Dobbertin Performance's Mid Engine S-10 Project Buildup
No matter how revolutionary and straightforward a new concept is, the only way to test its design and back up it's claims is to build a project vehicle. Then if there are any bugs, they can be worked out before it's brought to market. Most likely, you'll also learn a few tricks along the way that you can pass along. There's no substitute for experience.
I decided that a small pickup would be the most practical starting point for our mid-engine project for some very obvious reasons. With a pickup truck, the majority of the transformation can be performed from the topside by simply removing the bed. This also makes chronicling the progress through photos or videos much more convenient. Another advantage of a pickup is showcasing the completed vehicle at any sort of event. With the push of a button, the bed can be raised up and out of the way, giving an unrestricted view of the entire conversion.
I was lucky to find a low-mileage 1994 Chevy S-10 on eBay only a few hundred miles away. It had some ground effects and 'Lambo' doors, which I wasn't too crazy about, but the custom paint was tastefully done and the price was right – mainly due to the fact that it was an electric conversion that wasn't running.
I didn't have a winch in my trailer, so I bought a cheap come-along as I wondered, “how heavy could an S-10 be?” Surprise... this S-10? How about 6,000-pounds!
When we pulled the bed, we found a complete 3-axis hydraulic system to raise the bed, a full air-ride suspension system and 53 frickin' batteries! That's 52 batteries for the electric motor and 1 for the accessories.
The batteries were double-layered, with the bottom layer going all the way to the front of the cab! The aluminum battery box alone weighed almost a hundred pounds.
After making two trips to the battery shop, we found that the total weight of the batteries was 1,913 pounds!
Next, the electrical system, motor and transmission were removed so we had a clean slate to work with. Because the electric water-cooled 195-volt motor had no accessory belt, the truck was loaded with a lot of electric accessories, including a water pump, a power steering pump, an air conditioner compressor, a brake vacuum pump and an air bag compressor.
Now that the truck could be pushed around by hand, the first thing that would be modified was the rear frame.
Even though the truck's frame was in good shape and didn't look like it had ever been wrecked, we ran several lines to make sure that it was still square, front to back and well aligned with the cab.
It was dead-on, so the next step was to put the truck up on jack stands and level it front to back and side to side. This took some time, but it had to be right, because this would be the basis on which the new frame would be built. The old frame would be used as a jig for the new rear 'back-half' frame.
I wanted the main frame of the truck to have five inches of ground clearance, which is about what a C5 Corvette has. This meant that the new frame rails would have to be constructed with a 12.5” rise in them. (This means that the bottom of the upper rail would be 12.5” off the ground when the lower rail was placed directly on the floor.) The upper and lower angles had to be kept the same so that the upper and lower rails would remain parallel to each other.
I needed a WMS to WMS dimension of 60.75” for the S-10, so I simply deducted 35” from that dimension to determine what the outside width of the rails had to be. This meant that the original C5 Corvette cradle would have to be narrowed 6” from the standard Corvette's 66.75” width. (There is a chart on the site for this in the “How to Order a Kit” Section.)
Once the frame rails were welded into the front crossmember, under the cab – and again braced to the old frame rails, several inches behind the cab, it was time to cut away the old frame.
Now, at this point with a conventional 4-link, ladder bar or independent suspension system, the tough work is just beginning. All of the control arm and/or ladder bar or 4-links brackets, plus the panhard rod, spring and shock mounts will still have to be fabricated and meticulously placed on the frame so the rear axle will be located properly and the vehicle will still be able to be aligned.
However... since the entire Corvette Interface Suspension System can be assembled as one complete unit, before it's mounted to the frame, this project is already nearing completion!
After placing the complete suspension on a dolly, I rolled it forward to about where it should end up, and jacked the assembly up into the adapters. I used a couple C-clamps to hold the adapters in place until I could install the tires and remove all of the floor jacks. Now the truck was sitting on all four tires with the Corvette suspension holding up the rear.
Before the cradle can be permanently attached, the bed should be lowered back onto the truck to determine the exact location for the adapter's mounting holes. By simply loosening the C-clamps, the suspension assembly can be rolled forward and/or backward until the tires fit properly in the wheel well openings.
Next, the drivetrain was lowered into place so the engine and transaxle mounts could be made and the proper length axles could be ordered.
I brushed on a quick coat of frame paint and dropped an LS mock-up engine into place. It was getting down to 'crunch time' for a couple big automotive events, so I had to decide on what I could put off until a later date.
The obvious choice was the bed...
Even though the hole in the bed was roughed in, I realized that I'd never get it attached in time, so I talked myself into the advantages of displaying the truck without it.
After a short break to the Street Machine Nationals in Illinois and the Syracuse Nationals in New York, it was back to business.
I probably could have completed ten mid engine conversions in the time it took me to mount this bed. By the time I cut out the bed, it was so flimsy that I needed to brace it from front to back with 2” x 3” aluminum tubing.
I wanted to hide the entire bed-lifting actuator assembly, so by stuffing it all up in the back, I really cut down on the lifting point's leverage. I ended up having to use a 2,200-pound actuator to do the job without stalling it! I then tied everything together with a couple lift arms in a 'V' shape at the back of the bed.
After assembling everything to take some pics for our photo gallery, the bed was removed and the frame was braced on both sides. Then two battery boxes were added.
Because of the tilt bed, the roll bar struts had to be attached to the back of the cab a little lower than usual – then bushings added to tie in the interior-mounted 8-point roll bar.
Of course, all of the little hassles like brake lines and emergency brake cables are still ahead of you, but once you've done a couple conversions, a swap like this on a pickup is literally a two to three day job.