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Project Caddy - 03 Escalade Build

  • As some of ya'll know, I daily drive a 2003 Chevy Tahoe Z71. I picked this truck up off my folks a couple years ago because my old 2012 Duramax was constantly at the dealership getting fixed and I needed something to drive while it was there. Despite having a new 2014 to replace that truck after it burnt to the ground which far more reliable than it's predecessor I've come to really like the little Z71 and actually drive it far more often than the truck. It's a very comfortable luxury vehicle with heated seats and a kickin' sound system in it.

    My parents bought this truck brand new in 2003 and it was my mom's daily driver. She decided that she wanted to be more green and was going to start driving the car more often so it pretty much just sat in the garage. It only had around 80k on it when I bought it from them and have around 117k on it now.

    For the most part the truck is totally stock. The truck is fully loaded with every option available in 03, except for the rear DVD player and the sunroof, because Dad didn't want to spent the money on those two particular useless features :haha:Being unable to leave anything stock for long I modified an ARB bumper intended for a Toyota 100 series Land Cruiser and installed it earlier this year as the front bumper was getting rotten and was starting to fall off.

    That's about to change.

    I've recently acquired a 2007 F350 Dana 60 high pinion axle. It came complete with the full suspension including the frame side mounts (actually came with the whole front frame chopped off just behind the radius arm mounts :pimp:), all the steering including the steering box, the brake lines etc.

    I'm not sure how many folks here are familiar with the newer Ford D60 stuff, but it is incredibly beefy. Like, it makes an old Chevy D60 look like a Jeep TJ D30 kind of beefy. They come stock with 3.75" axle tubes which are 1/2" thick and 35 spline axle shafts. The knuckles are big enough to fit 1550 axle shaft u-joints which allow for an impressive 45 degrees of steering if you feel so inclined as to cut down and re-spline a set of F450-550 Super D60 axle shafts. They run ball joints and unit bearings but both are massive and are far more reliable than the older stuff was. This axle has a 7000lb weight capacity which is far beyond the 4 or 5k the older D60s are rated for and as a result full on mechanical breakage is rare. The unit bearings are equipped with wheel speed sensors which play nice with Chevy ABS to boot. Warn has recently come out with a set of premium locking hubs to replace the sometimes finicky vacuum operated auto locking hubs that come stock on the axle. Can't be rolling around with an axle that says Ford on the hub under my Chevy anyways!

    For the rear axle I intend to run a 14 bolt semi floater like I've been running in Penny. If I get one from a Hummer H2 it is a direct bolt in swap with the existing factory parallel 4 link rear suspension in this truck. It comes equipped with an Eaton E-locker and gets me up to 8 lug with a plenty strong rear axle.

    The front differential runs an 8 on 170mm bolt pattern, but it is also 69.8" wide from WMS to WMS. That's far wider than the 67" that the 8 on 6.5" 14 bolt rear axle is. To make up for the difference in width and to convert the bolt pattern to match the front a set of 2" adapter spacers will be put on the rear axle. The extra width is important out back because there is definitely tire to tub clearance concerns with these trucks when you lift them. I'll fine tune the overall width with a set of wheels with just the right backspacing to have the tires just inside the fender wells.

    For the front suspension I am to more or less go with the stock Ford front suspension design. I'm going to run radius arms (made of tube though, to get rid of those awful stamped plate arms the Ford runs) with 1/2 ton Dodge coils and a set of Fox external reservoir shocks. For the back I'll go with a set of BDS lift springs, Fox shocks, custom links and a custom track bar. Overall I am shooting for as little lift as possible to run 35s with only minor trimming. I figure I should be able to get away with 5" or so by pushing the front axle forward an inch or two and some trimming on the inner fender up front.

    I intend to leave the 5.3L / 4l60e / NP246 auto trac drivetrain alone for the time being. I can convert the front output of the NP246 to a fixed yoke with a SYE to get around the useless front output these trucks come stock with (the IFS diff doesn't actually move, the slip is only there to let you get the u-joint into the front yoke) and have some electrical trickery up my sleeve to convince the TCCM that the truck is still IFS and to operate as per stock without any lights or warnings. Even the auto trac will still work with the new solid front axle.

    This truck is going to continue to be my DD after this work is done but is also going to be used for adventure duty. I'd like to be able to take it to out of the way places and not worry about it if I need to get off the pavement for a while. I'd love to even try some overlanding and multi-day adventure trails out of it.

    I want the SAS as A) I can't leave anything stock, B) Too much money, C) It's far beefier than the IFS and D) The stock brake calipers are clunking now. The anti-rattle clips must be worn out or something.

    Seriously though, the front end is starting to howl badly in 4wd indicating something is starting to fail in the diff. The oil is dark and full of glitter. I've got loose ball joints on both sides and sloppy steering TREs too. My rear 10 bolt is on it's last legs too. The gov-bomb is making scary noises and doesn't always lock in anymore either. The rear e-brake is coming apart on the driver's side causing a horrific screeching every once in a while too.

    Rather than drop a pile of coin into stock replacements, I figure I'd be best to pour 10x as much into something that should never wear out again for the life of the vehicle. Right? :dunno:

    What does this mean for Penny? Well, she is pretty much going to stay just how she is. Despite many hours of work, dollars spent and my best efforts she will never drive right on the street unless I tear the whole suspension out up front and re-do it entirely. She performs well off highway where she belongs. I'm not too worried about the body anymore (obviously :haha:) so I can go have fun with it and wheel her into the ground. Its getting to the point where I am chasing frame cracks and other issues related to the poor front end design and it just isn't feasible to repair her properly as the frame is no longer true.

    How is all this getting done? I'm actually not going to be building most of it. Brink Fab (some will recognize him as 312 in the Ultra4 4400 class) recently acquired my old buggy from me. The deal there was I was going to have him build that 97 up I bought a while back for me in trade. Instead of the 97 he will build my 03 instead.

    The Tahoe will be going down to him in a month or so and I hope to have it back mid summer.

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