Custom Roll Cage

Nov. 01, 2005 By ORC STAFF
After a recent near tip-over endo-style, I decided it was time to upgrade my roll protection system. At first, I shopped around for a front cage I could just add-on the stock roll bar. I never really checked out the stock bar closely before, but became rather concerned when I took a close look at how it was mounted. Basically it sits on the wheel wells; not a strong mounting point. That balanced with the awkward position of the stock bar for front loops prompted me to eliminate the stock system altogether and go with a totally custom setup.

The first step in a project of this sort, is to find someone competent and experienced at bending custom cages. Guys in a local 4x4 club, or a good off-road shop will probably be able to direct you to someone in your area. With this person, closely examine what will need to be done to place the cage contact points on top of, or very near the frame rails. You will want to tie the points of contact for the cage into the frame as much as possible. In the event of a roll, bars mounted to the body (kinda like the stock one) can punch through the sheet metal. I decided to have my guy do the mandrel bending and I would do all of the installation and painting to save some money. We came up with a system that uses four bars, the stub sleeves, 1/8" x 5" square contact pads, and two frame rail extension mounts. The cost for these items came to $280.00. When you throw in the paint and bolts, the total price came to a little over $300.00 for my custom roll cage. Not cheap…but less expensive than brain surgery.

We decided to contour the two front bars around the dash as close as possible with 1.5" .120 wall tubing. The bars are close enough to the doors so that they don't interfere with the vents or sun visors -- yet give enough room to be able to comfortably allow for rolling the windows up and down. The front center span bar was bent down on each end to provide lift for some headroom in the center. The rear hoop was bent from 2" .120 wall tubing and sits inside the wheel wells and directly over the frame rails. See picture #1, above, for an idea of the bends we made.

Next step, weld in the frame rail mounts. In the rear, I located the new roll bar directly over the frame rails. I have a 2" body lift to consider though. As a result, I welded some leftover (body lift) 2" square tubing to the frame/body contact point you'll find in your rear wheel wells. On a stock setup with no body lift, you'll see a square rubber contact pad there…remove the rubber pad and weld your 5" square plate to the frame or in my case, on top of the 2" square tube. Up front was a little trickier (see picture #2, below left). I couldn't get the front loops over the frame rails, or they would interfere with foot positioning. Instead, I welded two offset body mount arms to the frame. The ones I used came from an old Cherokee, but similar ones can be found on many trucks and older 4x4s in salvage yards. From picture #2, you'll notice I had to use the 2" square tubing as a spacer before welding on the plates…body lift again.

When the frame mounted pads are in place, move on to welding the contact bottom plates to your cage tubes. The best way to do this is to carefully cut your individual bars to length, put them in place in the Sammy, and clamp (or duct tape) them together in position. Place your square plates on the floor under the bars and trace their positions for welding. A slight angle must be cut on the bottom of the front bars as the floor is sloped. (See picture #1 again). Also, I cut the carpet holes during this step so that the height of the bars would not be different during final installation. Another important consideration, is to make sure your frame mounted plates and bar contact plates are not the exact same size. Failing to address this means you have just fabbed a very “trick” sheet metal cutter if a rollover does occur.

After welding the 1/8" contact plates onto the bar ends, reassemble the cage inside your Sammy again. The next phase I felt, was very important. I wanted to be able to dismantle my cage without having to do any cutting. . . simply undo a few bolts, and everything comes apart. To achieve this, I used a “sleeve” technique. Where the front loops connect to the rear hoop, I welded two 1.25" stub bars onto the rear hoop. This allows the front 1.50" bars to slide over the stubs for a tight fit. I used the same principle for the center cross piece up front. First, cut or grind a semi-circle into the face of the 1.25" sleeve material. This will allow the sleeve to fit tight against bar for clean and easy welding. Position bars (inside the vehicle) exactly as they will be situated when the cage is completed. Make a small tack weld to hold the sleeve stubs in place. At this time, I also made some marks on the bars to indicate bar position for drilling the holes for the stub attachments. Do the same for the center cross support. (I used alloy 5/16" Grade 5 bolts with nylock nuts and the gold color looks really sharp!) Disassemble the cage and put it back together in your workshop as I did in picture #1. All of this in and out may seem like a PITA, but it is much easier to get clean welds when you don't have to fuss with the doors, windows, and interior of the vehicle.

After everything is welded firmly together the holes are drilled (picture #3, right). Commence the painting. Some members of the Offroad Mailing List recommended I use a paint named Hammerite. It has proven to be very durable and it was fairly self-smoothing during the application. I just topped the Hammerite with the color of black that I use for everything else on the vehicle.

Install the cage into the vehicle one last time. Put all of the bars together and drill the holes for the floor mount plates. Once again, I used 5/16" Grade 5 bolts to bolt the cage down. Cinch everything down and you're ready to. By using this system disassemble the cage, move it to another body, whatever you want. Also, rear loops may easily be added using the sleeve technique in the future. View the finished product in picture #4, below.

If you have any questions on this or other mods on my Tonka toy just drop me a line at:

--Glenn Wakefield
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