2003 Tracker build

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z06jeff

Rank I

Traveler I

Here's something a little different. I've been a Tracker owner for over 10 years now, and this is my third one. I let the other 2 go due to rust, but this one is by far the cleanest I've seen in years, and that's the reason I'm building it for overlanding. This little red Tracker has been in my family since new. My grandfather bought it new, my Dad was the second owner, and now it's mine. It's always been garage kept, and rarely driven in snowy weather, which is why it's so well preserved.
For those that aren't familiar with Trackers, they're just rebadged Suzuki Grand Vitaras. They came in 2 configurations, 2 door soft top, and 4 door hard top. They had 2 engine options, 2.0 4cy, and 2.5 V6. (Mine is the 2.0) Body on frame design with a solid rear axle and 2-speed transfer case. IFS with rack & pinion steering. Aftermarket for these is not so great. There is some stuff out there, but you have to dig around the forums to learn about it all. Spacer lifts, body lifts, limited slip and locking diffs are available. There are a few places making bumpers/sliders/armor, but they are really expensive compared to Jeep/Toyota prices. A lot of the upgrades can come from other Suzukis. Lower gear ratios can be sourced from older Geo Tracker/Sidekicks and XL7's.
My wife is more of an outdoors person than me. I'm mostly a car guy who likes racing formula cars, autocrossing my Vette, and tinkering in the garage to make it handle better/go faster. I've always appreciated 4x4's, but never built one for a purpose. Then I got the bright idea to buy a rooftop tent to use for weekends at the track to save on hotel costs. My wife thought it was a great idea, mostly because she wanted me to take her camping in it. We never had much in common, so I then thought this would be a thing we could do together and each get enjoyment from. She could be outdoors, and I could still play with cars. :grinning:
The 2 attached pics are what it looked like when I got it, and what it looks like now. The following posts will be everything that happened in between.
 

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z06jeff

Rank I

Traveler I

The first mod I did wasn't really overland related, but it was a "keep the wife happy" mod that turned out to be a fun little project. Heated Seats.
Dorman makes a heated seat kit that includes 2 heating element pads, a wiring harness with relay, and the control switch. I could have just bought 2 of those kits and did the install, but those control switches just screamed aftermarket, and I knew I could do better. Since Trackers, Grand Vitaras, and XL7's are pretty much the same vehicles, and some of the more loaded up versions of the GV/XL7 came with heated leather seats, I knew there were heated seat switches out there that would fit in my console like it would have come from the factory. As luck would have it, there was an 02 XL7 Limited on FB Marketplace for part out. For $35 bucks, I got the heated seat switches, the fog light switch (For any lighting mods I'll be doing in the future), and a rear spoiler with integrated brake light. Then, I did a little digging online to find the factory service manual info on how the switches were wired so I could tie them into the dorman kit. And what do you know? It all worked. For all I know, I may have the only Tracker with heated seats.
 

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z06jeff

Rank I

Traveler I

For the rest of the winter I was mostly just buying parts here and there and waiting for spring. Eventually, spring arrived and I was able to complete my next mod...which isn't overland related either, but I promise there is some overlanding stuff coming.
Raptor Bedliner spray for the bumpers, grill, and body side moldings.
The plastic bumper covers were faded out pretty bad from ozone depletion. Originally, they were a dark charcoal color, but after 17 years were reduced to an almost white/light gray. Since the factory paint was in such nice condition, the bumpers were really letting it down in the appearance department. The chrome grill was starting to get pitted and was looking its age as well, so I sprayed it too. Besides, I'm not a big fan of chrome. I removed all the parts to be sprayed except the side molding since it was adhered to the body. I masked around the molding and covered the sides of the Tracker with plastic. Overspray isn't a major concern with bedliner spray since the stuff is so thick. It's not like actual paint that will get air born and land on everything. All the parts were scuffed with scotch brite pads, cleaned, and sprayed with adhesive promoter prior to the bedliner application. I've used this product in the past, so I've got it down pretty good now. This stuff is UV resistant, so it'll still look good years from now.
 

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z06jeff

Rank I

Traveler I

Finally, something overland related. We bought a tent!
Due to the small size of the Tracker, I was interested in a smaller, lightweight RTT. I went with the Yakima Skyrise 2, mostly because of the 42x48 size and 95lb weight, but also because it's red. :grinning: So it was a win win.
I bought the annex too. I'm glad I did. Since it seems to rain every time we use it, it's nice to have a dry room to store things. (chairs, shoes, firewood, etc.) So far we used it twice for a total of 3 nights. 2 of them were total downpours. I was a little worried the 2 might not be big enough for the two of us, but it worked out just fine. The mattress is comfy and we had no issues sleeping through the night. Also, everything stayed dry.
The Tracker didn't seem too bothered with the extra weight on top. It still had the original shocks/struts on it last time I hauled it, so it did feel a little top heavy. Most of that old stuff has since been replaced, so I'm anxious to see how it performs with new shocks/struts. Now I just need to engineer a way to lift it onto the roof myself. Thinking about one of those hitch mounted game hoists with an extended arm.
 

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z06jeff

Rank I

Traveler I

Somewhere along the way we bought a Camp Chef Rainier. (I just realized I never took a picture of it.) Anyway, after seeing all the cool kitchen setups on this site, I was inspired to buy a frontrunner table to put my new camp chef stove on. The table ended up being heavier than I thought it would be, so my original installation plans have been scraped. The pictures show it attached to the plastic door panel, which did work, but was too flimsy for my liking due to the weight of the table. As you can see, there isn't much flat metal to bolt to like a Jeep tailgate. My new plan has me using all-thread into the metal door instead of anchors/bolts. This mod is to be continued...
 

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z06jeff

Rank I

Traveler I

Which brings us to the fun stuff...lift kit, m/t tires, and wheels. :grinning:
Like I said in my first post, there's not a huge aftermarket for these little rigs, so the lift I went with is a 2" spacer lift made by a guy who sells them on ebay. His lift is known in the Suzuki community as Jeff's lift. I think he makes the lifts that Low Range sells under their name. Anyway, it's good stuff. In addition to the lift, I bought new KYB struts and strut mounts, as well as longer rear shocks to compensate for the newly increased range of motion. Tracker springs are soft. Especially in the rear. So bad, that it makes a trip home from Sam's club feel like I've got a load of firewood back there. This is not good for an overlanding rig. Stiffer springs are available from Old Man EMU, and people seem to love them, but they're not cheap, so I thought I'd try some Air Lift airbags first to see if they suit my needs. I haven't had a chance to load it down and try them out yet, but I think they'll will work just fine. A typical weekend outing with the wife and I will include the RTT, 2 Mtn bikes mounted to the spare tire carrier, plus a cooler and all the gear we tend to take on weekend trips. That will undoubtedly be enough weight to have the thing squatting, so that is the reason for the helper bags.
I spent all last weekend and a few hours Monday putting all this stuff together. I was delighted that all the factory bolts came off without a battle and were able to be re-used. No sawzalls, angle grinders, chisels, or torches were used in the process of putting this lift on. (That's rare here in the salt belt) It was all pretty cut and dry. The only thing I had to figure out is where to mount the schrader port for the airbags. I didn't want it exposed on the outside of the vehicle, so I thought about mounting it inside the rear door. But then I thought if I have it all loaded down enough to need to add air, I might have trouble accessing the port due to all the stuff inside. Then I had a better idea. Inside the gas door! For some odd reason, there were only 3 bolts bolting the filler neck to the body from the factory. It had a 4 bolt flange on the backside of the attached photo, so I drilled a hole through the 4th unused hole and put the port there. This would work out even better than I planned because I could then route the air line through the fuel line clips that are mounted to the frame rail. The clips were made to hold 4 lines, but there were only 3, so I snaked the airline through the 4th opening and it fit perfect.
In the front, the biggest pain was trying to compress the springs. As you can see, they're not very big in diameter, and my threaded rod spring compressors kept slipping into one another. Very frustrating, but I got through it. The other obstacle for these rigs is trying to get the camber back to normal. Lifting an IFS makes the camber go positive and the toe go in. The toe is easily corrected with an alignment, but there is no camber adjustment on these things. The best option is to use camber correction bolts in the upper strut holes, but often times this isn't enough. Lots of guys have resorted to slotting the upper strut hole to get rid of the camber, but that's a bit sketchy since you're really just guessing how far to open up the holes, and the bolts will always have the potential to slip. Fortunately, I was able to get it within factory spec using just the bolts. I was unhappy with the first attempt, which is the 3rd attached pic, so I pulled back into the garage and put ratchet straps on the knuckle and pulled everything in as tight as possible before tightening the bolts. This method made an improvement. Factory spec is +or- 1 degree, and I think I ended up at .8 or.9. Good enough that it's not noticeable with the naked eye.
Once I got home from getting the alignment, I was able to get to the part I was most excited for, installing the new wheels and tires. For wheels I went with alloy 15x8 Vision Manx with a -19 offset. For tires, I chose 30 x 9.50 Achilles DesertHawk M/Ts. I am more than pleased with the end result. It's like my little Tracker just got a shot of testosterone. I do have a small clearance issue where the rear of the tire is touching the fender liner close to lock. It only does it when I'm backing into or out of a tight spot, but it will be a problem when I'm offroad in an off-camber situation. I may be looking at a body lift to resolve this issue. I'm not a fan of body lifts, but I may have to go down that road if I can't figure out a way to stop the rubbing.

So that brings everything up to date. I still have plans for more upgrades, so I'll keep updating this thread as they get completed. The next thing on the list is to replace the front and rear axle 3rd members with 5.13 gears. I have both 5.13 3rds in the garage, just need to find the time.
 

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Jku Ben

Rank VI
Member

Advocate I

3,857
Alpine, CA
Member #

10566

Sweet looking work. Had a 1989 Suzuki sidekick kinda tricked out & went a lot of places all my Jeep bros went. Cool looking build.
 
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mk-Zero

Rank 0

Contributor I

60
Orange County, CA
First Name
Brian
Last Name
C
Cool build man, I really like it! Looks like it will serve you guys well. It should be a pretty capable little rig. Especially capable on tight trails!
 
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