Nearly every kid loves playing in the mud. Therefore it should come as no real surprise adults still love playing in the mud too. Thing is, grownups typically have the wherewithal to do such things differently, like on a somewhat larger scale. While probably not on the radar screen of most sports car oriented auto enthusiasts, there is a subset of auto-obsessed individuals whose favored automotive pursuits include trucking through mud and muck. Actually, we should rephrase; their favored automotive pursuit is trucking through mud and muck. For them, absolutely nothing beats driving one of the best mud trucks.
The experts agree torque is your best friend in this sport. For this reason, the decided low-end grunt generated by a big-block V8 engine is preferred. You can go small block, but you’ll have to modify it to make more torque. Doing so will inherently stress it more, and could lead to failures. You’ll have to rework the gearing to get some more pull out of a small block too. Diesels, known for delivering exceptional torque, do work well for mudding too. Keep in mind though, diesel engines are heavier, and you want to save weight wherever you can.
Photo by Megan Green
Heavy-duty transfer cases and differentials are also a must. Working very hard in a harshly abrasive environment, they need to be suitably robust. Yeah, mud looks highly viscous, but it contains a lot of grit too. The inherent rigidity of a straight axle will increase the longevity of your rig. While it might increase drag when it’s running submerged, most hard-core mudders still prefer straight axles to independent suspension setups for their strength. Automatic transmissions help you stay on the power better, preventing a potential shift in the middle of a situation where you really need to maintain momentum.
In the case of a mudder, the suspension system really does suspend the body of the truck—above the mud (most of the time). If you’re prone to getting into the really deep stuff, you’re going to want to go tall. You’ll also want to go relatively stiff, because traction is what mudding is all about. A stiff suspension system will keep your tires planted by reducing wheel hop. A lot of mudders prefer leaf springs because they can deal with the elements better. Fancy coil-over four-link systems look nice, but leaf springs offer more longevity for serious mudding.
First and foremost, you have to make sure your rig has the torque to handle your choice of rubber. When it comes to mudding, you want your tires to be tall and wide, with pronounced paddles. These are going to take some pretty good torque to turn effectively. Tall, wide tires give you the ability ride on top of the mud (sometimes referred to as “floating”) as much as possible so your axles don’t get bogged down. You’ll run your tires aired down to maximize their traction, so use beadlocks to keep them from getting pulled off the wheels.
If you’re talking about doing a truck specifically for mudding, you’ll likely be looking at cutting the body of the truck up some so the tires don’t get hung up. This also saves you from having to lift the truck up so high and reduces weight. The lighter your truck, the less likely it is to sink in the mud. Carpeting and cloth seats have very little place in a mud truck. You’ll be walking around in mud too, so carpet and cloth will get ruined pretty quickly. Vinyl is the move; you can just hose the truck out.
Engine computers and the like really don’t enjoy being immersed in water, so any critical electronics should be removed from the floor and mounted someplace more likely to stay high and dry. Ditto the air intake; some very serious mudders actually reroute their air intakes into the glove compartment of the truck to keep it from swallowing water and getting clogged up with mud. We’ve seen radiators and exhaust systems rerouted too. Of course this is usually done to trucks engaging in extreme mudding. If you’re talking about pretty mild stuff, you may not need to go this far.
Unless you’re incredibly rich, you won’t be going with a new truck for mudding. With that said, most people swear by the Americans, which ignites the Ford vs. Chevy debate, with RAM trucks thrown in for good measure. With all of the foregoing in mind, most serious mudders prefer running older four-wheel drive ¾ ton trucks for the real hardcore stuff. Your 2500 series Rams, Ford F-250s, and Chevy/GMC C/K 20s typically already came with a lot of the heavy-duty drivetrain stuff you’ll need built in. They’re also more likely to be running those highly coveted big block engines.
Built up until 1999, your best bet will probably be looking at the third generation models Chevrolet and GMC did between 1981 and 1987. After that, they went to an independent front suspension, which, if you’re going to be involved in some real deal mud slinging, might lack the durability you’ll want for long term running. The 1987 model equipped with the 7.4-liter (454 cubic-inch) V8 made some 385 ft-lbs of torque, but every version of this engine employed from 1981 forward exceeded 300 ft-lbs—with torque output steadily progressing from 340 ft-lbs every year between ’81 and ‘87.
If you can afford it, the 1999 Ford F-250 came with a 6.8-liter (412 cubic-inch) V10 that made 425 ft-lbs of torque. That’s way more than enough to get some good turn out of a serious set of mud tires. The model also featured two oversized ring-style front tow hooks, as if Ford built the thing with mudding in mind. Further, it came from the factory with a solid front Dana 60 axle. (The F-250 came with a Dana 50 too, so you’ll want to check to make sure yours has the 60.) They also came with leaf springs.
We particularly like the “big rig” look that came in with the 1994 RAM 2500. Some of these Ram trucks ran Dana 60s up front from the factory too, so they’re a good find when you run into them. Every engine fitted to Ram truck during this period made at least 295 ft-lbs of torque, so you’ll get good pull out of all of them. From ’94 to ’02, they offered an 8.0-liter (488 cubic-inch) V10 with a stump-pulling 460 ft-lbs of torque. Your mud buds will love to hear you coming in this one when they get stuck.