By: Terry L. Howe - 7/2001
Sean Lazelle's '76 Bronco with tubed front end has much better approach
angles and tire clearance compared to stock.
photo by Steve George
With the tube front end, the inner fender wells can be left out. This allows
the engine to run cooler and it is easier to service. In this picture, Sean
is running Butt Scratcher backwards during the "Just For Fun" Rock Garden
Four Wheelers competition.
photo by Steve George
From behind, you can see where the body was cut with a plasma cutter. A
piece of sheet metal was just welded over the area to strengthen the body.
A low buck 15 gallon Triangle Engineering fuel cell was mounted out back. No
more leaky under seat tanks!
photo by Eric Denning
With the low center of gravity, heavy front end, and big tires, climbs
that are normally reserved for long wheel base are possible. My flat
fender with 83" of wheel base has an easy time going up White Knuckle Hill.
photo by Eric Denning
The tube on Jay Kopycinski's Toyota replaces the original bed and at the
same time, adds clearance for larger tires, without losing a wheel well.
photo by Jay Kopycinski
There are many ways that tubing out portions of your four wheeler can improve it's off road performance. It can improve departure and approach angles, allow more engine cooling, protect the engine and radiator in case of roll over, allow larger tires with no lift, and improve visibility. Maybe the best reason is it just looks cool.
Approach and Departure
The early Ford Bronco is a great looking vehicles, but if you want to wheel hard stuff, you quickly learn that the front end severely hurts approach angle. A Jeep with bobbed bumper and flat fenders can easily get a tire on something that an early Bronco cannot because the Bronco has a large bumper and grill up front. Sean Lazelle solved this problem by getting a tube front end built for his Bronco by RockWare.
The Bronco purist will be offended, but if all you care about is driving over big rocks this is the way to go. The actual approach angle isn't improved all that much by doing this to a Bronco, but effectively, the angle greatly improved. Often, you just need to get a tire on something from an angle to get up it. With no grill, it is easy to get a tire on the rocks before the frame or body hits.
When I tubed out the rear of my flat fender, there no change in the real departure angle, but corners that used to rub, just aren't there to get in the way. I also don't get rocks jammed in the fenders wells any more. The corners don't get bent up when I hang up on one. The back of my Jeep was never a big problem because I was running wide tires, but with no back, it went from a little problem to no problem at all. There aren't many cases, but there are some obstacles and lines that I can take now, that I could not take before.
Engine Cooling and Access
One added benefit of tubing out the front is improved engine cooling. If you live in a dry area or wheel exclusively in dry areas, removing the inner fender wells can greatly enhance the cooling of the engine. Vapor locking can be eliminated with easier air flow around the engine. Sean used to have vapor lock problems all the time on extremely hot days with his full front clip. With the tube front end, there are no more vapor lock problems, even with the temperatures over 100. If you wheel in wet areas, the water and dirt on the engine might cause more problems than it is worth.
Another benefit of running open fenders is easy maintenance. All the spark plugs and accessories are easy to get to. If there is a problem, it is easier to spot it. I don't have any fenders at all, so I don't have to lean over anything to get to the engine compartment. It does make it a bit more confusing to find a spot to lay tools, but not a big deal.
Engine Roll Over Protection
Yet another benefit of a tube front end is roll over protection. The tubing can be built stronger than stamped steel and protect the engine and radiator during a roll over. When I tubed out the front of my flat fender, I started with a radiator roll bar, a piece of tube bent specifically to protect the radiator. I braced it to the fire wall with two pieces of 1" tubing and welded it to the front frame rails. The grill bolts to the radiator roll bar and the roll bar has hood pins on it for the hood. I completely removed the fenders, so I needed the hood pins to hold down the hood.
I rolled hard out in Farmington shortly after tubing out the front end and my radiator survived completely. The hood and grill were dented pretty badly in the roll, I think without the roll bar, my radiator would have been forced into the engine fan.
There are two schools on radiator roll bars, internal and external. I went with an internal radiator roll bar. The down side to this approach is your grill and hood can be damaged in a roll. The up side is the front end looks cleaner and more stock. I wanted to keep the Jeep looking a bit stock and I didn't want my headlights obstructed by a roll bar. I also think a roll bar that extends above the hood would be distracting and annoying to look at. If an external roll bar does not extend above the hood, it will not provide much more protection than an internal roll bar.
Big Tire, Little Lift
The primary reason for tubing out my flat fender was to fit bigger tires with no lift. I had been running a set of 35x15.5 Super Swamper TSL/SXs for a couple years and I just loved the tires. They were pretty worn down though and I wasn't willing to spend all the cash on new tires to get another set of 35s, I wanted 38s.
The 35s I was running rubbed pretty hard in the rear, so the only way I was going to fit 38s in the rear would be with some radical suspension changes. I was real happy the way the suspension worked and was doubtful if any suspension changes would improve my vehicles performance. I was also reluctant to take the time to change the suspension. Slowly a plan formed in my mind, with no back to the Jeep, I could fit as big a tire as I wanted with no change in suspension.
My front tires rarely rubbed, but I knew with 38s, they would rub. Some tube work in the front eliminated this problem as well. Tire size up front can grow nearly infinitely. Nearly the same is true of the rear.
By cutting the back off my Jeep and removing the fenders, I greatly improved the visibility. I can see exactly where both rear tires are. I can also lean over to the passenger side and get a good view of the passenger front tire. All this visibility doesn't help much when you drive though water and mud, but it sure is nice the rest of the time.
Another big consideration is how far can you go and still have a street legal vehicle. Open wheel vehicles aren't legal in many areas, I've built my vehicle for the trail only. The way Jay Kopycinski's built his tube bed Toyota, he probably has a vehicle that is legal to drive in more areas. He still has fender wells and the added benefit of lots of cargo space.
For me, tubing out my flat fender solved all sorts of problems. I protected the radiator and I was able to fit 38s with no lift. For Sean, he greatly improved his engine cooling and improved hs approach angle. Another added benefit that may be gained is lightness. In my case, I probably removed 100 pounds from my vehicle with all the sheet metal I removed.