Offroad Trailblazers and Envoys

MikeKey's Build - 2003 Chevy Trailblazer LTZ

Vehicles posted here have shown that they are not only capable of traversing very rough terrain, but also capable of doing so for extended overland trips.

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by mikekey » Tue Mar 27, 2012 2:36 pm

Update Note: Sad to say, but we sold our Trailblazer in 2015, my family and I have moved onto a new adventure. We are now traveling the country full-time in a Airstream and had to purchase a tow vehicle, as the Trailblazer wasn't a suitable candidate. You can see our adventures on Instagram or our Blog.

2003 TRAILBLAZER LTZ

The goal of our Trailblazer is to support our family of 3 and one dog on cross country road trips and multi-day off-road expeditions. Because we love to travel we are seeking a compromise between an off road capable trail rig and the perfect vehicle for road trips.

**You'll notice in this thread the use of Phase 0 & Phase 1. Phase 0 is everything we did in 2012, essentially all our first mods, a trial and error phase. We also tested all of the Phase 0 mods in Moab, Utah. Phase 1 is everything we have done in 2013 based on experiences learned in 2013 during our trips & expeditions. Phase 2 mods are our latest mods based on our newest goals and plans for the truck.

Where it last stood: [Updated 04/07/15]

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**I've included links to either the products themselves or to relevant threads for each mod

SUSPENSION / AXLE:

ENGINE / DRIVETRAIN:
  • Volant cold air intake
  • Resonator Delete
  • Transmission Rebuilt 1/23/13
    • Corvette Servo
    • Sonnax Transmission 4th Gear Billet Super Overdrive Gear
    • Transgo Stage 2 Shift Kit
    • Trailblazer SS Torque Converter
    • Beast Carbon Sunshell
    • Carbon Clutch Kit
  • B&M Super Cooler Transmission Cooler
  • Amsoil Synthetic Motor Oil - Dif Oil - Transmission Oil
  • Trailblazer EXT/SS Brake Upgrade
  • Power Stop Zinc Coated Cross-drilled & Slotted rotors with Carbon Ceramic pads

VEHICLE ARMOR:

ELECTRICAL / LIGHTING
  • Eagle Eye CCFL Halo Projectors
  • DDM Tunning HID low beams 55w at 5000K
  • DDM Tunning HID high beams 55w at 5000K
  • Eagle Eye LED rear tail lights
  • Dual brake light/blinker mod
  • 4' Firestick Firefly CB Antenna mounted using FireStik MK-J4R Jeep Mount
  • Cobra 18WXSTII
  • x2 Hella 500FF Driving Lamps (round) mounted on custom front bumper mount
  • x4 Roof Top Hella 550 Driving Lamps
  • DieHard Platinum P-4 Battery

EXTERIOR APPEARANCE:
  • Method Race Rims Double Standard Matte Black
  • Baja mule rack
  • Debadged Rear Deck
  • Demolded the side doors
  • 20% tint all around
  • Shortened radio antennae
  • Silverado Tow Mirrors (Heated, Power with LED turn signals)

INTERIOR MODIFICATIONS:
  • Rear Seat Delete
  • Removed cargo area carpet and plastic molding
  • Rhino lined cargo area
  • Custom storage area

RECOVERY & EMERGENCY GEAR:

PLANNED MODS
  • Custom Rock Sliders - Currently in fabrication
  • 8.6 rear axle swap
  • 4.56 gears
  • Aftermarket locker
  • Fabtech FTS81026 rear shocks travel, extended length 27.56" and compressed length 17.52"
  • Custom front bumper
  • 250 Amp High Output Alternator
  • Darale Performance High CFM daul radiator fan & shurd
  • Griffin Aluminum Dodge Charger Radiator Upgrade
  • B&M Deep Transmission Pan
  • 6AN Transmission lines
  • Recovery Winch
  • Off-road / Bug out trailer

:flex dirty:
Last edited by mikekey on Wed Apr 08, 2015 11:18 am, edited 60 times in total.
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by mikekey » Tue Mar 27, 2012 3:37 pm

Where it began

The story begins when I met my future wife, who had moved to Va Beach to attend grad school. I wasn't a Trailblazer owner, but she was. Her first Trailblazer was a 2002 LS with 4wd. And I had a 1992 Oldsmobile Bravada with lift shackles.


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The two of us quickly bonded over offroading together!

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Then the week before our wedding our first Trailblazer was totaled due to flooding. About 9 months after our wedding the Bravada crapped out and we decided to purchase another Trailblazer, this time together.

Our "mombolie" started off as a fully loaded LTZ with power everything, Bose premium sound package, Sunroof, heated mirrors with turn signals, leather seats and tow package with G80 and 3.37 gears.


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Last edited by mikekey on Wed Apr 08, 2015 11:22 am, edited 13 times in total.
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by mikekey » Tue Mar 27, 2012 3:39 pm

PHASE 0 - FIRST MODS

Volant Intake Install

A lot of people skip the Cold Air Intake mod, consider it useless, or end up purchasing the over priced K&N unit which does away with the OEM silencer on the intake.

The reason I went with the Volant is I saw several dyno sheets showing that retaining the OEM silencer on top of the intake helped improve low end torque. While those with it removed lost some of their low end torque. Higher range torque was about the same. The Volant also doesn't conform to the one size fits all design that K&N uses. The K&N units use a metal tube which is prone to picking up engine heat and comes with very little shielding. The volant replaced the stock air box with it's own for a more factory appearance while delivering greater performance and a noticeable change in the exhaust note, which is more aggressive sounding.

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Suspension Maxx Sway Bar End-Links Upgrade

Prior to our first lift, our end-links where shot to hell. They squeaked everywhere we went. And the car had a lot of play in it's sway. So I decided to upgrade them with the heavier duty Suspension Maxx End-links.

OEM compared to SMAXX

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Last edited by mikekey on Wed Apr 08, 2015 11:28 am, edited 20 times in total.
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by mikekey » Tue Mar 27, 2012 3:41 pm

PHASE 0 - GENERAL GRABBER AT/2 245/70/R17

Prior to our first lift we needed new tires. After reading the Maximum Trailblazer Tire Size without Modification thread I decided to try our luck by moving up to a 30.50 inch tire.

After a lot of research I decided to purchase a set of General Grabber AT/2's in 245/70/R17 from TireRack.

The General Grabber AT/2's also had great reviews for not producing to much road noise and performing extremely well on road and off road in both dry & wet road conditions, and sand/dirt. And they looked great on the stock height Trailblazer.

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UPDATE
We've since moved onto larger tires of another brand. But we had these tires for just over a year and put a lot of miles on them. I would recommend the General Grabber AT/2's to anyone who is considering purchasing an all-terrain tire. They're great tires. Handled well in multiple weather conditions, on and off road.

During our 2012 Western Road Trip they performed extremely well on all that we threw at them in Moab.
Last edited by mikekey on Wed Apr 08, 2015 11:34 am, edited 14 times in total.
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by mikekey » Wed Mar 28, 2012 11:32 pm

PHASE 0 - 2 INCH BDS SUSPENSION LIFT + TAHOE Z71 SPRINGS

The most important part of the entire process! I spent a lot of time reviewing options and reading opinions on this forum before deciding to go the BDS route. A lot of folks have chosen to go with The Lieft Meister 3inch suspension lift for the price point and have had good success running the kit. However the kit does not provide you with upgraded shocks. And there was some discussion about bushing failures with the kit. So I opted to go with the BDS 2 inch lift kit, mostly because JamesDowning was running it.

At the same time, I decided to supplement the rear with z71 Tahoe springs. Again, just kind of following what others had already done. The z71 springs added an additional 1.5 inches in the rear. The variable rate of the springs also increases the payload capacity, which is great if you haul things. It will make the ride a bit stiffer and more truck luck than the soft feeling of the stock springs.

Gathering up all the parts
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Just so you know, this is my wife and I's vehicle. And as such, we work on it together. She can turn wrenches just as good as any guy on this forum.
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I also decided to use this as an opportunity to complete two other mods. First I decided to go ahead and flip the upper control arms (or reverse) to provide for greater downward articulation.

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During the weekend that we did the lift we also decided to paint the rims. I used Rustolum Tire Paint. And then I found a set of nice gold colored lugs to complete the look. I also ditched the center caps for a more aggressive look.

The results after the Lift
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Last edited by mikekey on Wed Apr 08, 2015 11:38 am, edited 14 times in total.
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DriveTrain: 4WD w/ G80
Rank: Expedition Rated

by mikekey » Sat Apr 28, 2012 6:44 pm

MISC UPDATES: EXTERIOR PLASTIC PAINT TOUCHUP

After all our work installing the lift and prepping the vehicle for her first expedition out west, I decided I was tired of looking at faded plastic all over the car. And I had a few ideas for some minor mods I wanted to do. I wish now for the sake of those reading this, I had taken some more photos of the whole process.

To start, I debadged the rear deck lid.

Then I used left over news paper to tape off the vehicle and Rustoleum Bumper paint to spray all the black plastic around the vehicle.

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A few of the minor things I did was paint the door badges, the front CHEVY badge, my wiper arms and both side mirrors in a metallic gun metal color. The effect is subdued. It's not exactly the same color as the vehicle's paint. It's close, and it's not blacked out either. It's least noticeable on the side mirrors, as most folks won't catch the effect on first glance. But at certain times the light does catch the metal flake.

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Another minor subdued element I added was to paint the front tow hooks red.

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Even though I plan on getting a custom bumper further down the road, I kind of like the little added effect of the red tow hooks. It makes them look like they are actually functional.

One other thing I almost forgot to mention, I used VHT Nightshades to tint my rear tail-lamps and the front Fog Lamps and before I bought the new headlamps, I experimented by tinting the front headlamps as well, which you can see in the above photo.

Overall I am very happy with the results.
Last edited by mikekey on Wed Apr 08, 2015 11:42 am, edited 10 times in total.
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Rank: Expedition Rated

by mikekey » Wed May 30, 2012 7:28 pm

PHASE 0 - LIGHTING UPGRADES

The stock lighting on the Trailblazer leaves much to be desired, even in LTZ trim with the addition of the fogs. I personally have to wear glasses and my night vision isn't the best. Because of this I knew I wanted to upgrade the headlamps for some time with HID's with the best possible light output.

My first experiment was with 35W HID's at 4500K in the stock OEM headlamps. I don't have a photo of it, but let me say it was really no better than the OEM lighting. It might of possibly been worse. Despite the opinions of those on other forums, the stock reflector housing is not designed for High Intensity Discharge lamps. And the beam pattern is dispersed poorly and unevenly.

So I decided to purchase a set of IKON projectors for the car. At the same time I decided to upgrade the HID to 55 watts at a color temp of 5000K to get a nice pure white color that was close to daylight. I purchased my HID kits from DDMTuning if you are curious.

An added plus to the converse was that the projectors featured LED turn signals and Cold Cathode Halo's which are incredibly bright in daylight. And frankly they look pretty kick butt in my opinion.

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The next upgrade would be providing the vehicle with additional off-road lighting. I pretty much followed JD's directions in the DIY: Offroad Roof Light Bar thread.

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I also came up with a creative solution for my forward offroad driving lamps to mount to the stock bumper, which you might of already noticed above. They where also upgraded to 55W HID's as well.

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Last edited by mikekey on Wed Apr 08, 2015 11:45 am, edited 20 times in total.
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DriveTrain: 4WD w/ G80
Rank: Expedition Rated

by mikekey » Mon Jun 04, 2012 5:23 pm

PHASE 0 - COMMUNICATIONS - CB RADIO & FIRESTIK

I purchased the Cobra 18WXSTII and mounted it on the passenger side of the center console. I knew I wanted a radio with all 10 NOAA weather channels, but I'm not a huge CB user so I wasn't ready to spend over 80$ on a CB. I might upgrade this down the road.

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I used a bracket made by Firestik for marketed as a Jeep Wrangler hood mount. I ended up having to drill two holes and use my own bolts with nuts on the end to secure it. I also placed a small piece of rubber between the mounting plate and the vehicle.

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Last edited by mikekey on Wed Apr 08, 2015 11:48 am, edited 9 times in total.
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Posts: 2584
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Name: Mike
Vehicle Year: 2003
Vehicle: Chevrolet TrailBlazer
DriveTrain: 4WD w/ G80
Rank: Expedition Rated

by mikekey » Sun Jun 17, 2012 2:22 pm

PHASE 0 - BAJA RACK & FUEL CAN HOLDER

At first price point was a big factor in considering roof rack. I was going to purchase a Surco Safari Rack, but when I started pricing out the extra pieces for mounting fuel cans and other things I realized that price point differences where coming within 50-100$ savings. I felt that for a large purchase, if I'm not saving more than $100 then I should just get the better product.

With price point out of the way, total weight, carrying capacity and strength where the main considerations for purchasing a rack.

I was very close to purchasing the Mega Mule after Jon A.'s post about his installation of that rack: offroadTB.com - View topic - Baja Rack MegaMule with Custom Brackets It looks like it would fit the trailblazer better, but I wasn't keen on how it hung over the roof rails.

Also with a sunroof and the light bar, I felt the mega mule might push too far forward. ([color=#BF4000]Although now with hindsight I realize I could of mounted the lights to the MegaMule
) So I went ahead and followed JamesDowning's footsteps and purchased the Baja Rack directly from BajaRack.com. I also purchased their Nato fuel can holder.

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The fuel cans are 20L (5 gal) NATO issue purchased from Cheaperthandirt.com for about $44.00 a piece.

I really love these cans. They are metal, very durable and have a great seal and locking mechanism. They held up extremely well on our 5,500+ miles road trip over some pretty rough terrain.

I originally mounted the Baja rack in the same way JD outlined in his thread: offroadTB.com - View topic - MOD: Baja Rack - Roof Rack

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Baja Rack makes a kit for mounting Axes and Shovels but it runs 70$. For 10$ I purchased the above seen QuikFist Clamps: Original Quick Fist® Clamp for mounting tools & equipment 1" - 2-1/4" diameter (Pack of 2) - Amazon.com

The custom installation of the Baja Rack held up pretty well over course of our trip and driving around town.

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Last edited by mikekey on Wed Apr 08, 2015 11:55 am, edited 16 times in total.
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DriveTrain: 4WD w/ G80
Rank: Expedition Rated

by mikekey » Tue Jun 26, 2012 8:15 am

Phase 0 - Oil Pan & Radiator Skid Plates + Differential Cover



:lurk:
Last edited by mikekey on Tue Jun 24, 2014 2:44 pm, edited 4 times in total.
Once lifted 03 Trailblazer on 35's, gave it up to travel the USA with my family.
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Posts: 2584
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Vehicle: Chevrolet TrailBlazer
DriveTrain: 4WD w/ G80
Rank: Expedition Rated

by mikekey » Mon Jul 30, 2012 5:11 pm

UPDATES - UPPER STRUT BUSHING FAILURE
This is what happens when the upper shock bushing fails in the middle of an off-road road trip 3000 miles away from home. (Should have gone with the Radflos in the beginning.)

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I did some machining with the help of my father in law to come up with a temporary fix

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My old bushing vs the new bushing. I used these bushings: http://www.summitracing.com/parts/ENS-9-8145G/ - $6.95

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Last edited by mikekey on Wed Apr 08, 2015 11:57 am, edited 6 times in total.
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DriveTrain: 4WD w/ G80
Rank: Expedition Rated

by mikekey » Sun Feb 10, 2013 7:26 pm

UPDATES - TRANSMISSION REBUILD & TRANSGO SHIFT KIT INSTALL - 1/23/13

So this one was a bit pricey. We noticed after our trip that the transmission was slipping a little. Well, shortly after New Years the car stopped going into over-drive and we lost first.

So I had a local performance shop beef up the transmission with a complete rebuild and the installation of a TransGo Stage II shift kit along with Corvette Servo and of course Amsoil.
 
  • Corvette Servo
  • Sonnax Transmission 4th Gear Billet Super Overdrive Gear
  • Transgo Stage 2 Shift Kit
  • Trailblazer SS Torque Converter
  • Beast Carbon Sunshell
  • Carbon Clutch Kit
  • B&M Super Cooler Transmission Cooler

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Last edited by mikekey on Wed Apr 08, 2015 11:58 am, edited 7 times in total.
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Posts: 2584
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Vehicle Year: 2003
Vehicle: Chevrolet TrailBlazer
DriveTrain: 4WD w/ G80
Rank: Expedition Rated

by mikekey » Sun Mar 03, 2013 1:53 am

PHASE 1 - 3 INCH BODY LIFT

After our successful expedition out West, we knew that we wanted to tackle some more aggressive trails and not be nearly as scared than we could with the BDS 2inch lift and General Grabbers. In the back of our minds, Elephant Hill, along with a few other routes in Moab, taunted us with our inability with a BDS lift to conquer them during our next expedition.

So with that in mind the wife and I went back and forth about the pros and cons of different body lifts, tires, and prices. We debated swapping the BDS lift out for a Lift Meister 3inch suspension lift and going with 33inch tire perhaps combined with a 2inch zone body lift. After much debate, and looking at photos of HARDTRAILZ rig, we got bit by the "GO BIG OR GO HOME" bug.

So we purchased the 3inch body lift and got to work.

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Ground to fender, front and back before and after.
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And if you are curious, this is what a BDS 2inch lift + The Lift Meisters 3 inch body lift looks like on 30.50 inch tires.
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Last edited by mikekey on Wed Apr 08, 2015 12:00 pm, edited 8 times in total.
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Posts: 2584
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Vehicle: Chevrolet TrailBlazer
DriveTrain: 4WD w/ G80
Rank: Expedition Rated

by mikekey » Mon Mar 25, 2013 10:33 am

PHASE 1 - ADJUSTABLE CONTROL ARMS & PANHARD BAR

With the body lift installed we were planning on the larger tires. The issue with going up in lift size like we did is the lower control arms are too short for the lift. If you increase the lift and tire size, the lower rear control arm tends to move the tire forward into the fender. The OEM control arms are kind of short in stock form. It's not a total problem per-say, but most folks like to recenter the wheel.

The second issue with the larger tires is the incorrect pinion angle that happens on the rear axle.

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The solution is to install adjustable control arms to re-center the axle and correct the pinion angle on the drive shaft. An adjustable panhard bar is also recommended to accommodate more suspension travel.

So I went ahead an purchased Massive Speed's Adjustable Rear Control Arms & Panhard bar.

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I was pretty impressed with the set when I got them, however one thing I did was peel the purple stickers off. Sorry MASSIVE. Then I got to work installing them.

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A shot of them installed from the rear with the new tires and body lift. :safari:

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Last edited by mikekey on Wed Apr 08, 2015 12:03 pm, edited 6 times in total.
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Posts: 2584
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Vehicle Year: 2003
Vehicle: Chevrolet TrailBlazer
DriveTrain: 4WD w/ G80
Rank: Expedition Rated

by mikekey » Fri Mar 29, 2013 11:43 pm

PHASE 1 - 35" NITTO TIRES / 1.5" WHEEL SPACERS / 17" METHOD RACE RIMS

While the General Grabbers performed amazingly well on our Western Road trip, they looked ridiculous on the Trailblazer once we added a suspension and body lift. It was time to upgrade and push the limits. We settled on Nitto Trailgrapplers 315/70/17 (34.86 technically, 35s if you round up for bragging rights).

We also decided we wanted to run new aftermarket rims. After a lot of searching, discussion, and compromise, we went with the Method Race Wheels Double Standard 17x8.5, 0mm offset, and 6x5.5 bolt pattern.

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In order to fit the new rims and tires, we purchased 1.5inch 6.5 to 6x5.5 adapters from The Lift Meister at a great price. You really can't go wrong with them. Just be sure to test your lug nuts with the spacers held up behind the new rims. We also used blue lock tite on the nuts mounting the spacer to the hub and torqued them to 150lbs.

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And as mentioned in the above thread, I also picked up the Massive adjustable suspension components.

This was a huge step up from our previous tires as seen in the photos below

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My wife was super excited about the new look for the Rig.

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The final product!

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Last edited by mikekey on Wed Apr 08, 2015 12:35 pm, edited 11 times in total.
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Posts: 2584
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Name: Mike
Vehicle Year: 2003
Vehicle: Chevrolet TrailBlazer
DriveTrain: 4WD w/ G80
Rank: Expedition Rated

by mikekey » Fri Mar 29, 2013 11:50 pm

UPDATES - BAJA RACK REMOUNTING

After a year of the Baja rack on the roof a few problems developed with the original mounting. It couldn't handle the weight and was beginning to tear. Originally the rack was mounted using 1"x1" aluminum extrusions and the rack is held by a 1" pipe clamp.

ORIGINAL MOUNTING:
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We switched to larger 1.50 inch steel bar and used U-Bolts to mount the rack to the cross bars. Then we upgraded the bolts used to retain the bars into the roof rack by welding steel plates onto bolt heads and grinding them down.

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Last edited by mikekey on Thu Dec 12, 2013 7:12 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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DriveTrain: 4WD w/ G80
Rank: Expedition Rated

by mikekey » Thu Apr 18, 2013 10:24 pm

PHASE 1 - CUSTOM ROCK SLIDERS - v1.0

:lurk:
Last edited by mikekey on Tue Jun 24, 2014 2:45 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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DriveTrain: 4WD w/ G80
Rank: Expedition Rated

by mikekey » Thu Aug 08, 2013 8:29 am

PHASE 1 - EXT/SS BRAKE UPGRADE + CERAMIC PADS & CROSS-DRILLED/SLOTTED ROTORS

:lurk:
Last edited by mikekey on Tue Jun 24, 2014 2:45 pm, edited 4 times in total.
Once lifted 03 Trailblazer on 35's, gave it up to travel the USA with my family.
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Posts: 2584
Joined: Sat Jan 15, 2011 4:08 am
Location: North America
Name: Mike
Vehicle Year: 2003
Vehicle: Chevrolet TrailBlazer
DriveTrain: 4WD w/ G80
Rank: Expedition Rated

by mikekey » Thu Aug 08, 2013 9:27 am

PHASE 1 - B&M TRANSMISSION COOLER

:lurk:
Last edited by mikekey on Tue Jun 24, 2014 2:45 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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DriveTrain: 4WD w/ G80
Rank: Expedition Rated

by mikekey » Fri Aug 09, 2013 10:21 am

PHASE 1 - REAR CARGO AREA MODIFICATIONS
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