The Family that Wheels Together has FUN Together!

4x4 Magazine 4WD how to article 148

Story by Charlie Melchner

Photos by Phil Roccuzzo

Big Charlie Melchner has been wheeling trucks since the early 80’s and as life moved along and his family started growing, he kept building and updating his rigs to keep everyone wheeling.

The current rigs include Little Silver and Big Silver. Charlie, his wife Stephanie, and their kids Hannah, Lil Charlie, and Danielle, are the focus for a family that wheels together.

Little Silver is an ex-comp rig from back in the Neuroc and WE Rock days of competitive rock crawling revamped to be a fun trail rig.

Little Silver sports a custom 2×4 box perimeter frame with a flat belly skid giving it 25 inches of clearance. For power, it has a 4.3 Chevrolet V6 with stock EFI mated to a 700r4 trans to an Atlas 2 transfer case. It runs Tom Woods Custom Drive Shafts and custom Rock Crusher high pinion Dana 60s with Branik shafts machined to let the little 99” wheel-based rig steer over 50 degrees with the help of the PSC ram. The suspension is a 3-link front and a double triangulated rear 4-link with ORI struts all around. The links are all 7075, and the rig is tight at only 48 inches wide. Little Silver is designed with a custom Chris Durham Motorsports hood and PRP seats touching together, making it way more nimble off-roading. Its 15-gallon fuel cell and dual Ramsey winches make it possible for any self-recovery needs it may have. When it came to wheels, TrailReady was the only choice, and we wrapped them with the best all-around tire we could think of; the Interco 43” sticky sx in a 17” flavor.

Little Silver is piloted nowadays by Lil Charlie and Hannah as they build their rock crawling and off-roading skills. Occasionally dad runs a few hard lines with it and even a comp or two.

The real upgrade from Lil Silver is naturally its bigger older brother Big Silver as Lil Charlie has named it.

Big Silver 4×4 was a project that started around 2008 as an idea to build an all-around trail/hardcore trail wheeler that had some style and comfort. While that was a good plan, it quickly went south when the chance to race KOH came up.

Initially, Big Silver was a 4-seater with removable rear seats to make it a 2-seater. It also had two different gas tanks, a race one and a trail one. Big Silver ran the KOH qualifier like that. With its 434 ci Pat Musi racing sb Chevy and the 400 trans and a stack 3-speed t case with Tom Woods driveshafts, it was fun and fast for its time.

The next phase included some upgrades, and it was wheeled harder and harder all around the country, which pushed the idea of being the ultimate crazy trail truck with some comforts.

That lead us to the current phase and a makeover performed by Axis Fabrication. After ten years of hard wheeling, it was time to really bring Big Silver up to date with the newest and best parts. The best in the industry were called on.

The engine was tried and true at well over 600 hp, so it stayed, and we went to Maximum Transmissions for a bullet proof th400 sporting a Reid case and a custom converter that was matched up to a Hero 3 t case. We knew with the power of the motor and the strength of the drive train, we had only one choice for drive shafts, that was Tom Woods Custom Drive Shafts, and they have been a bulletproof part for us since day 1. We had been using Spidertrax stuff since our moon buggy days. Although our current Spidertrax axles held up, they were in need of an upgrade, so we went with the full pro series axle housings steering knuckles front and rear and unit bearings along with 40 spline axle shafts. We stuffed Gear Works 40 spline center sections in the housings with spools and 540 gears. Custom steering using PSC parts give Big Silver over 50 degrees of front steering as well as over 40 degrees in the rear. With a 108” wheelbase and 25” of belly pan clearance from our ORI struts and 43” Interco super swamper sx stickies, we can make some crazy things happen with this rig. Imagine 600 hp on tap being fed by a Holley fuel pump sucked through a Holley fuel matt in a Motobilt 19 gal fuel cell.

Big Silver isn’t afraid of the night either. Axis Fab reworked her with a custom-built overhead console with all new wiring, circuit breakers, and relays to support all the Competition LED lights. They also nestled in a super nice Rugged Radio set up with in-car comms, vehicle to vehicle comms, and a full set of headsets. Sticking with the big comfortable, and capable theme, PRP seats were used as well as 5-way harnesses for safety. A slew of Livorsi marine gauges monitor all the vital specs. Big Silver has a ton of comfort and style, which includes a heater and folding windshield, multiple soft doors, and a rear bed cover.

When we head out in Big Silver to explore for the day and do some serious wheeling, we are prepared for almost anything.  Big Silver sports a Warn 8274 winch with a special 10k motor and a full Factor 55 recovery system if we need it for us or anyone else on the trail.

Big Silver is set up to tackle the East coast’s woods and dirt and equally be at home out West on the trails in Johnson Valley.

Be sure to look for Big and Little Silver out on the trails with Charlie and his family at the wheel. You can follow along and stay up to date with our upgrades and where Big Silver will be next by following Lil Charlie on his dedicated Instagram account:  @big_silver4x4

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