If you spend any amount of time on YouTube watching Australian off-road videos, like I do, you have heard them mention “touring.” Touring is how the Aussies refer to what’s known here in the US as “overlanding.” This type of off-road travel has exploded in recent years. Fading away are the buildup of rock crawlers in favor of vehicles that have every piece of kit possible to survive the zombie apocalypse, or the weekend car camping trip. A natural result of prepping a vehicle for touring is that a lot of weight is added by way of steel bumpers, a winch, drawers, dual batteries, skid plates, a roof rack, roof top tent, water tank, a fridge, and many other things. That’s in addition to the personal gear that gets packed each trip.
With the increased weight, especially on an already heavy 80 Series Land Cruiser, the need for appropriate suspension is critical. A suspension with adequate load capacity and ride quality that is comfortable enough to not wear you out after a long day of driving long dirt tracks. The Aussies have been touring for a long time and developing suspension for Cruisers for just as long. Darren McRae of the Autocraft workshop fame, is a long time 80 Series guru who has been pushing the limits of these cruisers and building custom suspensions for them for more than two decades.
He has recently been perfecting a complete suspension system, called Slinky Long Travel, for the 80 Series. He is now bringing it to the U.S. through Redline Land Cruisers of Colorado. I’ve been driving an 80 Series on and off-road since 2000. I’ve had a fair amount of time in 80s other than my own and have experienced just about all of the most common different bolt-on suspension options available in North America. When I heard about the Slinky Long Travel system coming to the U.S. I was very interested. It had an innovative design that set it apart from everything else I’d seen. I now have had two months with the Slinky Long Travel system on my 80 and this is, without question, the best bolt-on suspension setup I’ve ever experienced on an 80. Instead of getting technical, I’ll briefly describe the components and then give my review and thoughts on its performance in a variety of terrain. For technical information check out the Redline Land Cruisers website for specs and options. There is also information on this suspension on the IH8MUD forum.
First I want to break down what makes this system different from other coil and shock offerings that use the factory coil buckets and shock mounts. The Slinky Long Travel coils have a unique dual-rate coil design. What does that mean? Basically you get a coil with two different spring rates, a part of the coil with a lighter spring rate for a smooth ride and for absorbing the small bumps and a part of the coil with a stiffer spring rate for better load capacity and for absorbing the big bumps. The top few winds of the coils also compress almost completely at normal ride height and then open up with the suspension is flexed. The result is increased down travel, and also keeps the coil from dropping out with the longer shocks. More importantly, there is still force pushing the tires to the ground even when it’s at the limit of droop. That means better traction. The coils are available in a 50mm, 70mm and 75mm increase in height and with Intermediate and Heavy spring rates. The 75mm (3-inch) kit is adequate to fit 35-inch tires and yet keeps a low center of gravity, gives a great ride with excellent travel from the extra droop and 14-inch long travel shocks. 37-inch tires can be fitted with an extra 1 inch added to the bump stops. In conjunction with the innovative coil design, Autocraft has partnered with Icon Vehicle Dynamics to create the custom built high quality Icon suspension tuned to Autocraft specs. A Stage One kit includes four Slinky coils and Autocraft 2.0 smooth body emulsion shocks.
The Stage Two and Three kits use a different combination of coils and shocks with an upgrade to Autocraft 2.5 bypass shocks. The Stage Four kit upgrades the shocks again to an Autocraft 2.5 bypass shock with CDC adjustability so the user can independently tune compression and rebound with the twist of a knob. All kits also include bump stops, sway bar extensions, brake lines and caster correction bushings. I installed the Stage One kit on my 80 in Moab at the start of Cruise Moab. Then I spent time on the trails with Darren, Justin from Redline, and with Woody from IH8MUD, who all have the Stage Four kits.
I pushed the suspension through moderate higher speed trails with ruts and whoops, and crawled in the rocks. I replaced another popular Australian suspension system sold in the U.S. I could tell a big improvement immediately after getting behind the wheel with the Slinky suspension installed. After 16 years of owning an 80 I am once again looking for reasons to drive my 80 as often as possible— because it’s just so much fun to drive with the new suspension. So here’s my review of the Stage One Kit. I plan to have a follow-up article sometime soon after upgrading to the Stage Four CDC shocks so that I can give a comparison between the more basic kit and the top-line setup. The Slinky Kits use the tagline #ultimatetourer referring to them as the ultimate suspension for touring or overlanding , so let’s talk about that type of travel first: primarily moderate to higher speed rocky dirt tracks with ruts and whoops, along with corrugated fire roads. Without question this is where I saw the biggest improvements. The Autocraft tuning on the Icon 2.0 shocks with the valving used smooths out small bumps and corrugations and increased valving deeper in the stroke absorbs the big rocks and whoops at higher speeds. Trail irregularities were smoothed dramatically. The body of my 80 remained much more composed and settled without any of the jerks or feeling of being launched off a bump that I was accustomed to. As a result I was immediately more confident at higher speeds because the truck felt much more controlled. I didn’t feel like I was wrestling the suspension to keep the truck going where I wanted it to go. The rebound on the 2.0 shocks is just about perfect.
Personally, I wanted a little higher compression because since I was now carrying more speed, the big bumps were transferring more force to the suspension than they would at lower speeds and the big whoops would occasionally overwhelm the shocks hitting the bump stops, so I would have to slow down a little. Maybe that isn’t a bad thing, but if I had any complaint about the Slinky Long Travel Stage One kit, that was it. But that’s the beauty of the Stage Four kit—you can make real-time adjustments to the shocks to for your driving style. When I got a bit of time behind the wheel of Darren’s 80 with the suspension with all the bells and whistles, I could tell right away his shocks were set with a slightly stiffer valving and it felt great. Overland trips vary. Sometimes you carry a lot of gear and sometimes you carry less. The differences in weight changes how the suspension behaves and the adjustability would be a welcome feature. So how were they in the rocks? It was not as easy to get a sense of the differences when crawling in the rocks at low speeds. My 80 felt more stable. The body remained flatter in off camber, cross axle ditches and rocks. I saw an increase in suspension travel, most of it in down travel. I was coming from a 3.5-inch suspension lift with 2-inch coil spacers and extended bump stops. With the Slinky coils I lost roughly two inches of ride height, which improved the center of gravity, and yet with the change in bump stop, the removal of the coil spacers, and the increased down travel of the new coils, I gained roughly six inches of suspension travel. So while the suspension is targeting overlanders, it’s equally at home in the rocks. More travel, better center of gravity, a more controlled and smoother ride was giving my 80 improvements in all the important aspects of a quality suspension.
I had a smile on my face the entire time during Cruise Moab as I got used to this new suspension. I took several 80 owners for rides and within the first minute of being in my truck they all said the same thing,“I gotta get this stuff!” On the road, the suspension feels firm, but comfortable. It’s not so soft that you feel like it floats. Just as it does in the dirt, it handles bumps and potholes without jarring feedback and keeps the body relatively flat through corners. It feels planted and firm giving feedback from the road surface. It’s difficult to accurately describe what the ride feels like but consistently, when anyone got a chance to experience it first-hand, they understood what the excitement was all about. Is the Slinky Long Travel suspension the Ultimate Overland Suspension? Maybe. It is clearly the best bolt-on suspension I’ve experienced in an 80, although with a few minor shortcomings with the Stage One kit, but that could be attributed to my driving style. Overall, I’ve been extremely pleased and have enjoyed my 80 on a whole new level. If you’re an 80 owner looking for a new suspension for your build, or an upgrade from your current setup, I think it’s worth a look at the Slinky Long Travel Kits.
Watch the full video here of the suspension in action.
Copyright T.C.T magazine and Adam Tolman. Images Adam Tolman.