A classic rolling truck chassis is a great starting point for building an off-road rig. Its much cheaper than buying a new truck, and it has the added cool factor of looking unlike anything else on the road. However, to make your classic chassis truly capable, you need to outfit it with a proper power plant and suspension system.
Fresh Diesel Power
The first step is getting your rolling chassis running under its own power. Instead of staying period-correct by swapping in a refreshed version of your truck's original engine, opt for a more capable modern turbo-diesel power plant.
A modern rebuilt diesel engine will usually be comparable in price to a refreshed classic motor. However, you'll get much more bang for your buck with all of the technological innovations that have been packed into diesel engines over the last several decades.
A modern diesel engine will give you more than enough low-end torque to tackle the steepest of off-road trails. Though all of the electronic gizmos packed into modern engines make them more complex, they also give you much more tuning potential to crank up your truck's horsepower while also being cleaner and more fuel efficient. Replacement parts will also be much easier to come by compared to most outdated classic motors.
At the end of the day, swapping in a modern diesel engine will give you more power, more efficiency, and far fewer headaches when you inevitably break components while you're out on the trail.
A Raised and Restored Suspension
If your truck chassis is still rolling on its factory suspension system, you'll most likely find a lot of rusted metal and dried-out rubber throughout the components. That will lead to poor performance and reliability issues, especially when tackling challenging off-road terrain. Your best bet is to start fresh with a full aftermarket suspension kit.
Swapping out the stock suspension gives you the perfect opportunity to upgrade everything for proper off-road performance. Toss away all of the stock rubber bushings and bearings with burly trail-ready components. Yank off all of the stock sway bars and connecting rods and bolt on fresh, sturdier aftermarket metal. Finally, ditch your stock leaf springs for a beefed-up aftermarket lift kit.
Your truck will sit high on its lifted suspension like a true off-road rig. More importantly, a lifted suspension kit will give your truck much more ground clearance for climbing over steep rocks and terrain. With its torquey new turbo-diesel engine and raised suspension, your classic truck will be a true contender on the trail, capable of keeping up with modern rigs costing several times as much.