Hidden Hitch and spare tire lowering kit.
Westin step bar. Lasted about 5 years before rusting out.
This is a switch I made to shut off the Sonoma's torque converter
when it started giving me problems at about 140,000 miles. Before
that I had tried changing the transmission fluid and filter, but that
didn't help. So I cut one of the purple wires in the brake switch wiring
harness (the lower one on my harness; the other one shuts off cruise
control when the brakes are activated) and wired it to a switch. This
fools the torque converter into thinking the brakes are applied, which
automatically shuts it off. The downside is that the engine runs a
couple hundred RPM's higher while cruising down the highway. This
modification would also be useful when pulling trailers, where you
don't want the torque converter constantly locking and unlocking on
uneven terrain.

Later on, I didn't have to use the switch anymore, after I changed the
transmission oil again at about 180,000 miles and the torque
converter magically started working perfectly. But it was there if I
needed it.
The GM S-Series Page
Synergy Offroad 2-inch
shackles
Hotratz Secondary Safety Latch - tire carrier
Latch open
Latch closed
Pulling on the latch handle
This what happens when
the latch unexpectedly
releases - the secondary
latch takes hold.
For the first 19 years of my adult, post-college life, somehow the only automobiles I ever owned were various GM S-series vehicles. Why? I'm not entirely sure, except GM always seemed to
have a vehicle that suited my needs, and those needs were met by S-series trucks. Their compact pickup trucks were perfect as single-guy motorcycle haulers and daily drivers. The "work
truck" version of the GMC Sonoma was available as a regular cab 4X4 with a 7-foot bed, which was long enough and wide enough (barely) to carry two dirt bikes with the tail gate closed. The
4.3 liter V-6 engine had decent power and torque, and gas mileage in the pickup trucks was close to 20 mpg on the highway.

My first truck was a 1993 Sonoma 4X4 regular cab long bed. Hardly any of these ever showed up on dealer's lots, since most people interested in a 4X4 small truck were also attracted to
extended cabs. I wanted the long bed for hauling dirt bikes, and four wheel drive because two wheel drive trucks pretty much suck in the snow. Also, I didn't want to be one of those guys
always having to be pulled out of a muddy staging area at dirt bike races. There wasn't any other way to get the long bed, 4X4 combination, other than to order up the work truck version with
a regular cab. Once I saw the 1993 brochure and its "centerfold" photo of a black truck with red
stripes and white-letter tires, that's what I had to have. My truck ended up pretty close this photo
(below). I did forgo the P235-75R Uniroyal tires for a set of P205 black-walls, andI chose the long
bed version. Those black painted rims were also way cool. Whatever the body color, the wheel
colors would match. I also got the digital dashboard, which was pretty awesome. This was back in
the days before daytime running lights and headlights that came on automatically at night, so that
digital dashboard sometimes made me forget to turn on my lights when driving in town on well-lit
streets.

The coolness of a black truck quickly wore off after driving in snow, rain, or any other type of
weather besides warm and dry. The photo below on the left was taken during its first winter. The
truck also lost its luster when salt ate away the paint on the wheels. Then the fuel injection
problems began....this was the most unreliable new vehicle I've ever known. For the year with
central port fuel injection. On my truck, anyway, it was a failure.  In the winter and spring of 1994,
the Sonoma was parked in the dealer's garage almost as much as at my apartment's parking lot.
Without the warranty, I might have been forced into bankruptcy. 3 years Iowned it, I never really
knew if the engine was going to start when I turned the key to the ignition. The "enhanced" V-6,
with an extra 30 horsepower over the regular V-6, was the only engine configuration that year with
central port fuel injection. On my truck, anyway, it was a failure.  In the winter and spring of 1994,
the Sonoma was parked in the dealer's garage almost as much as at my apartment's parking lot.
Without the warranty, I might have been forced into bankruptcy.
The day I took delivery of the new Sonoma, I drove across the street to the motorcycle dealership and picked up a new Suzuki RMX250 (above right). That was a good day. Fuel delivery on
the 1996 Sonoma was sequential fuel injection, a definite improvement. Despite the 1993's fuel injection problems, it did have a very peppy engine and was actually the best of 3 different
versions of the 4.3L V-6 that I've owned. The 1996 version was still pretty good, although the fatter 235 tires took away about 2 mpg.

When I ordered this truck, I had my eyes on a new style of S-series called Highrider (or ZR2 for the Chevy versions). These came more suited for off-road use and had wider tires and a wider
stance. They were built a little stronger and just looked exceptionally cool. If the Highrider Sonoma had been available in a long bed version, that's what I would have bought.
Most of the Highriders were ordered with extended cabs, so the photo from
the Sonoma brochure (left) was a rare vehicle - almost as rare as a
long-bed 4X4 regular cab Sonoma. In the late 1990's, with the Supersizing of
America well underway and gasoline prices cheap, apparently nobody
wanted a regular cab truck as a daily driver. Instead, crew cabs became  the
norm and bed sizes shrank faster than an Obama campaign promise. When
I started seeing S-series trucks with 4 doors and 55-inch beds, I knew my
next vehicle would not be an S-10 or a Sonoma. By 2004, when I began
looking at new vehicles,the S-series was nearing its end of production and
the only long bed option was a 2-wheel-drive model. The 1996 version of
the Sonoma was, overall, a pretty reliable truck. As I approached 150,000
miles, I'd replaced many of the usual parts such as the battery, alternator,
universal joints, shocks, water pump, oil cooler lines, etc. The only two
lingering issues at that point were the air conditioner, which lost its
refrigerant every winter, and the torque converter, which lost its ability to
figure out when it needed to lock and unlock. The torque converter problem
was a $5 fix by wiring a switch into the brake pedal electronics to fool the
torque converter into thinking the brakes were on all the time (and thus
forcing it to stay unlocked). I gave up a couple miles per gallon by having it
run about 200 RPM's higher on the highway, but at that point I didn't care.
Soon, it wouldn't be my daily driver anymore.
In the Fall of 2004, the Sonoma was nearing 9 years old and 150,000 miles, so it was time to add a new vehicle to the fleet. I had no intention of trading off the Sonoma - it was far too
valuable to me as a dirt bike hauler and made trips to Home Depot much more enjoyable. Since no car manufacturers were producing a small truck with four wheel drive and a 7-foot bed, I
decided my next auto would not be a pickup truck. I could have traded the Sonoma for a full-sized pickup truck, but I didn't feel the need. My little truck was just fine for hauling my dirt bikes
and whatever else. I almost bought a Pontiac Grand Prix, but when GM began offering steep discounts for its remaining 2004 inventory, the Chevy Blazer ZR2 suddenly became very
affordable.
In 1994, GM redesigned the S-series to keep up with Ford, which had redesigned its Ranger pickup trucks the year before. Gone were the boxy front ends, as well as central port fuel
injection. When the warranty on my 1993 Sonoma ran out in 1995, I decided to trade it off and let it be someone else's problem. I took a chance on GM once again and ordered up a new
1996 Sonoma. The truck was almost identically spec'ed to my 1993 version, except this time I got the bigger white-letter tires.
Downtown St. Louis, 1999.
St. Louis in the early 2000's at my house in Shrewsbury.
I'd always liked the look of the ZR2 Blazers, and after 12 years of owning S-series vehicles, I knew what to expect (mechanically, anyway). The slanted bodywork reminded me of the Nissan
Hardbody trucks and Pathfinder SUV's of the 1980's. This one came from a dealer in Wood River, Illinois near the end of my days in St. Louis. A red version at another dealer in Columbia,
Illinois had just been sold after I began touring car lots; otherwise, that's probably what I would have drive home in. But the yellow one in Wood River was pretty sweet too, so that's what I
bought
.
I was never one to modify my vehicles very much, but that changed with the Blazer. When I couldn't find a way to play
my MP3 player through the stock audio system, I ripped it out and installed a
complete aftermarket system. When I
saw a unique addition of air horns on
ZR2-USA.com, I did the same to my Blazer. I also did a few other things, such
as lowering the huge spare tire mounted to the back of the Blazer so I could actually see something out of my rear
view mirror (other than a large tire). I added some
Synergy 2" shackles to the leaf springs, to rid the Blazer of its rear
end sag. I also installed a Hidden Hitch and Westin step bars, as well as a Hotratz secondary safety latch to the
spare tire carrier.

The whole idea behind buying an SUV instead of a passenger car was to maintain some level of "utility" to my
transportation. If the Sonoma met an untimely death, I still wanted the ability to transport dirt bikes or pull a trailer. I
got that with the Blazer. It pulled a trailer and tons of gear on a dirt bike trip to
Colorado in 2007. That same year, it
also did a
3,500-mile trip to the East Coast and back, carrying a dirt bike, a mountain bike, and 10 days worth of
gear.

One of the best add-ons for the Blazer was the
Ultimate MX Hauler. This hitch-mounted carrier is a way to transport
a motorcycle without a trailer. As the Sonoma has aged, I've used the MX Hauler as a back-up plan on a couple of
occasions when the Sonoma was behaving badly. Other times, I used the Blazer to haul dirt bikes when I traveled
long distances and didn't quite trust the Sonoma enough to drive so far. After more than 10,000 miles of driving with
the MX Hauler, it's been an excellent investment.
As for the Sonoma, I sold it to a college kid in December 2012, after
the transmission gave up its 3rd and 4th gears. Up to that point I had
revived the truck from the dead several times. During the summer of
2009, I almost gave it to the salvage yard after the transmission
became nearly unusable. With one last act of desperation, I changed
the transmission oil and filter (for only the second time in its
life...maybe there's a lesson there). Like magic, the transmission came
back to life and I got another 3 years before the transmission was
ready for a major overhaul.

GM sold a few Blazers in 2005, but that was it for the 20+ years of
S-10's, Sonomas, Blazers and Jimmys. From 1982 to 2004, these
trucks were found all across the U.S. Today, they have been replaced
by the Canyon, Colorado, Trailblazer, Envoy, Acadia, etc. These new
models are bigger, heavier, and designed for a seemingly
never-ending supply of buyers who want trucks to ride like cars. Long
live the S-series.....
In December 2009, I decided the harsh winters of
Northwestern Illinois called for better snow tires. I didn't
want to discard the stock tires, since they worked pretty
well on the road and had plenty of life left in them.
Instead, I picked up a set of lightly used stock rims from
eBay and mounted them to BF Goodrich AT tires.
These have always received good reviews by the
I found my twin! This was at the Clocktower Inn in Rockford, Illinois on June 14, 2010. Never did figure out who it was.
Blazer ZR-2
At the farm, October 2011. Had about 200,000 miles on the original engine and transmission.
Seventeen years, almost to the day, after I purchased my 1996 Sonoma, I sold it to a college
girl in Wisconsin. In December 2012, the little red truck that wouldn't die was running with a
transmission missing its 3rd and 4th gears. I had limped home from my final dirt bike ride of the
year with only two gears, and I knew I wasn't going to replace the tranny. I put an add on
Craigslist, and a few weeks later the truck was gone. The photo above was the last I took. The
odometer showed about 206,000 miles.  

Goodbye, old friend.
Internet crowd, so I took advantage of Farm & Fleet's 4-for-the-price-of-3 sale and now have a pretty nice set of
winter tires. When the snow melts, the old set goes back on the truck.

The only disadvantage of these tires is that they reduce the gas mileage somewhat on a vehicle with pretty poor gas
mileage to begin with. The stock tires give me no more than 18 mpg, and these drop it closer to 16 mpg.