Planning ahead for 3/4T 4WD Suburban suspension

Hunter79764

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TL;DR - What's the best start for upgrading factory 3/4T 4x4 suspension to a softer riding, more comfortable setup? Budget first, Reasonable ride quality second, off-road capability needs to hold steady or get better, without a "lift".

Longer version:
I recently picked up an 87 Suburban 3/4T 4x4 (350 TBI/TH400/4.10/14 Bolt/285/75-16 All-Terrain's) that I believe is fairly stock and about 100k miles. The goal is to have a decent hunting truck that can do some reasonable off-roading, can also drive around town just fine, and have room for me, the wife, and all 5 kids when needed. It is also destined to be an RV Toad (pulled 4 wheels down behind my RV which has plenty of tow capacity etc.) for family vacations as a runaround vehicle while at the beach or state park, and otherwise be a fun truck/4th vehicle. (For the drivetrain, I've got a complete 6.0 donor truck that is a wrecked former daily driver of mine with hydroboost etc. and plan on doing that swap in the next year or so, but I think all of that will be independent of the suspension questions, aside from possibly front end height switching from 350 to LS. I will likely keep the TH400, although I may switch to 4L80 which would probably have a net zero weight impact. I've done the swap on an 85 Monte Carlo and am not afraid to dig in on the wiring and fuel system changes needed.)

That said, it rides... well, about like a 100k mile 3/4 ton truck and has springs that look... 35 years old. I'd like to start upgrading/replacing parts a little at a time to get rid of some rattles, shakes, and bumps and make the ride a little more livable. It's worth noting that I do not necessarily need the 3/4 ton load capacity, as the most towing I plan to do is a 3500lb utility trailer and/or loading reasonable day-camping gear behind the 3rd row. The rest of the truck made the deal, the fact that it was 3/4t was neither here nor there when I bought it, and a 1/2t would be facing the same suspension needs as well. I don't really want to lose any height, but I don't want to go up a whole lot, as the existing tires are nearly new BFG's and much higher will start to look like a football player on ice skates, so I'd rather not force myself into a wheel/tire upgrade right now. It handled everything I threw at it at the hunting lease this year, only scraped a little once but that was easily avoidable with a different driving line.

I am relatively new to 4x4's and off-road modifications, but I've been driving relatively stock vehicles while hunting for years. I know these bushings are fairly shot and that is the source of some knocks and rattles, and the front arches are a little bit inverted. Shocks are most likely stock and are functional, but that might be about it.
What should I start with that would be a reasonable gain without doing too much at once? I can probably put in a couple hundred at a time (remember, I've got 5 kids), and I know that it will take a while at that rate, but what should I plan on? Shocks? Replace leafs with stock height 3/4T springs? Just new bushings? 1/2T springs with a 2-3" lift? Remove some helper springs and install air bags? (I'm planning onboard air, and am also willing to manually inflate as needed for a time. Air Bags on my RV was a HUGE upgrade, so now I'm a believer). Also looking at the Jeep steering shaft upgrade, although the existing steering doesn't feel abnormally sloppy. What first, and what am I missing? Should I be looking at stock replacement, or mild upgrades from the likes of Bilstein or Rough Country? Or just fix all the soft parts before trying to mess with hard parts?
 

Grit dog

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Well, first, welcome to the group!
I guess first, I'd replace anything worn out.
If there's not slop in the rag joint, the Jeep shaft can absolutely wait.
I'll let others recommend springs, but you do NOT want Rough Country. They are very stiff (read: cheap). I'd be thinking a mild lift with something softer up front.
Shocks "might" be functional, but not likely after 30+ years.
A free mod to soften the ride off road at the expense of stability is to disconnect the front sway bar. (Not a good idea when its being a toad or driving at highway speeds though, IMO)
 

SquareRoot

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Do an ORD front coil spring conversion. Post lots of pics and a detailed writeup of the process complete with before/after comparisons. If it turns out good, I will follow suit. I want to do this myself but I want a guarantee it will be worth the $$$. Oh and welcome to the site!
 

Hunter79764

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Thank for the welcome and for the advice!

ORD looks like nice stuff, but a liiiitle bit out of the budget... Good dream build material though

As for what is worn out, most of it looks worn but not worn out. The truck was actually purchased by the Texas A&M Archeology department new, and supposedly driven each semester with a load of grad students and sleeping bags to Idaho or something for their semester dig project, driven to and from the site for a week or so, then back to Texas to sit again till next semester. 2nd owner bought it around 2005 with a little less than 100k and put 15k miles on it since then as a hunting truck that gets driven to town occasionally and back to the house at the end of the season. So basically, it's got mostly unloaded highway miles, it has been maintained for the most part, and it doesn't even have a trailer hitch or wiring (I'm fixing that). So age has hit all the rubber and I'm guessing the shocks, but there's no smoking guns on trashed components.

Maybe I start with a set of shocks, then bushings? If I replace the front leafs later, am I wasting money replacing bushings in the stock springs? Is there any kind of leaf "rebuild" that would help (new pads between leafs, etc)?
I've never done leaf before (just coils), so I don't know how much work that is.

Any recommendations for the shocks?
And what about stock rubber vs polyurethane for the bushings, is there a general consensus on that?

And for reference, here's a few shots of Da Beast...
 
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Hunter79764

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Edit, maybe I don't know how to post photos? Trying again...
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Hunter79764

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Mom was gone, so I had to show the boys how to conquer a tree stump...
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Hunter79764

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Access to the rack/platform. It has spots for swivel seats, and the rail extends up to waist height as a handrail/shooting rest. There's not much in the back here, so you can see the little bit of nose-up rake I have. The front springs are probably less than an inch arched up, not sure how much is normal/correct, I assumed stock fresh would be about flat.
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