truss running through it.

I then moved on to the limit strap mounts. Limit straps keep the suspension from over extending the shocks and possibly damaging them. I used 1/2" x 1-3/4" steel flat bar and cut and drilled the mounts. the upper mounts have one 1/2" hole. The lower mounts are tacked to the lower link arms and have five 1/2" holes so as the straps stretch I can move them to the next hole. When the suspension is fully drooped, each hole is a 1/2" adjustment. The straps that I chose were ordered from Trail Gear in Fresno California. They are the only 6 ply straps I could find and they are rated at 9000 lbs. They are bolted in with 1/2" grade 8 bolts. I have 2 straps on each corner of the car. Not only are they the best straps I could find but the price was great too.

I spent a lot of energy trying to resolve my numerous sway bar issues:
1. No one I talked to had a real way to figure out what the car needed.
2. I did not want the sway bars to be sticking out the ends of the car.
3. The car has 4 wheel steering.
4. I wanted front and rear away bars.
I resolved the first problem by talking with people at the Off Road Expo in Pomona Ca. I stumbled across Ruff Stuff Specialties booth and saw exactly what I needed. They have a sway bar that can be made to any length and has a active diameter that can be adjusted by turning it down on a lathe. That means I can start out with a large diameter bar and then slowly sneak up on the optimum diameter. I was sold. A little pricey but worth it.
I designed the arm sides and had them laser cut. I bent the edges out of 1/4x1" steel flat stock and tacked them together.

After many hours of designing, figuring and building cardboard models I solved issue #2. I had an idea to step the front sway bar over the motor with a linkage system. This really works great. The arms pivot on a bushing mounted between the front fender and the motor mount area. A shorter arm protruding off the back side of the pivot tube will connect to a mirror image arm mounted to the torsion bar above. They connect with 2 chromoly rod ends and a chromoly link tube.

I resolved issue #3 and #4 by designing the sway bars to be outboard of the shocks. At first, I did not think this option would work, but after more layout it fell into place. The arms have a bend  that allows them to reach over the tires when the suspension is flexed. Every thing clears just as designed.

The rear arms are 3" longer than the front arms because of the lack of caster in the rear axle. The arms are 27-1/2" long. They reach over the tires and the sway bar links clear everything great.
I am super happy with the sway bar system in this car. After  tuning, the buggy should handle great.

OK, Seats are mounted, harness mounts are complete, hand holds are tacked, and the sill tubes are tacked in place. The chassis is nearly done (finally).

Now its time to figure out my drive-lines. The Rockwell differentials have 1410 yokes and I ordered 1410 yokes on my Atlas so I just need to cycle the suspension and take compressed, drooped, and ride height measurements. I was very happy to learn that there was only 3/8" difference between  these dimensions, and only 1" difference between the front and the rear. This makes it real easy to have a spare drive-line made up to be used on the front or the rear. Awesome, right? I called Tom Woods at Tom Woods Drive Line in Utah and gave them my dimensions and my credit card info. Tom recommended using 3"x.125 wall tubing and of course we used 1410 joints. My front drive line is long enough that even with 18" of travel I did not need to use a Double Cardin Joint at the transfer case. Also awesome.

When they showed up, all I had to do was press the flanges onto the joints and bolt them up.

This picture shows the drive line with the suspension at ride height.

Fully drooped.

Moving on. This is the corner plate that will fill in the sides of my front winch mounting plate. I plasma cut 2 of them from 1/4" steel plate and then laid out a fan pattern for the bends. I used my press and put a small bend on each line to form this weird pointed on one end and raduised on the other piece.

I tacked them in place to fill in the corners.

I bent both ends of some 1-3/4"x.1875 DOM tubing and capped the ends with 1/4" plate, welded and ground. Then I cut 10 short support tubes (5 for each side) and tacked the whole rock rail in place. These will help keep the rocks out of the skin and make it a lot easier to get in and out of the car.

I used some 18 gauge steel sheet to fab up this cowling section. I tack-welded the entire piece and then ground the weld all smooth.

I bought about 150 of these trick tabs and welded 5/16" nuts to them. I will use them mostly for mounting body panels.

Skid plate time. I used 1/4" steel plate with 1-1/4"x.125 square tubing welded to the perimeter so I could counter sink the mounting bolts up inside the tubing. They should be well protected. This picture shows the rear skid plate from the transmission mount back.

This is the front skid plate removed from the car.

I purchased a bunch of stainless steel bends, tubing, collectors and v-band clamps from Columbia River Mandrel Bending in Oregon. For such a big car, it sure is getting tight in there. I had to really work hard to get these headers to clear the oil pan, front drive line and skid plate, but it all works. Hindsight says I should have built the skid plates after the exhaust, but what the hell does he know anyway?

This is the crossover pipe from the headers to the muffler. I used a 3" 90 degree bend for the"Y" pipe and reduced one end down to 2-1/2" to tie into the driver's side header and then blended the passenger side into the side of the bend. I looks good. It is all TIG welded stainless steel.

Here is a shot of the 3" "Y" pipe heading back to the Borla 3" muffler that I got from Summit Racing. It is a nice stainless steel muffler but I'm not sure how much "muffling" it will actually do.

I used a 4" tubing for the end of the tail pipe and dumped it out just inside the rear fender on the passenger side. Exhaust done!

Ok so its time to go backwards in a big way. I realized through talking to people who know more about this than I do that my stock Dodge REF545 5 speed transmission was not going to last in the desert and there are not many aftermarket upgrade for this transmission. I decided to change the transmission to a GM turbo 400. The cleanest way i could find top do so was by using a Reid Racing Super Hydra 400 case with a separate bell housing that bolts right up to the Hemi.

This Reid case is a work of art. Super thick and a really nice looking casting.  I sent the new case to Chris at Maximum Transmission to install all of the high end internals like 34 element sprages, 300M shafts and racing clutches. I had to change  the flex plate and build a 1/4" thick aluminum spacer to make it work but as you can see its in there and really looks great. Not cheap but well worth it in the long run.

Well you cant change the transmission without changing the transfer case input shaft so I called my Buddy at Advance Adapters in Paso Robles CA. and told him what I was doing. He said that they could change the input shaft no problem but recommended ditching the 4 speed for strength reasons and running a 2 speed Race Case. They treated me right on the price and now it sitting on my welder waiting for me to install.

So here it is up and in. I had to rebuild the trans mount from a block of aluminum. I sent both drive lines back to Woods and have the front one shortened 5" and the rear lengthened 5".

Moving forward again.

 I designed the fuel tank on my CAD program and had it laser cut from .120 aluminum sheet. The fab shop bent and welded it up. Perfect fit! The tank installes from the bottom and has a laser cut aluminum skid plate mount that holds it up tight against the top mounts.

I bought the fuel plate on ebay. It is used, from a Nascar team on the east coast. I welded a 1/4" aluminum stiffener plate inside the tank and drilled and tapped the holes for the mounting bolts. It uses a 2-1/2" fill tube and has a 1-1/2" vent. Both have roll over valves built in.

I got this fill and cap from summit racing. the mount was laser cut and tacked in place.

I also got this trans cooler from a Nascar team on ebay. It fit perfect in front of the radiator. It has -12an fittings and is made from all aluminum.

Good shot of the radiator fans and shroud. Still missing the light housing above the fans.

I designed the grill on my CAD program and had it laser cut. The design is classic Jeep with 7 slots.

I got tired of the rack and old school lights on the roof. I cut the rack off and installed a 50 LED light bar.

I designed these shock resivour mounts and had them laser cut. I bent them in my press and tacked them into place.

Laser cut gussets tacked in place.

Laser cut oil filter bracket tacked in place.

Steering and engine oil coolers with fan and shroud installed. Note the PSC steering filter reservoir on the left.

Front bump stop braces tacked in place. This piece is removable so the engine can be removed easier.

Dual cylinder brake pedal assembly from Wilwood.

 Shot from the drive area.

    More to come soon!