Superlift’s 73-93 Dodge 5″ Suspension
By Bill Cooke
Straight axle, leaf sprung trucks are about as easy to lift as you can get. You simply remove the old springs and install new ones, right? What about the steering? The brake lines? Shocks? Driveshafts? What springs do you use and why? I guess it’s not quite that simple after all.
When we started Project Powerwagon we had a few goals in mind. We wanted a truck that we could drive several hundred miles to an event and then be able to derby the thing on the trails with the best of them. Is that too much to ask? The answer is no, it’s not too much to ask. It just takes the right suspension to do it. It has to have the right amount of lift but while keeping a low center of gravity. You have to be able to clear a 35″ tire and have the flex to use it, but without being too soft to handle a mountain road or two. It sounds like a tough order to fill but we found exactly what we were looking for in the Superlift 5″ suspension.
This suspension is not the Superide suspension that Superlift offers for some of their newer kits but is the older technology leaf spring. That just means that they are a little stiffer than some of the newer stuff that is out there. That was OK with us because we were going to be carrying a lot of gear in this truck and didn’t want too soft a ride. That is one of the compromises we made that took something away from the trail performance but if you can’t get the truck TO the trails who cares how it handles ON the trails. Our first ramp attempt only netted us a 455 RTI but that was with a brand new suspension. After it breaks in a bit it should improve a little. Also this truck has a 115 wheelbase so that doesn’t help. Still we had hoped for more. Keep an eye out for future articles about how we improved it’s trail manners. Now on to the install and testing!
It sounds overly simplistic but the first thing you do to install new leaf springs is jack up the truck and put it on jack stands. This is obviously a joke picture but you get the idea. Remember that the new springs are much bigger than the ones on there now so you will need to get as much air under the truck as possible before you start. Just make sure that it’s safe before you remove the tires.
We started with the front-end first. It should be the hardest and we wanted to get it out of the way. Remove the swaybar, shocks, draglink and driveshaft. You will need to address the brake line before you start so you don’t kill them when you drop the axle. A simple way to get the extra clearance you need out of the front line is to rotate the bracket on the crossmember to face down. Be very careful as you bend the hard line or you’ll crimp it. Then you’ll be in big trouble. This should give you enough slack. Then it’s time to place a floor jack under the axle to catch it as you loosen the u-bolts. Start with one side at a time.
With the u-bolts off and the axle lowered out of the way you can now remove the front and rear bolts on the old springs. If these are original you will have a nasty time ahead of you here! Ours had been out a few times so they popped right out. You will need to remove the upper bolt on the shackle and on a Dodge remember which way the shackle was facing when you pulled it out. It’s that way for a reason.
Dodge did a very bad thing in the mid 70’s. It started using studs in the place of one of the U-bolts on the front end. While this might be OK for a stock truck, it sure makes it hard to install a bigger spring pack. Getting these studs out is a bear!!!!!! New, longer studs come with the lift and must be installed. To remove the old studs you will need to weld the old nuts to them and pull them out. Their is no better way so don’t kid yourself and think that a pair of Vice-Grips is going to get the job done. Weld the nuts and be done! The welder will come in handy later too.
Now it’s time to install the new spring. Lube the bushings with a good silicone grease or I like anti-seize. It seems to work quite well and doesn’t come off too easily. Whatever you use, use a lot! That’s what keeps the suspension moving! Install the spring in the frame and then raise the axle to meet it’s new friend. Getting it to line up can be a pain and we have been known to use a come-along to help pull the axle one way or the other and it works great! Doing one side at a time is the real key to making it as easy as possible. When you have the center-pin in the hole of the axle pad install the new u-bolts and snug them down. Wait to torque them until later. Repeat on the other side.
Now it’s time to hook everything back up. The steering will have to be corrected with this kit and new shocks are needed. Superlift has everything you will need. They also have a 1″ driveshaft spacer so that you won’t need to get a new driveshaft made. Ours were 21 years old so we went ahead and had Drivelines Inc. in Irvine build us new ones.
We are using double shock hoops on this truck and Superlift sent these shock to fit it. They are a very nice shock and the ride is fantastic. These Made in the USA shocks really give you a smooth ride while still allowing plenty of flex. Another thing you can see in this picture is the Borgeson steering shaft. What a world of difference this makes! If you haven’t gotten one yet, get one! This truck went from scary to wonderful and it only took about 15 minutes to install. Best thing you could ever do for your Dodge, trust me!
The rear should be easier. No steering! Wrong, it took us 3 times longer to do the rear than the front. Here’s why. The idiots at the factory thought (I use the term loosely) that it would be a great idea to install the rear spring bolts from the inside of the frame instead of the outside (see arrow). Their must be some logic there, but not much. You see, when you need to remove them you will have to drop the gas tank to do it! Make sure it’s empty before you start this and read your service manual for specific instructions. We are going to gloss over this in the interest of time but you will be there for quite a while fighting with the tank. Might be a good reason to have a shop do it, just a thought.
With the tank out you can now remove the spring bolts. First you will need to remove the U-bolts and shocks. Also it a good idea to remove the rear brake line so you don’t rip it off. Plan on a new, longer rear line. There is no good way to do it otherwise. Besides, isn’t that thing getting a little old to put all your faith in?
With everything ready to go back in it’s finally time to re-install. Put the new springs in place and put the bolts back in from the outside this time. Then you can raise the axle back up to the springs and put your new U-bolts on. The kit doesn’t come with them but plan on replacing them. I love to use an impact wrench to snug everything up but don’t forget the torque wrench too. It’s important to get the bolt just tight enough without getting them too tight.
We had to adjust our ride height as the new springs were far too tall to use the factory blocks. These springs are prefect for running no block at all but we wanted to try something else instead so we used a 2″ block in place of the stock 3″ and are using a longer rear shackle to try and give us more travel. Using non-factory blocks is a problem on these Dodges as the factory spring pads are curved for some reason. The factory blocks have little feet on them to match but the aftermarket ones don’t. You will have to carve out a small area in the center of the block or replace the spring pads to remove the axle wrap caused by this curve. We carved the blocks and then added these longer shackles. You will also have to add a shim to get the driveshaft back in alignment. Those rear shackles really rotate the housing.
One problem with running the longer shackles, no one makes them for a Dodge like this. That means we had to use a Chevy part. Chevy’s run smaller spring bolts so you have to hog out the upper holes a little and remove the sleeve in the lower bushings. This seems to work fine and we are happy with it so far. The reason we wanted to try this was to help with rear suspension travel. The longer shackles give you more leverage and allow more travel, in theory. After installing them we gained 4″ of rear travel over the new springs and stock shackles. Seems to be working! After a good trail trashing we’ll give you an update.
The last thing to do is put the new Superlift Hydro Shocks on and get the gas tank back in. Torque the U-bolts to spec and take ‘er for a test drive! After a few miles it’s a must to re-torque everything and double check all your work. The rear shocks Superlift sent us are super long. These come in handy on a Dodge. No more limits here! The measure over 34″ and have enough travel for all but the serious racers out there. We are also very happy with the ride these shocks have given us. They are even better than some other shocks that we have run.
We wanted to get this truck ready for the Dodge City, USA event in March. Because of that we took a few short-cuts and side roads to completing this truck. We had planned on a pair of Dana 60’s being installed in it but that was delayed a bit so the stock D44 / 9 1/4″ combo is still there. That meant that we needed to get the steering corrected in the mean time. We borrowed a steering arm but it’s not compatible with this lift. We had a nasty amount of bump-steer because of it. If you are going to keep the Dana 44 front axle, use the Superlift steering parts. They also have the right parts for our Dana 60 swap that is coming before too long. Stay tuned for that.
The other problem we had was with the front bushings. We have already had to pull the springs back out (350 mile later) to replace them. Seems our front springs had a sharp edge in the spring eye that cut the bushings and spit them out. We took a file and smoothed this edge off and installed new bushings. The rear bushings are Superlift bushings and there was one problem. You can’t run the sleeve in the bushing with the stock size spring bolts. You DO NOT want to run a smaller bolt as this it what holds the whole truck up. The only other choice seems to be to run the poly bushings without the sleeve in there. Not a great plan but it works.
Our impression of this lift so far is that it’s a little stiffer than some but very capable. The rear shackles gave us a ton of flex out back and the fronts are doing pretty well. After fixing that problem with the spring eye up front we have to say that there have been no more problems. One very interesting thing about Dodges. When you lift them no two come out the same. Our truck sits lower than a truck with the same lift. I had a 4″ lift on there before and it sat lower than the exact same 4″ lift on another truck too. They all seem to come out different and that’s why there are no hard and fast rules about tire size. With our 35″ Goodyear MT/R’s we are going to have to cut the fenders for clearance. I have seen other Dodges with a 4″ lift run 35’s no problem. I have also seen 6″ kits with nasty tire rub. What I’m trying to say is your results can and probably will vary. Experiment with what works for you, cut a little, install a 1″ body lift (never more than that on a Dodge!!!), or whatever it takes to get your truck the way you want it. When you are done you will be the only guy on your block with anything like it. That’s what’s so great about an old Dodge, they are so unique. Won’t see another one quite like it.
Thanks for all the help from…
211 Horn Lane
West Monroe, LA 71292
Tech – 800/551-4955
Borgeson Universal Company, Inc.
187 Commercial Blvd
Torrington, CT 06790
6 McLaren Ste # M
Irvine, CA 92619