John Eilermann’s Duramax-Powered 1972 Chevrolet Suburban
When John Eilermann of St. Louis, MO turned to Jeff McCord and his team at LinCo Diesel Performance in Troy, MO his goal was to have the team build him a Jeep that would be rugged for off road use but have room for friends for hunting trips. After discussing his wants and needs for the rig McCord showed him pictures of a ’71-’72 Chevy Suburban and he was sold, changing direction on the project from a Jeep to a safari-styled classic Chevy rolling on 40s with room for the whole crew. The full-size classic rig would have plenty of room for passengers when crawling through the back country as well as space for a potent Duramax diesel drivetrain to motivate the heavy rig through just about any situation he would encounter.
McCord expected to have a hard time finding a ’71-’72 Suburban to use as the base for the project, but within a week of searching through online sources he found a suitable candidate on eBay Motors and the project officially started. The 1972 3-door Chevrolet Suburban eBay find was in pretty good shape in primer with a 4-inch lift and served as the basis for the wild hunting rig. As the 18-month build progressed things changed and evolved with the project morphing from a rugged hunting rig to the show-stopping Safari Suburban you see here.
After test fitting the Duramax engine and Allison transmission in the Suburban the LinCo Diesel Performance team went to work separating the body from the chassis before totally reworking each. Knowing the modern diesel drivetrain would fit in the chassis was one thing, making it fit exactly the way they wanted it to fit was something else entirely. They wanted the engine to sit low in the chassis between the frame rails, so they turned to Bare Knuckle Machine in Hawk Point, MO to plasma cut and bend new frame sections they designed to box, strengthen, and widen the front section of the frame. The LDP team also designed a complete engine crossmember to secure the Duramax into the chassis and had the parts plasma cut for it at Zerr Engineering in Troy, MO before welding and installing them in house.
The front suspension and steering was designed to use a 1989 Ford King Pin Dana 60 straight axle with a Trac-Lok limited slip differential and 4.56 Yukon gears. But rather than throwing it under the Suburban with a new set of lift springs and calling it a day the LinCo team decided to fabricate a custom 4-link design with coil-over shocks. They designed the suspension to use frame mounted control arm link mounts that would also be the mounting location for the rear axle traction bars and had those plasma cut at Zerr Engineering before being welded at LinCo. New shock towers also had to be fabricated to accommodate the large ADS Racing coil over shocks with remote reservoirs and dual rate springs for a comfy ride that could also handle the rough stuff when needed. The shock towers are tied together and strengthened by a bolt in brace that was designed and fabricated to run over the Duramax engine and strengthen the front of the frame while giving it a unique look. Virtually all the axle and suspension components were powder coated in gloss black, white or candy blue by Extreme Powder Coating in Troy, MO and they were bolted together with stainless steel hardware to make sure it would stand the test of time no matter what elements it was exposed to.
Moving rearward the chassis modifications continued with plasma cut plates to box the frame as well as additional crossmembers welded in place to prevent chassis flex when the Suburban is out in the rough stuff. A set of 6-inch lift Rough Country leaf springs were powder coated gloss black then hung on the frame to carry the 2007 GM AAM11.5 rear axle housing that is stuffed with a Yukon Grizzly Locker and 4.56 gears. The ride is tamed with a pair of Bilstein 5100-series remote reservoir shocks installed in custom mounts on each side of the frame. The truck rolls on a set of Bart Wheels 16.5×12-inch Super Trucker wheels wrapped in massive 18/39.5-16.5LT Super Swamper TSL Bogger tires on all four corners for plenty of traction and ground clearance.
With the chassis fabrication complete the attention was turned to the Duramax and Allison drivetrain to motivate the Safari Suburban. The engine came from a 2007 and is internally stock but the block was treated to a fresh black paint job to make the powder coated orange accessories pop. Spent exhaust gasses are sent through ceramic coated factory manifolds and up pipes to a LinCo Diesel Performance Stage 1 64/66 VGT turbo with an orange powder coated compressor housing. From there the spent gasses are sent through a custom fabricated 4-inch diameter stainless steel exhaust system that the LDP crew built that is TIG welded and uses V-band clamps rather than slip-joints. Clean intake air is filtered through an S&B Filters open element air filter and custom stainless steel fabricated piping to channel it to the compressor inlet on the turbo. The compressed charge is then fed through fabricated stainless steel piping to a second gen Dodge Cummins intercooler mounted in front of the radiator core support then carried back to the HSP Diesel Y-bridge and custom intake manifold.
Fuel is contained in a custom fabricated fuel cell mounted in the rear between the frame rails with a G&R Diesel sump feeding fuel to the FASS 165 lift pump and filter system mounted alongside the driver side frame rail. A stock Bosch CP3 high pressure fuel pump feeds the stock LBZ injectors within the Duramax cylinder heads with PPEI tuning to help deliver additional grunt from the LBZ. The LinCo team estimates that the engine is making around 550 horsepower with around 1,050 lb-ft of torque based on similar builds they have done. To further dress up the engine they installed a powder coated HSP Diesel thermostat housing and a PPE Diesel lower oil pan.
The Duramax engine is backed by a 2007 Allison transmission that was given a performance rebuild with SunCoast internals and upgrades by the LinCo Diesel Performance team. A billet SunCoast 2,200 rpm stall torque converter provides the critical link between the Duramax engine and the Allison transmission. The transmission case was powder coated gloss black while the cast aluminum PPE deep sump trans pan was powder coated candy blue. A Derale Performance transmission cooler keeps the fluid temperature in check while a gated Winters Sidewinder shifter controls gear selection. Before rebuilding the NP261XHD transfer case they had the case halves powder coated candy blue then reassembled it and bolted it in behind the Allison trans. Custom drive shafts were fabricated by Inland Truck Parts in St. Charles, MO to send the power to the front and rear axles.
While the nearly 50-year-old body was in pretty good shape it did require some bodywork and a fresh coat of paint to get it into acceptable condition for Eilermann and the LDP team. The team at LinCo had to modify the inner rear wheel wells to fit the wrap-around seating as well as lower the center of the rear floor for legroom. One of the Safari Suburban’s crowning touches is the massive rag-top moon roof that was also cut and installed at LinCo to provide an open-air environment for the rear passengers. Once the modifications were complete at LinCo they handed the body off to B&R Autobody and Painting in Silex, MO where they laid on the classic two-tone paint with a white roof over light blue body.
The interior features a pair of Silverado seats up front with a custom center console that houses an MB Quart 10-inch marine subwoofer as well as the Winters Sidewinder shifter. The team at Mutert’s Upholstery in Wentzville, MO reupholstered the front seats in grey leather and wrapped the seat and back cushions that the LinCo team built for the wrap-around limousine-style rear seating. A combination of Isspro gauges work with an Edge Products CTS2 display to provide the driver vital information on the truck. To keep the safari party rockin’ they installed a JVC audio/video receiver in the dash that sends signals to a pair of 5-channel MB Quart marine amplifiers mounted in the rear of the Suburban along with another 10-inch subwoofer. For the mid and high frequencies, they installed two pair of 6×9-inch MB Quart marine speakers across the base of the rear seat back with four 6.75-inch MB Quart marine speakers installed in each door as well as the driver side rear fixed area.
Eilermann has used the Safari Suburban around his Missouri property with great results and has even run the rig in a local parade. Additionally, the team entered it in the 2018 Scheid Diesel Extravaganza show-n-shine where it earned the Best Custom award. As you can see Jeff McCord and his LinCo Diesel Performance team built a Duramax-powered one-off safari Suburban that is so much more than a hunting Jeep ever would have been.