Intervention: A Wisconsin-Based 2005 GMC Sierra Goes From Dropped To Lifted
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to drive a lowered truck year-round in Wisconsin? Well, Brian St. Amant can tell you, because he did just that until recently. “It was mostly good until we got deep snow. When the flakes flew, the truck didn’t. It just didn’t have the ground clearance needed to clear Wisconsin’s often-deep white stuff,” he says. This resulted in some transportation issues, which were a problem for St. Amant because the truck was his daily driver. The truck needed an intervention. It needed some height.
St. Amant dug his two-wheel-drive ’05 GMC Sierra’s lowdown demeanor (it was dropped approximately 3 inches up front and 4 inches in the rear), but functionally it just wasn’t right for the weather (and rough roads) of America’s Dairyland. He put up with the challenges of owning the lowered truck in his locale for a number of years until he had enough.
St. Amant could’ve returned the truck to stock height, but he wanted to put lots of space between the truck’s underside and Wisconsin’s white stuff (and rough roads). To help go from lowered to lifted, MaxTrac Suspension parts were chosen. MaxTrac is based in Anaheim, California, and the company has been around since 2010. One of the unique things about MaxTrac is that the company is one of the few manufacturers that is able to offer lowering, leveling, and lift kits. True one-stop shopping. A further height increase (and a huge traction improvement) came in the form of a set of LT275/70R18 BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO2 tires. These tires are tough and they have performance features that help increase traction including 3-D active sipe technology, which provides more biting edges for significantly increased snow traction. The tires are mounted to a set of 9-inch-wide M17 Mamba Offroad Alloys wheels. These wheels have a gloss black finish with machined accents and drill holes.
The transformation of the truck was completed by Attitude Performance in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Owner Matt Dinelli and technician Jim Cryer have over 60 years of combined experience modifying vehicles and Attitude Performance, in business since 1994, is one of the leading custom shops in the Midwest. Dinelli and his crew can handle something as simple as a suspension leveling kit install all the way to complex custom fabrication.
In theory, this install should’ve been a simple endeavor. But as we said, St. Amant’s Sierra was a daily driver with a fair amount of ticks on the odometer and it had seen a number of salty Wisconsin winters. As the team at Attitude Performance disassembled the Sierra’s suspension they found several worn, broken, and annoyingly rusty parts. Corrosion is not unusual in the Midwest. As a matter of fact, it’s SOP on older rigs that have been subjected to road salt. We’ve included a look at the issues we encountered during the Sierra’s transformation so you’ll have an idea of what could possibly be encountered when working on a rig of this age.
In the end, St. Amant drove out of Attitude Performance in a truck that was vastly different from the one that rolled in. The resulting mods not only transformed the Sierra visually, they also transformed it functionally, and that will be a welcome change when the snow gets deep in Wisconsin.
1. Here’s the Mamba wheels and BFG tires that were installed on the Sierra as well as the suspension parts we received from MaxTrac. This is the MaxTrac 5-inch lift kit and it includes 3-inch cast spindles, 2-inch-lift coil springs and new shocks for the front, while the rear portion of the kit includes 3-inch fabricated lift blocks and new shocks.
2. With the Sierra on the lift, Attitude Performance technicians began by removing the wheels the tires and disassembling the front suspension. MaxTrac includes detailed, illustrated instructions that serve as a guide through the process and the instructions for the spindles even include bolt head sizes to speed up the process.
3. After following the instructions to remove items including the brake calipers, tie-rod ends, and the knuckle/wheel bearing assemblies, the last items to come out of the front suspension were the coil springs. This is the driver-side spring and it was intact, however the passenger-side spring was broken. We were tipped off that something was amiss with the Sierra’s front suspension when we took the recommended pre-installation measurements of the front suspension and found that they differed by 1/2-inch. But that’s not all. The passenger-end of the sway bar was also found to be broken. Also, the sway bar links were worn so they were replaced.
4. While inspecting the ball joints it was found that the upper joint on the passenger side was shot. This can be attributed to the age of the vehicle as well as the rough roads it’s driven on. St. Amant chose to replace all of the ball joints since the truck was apart. Each lower ball joint on this Sierra slid into a pocket on the lower control arm and was held in place with rivets. To remove the ball joints, the rivet heads were torched off and then the shanks were drilled or pressed out.
5. With the new ball joints installed, the front suspension was ready for reassembly with the new MaxTrac parts. Here you can see the difference between the drop spindle and the new MaxTrac 3-inch-lift spindle.
6. The new MaxTrac coil springs, knuckles, and shocks were installed.
7. The bearing assemblies on the truck were in good shape, so they were simply moved from the old spindles to the new MaxTrac spindles.
8. Here’s a photo of the completed driver-side suspension with everything except the sway bar links reattached.
9. Normally, the upgrades to the rear suspension would’ve been quick and easy, but this GMC had more surprises in store. The bolts holding the old shocks were the wrong diameter and they were also rusted in place, so the torch had to be utilized for removal.
10. The rear leaf springs under the GMC were de-arched to create the suspension drop, so new OE-style springs were sourced and they included shackles and hardware. Here you can see an old spring pack next to a new spring pack as Dinelli prepped to install a new shackle.
11. The old leaf spring bolts didn’t put up a fight when being removed and they loosened without the need for a torch. The trailer hitch did have to be lowered to allow access to the rearmost bolts on the leaf springs.
12. Lift for the rear suspension is accomplished via MaxTrac fabricated lift blocks. These blocks are tapered to correct driveline angle and each block has two centerpin holes to correct driveline plunge. The MaxTrac kit also includes new U-bolts and hardware. Here you can see the blocks installed prior to trimming the U-bolt length.
13. The MaxTrac kit also includes new rear shocks and hardware, and installing them is a breeze.
14. One of the last steps prior to getting the vehicle aligned was to bolt on the new BFG tires mounted to Mamba wheels.
15. We fit the GMC with a set of LT275/70R18 BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO2 tires on a set of 9-inch-wide M17 Mamba Offroad Alloys wheels with a -12mm offset. The tires have an actual 33.2-inch height per BFG specs. This wheel & tire combination meant a bit of trimming had to be done to the lower fascia of the GMC to eliminate tire contact.
16. The idea here is not go hacking away and cut out more than needed, so the team at Attitude Performance made a small initial removal of the corner of the lower fascia and then test drove the vehicle making further removals as necessary until there was no contact. On the left you can see the fascia prior to trimming and on the right you can see it after the initial trim.
17. The added height of the GMC meant that instead of dropping into the driver seat St. Amant had to climb up and onto the driver seat. To simplify that maneuver, a pair of Lund 6-inch Oval Straight Black Nerf Bars (part #26676748) were installed on the truck. These nerf bars have a safe, recessed step area and are said to support up to 300 pounds before flexing and 350 pounds before bending. The kit includes all bracketry and hardware needed to complete the install.
18. One of the cool things about the Lund nerf bars is that no drilling is needed to complete the install. The bars are designed so that the mounting brackets utilize existing bolts, including those in the body mounts. Interestingly, we had no problems with corrosion on any of the GMC’s factory bolts while installing the nerf bars.
19. Install time was very quick for the Lund nerf bars and the result was a very welcome functional addition to the truck.
20. We were impressed at the quality of the MaxTrac parts and the results. The BFG tires are not only rugged, they also dramatically improve traction- something very welcome in the Wisconsin dirt, mud, and snow. And the Mamba wheels look great and compliment the new look of the truck.
21. The team at Attitude Performance got the job done quickly and efficiently, even with the corrosion and breakage surprises.
22. The last time we talked with St. Amant he was in the driver seat of the GMC, piloting the rig from Wisconsin to Southern California. When asked what he thinks of his newly-lifted GMC he says, “Absolutely, positively love it. It’s been great.”