Buggy Build, Part 1

Jocelyn Fechner, Staff Writer

Buggy Build, Part 1

How often have you thought about building your own custom rock buggy? Maybe you’ve put some thought into what it’d cost, what you’d want it to look like, or if you even have the time for a project of this size. Well, I had all those questions, too. What I also had was a big bundle of stress that needed a healthy outlet. If I didn’t build something, I might have destroyed something. So, since I didn’t want to stay stressed out and miserable for myself and my family who had to live with me, I decided to build.


Getting Started

But that was just the first of a million other decisions that quickly followed. When you’re building a car from the tires up, there is a lot to consider! I spent countless hours poring over pictures and youtube videos. I read as many blogs as possible. I stalked manufacturers at dozens of trade shows for information about their products and their builds. After what seemed like endless research, I finally made some decisions.

The car was going to be big, that was one thing for sure. I mean, with Rockwell 2.5 ton axles (which is where the military vehicle gets its name: “Deuce and half”), there was no getting around that fact. But that was the point; I wanted a buggy that could safely and comfortably seat four adults. I also wanted to pay homage to Jeep, the car that introduced us to the fun of off-roading, so I bought a new Jeep JK hood which, along with the axles, would dictate much of how the car would end up looking.


A Salvaged Dodge Rolls In

I decided to save some money (a project like this one can quickly get out of control budget-wise!) and bought a salvaged 2003 Dodge for its engine, a 5.7 Hemi (only 80K miles!) and transmission, an RFE545 5 speed automatic. I sold as many of the remaining parts that were worth anything to help offset some growing buggy-build costs. 

2003 Dodge Ram Salvage 
So, with axles, hood, seats, and the engine and tranny in the shop, I had the basic measurements I needed to do some design work. Having worked on CAD programs for years, this part of the project wasn’t too hard. But what was difficult was deciding the right lines and proportions while also finding the highest level of integrity (strength!) for the chassis. I must have drawn and re-drawn this car a dozen, no a hundred times before finally getting it right.

Deuce and Half Axle Housings

Drawings finalized, I began work. The two front Deuce and half axles (yes, a “front” axle in the rear of our car would give it rear-steer capability) have double gear reduction, resulting in a final drive ratio of 6.72:1. But first they were in desperate need of a facelift. My sons and I disassembled, cleaned, and sandblasted them until they looked like new! Then I recycled all of the unwanted parts (brake drums, backing plates and axle shafts) to keep as much out of the landfill as possible (and to add just a little bit to the budget).


After cleaning, the bottoms of the Rockwell differentials were cut off (mohawked) to improve ground clearance and to strengthen the pan. I had the sides and bottom plated with 3/8" steel and a recessed drain plug was installed on the side.

Next, I purchased a brake disc that was designed for a Ford F-650 front axle and a brake caliper that was designed for a F-350 front axle. My thinking was that I’d need superior stopping power for the size and intended use of this buggy (it’d crawl slowly through the rocks, but in the open desert? I was aiming for speeeeeed!)

The next step was to design and build adapters for the brake discs and caliper mounts. This would require lots more thinking, research and design work. So, shop closed; lap-top opened. Please check back next month to find out how I answered this challenge!

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