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Project Isuzu VehiCross Part 6: Getting Sprung With Old Man Emu

by David Zipf

One of the biggest complaints about the Isuzu VehiCross, even when new, is its ride.  It is very stiff; much stiffer than your average SUV.  Part of the reason for this is the stiff springs and motorsports derived shocks (Isuzu did run VehiCrosses in the 1998 Dakkar Rally).  While the ride is stiff, the handling is reasonably sprightly for a two ton, body on frame truck.  The other reason for the stiffness is the bumpstops.  Back in 1996, Consumer Reports tested the Isuzu Trooper and found it was prone to tipping over in hard cornering.  Isuzu disagreed and a nasty legal battle broke out between the two companies.  While the jury agreed that CR skewed the tests to help the Isuzu roll over (they did the same thing a decade earlier with the Suzuki Samurai), Isuzu still needed to take some action to assuage the fears of consumers.  So they installed very long, hard rubber bumpstops onto the suspensions of their trucks to help prevent body roll.  While these work in keeping the trucks upright, the hard rubber makes for a jarring ride over speedbumps, bumps, and potholes.  Cutting down the bumpstops is an easy way of improving the ride quality on most Isuzus.  However our VX has a third reason for a crappy ride: those awesome shocks are completely worn out from 170,000 miles of hard use.

 

It's hard to believe it's been a whole year since we road tripped to Bowling Green to buy our tribute to late 90's weirdness.  Actually, it's been a whole 13 months since those funky headlights first appeared on MotoIQ.  We've also put 40,000 miles on it in that time.  Oviously I drive a ton.  Betwen my daily commute, trips to Indy, and trips home to visit family, I really rack up the miles.  I'm also a fairly avid player of the mobile game Ingress and that also adds to the miles.

Instead of cutting down our bumpstops and simply replacing our worn out shocks (which are as expensive as mid-level coilovers), we decided to look to the aftermarket for a solution and we found one.  Well, that’s not quite right as our VX came with a lift kit at a very good price.  There are many ways to lift a truck.  One way is to lift the body over the frame using spacer blocks.  This can cause a lot of issues with clearance between body and drivetrain.  The ideal lift kit uses new suspension arms and links to not only add ground clearance, but improve suspension flex and fix any altered suspension geometry.  No such kit exists for Isuzus, so our kit went with the simple solution: longer springs and longer shocks.  In essence, this is just putting our truck on stilts, but when done properly, even a basic lift kit like this can make room for larger tires, which in itself is an important upgrade for offroading.

 

Our lift kit came from an Australian company called Old Man Emu.  OME makes lift kits for all sorts of odd trucks, including 1st gen Honda CRVs (which are very popular Down Under).  OME is part of the ARB brand, one of the top aftermarket brands in Australia.  ARB is best known for their heavy duty winch bumpers and air locked differentials.  The lift kit includes long travel shocks for all four corners as well as springs for a 3” lift.  3” is the maximum lift that can be achieved before major fabrication is required.  Any more and we would need to replace most of the suspension.  3" is even pushing it for the stock Isuzu geometry and we may need to invest in some more suspension parts to make it really work.
 
We’ll start in the rear.  You can see the very dirty and crusty aluminum bodied shock in front of the axle.  Just behind and above the swaybar, you can see the big rubber bumpstop.  While there is plenty of clearance now, remember the suspension is also at full droop.  Removing the shocks is easy: one bolt holds them at either end.  Drop the shocks and carefully lower the axle, and the springs both drop right out, no spring compressor required.
The new Nitrocharger shocks from OME are about an inch longer than the original Isuzu shocks.  The lower bushings have to be pressed in, but other than that they are fully assembled.  The loss of the remote reservoir is a bit of a bummer, but finding replacement VX shocks is expensive: one Isuzu shock costs almost as much as this entire lift kit!
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Comments
Bonfire
Bonfirelink
Tuesday, March 08, 2016 8:07 PM
Cool oem shocks. Monotube with resevoir? I'd try to get em rebuilt if they are indeed rebuildable. Might just need a couple orings and some fresh fluid. Of course you need to find someone with the proper shock fill machine, and you'd have to source the o rings.
8695Beaters
8695Beaterslink
Tuesday, April 19, 2016 4:54 PM
There are actually a number of places that specialize in rebuilding VX shocks and since they're so damn expensive to replace we will be rebuilding them at some point. We also need to get our ABS computer rebuilt so we have ABS. Too many projects, too little time...
classicaddict
classicaddictlink
Tuesday, May 24, 2016 10:22 AM
Does the Trooper share the same "overly long" bump stop issue? A friend of mine has a trooper and installed the same OME lift, I wonder if cutting his bump stops down would get him better ride quality and travel.
8695Beaters
8695Beaterslink
Tuesday, May 24, 2016 10:48 AM
The Trooper does have long bump stops as well. If you've already got the lift installed, there's no ride quality improvement to be had in cutting them, since the lift kit will already raise the chassis off the bump stops. But you can gain some flex by cutting them down a bit. Some aftermarket companies also offer urethane bump stops which compress more under slow loading (like flexing under off-road conditions), but still protect against harder bumps (like driving over washed out roads or speed bumps). Urethane stops should be pretty easy to install in a Trooper or VX since there's already a nice flat place to bolt them to. Finally, for those with deep wallets, there are jounce shocks which do the same job as urethane bump stops, but they provide even better cushioning. However they require fabrication to install and are not cheap on their own.
cr0sh
cr0shlink
Sunday, October 30, 2016 1:23 PM
@DavidZipf - Just wanted to say thank you for this article, as it will probably help my mechanic install this same lift on my VX. I wanted to do it myself, but I don't feel comfortable trying to keep my baby up in the air with no spring to support it as I maneuver the old one out and the new one in. It just seems safer to let a shop with a lift do it. That, and I just don't have the time to do it myself (to many other projects in my way).

Anyhow - I am enjoying reading these articles; I chuckled a bit to myself on the first article about you "finding" this VX. Some people call it a sickness, I call it love at first sight. When I look at my rig, or the oh-so-few others I see on the road - or even in an article like yours - my throat catches a bit. I'm not sure what it is about this vehicle, but I love it. Its looks, its history, its absolute uniqueness and ability on and off the road...

The only advice I can offer is to keep the thing as stock as you can (that is, keep it so you can "go back to stock") - I have a feeling that one day soon in the future getting one of these is going to be beyond difficult, and prices are going to be much higher than they are today. Do everything you can to keep the cladding and body panels perfect - they don't make 'em anymore. Also, get some protection for the headlights (I personally have a set of the clear GTS protectors). You can also get window wind deflectors from Weathertech (and they have a nice universal interior floor mat set that is easy to install). You already have (if I am looking at it right) the factory Yakima roofbars - or something close (I managed to get a set via a junkyard).

Something else to look into - another remote control. I found a used Isuzu remote on Ebay that I keep for a backup. The frequency they used isn't something that is easy to find any more. You may also want to look into wiring the rear door into the alarm (for some reason, Isuzu overlooked this). You have probably researched all of this, though...

Oh - one other thing - the computer/controller for the Borg-Warner transfer case is under the front passenger seat. The cable to the case goes thru a hole in the floor. It's a thick bundle of wires. Underneath, it exits right next to the exhaust pipe! If you haven't noticed it, check it out - and check it for any scorching or melting of insulation. There has been at least one VX owner who had this melt, then water got into the wires, and shorted out the system. He had to then painstakingly resolder every wire back together (with heatshrink, etc). Fortunately, the controller wasn't damaged (another near-unobtainium part). A piece of stainless steel flashing or something (with maybe a rubber overwrap on the bundle) to serve as a heat deflector might be in order there.

Anyhow - good luck with your new project, and I'll be following along to see what kind of interesting things you do with it. I'm really enjoying the articles so far!
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