Rambo Penguin's Gen 3 Build!

Question for you,..when you installed your 2" springs/struts,..what else did you need to get your alignment done? Camber bolts?
So far i haven't figured out the perfect alignment.. my toe is good by my camber is still off. I'm looking into camber bushings.. i'll report back here if i do anything with that!
It’s time for a regear! Let me first off say that when I first got into this build I NEVER thought that I would be in as deep as doing a regear. Then I found out how simple, cheap and beneficial it is and it became a very attainable modification. There is lots of info about 4.9 diff swaps out there, but I will cover some of the basics here so everyone can get caught up to speed if you are unfamiliar. I might post later on about how to actually get the diffs out of the car, but it’s pretty simple and there are some good youtube videos out there (like this one
) I drove 7 hours round trip to pull these diffs, took me 2 hours to pull them in the yard, cost $160 out the door for both. Considering this is usually a $2k- $3k job in a normal vehicle i’d say that’s pretty good!

1st! What monteros have what gears? Gen 3’s (2001-2006 in the USA) have two different gear ratios: 4.3 and 4.9. Almost all of them have 4.3. Only the 01-02 XLS models have 4.9. The 01-02 XLS with a sunroof (not the limited) have 4.9 and an LSD.. which is pretty sweet but i didn’t get one of those :(. They directly bolt on and are already set up from the factory so you just swap the diff assembly (sometimes called the carrier or 3rd member) and don’t have to open the diff at all!

So why did I go with a regear? Three reasons stand out. 1) As I mentioned before, it was cheap and simple to do. 2) The 33” tires did take away some of the punchiness and power to the ground that I had when I was on stock tires and 3) My rig weighs 3 Tons.. Not a joke.. It’s 6,000 lbs fully loaded without passengers. So the 3.8 V6 and nicer tranny that they put in the 03-06 models was good, but I really needed all the advantage I could get.

Let me explain #2 for a sec. As long as lift and tires are a thing, people will ask the question: What fits? How does it affect the torque? MPG? Yada yada yada. After a year on 33”s I have some feedback on how they ran on my rig. I immediately noticed the negative effects of bigger tires on the performance of the montero. The most noticeable was actually on dirt roads. When I hit the dirt I would get into 4H (AWD) and the montero would get really slow. It was constantly downshifting to keep accelerating and felt sluggish. I would often find myself shiting all the way into 4LLC just to get the low range gear advantage to save the stress on my transmission. In 4LLC they ran great. I also felt this sluggishness on the street, especially if I was moving more than 2 people or loaded up for a trip. I know the Montero is not a race car so I wasn’t expecting much, but for the sake of longevity I wanted to help the transmission and motor out as much as I could. The reason the montero felt so sluggish is because these motors make almost no power below 2,500 rpm.. At least it doesn’t feel like it. With stock 4.3 gears and 33”s my effective gear ratio was 4.01. This meant that it spent a lot more time at lower RPM than it did when stock. Combine that with weight and it was a slow, fat pig.

Now that i’ve done the swap here are some highlights!

The best way to describe the power coming back to the Montero is that it went from feeling lethargic and lazy to fit and healthy. It is still not a race car. But it has some of the punch back, it spends more time in the “powerband” and it doesn’t feel overworked anymore! 4H has become a usable drive option and 4LLC feels amazing! Tons of torque and slower crawling speeds. If feels like it’s aggressively geared for trail work and climbs with ease. It’s also nice to have the extra low gearing for hill descent.

As far as MPG goes, I didn't see anything crazy. I would say i went from around 11-13 mpg combined to 13-15mpg. On the Hwy doing 80 i’m still down in the 11-12mpg range just because this thing has the aerodynamics of a cinder block. But on slower 65mph roads with mild grades i’m all the way up at 18-19! So it definitely helped, but wasn’t crazy.

So in summary, regearing is awesome and i’m excited that I did it. It very well might be the best performance mod and preventative maintenance mod i’ve done to date. Here are a few pictures of the swap.

I want to take just a minute to comment on the weight thing I mentioned earlier. Yes, according to my local scale, my montero fully loaded is about 6,000lbs. This is with all the armor, camping gear for 4-5 days, probably 27 gallons of gas (including the jerry can) and 10 gallons of water total. It’s really heavy. Part of that is that the Gen 3 weighs 4,800 stock, so it can get up there fast. Up until this point weight savings wasn’t a huge deal, but now that it’s really climbing up there it has become a major factor (this is the story of every overland build haha). I took some time to really evaluated what i’m carrying as well as what’s on the rig. Aftering some thought and planning I came to a few conclusions. The first is that less liquids will really help keep the weight down. I don’t do any trails were I need more than a few gallons of fuel so jerry isn’t needed, I also don’t need as much drinking water as I usually pack. Instead, i will fill the can only to what i think i need and bring a water filter if for some reason i run out on the trail. The other is that added a winch and heavy front and rear bumper would only make things worse. I can easily justify the need for both, however at this point the cost is too high. With that, let's talk about 2 things that the weight really effected, lift and that front bumper idea..

First is lift. Man this has been a pain. I think i’ve taken the front end of my truck apart 10 times by now. But i’m at a point that i’m really happy with. My OME and Bilstein setup was working really well, however, it just wasn’t that tall. After everything had settled and was aligned i realized i was only ½” over stock! That’s almost nothing. So once again, i was on the hunt for more lift to get the ground clearance i needed for simple trails. Fortunately, the bilstein front struts have some adjustment. There is a circlip located under the bottom spring seat. It moves the seat up 10mm (functionally producing 20mm of lift because of the preload) So that got my about 1” extra lift. Relatively simple to do, and free! I have HD springs in the rear already. They are rated for about 400lbs over stock which is right about where i’m sitting with everything loaded up. They ride fantastic even when weighed down, i just needed a little more boost. A fellow montero owner tipped me off that XJ jeep spring spacers work with our rear springs, so I picked up a set of those that are 1” thick and they did the trick! I think i still sag just a touch in the rear but it doesn’t matter as much anymore because everything is up higher. At this point i have almost 13” of ground clearance under the front skid and rear diff. Bring on the rocks!

The ride is notably stiffer, however after just a few days of driving I've gotten used to it and couldn’t tell you the difference. Off Road it’s amazing. I’m still getting flex out of both front and rear and it feels planted and stable. Here’s to hoping that’s the last change!

Remember how those wide wheels were running into my fenders? Yeah that’s still a thing. My bump stops helped a lot in the rear, but the front was still smashing into my guards, linders and bending stuff. This was very apparent when i went to the sand dunes and treated my montero like a dune buggy. I had the suspension at full compression multiple times at high speeds, and everything got crunched. Here are some pics that better explain what time talking about

This was before the stiffer/taller lift in the front, so that will help slow things down for sure, but i still needed to remove stuff. I’ve ripped out 3 sets of fender liners already, so those were already removed. Next was to cut the fender and flares back. I’ll be honestly, there wasn’t exactly a science to this. I cut the metal fender back so that it was nearly even with the height of the frame so that i wouldn’t smash it. Next I drilled out the rivets on the plastic flares and cut them back as well. This gave me nearly an inch of extra width and should be enough to clear the wheels at full tuck. It’s hard to explain exactly what this looks like so just check out the pics. I finished it off by covering the exposed fender sheet metal with paint and then some door trim rubber for a cleaner look and also so that I didn’t have sharp edges in my wells. Then i painted everything to prevent rust and called it a day. I suspect with will be enough to solve my rubbing issues, but i won’t completely know until i push it to the limit again.. I’ll report back when i do

I finally did it! I built a front bumper! I’ve wanted to do this since i moved to Montana to give me a fighting chance against the massive population of deer out here. My goal was complicated. I wanted to build something that matched the lines of the Montero, was as light as possible, was removable for ease of maintenance, could protect against light animal strikes, wouldn’t hinder the epic approach angle that i already had, and would be cheap. Obviously if I was really worried about animal strikes and performance i would just get an ARB, but they are out of my budget and I think they look ridiculous on the gen 3. There isn’t a straight line almost anywhere on the car, and the ARB is just an angular block. Doesn’t fit the style and it adds about a foot to the front of the car. The big challenge here is that the Gen 3 doesn’t have anywhere to mount a bumper too, since it’s a unibody. I’ll go into a good amount of detail about the build here, if you just want to see the end result skip it and check out the pics at the end, my feelings won’t be hurt.

Step 1) prep the front end for a bumper. There are 2 things that need to move when building a bumper: the windshield washer reservoir and the factory crash bars. The crash bars are easy, grab a sawzall and go. I cut through the thinner metal and left the rest intact. I cleaned it up with a dremel and painted the whole thing black. The washer reservoir is also easy to remove and some people just leave them off, but I like being able to wash off my windshield so I decided to come up with an alternative reservoir. A quick Ebay search lead me to a $10 washer fluid bag with a pump included. Splice it into the factory wires, run the plumbing to the factory spots and it’s done. I hung it right behind my passenger headlight.

Step 2) build a bumper mounting point.

I saw a lot of different designs for this. All are by DIY intensive and require a lot of tools and skill. Mine, unfortunately, is not any different. I opted to basically continue to build out the Box and ladder frame design that the montero already had (even though it’s a unibody.. So weird how they built these). So I used a hole saw to cut a 2” hole in the rails, put a piece of ⅛” wall tubing through it and welded it to the frame as best I could. This is about as solid of a mount as it gets. It would be nearly impossible to get that bar to move in the frame rails. After that I welded some mounting plates to it. I used ⅛” metal for everything. This would serve as the permanent side of the bumper mount and allow for me to have a clear spot to attach the bumper and also allow me to easily remove it later.

Step 3) The actual bumper

Similar to the mounting point, I designed a plate that would bolt on and hold the bumper. I decided to go with a tube bumper to save weight and to follow the montero styling. This proved to be a lot more work than i thought. I’d never worked with tubing before and it proved to be much harder than expected. After hours of bending, measuring, cutting, redoing, welding and a lot of head scratching and staring, I finally settled on something I liked. Simple, clean and attainable. This was far from my best work, my welds were strong but ugly, my angles are off, things are uneven, but in the grand scheme of it all, you won’t notice unless you were looking for it. Overall, i’m happy. I’ll probably keep cleaning it up and making it look a little better. I plan to add some amber fog lights as well to help with snow glare this winter. I’m proud that i built it myself, i feel like it will be sufficient to protect my rig in most applications and i like the way it looks well enough.

And now, pictures. Unfortunately I didn’t take a lot of shots during the creation process.. Basically there was a lot of grinding, bending and welding.. But now it’s done and looks like this!

Side note: Chances are very high that this is hurting my MPG because you can see almost all of my 33” tire haha. I might try to make it more aerodynamic (something like filling in the sides or making an integrated front skid plate.. But those are problems for the future)


Next time your out around the Billings area hit me up on Facebook, I have a page called Montana dirt roads, I go pretty much anywhere.also have a YouTube channel..I'm looking at a 02 Montero as the Sequoia is a big has hog and the Jeep a bit cozy with the family.

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New member
Would it be pretty easy to mount a front light like that with the bumper still installed after I cut the front horizontal bumper pieces? Or is the bumper really difficult or straight forward to take off? I'm interested in a light similar and am lazy and don't feel like removing the bumper if I don't have to.


Brush Dawg
Would it be pretty easy to mount a front light like that with the bumper still installed after I cut the front horizontal bumper pieces? Or is the bumper really difficult or straight forward to take off? I'm interested in a light similar and am lazy and don't feel like removing the bumper if I don't have to.
If you mount it on top of the bumper, you wont have to pull the bumper skin, easy and straight forward. To mount it in the bumper, removal is going to be necessary. That said, the bumper skin is pretty easy to get off the truck.

I've had a bar mounted both ways and the second way is hands down the cleanest and best performing set up.
WOW! It’s been over a year since I last posted on this thread. Truth be told, not a ton as happened since then on the build side of things. I’ve done a lot of trips with the Montero and just been enjoying the rig. That being said, there are some notable additions to the build worth sharing on this thread.

Side note: in this section i will refer to “frame rails” from time to time. The Gen 3 montero is a unibody, and therefore doesn’t actually have a frame (which is actually part of the problem here). However it does have a similar structural component built into the unibody construction that looks like and functions like a frame rail, this is the part that i’ll be referring to throughout this section.

I finally built a rear bumper!! Sort of. The circumstances surrounding the build were sub-ideal. Long story short, I was high centered on some snow, a buddy of mine did a snach recovery trying to pull me backward from my hitch, and ripped 3 of the 5 bolts straight out of my “frame”! This is probably the biggest downfall to the gen 3 platform: it’s a unibody. There isn’t a solid frame rail to build off of and bolt to for structural strength. The twisting motion of pulling on the hitch swiftly overcame the weak mounting points and just like that, my hitch, rear recovery points and mounting points were toast.

BUT every cloud has a silver lining. Armed with a new understanding of how I needed to improve my hitch and rear recovery points, I set out to make a bumper that would better suit my needs.

First thing to tackle was mounting points. Since the factory ones were ripped out I couldn’t reuse those, and frankly, wouldn’t want to seeing how they already failed me once. My options were either weld directly to the unibody, or find other mounting points. While poking around the rear of the truck, I discovered that there are additional holes in the “frame rails” located directly above where the hitch used to mount. In some cases these are used to attach factory recovery points. These holes are perpendicular to the frame rails AND just so happen to be sleeved, meaning that they won't collapse under load. Admittedly, this is the point of explanation where words on a page will fail me. I’m not an engineer who can explain the exact science of shear forces and torque properties.. So what i can say is: There are 4 of these holes, they are extremely strong, and integrated into the body of the car in such a way that makes them nearly indestructible. So I used those as the mounting point for my bumper build. Here’s some pics that will hopefully explain my point better than i can

From there I wanted to make a bumper that accomplished 4 things:

  1. Higher departure angle
  2. Strong recovery points
  3. Fully functional hitch
  4. As light as possible

To accomplish this, I kept with a pretty simple design: I basically extended the frame rails out past the rear of the car and braced them against any kind of twisting motion. I kept everything in line with the frame rails. This eliminates any twisting or unwanted torque that would be put on the mounting points during a recovery or towing. From there I welded in a bar that would act as a mounting point for my hitch receiver as well as brace the rails from collapsing in on themselves under load. So that made up the base of my bumper. I used 3/16” steel all around, the factory is only ⅛” so that should be penty strong.

A few notable things with this set up. 1) i had to cut a bit of a pinch weld to get these rails to extend past the body. You can see it in the pics. This was a simple job with an angle grinder. 2) The rear climate control system gets in the way of the passenger side rail. I had to do some fancy cutting to get the rail to still fit in that spot. This does mean that the passenger side rail is slightly weaker than the driver’s side, however I don’t think this will actually make a difference for this application.

Now moving onto the recovery points. 2 is better than 1, so for my recovery points i decided to ditch the hitch receiver as my rear recovery point and add 2 that were directly in line with the frame rails. This will allow me to run a bridal strap between the two points and evenly distribute the load and force of a recovery. To make this as strong as possible, i decided to integrate 2 hitch receiver style recovery points into the rails, 1 per side. I used a mill to shave the blocks down to fit into the frame rails, then drilled a hole through the rails and ran a ½” grade 8 bolt through it (basically a hitch pin). I also beefed up the hole by welding some additional ⅛” thick plate to the top and bottom, and filled in the space on either side of the block with some more flat bar steel, welded in place, again, to prevent twisting or moving. All in, i don’t think they are going anywhere!

With all that done i found a 5,000lbs hitch receiver and bolted it on. I also welded a “bumper bar” to the rear so that I actually had some kind of protection against impacts since the other bars sat so close to the body. To get everything to fit up nicely and still look halfway decent, I cut and trimmed the factory rear bumper and step so that it still functioned normally and looked like it belonged there. I also trimmed the plastic (both the rear and the sides) as best I could to accommodate this new set up. I had to just work with what I had on the plastic parts because they got destroyed when my hitch got ripped off.

I will admit, I don’t love how it looks. It’s simple, and somewhat clean, but It just looks like a hack job to me with the plastic parts being torn up. That being said, I didn’t want to add additional metal parts to the bumper to save weight, and i’m still more invested in weight savings than i am in cosmetics.. So for now, it stays the way it is.