By Mic van Zyl
How do you turn a Chevy Trailblazer into a superb overland touring machine? Take a few tips from Ironman 4×4
Our MD, Carl Rogers, wanted to put together a touring vehicle that could handle the bush with a couple of passengers in comfort and ease, without breaking the bank. His personal preference was for a wagon rather than a doublecab pickup, and having perused the used-car market for a while, he decided on the Chevrolet Trailblazer 2.8 LTZ. Class-leading torque figures, a solid features list and the fact that it is not high on the car-thief shopping list make the Trailblazer a great buy as a prospective 4WD bush truck.
The vehicle is not a daily driver, so Carl was able to set it up with the focus on its being a tourer. Vehicles being set up for touring and off-road work, that also have to double as daily drivers, are more tricky − and a compromise always has to be made with them.
An additional benefit was that all of the accessories were being fitted at the same time, which presented an opportunity to determine more accurately the correct suspension upgrade to accommodate the additional constant, and variable, loads for the vehicle.
The result of all this upgrading, with product-cost in the region of R150 000 (excluding all fitment), is a very comfortable, sorted overlander which meets all the requirements set out by Carl for his Trailblazer project.
This is a straightforward procedure that requires the cutting of a rather large hole into the side of the front fender of the vehicle. This is always a daunting task and best performed when the vehicle owner is not around. The primary function of the snorkel is to decrease the amount of dust ingested by the motor when travelling off-road. This is especially critical for turbodiesel engines and is a very worthwhile investment.
We elected to use the Front Runner roof rack product. We like their solid roof rack programme which includes a myriad of accessories to make your touring so much easier. The Front Runner roof rack kit for the Trailblazer consists of a tray 1560mm long by 1165mm wide. The tray is mounted via vehiclespecific mounting rails that screw into the existing roof rails on the vehicle. Front Runner brackets for the roof-top tent, awning, Jerry cans, gas bottle, axe, shovel and a second spare wheel were all added. These all fitted together very well in a modular way.
Bull Bar and Winch
Because of the intricate design of the lights, grille and bumper of the Chevy, the fitment of the Ironman 4×4 bull bar entails cutting the original plastic bumper about halfway up. The lower portion is removed and the upper half remains on the vehicle to maintain the neat integration between lights, grille and bumper. The Ironman Bull Bar has three sections: the first is the set of brackets that attached to the vehicle’s chassis, the second is the winch cradle and airbag compatible brackets, and the third is the actual Bull Bar. The winch is fitted once the winch cradle is in place, and wired directly to the vehicle cranking battery with the supplied wiring. Lastly, the bull bar is fitted and all the necessary wiring to spotlights and fogs connected up.
Dual-Battery and Management system
This vehicle would have a large 65-litre dual compartment/dual control Ironman IceCube fridge in the rear, as well as two tough rotomoulded plastic 100-litre Maxicase touring cases for dry foods and other camping gear. This necessitated the fitment of an auxiliary battery to run the fridge without affecting the main cranking battery. As there is no space under the bonnet of the Chevy for a second battery, we had to resort to “Plan B”. The auxiliary battery would have to be mounted in the rear compartment of the vehicle together with the fridge and touring cases.
We elected to fashion a new floor shelf out of carpeted 22mm MDF wood. This would allow us to mount the fridge and fridge slide, the fastening eyes for the touring cases and the auxiliary battery box in exactly the right spot.
The floor shelf was mounted to the floor of the vehicle using the mounting points for the rear jump seats after the latter had been removed. T-Nuts were located to the underside of the floor shelf, allowing everything to be bolted down from the top.
A pair of 26mm gauge wires, one red and one black, were run from the main cranking battery under the bonnet to the rear compartment of the Chevy. The wires were carefully run on top of the chassis and then through a rubber grommet under the second row of seats. The wire pair then appeared underneath the floor shelf just behind the second row of seats − a very convenient and neat result. These wires would be the feed from the main cranking battery that would carry alternator charge to the auxiliary battery in the battery box. The red positive wire was, of course, fused right next to the main battery, and the pair terminated in a heavyduty Anderson plug.
The Front Runner battery box was used as a mount for the Ironman 4×4 DB250 DC-to-DC dual-battery management system. This is a CTEK product privately branded for Ironman 4×4. The DB250 sits between the main and the auxiliary battery and manages the charge and usage of the auxiliary battery according to available charge. The wiring from the auxiliary battery via the DB250 was also terminated in a heavy-duty Anderson plug. This allows for the quick and easy connect and disconnect of the entire auxiliary battery setup should it need to be removed. The battery box was mounted up against the back-rest of the second row of seats on the driver’s side of the vehicle.
Maxicase Touring Cases
These cases are very tough and very versatile. They have water- and dust-proof seals with lockable latches, making them primate proof. Two of the 100-litre cases are kept behind the battery box on top of each other. They are held down with ratchet straps attached to removable fastening eyes.
Ironman 4×4 IceCube 65-litre dual control Fridge-Freezer
A must for any serious touring rig is effective and efficient refrigeration. This unit has two separate compartments that can be configured as either fridge or freezer. The fridge-freezer is mounted to an Ironman 4×4 fridge slide unit. The fridge slide was mounted to the left-hand side of the floor shelf, allowing the fridge to be pulled out and accessed easily at the rear of the vehicle.
• For additional off-road lighting, we fitted a pair of 48 Watt Blast Combo 7-inch LED spot lights. These meant that there was a nice, concentrated white spot down the centre of the road ahead, combined with a good spread to either side of the road with enough light to show up animal eyes.
• A fire extinguisher was also mounted to the floor shelf just ahead of the fridge slide position.
• An Ironman 4×4 Easy-Out awning was fitted to the roof rack on the passenger side of the vehicle.
• Lastly, an Ironman 4×4 Easy-Up roof-top tent was mounted to the top of the roof rack. The tent was mounted in such a way that it opened out over the driver’s side of the Chevy. Both the awning and rooftop tent were mounted to the roof rack by means of Front Runner mounting brackets.
Once all the accessories had been fitted and luggage weight determined, the suspension upgrade was specced and fitted. The Ironman 4×4 suspension offering for the Chevy consists of four grades of coil springs for both front and rear, and then an option of three different types of shock absorbers. The front coil springs fitted are the heaviest grade of spring, to support the weight of the bull bar and the winch now hanging off the nose of the vehicle. The rear spring selected is a medium-load spring to cater for medium loads. We did not install the heaviest rear coil spring option as some trips will not involve a full load.
Wheels and Tyres
The last upgrade, arguably one of the most important, was that of the wheels and tyres. The standard tyres were replaced by tough BF Goodrich KO2 tyres fitted to a set of A-Line Dagger 17-inch rims in Charcoal Grey. The colour of the wheels matches that of the bull bar, and the stainless-steel bull bar hoops complement the chrome of the Chevy’s mirrors and the grille surround.