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Solid as a rock

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It all began about two years ago. I desperately wanted more ground clearance under my ’00 Hilux 2.7-litre so I fitted extended shackles at the rear and dialled up the front torsion bars. This modification gave me an extra 50 mm of suspension lift, but it came at a price: my front suspension travel was almost non-existent. I knew there was a better solution, something that would transform my bakkie into the perfect 4×4 with massive ground clearance and terrific axle flex. Enter the solid front axle (SFA) conversion.

READER DIY PROJECT: HOW TO CONVERT YOUR HILUX FROM IFS TO SFA

HOW TO CONVERT YOUR HILUX FROM IFS TO SFA Fortunately, I had some experience in this field as I’d previously helped a buddy, Christo Davids, with his ’05 Ford Ranger SFA conversion. However, Christo’s conversion took several weeks to complete and it was a pricey affair – he opted for coil springs upfront.

I spoke with some mates about the conversion and what it would entail. All of them agreed that it would take me months to complete. Nonetheless, I made some calls the very next day and by Friday afternoon I’d found almost all the parts I needed. Fortunately, one of my sources in Pretoria (Barry from Ultimate 4×4) agreed to swap an ’87 Hilux SFA and all its steering / suspension components for my Hilux’s independent front suspension (IFS).
Come Saturday morning I jacked up the vehicle up and in no time at all I had the front bumper, torsion bars and complete front suspension lying on the floor in front of me. I removed the IFS system as a whole because I didn’t want to waste time stripping each individual apart. I started the job at 10h00 and by 13h45 my Hilux’s suspension was completely removed.

The cleaning process was next. This involved lots of grinding to make way for the new leaf-spring setup. The first cut took about 10 minutes to complete and by that stage I was a little concerned about my decision, “Are you sure about this, Nico? Are you doing the right thing, Nico? What if this doesn’t work, Nico?” All these thoughts kept creeping into my head but luckily the noise of the grinder muffled my doubts.

By 15h00 all was done. The chassis was clean and ready for the new suspension. By 17H00 the new suspension was fitted and all I had to do was weld the hangers in place. I couldn’t believe how quickly things were working out – I’d only started the job the day before! I then turned my attention to the steering system. First off, the old pitman arm had to be removed and a new one from a FJ75 had to be fitted. Next, I had to make a correctly proportioned drag link – this was also sourced from a FJ75. One of my biggest setbacks was creating a new steering knuckle; this took some time because the engineer I sent it to kept messing up the design.

After a week of doing nothing – and realising the importance of using a competent engineer – I asked my father to help me with the high-steer conversion. Once the steering was taken care of another problem was revealed – the rear axle was roughly 40 mm wider than the front. I paid another visit to my dad’s place and pleaded with him for his ’87 Hilux’s spare rear axle.

I wasn’t sure of the condition of the axle so I stripped it down and refurbished it just in case. When the rear axle was ready to be installed another problem came to light: the rear suspension was now 60 mm lower than the front. To solve this problem I used 60 x 60 x 5 mm square tubing as a spacer block between the axle and the rear leaf-spring pack. I also had to extend the rear shock mounts by 60 mm to ensure correct shock length. Some other issues that had to be addressed: the handbrake cable was too long and the diff ratios (4.875) were too high for my 31” tyres so I fi tted 33” Maxxis Bighorns to compensate.

My Hilux now stands 114 mm higher than it did before, making it a great challenge rig with excellent axle articulation. Th e whole job took me a week to complete, but that includes waiting on factors beyond my control. In terms of working hours, I probably spent 26 hours grinding, cutting and sweating on the job. But I can’t take all the credit – I owe a lot to Barry (for the spare parts), my father (for all his help) and to my wife for her very special and encouraging words: “Let’s make it higher and bigger.” What a woman!

Words and pictures by Nico Prins