Project Isuzu Vehicross: Part 6 – Getting Sprung With Old Man Emu

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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