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Straight Axle-Swapped 2004 Cadillac Escalade Off-Roader Loves Climbing Rocks

The builder of this classy trail rig raided the GM parts bin to create the Escalade he'd been dreaming of since high school.
Matt Oden

The Cadillac Escalade is a status symbol—always has been and always will be. Nothing else says you’re ’04 rich like owning a clean second-gen ‘Slade. Thing is, not everyone’s worried about other people’s impressions. Some just want to see lifted trail rigs with straight axles underneath.

Matt Oden fits into that camp, and he made his vision a reality by building the ultimate Escalade off-roader.

“Growing up on a ranch, I always had jacked-up squarebody Chevys,” Oden told me. “I remember driving past a dealership [in high school] and seeing the new body style Escalade and thinking, ‘Man, that would be cool to straight axle and lift.'”

Fifteen years later, Oden needed a family car. He stumbled across a clean 2004 Escalade with a 6.0-liter V8 that was all stock, so it fit the bill nicely. The plan was to drive it on the weekends with his crew in tow, but after he joined a few friends on a light trail run, he realized the factory all-wheel-drive system sucked. That’s when the build really began.

Before long, Oden bought a crew-cab pickup for everyday driving and started wrenching on the Caddy. He sourced a Dana 50 front axle from a Ford Excursion and hung it with rear springs from a 1985 Chevy Suburban. Then, a 14-bolt rear-end from a Hummer H2 was tossed in with 4.10 gears, an electronic locker, and an NP241C transfer case.

All this is neatly packaged alongside 7-inch Skyjacker lift springs and Bilstein shocks. Oden mounted 35- by 12.5-inch BF Goodrich tires on 17-inch Hummer H2 wheels to give it the proper stance. The body and paint are still in great shape, and better yet, the rig passes SMOG tests in its current home of California.

“I decided to keep it mild and do an overlander build versus a crawler to keep it well-mannered on the highway and still felt safe putting the family in when we venture into the snow or go camping,” Oden added.

“Currently, I like wheeling around Mammoth Lakes in Mono County or around Fordyce Lake in Tahoe National Forest,” he continued. “I want to plan a Rubicon trip for later this year.”

That is if he doesn’t sell it first. The Escalade is listed for $15,000 on Facebook Marketplace with around 185,000 miles on the odometer. It’s tempting for this Missouri boy to fly out to California and drive it home, but I have my own projects to worry about. All in all, this beauty seems super well-sorted.

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