Little Bird

Welcome to DezertRangers
Join the community. Register today for all the benefits of membership.
Register

littlebird

member
Feb 26, 2019
50
68
18
NY
I studied philosophy at a well ranked university for four years, but somewhere along the road I became captivated by off-road racing as practiced traditionally by folks out on the West coast, Mexico, and in various pockets across the U.S. Prior to college I had intended majoring in mechanical engineering as during high school I was in my own way an off-road enthusiast within the Subaru community. Tragically, my best friend died in a car accident in October 2013 during our senior year of high school because of this I became disillusioned with life in general. This is what ultimately lead me to study philosophy. Kevin and I were like brothers. We were both huge fans of rally cross and its golden age during the Colin Mc'Rae era. We both drove Subaru WRX's, mine a 2002, and his a 2004 which he built himself by swapping the entire drive train of a totaled WRX into his Impreza RS in order to have WRX performance but without the insurance increase. Kevin and I also down hill mountain biked together. It was these two hobbies and our love for them that probably lead me to long travel prerunners. The thrill of tearing down a bumpy gravel road in my glorified Subaru sedan paired with the experience of piloting a mountain bike with 9 inches of suspension travel lead me to believe that launching a truck over some whoops is probably a thrill worth pursuing.

However, rally cross is a European born sport powered by Japanese and European auto makers. Desert racing is predominantly an American born sport powered by American automakers, at least until the advent of the tube chassis trophy truck. Perhaps some would argue differently, however, I am neither an expert nor a historian of motorsports. Suffice to say there is something distinctly American about off road desert racing. The willingness to travel at a blistering pace down an ungraded course, the rugged individualism involved in doing so, and also the concept of having a chase crew the will support you if need be despite the difficulty of doing to so in a virtual wilderness.

The reason I say this is because aside from the thrills that desert prerunners provide, they represent a part of what it means to be an American in as much as they embody the American spirit of rugged individualism. Even with the aid of modern CNC tubing benders, plasma cutters, laser cutting, etc. there will always be hand crafted element to building a desert vehicle outside of the assembly line setting. In my opinion proper tube fitment and weld quality necessitate this. Time and again I have tried to step away from this hobby but I cant because it appeals to me not just as a motorsport enthusiast but also as a patriot.

It's been over three years since I began to research about building a prerunner. I've wasted a fair bit of time and money in my prior attempts but it is really the only way to learn, to fail.

I would trade my bachelors degree in philosophy for fabrication skills and experience in a heart beat, heck when my friends went out to party I'd stay in researching about topics like tig welding and long travel suspension design. As of yet my bachelors degree has done very little for me, however, I did meet a great young lady at school who supports my love for this hobby. In addition, I take some solace knowing that a degree in mechanical engineering wouldn't have given me any hands on fabrication skills either in regards to welding or bending/notching/fitting tubing.

My understanding is that off-road fabrication is as much of an art as a science, for the best cage and suspension design in the world are worth nothing without skillful welds and tube fitment.


The biggest obstacles I have faced so far include; a lack of fabrication skills, a lack of fabrication tools, and front suspension design. I know there are many more to come.

I have asked fabricators around my area to take me on, but true motorsports fabricators are few and far between in New York.

I am torn between pursuing fabrication as a trade or starting a masters program in computer science this Fall at a University local to me which accepted me.

It is in the context of this dilemma and a lot of student debt where I'm starting this build. Perhaps my experiences will be helpful to younger members on the fence about going to university or practicing a trade.

As you might have guessed this build is inspired by Dane Cardone's infamous Larry Plank built prerunner "Big Bird," and so I've nick named it "Little Bird."
 

marcytech

Mega Member
Mar 16, 2011
6,407
924
113
wow. what an entrance!
like you said. these skills are best learned by failing, and you will. all the time. material will be wasted, parts will break, you'll hate your truck at times. but when its good.... theres nothing else like it.
you're already off to a great start if your inspiration is coming from larry plank and others like him.
welcome and im looking forward to seeing the truck and more posts from you!
also i wish i was as well spoken as you haha
 

littlebird

member
Feb 26, 2019
50
68
18
NY
One of the many lessons I learned in my first attempt to build a prerunner was that I did not like the TTB suspension in either the 2wd or 4wd variant. The bulk head which held the beam pivots is weak and the unequal length beams travelled in the very wonky arcs to say the least. The design itself is fairly ingenious and is obviously optimized to allow for a simple but strong 4wd system with good ride quality on and off road, however, I couldn't justify building a 2wd prerunner with TTB geometry.

The obvious solution was equal length twin I beams.

I love beamed prerunners, but I don't like the boxed steel style beam kits popularized by many fab shops out west. Aesthetically they lack the elegance and up travel clearance, and often are built for a ride height which is much too high for my liking.

Big Bird sported a low ride height. This was achieved by using what I call "candy cane" beams which locate the king pin knuckle several inches above the actual structure of the beam.

My parameters for the front suspension were simple:

- Low ride height
- Candy cane beams
- No boxed metal beams

The only options I had were set of billet beams which are cut out of solid block of 4130 from SI Motorsports for upwards of $20k or to make the biggest set of forged I beams Ford ever made work on my chassis.

As you might guess only the latter option was in my budget.


Several months of searching later and I found a clean unmolested set of the 1 ton big beams off of a 1972 Econoline 300 and purchased them for $200 the beam bulk head as well for another $250.

They were cleaned up and soon accompanied by some Autofab extended radius arms with rod ends.

The next step was to some how get this set up to fit my Chassis.

58092638311__265B19BB-4FD7-4CD1-8D5B-A4D2F5D5CB66.jpg58092640547__1A657128-D689-47B0-99BC-CD71A574018C.jpg58092641093__5CB90065-AAC5-424C-AE16-9358934775E2.jpg
 
  • Like
Reactions: ljubera0250

littlebird

member
Feb 26, 2019
50
68
18
NY
Thank you @marcytech , I was on the forum a few years ago. You were one of the members who criticized my initial build. Your critiques were very influential for me. I was somewhat hot headed then and had no idea what I was talking about. I have been humbled time and again since then by this project and the profound difficulty of building a truck. I hold your advice in high regard and hope you will chime in along the way.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: sirhk100

littlebird

member
Feb 26, 2019
50
68
18
NY
As mentioned previously, the first obstacle was fitting the 1972 Econoline bulkhead to a 1997 f250hd 4x2 super-cab chassis.

I chose this frame because it is made of 1/4" material rather than 3/16" like the half ton. My thinking is that it being of a thicker material will make it a better base structure for a full cage and back half. I also preferred it because it doesn't have the crumple zone frame horns like the half ton and has a much stronger steering box mounting surface.

One downside of using a thicker thicker frame is that it will probably necessitate a bigger tig welder at times than I would have needed if I'd used the half ton frame. Currently I have my eye on the Everlast 315 or 350 tig models.

Not yet having a tig welder myself nor the skills to do so I outsourced the fitment of the bulk head to the frame rails to the best fabrication shop in my area.

They did in my opinion a good job, and I was pleased with the end result despite having a few reservations. This job required some rather long beads and I didn't want welding in the bulkhead to be my first foray into tig welding as the beads were very long, requiring a lot of filler. Later on when my skills increase I may make another pass over a few areas.

WMS to WMS of this set up is about 75.5"

Fortunately today, I have an electrician coming by to asses running a 100 amp service to my little shop.
IMG_1930.JPGIMG_1931.JPGIMG_1932.JPGIMG_1933.JPGIMG_1934.JPGIMG_1935.JPG
 

marcytech

Mega Member
Mar 16, 2011
6,407
924
113
Thank you @marcytech , I was on the forum a few years ago. You were one of the members who criticized my initial build. Your critiques were very influential for me. I was somewhat hot headed then and had no idea what I was talking about. I have been humbled time and again since then by this project and the profound difficulty of building a truck. I hold your advice in high regard and hope you will chime in along the way.
hopefully i didnt come off as an ass with my advice!
 

FasterNU

Mega Member
Jun 28, 2006
7,678
1,098
113
San Diego
^^ Dude's a dick. Don't let him fool ya. AHHAH JK!

And yes... definitely well written. If it turns out you can't weld.. you might try writing. hahah.

Stoked to see a new build on here. I approve your approach already. Only one way to learn to fab IMO. Jump in head first! Then make mistakes and learn from them. Or, you can talk to other fabricators... and make the same mistakes they do. LOL

But to be honest, I am in the heart of off-roading ... and most of my learning is done by myself... or online here!!

Seems people can be little secretive in this industry.
 
Last edited:

dsrtrcr01

Well-known member
Jan 31, 2005
4,327
753
113
I will comment on the school or fab part. So I have been into cars since I was born and off road trucks since I got a dirt bike in 5th grade. I built trucks for myself and did cages, bumpers and suspension for "Customers" for side money while I went to school (high school then college). I have a degree and honestly I prefer to keep my hobby separate from my work. Yes my fab is not as good as the pros because... I'm not a pro. I don't do this everyday. The good thing about having a different job is my hobby is still my hobby. All my friends who built trucks with me as their hobby are in the auto/fab trade and want nothing to do with trucks after work or on weekends. For me it is still fun and I like tinkering on my truck. They just want to sit around and NOT touch a vehicle. So it is always an all night thrash with them to fix whatever ziptied item broke on their trucks.
 

marcytech

Mega Member
Mar 16, 2011
6,407
924
113
Yeah I agree with the above. All my friends that took to Motorsport fabrication as a profession absolutely HATE trucks and never want one of their own. I too have a completely different day job and still enjoy the hobby more and more with each trip to the garage and/or desert.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

FasterNU

Mega Member
Jun 28, 2006
7,678
1,098
113
San Diego
I will comment on the school or fab part. So I have been into cars since I was born and off road trucks since I got a dirt bike in 5th grade. I built trucks for myself and did cages, bumpers and suspension for "Customers" for side money while I went to school (high school then college). I have a degree and honestly I prefer to keep my hobby separate from my work. Yes my fab is not as good as the pros because... I'm not a pro. I don't do this everyday. The good thing about having a different job is my hobby is still my hobby. All my friends who built trucks with me as their hobby are in the auto/fab trade and want nothing to do with trucks after work or on weekends. For me it is still fun and I like tinkering on my truck. They just want to sit around and NOT touch a vehicle. So it is always an all night thrash with them to fix whatever ziptied item broke on their trucks.

Couldn't agree with this more. I have been hit up for side work many times. My response. Hey, if you want to come over and drink beers.... and bring your own metal. If you are responsible/respectful/cool....I will let you use my tools and even help and teach you some shit.

I know better then to take my hobby and turn it into a job. Because to me, once I am FORCED to do something, it's no longer fun for me. A hobby is a hobby and a job is a job. Some people can blur those lines.. but for me, no way. Not to mention... fab is hot, dirty, and hard ass work. And not the healthiest either.

Sitting here at my desk getting paid well and wasting company time in AC is a pretty sweet gig. I can't imagine having to fab right now. All I need to do today is cut and paste some shit into some quotes and hit the send button on an email. Maybe have to make a couple phone calls too. Oh man, tough day. LOL
 

Latest posts

Today's birthdays

New Threads

New Classifieds

latest desert trips

Member Builds