Project: MonStero!
"Becoming Independent of the IFS" Short Cuts
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Photographer/Author: Tom Degenkolb | Editor: Phil Hansford August 1, 2001

Tom's Raider when it was a mild mannered SUV

This project started in October 2000 when I drove by one of the local wrecking yards I pass day in and day out (and always strained my neck to see what new stuff had been dragged in). Out front in the holding pen was a 1987 Dodge Raider, black, automatic, and with the off-road package. I really liked the styling of the boxy Raider/Montero and thought it would make a good off-roader with its short wheelbase and short overhangs front and rear. It didn't show any signs of body damage or measurable rust so I decided to inquire into its purchase. For a small sum of $500 the Raider became mine, and after I installed a battery I soon learned why it had arrived at the salvage yard. Upon starting the motor I was informed immediately that things were not right with the engine, in the form of a spun rod bearing. I thought about just replacing the motor with a rebuild, but that just didn't seem to me to be worth the effort involved. It's not that the Raider/Montero is not a capable vehicle, it's more that I felt a need to build it beyond the norm. This had become evident in my other off-roader which started out as a 1988 Jeep Wrangler that somehow evolved into having a 5.0HO Mustang V8, Dana 44s front and rear, NP435 transmission and NP205 transfer case. Call it a disease if you will, but I like to design and build something different.

My thoughts soon turned to what could become of this Raider, after all I only paid $500 for the whole thing; Perhaps I could recoup some of my investment in the sale of the parts I would not be using in the build-up. I soon found out the parts market was not like that for Jeep vehicles - in fact most of the parts I took off the Raider made their way back to the same wrecking yard I purchased it from. Of course I did receive a Scout II Dana 44 rear axle in trade that will make a nice addition to the Raider. After searching the Net for a while I came upon Bob Shaw's Raider with the Chevy 4.3L V6. This seemed to me to be a great idea for a new power plant, as it would fit nicely into the stock engine compartment. Then I started thinking about the IFS front axle that all Raider/ Monteros came with. I just didn't like the fact that the suspension is so limited in travel and those parts have got to be expensive and hard to get when and if they break. So I decided that what's good for the motor has to be good for the rest of the driveline. I would just install all the parts that I know work for off-roading. Let' see now, I had Dana 44s laying around with no intended use and how about a granny low SM465 transmission and NP205 transfer case for robustness. Well of course if I did that then I would have to do something different for the steering, so I might as well throw in a Saginaw power steering box also.

Step One: SAS (Solid Axle Swap)

So I formulated a loose plan of attack for the Raider with all these parts in mind. I decided to tackle the front-end swap first since a lot of the other changes were dependent upon how it turned out. So I removed the drivetrain and front axle assembly from the Raider and gas axed the front IFS and motor mount brackets from the frame. Actually I had my neighbor Tom Doyle with his torch do the cutting while I watched and only had to put out one fire we started in the garage (always keep a garden hose handy just in case!)

IFS in this case means "Independent of Front Suspension!" A custom crossmember will anchor the the front leafs and tow hooks The Wrangler leafs with reverse shackles and custom crossmember!

Once all the factory bracketry had been removed I started in on the solid axle swap (SAS). I decided that I would use Jeep Wrangler springs as I had a set of these lying around and they are quite plentiful in various heights to get whatever lift I wanted. The design utilizes a reverse shackle setup to simplify the rear mounts to the frame by simply welding a sleeve through the frame. For the front mount a cross member was fabricated with the spring mounts located at the same width as the frame at the rear sleeves. I adjusted the springs forward of the original centerline of the axle to account for the rotation of the axle toward the rear when articulating upward. Therefore the Raider should have approx. a 1.5" longer wheelbase at around 94" when completed. The front cross member is designed to bolt into the front of the frame using 6 existing holes w/ welded nuts that were from the factory. The cross member also provides mounting of two tow hooks for recovery on the trail.

*Special thanks to Mark Shogren for welding together the front cross member pieces into one piece.

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