Mafia Secrets
Low ridin’: from mild to extreme

By Bryan "Boss Man" Martin

Q. I have a late model 379 and would like to lower the front end to get a cooler, meaner look. But I still unload at construction sites, and I must have the ability to get off-road when needed without tearing up my bumper. What do you suggest?

– Tim F. in New York

A. Well, Tim, the first thing to figure out in all these projects is your budget and how conservative, or how radical, you want to go in lowering your Peterbilt.

Let’s break this down into three levels: mild, moderate or all the way.

Mild: Start with removing any spacer blocks that are under the spring. Most trucks leave the factory with blocks that are anywhere from 1 1/2 to 3 inches thick. We always recommend that you install new U-bolts when doing this because they really weren’t designed to be reused.

Make a trip to the alignment shop after you remove the spacer blocks and have them make sure everything is still within specs. Lord knows we can’t afford to whip out a set of tires at today’s prices. If you have a shop do this project for you, be prepared to spend approximately $500 to $550 for parts, labor and alignment.

Moderate: Do all of the above, plus take a look at a taller bumper. For instance if you currently have a 18-inch model, perhaps step up to a 20-inch. To gain a little bit more curb clearance, you can order a 20-inch chrome bumper that is tapered up to 18 inches on each end to allow more ground clearance.

Another thing you can do to give the illusion of having a lower truck is to get a set of custom fiberglass front fenders that have a wider outer lip. There are many different styles and manufacturers of front fenders, and the wider outer edge helps fill in the “gap” from the tire to the fender for a low look. Kenworth and Freightliner guys can do the same thing. However, it will require a full hood replacement with a custom hood.

By the time you do the mild package, in addition to a new bumper, a pair of fenders and the paintwork required for the fenders, you’ll being digging a little deeper in the dusty ol’ wallet and shelling out between $3,600 to $3,800.

All the way: Ok, so you say you wanna go low, eh?

Do all of the above, plus let’s weaken the front springs. That way you drop the Pete when you want to park and look like a hot rod. You will need to add air bags to support the weight of the rig when you’re truckin’.

Chances are your truck was born with three or four leaf front springs on the steer axle. We haven’t run into any problems with removing/discarding the bottom leafs and only using the top two. By removing the lower leafs, the truck will lower considerably.

This mod alone will drop the front end 4 to 5 inches.

There was a time in the past we questioned the safety factor in removing leafs from the springs. However, when we noticed Paccar had engineered the new Pete 389s with factory air ride on the steer axle, which featured only one leaf on the spring, we quit worrying about it.

Air bag kits are available for as low as $900. You will still need to add items such as an electric dump valve, some air line tubing and brass fittings. You can also change out the lower shock absorber bracket, and in some cases you may even need to locate shorter shocks.

After the install is done, this is basically how it works: Your air suspension will be equipped with a regulator valve so you can set the pressure to obtain the ride height and ride softness you like. When you want to park, just flip a switch. The electric dump valve will deflate the bags, and because of the weakened front springs your rig will be goin’ low.

To do all of this, you may want to dig up two, maybe three of old granddad’s Mason jars he buried out behind the barn. You’re lookin’ at $6,000-plus if you do it all. If you choose to skip the front fenders and paintwork, you can trim this job down to the $4,000 range.

Riding low isn’t for everyone, but it is a question we hear five or six times a week here at Chrome Shop Mafia Headquarters. At one time or another we have lowered just about every type of truck out there.

Of course, several other small technical tips are involved in these modifications, and we just don’t have the space here for all of them. So … the Boss Man is just runnin’ through the basics for ya.

So until next month, may the weather be cold enough to keep the scale boss cooped up in his lil’ hut with the green light on. LL