We recently got an anonymous email about going to a small island in the great lakes of Michigan to check out this all-new self-proclaimed off-road truck from Blacklake Research & Development. At first glance, we were a bit skeptical about this email; it almost looked like a top-secret document with information that had been redacted. But when we heard about who was involved in this project, such as off-road engineering legend Bryan Kudela and legendary shock engineer Jeff Ryan, we knew it was the real deal, so we had to go. We thought why not, so they flew me out, fed me, and put me behind the wheel to see what the truck was all about. Was it worth flying out there? We think so.
The Ford F150 Raptor has been out bombing dirt roads for over a decade now, and recently, Ram joined the party of offroad Baja-inspired OEM trucks with the 700 horsepower TRX. Undeniably great trucks from an OEM, but Chevrolet has always lurked in the background without a comparable truck. There have been a few attempts to make a “Raptor Killer” from Chevrolet like the Reaper, but it wasn’t too much of a success. That is where Blacklake Research and Development stepped in to develop a luxury prerunner inspired truck with some serious off-road performance while maintaining an OE quality.
This is the Chevrolet Silverado Blacklake XT1. The goal behind this truck was to blend OE engineering and finish with off-road technology that blends seamlessly together. Blacklake had a goal that was to engineer components of the truck to be specific to the Silverado platform to maximize performance and aesthetics.
They started out with a 2021 Chevrolet Silverado Trail Boss. They threw a Magnuson x Lingenfelter TVS2650 Supercharger on it, making it good for 650 horsepower on the 6.2 Liter v8, sending power to the original 10-speed automatic. 3.73 gears and a rear e-locker. This drivetrain has proven reliable and has more than enough power to go offroad and not get out of control.
Speaking of control, let’s talk suspension, everyone’s favorite subject. When Blacklake R&D set out to what suspension the RT1 would have, they explored the many bolt-on applications out there but ultimately decided to engineer their own. Bryan Kudela was brought on the project to design and develop the suspension for the truck; ever heard of him? Bryan deserves his own story here as someone who has helped develop and design some of the most iconic racing trucks throughout the years. He spent the beginning of his career working with Cal Wells & PPI before founding Light Racing, building the Baldwin trucks and MacPherson trucks, and many more to working with GM today. So when it came time to develop a suspension package for this truck, it was safe to say he was the guy for the job.
What about shocks? Well, in our current state of the world, trying to even get shocks built for any vehicle can be a challenge, let alone custom shocks intended for production. Blacklake called up an old friend, Jeff Ryan of JRI shocks. He is recognized as one of the most legendary shock builders in the world, having built shocks for racers such as Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, and Michael Schumacher. His early beginnings begin off-road with motorcycles, and he was one of the first ten employees at Fox Shocks pioneering shock technology. So when it came to developing a new shock package for the RT1, they were in good hands.
The RT1 has a CNC 7075 billet aluminum front lower control arm and upper steel control arm good for 11.8 inches of travel with Lanternmark Jounce shocks and JRI 3.0 Internal Bypass shocks. Although this truck didn’t have it, they aim to develop electronic dampening shocks as an option for customers.
The rear suspension is where things get interesting; the RT1 has a 5-link rear suspension with horizontal watts link and JRI 3.0 internal bypass coil-over shocks. With 4130 Tig Welded Trailing Arms and Lantermark Jounce shocks, it is good for a cool 17.5 inches of usable travel. Not bad at all.
This truck’s details set it apart to give it the OE finish that Blacklake set out to accomplish. With many off-road builds, many people focus on performance first and throw body panels on later, but with this truck, you can see that the details shine and set it over the top. From the custom bumpers that accentuate the original design to the carbon kevlar fenders, the overall build quality brings it all in together as a cohesive build. Even the shock caps for the rear to keep the dust or mud out of bed or the vents on the fenders that actually are functional for heat to escape from the engine bay.
While we were in Michigan on Drummond Island, we not only had the opportunity to take the RT1 for a drive, but an actual drive off-road. This would also be the first time ever the trucks would be tested off-road. Unfortunately, the transfer case broke within 10 minutes of driving off-road. The gear fluid leaked right onto the exhaust and caught on fire. Fortunately, we put the fire out, no one was hurt, and all that was damaged was the t-case. The transfer case breaking was no fault to Blacklake, maybe it might have been a part of failure from GM. Five hours later, swapping the transfer case from the spare truck, we were back on the trail with about 30 minutes of daylight left.
Finally, I was behind the wheel of the truck, and it drives incredible off-road as it instilled confident driving. I was a bit nervous about hearing the front suspension travel numbers weren’t entirely that impressive in the front end, but the suspension felt excellent when we were moving. You could imagine it handles on the road as a big truck would with no rear sway bar, but not as bad as you would think. The stock Wrangler 392 had worse handling than this. But once you are in the dirt, it shines.
As I mentioned, this was the first-ever shakedown for this truck, which might have been an oversight considering the truck broke in the first 10 minutes off-road. But I can admire the guys for their valiant effort to hand the truck off to journalists and see what it is all about. Once it had been fixed, we were romping on it through the backwoods without any issues.
The truck and the technology behind the suspension is exactly what you would want out of a truck like this. At the beginning of this story, I mentioned it is a luxury truck, but there is some left to be desired on the luxury side of things considering the hefty price tag. There isn’t an exact price, but the Blacklake team told it will cost around the $250,000 range. That is a lot of money for the truck, and the only interior modifications were the leather seats and a Switch-Pros system. Everything else was the way it came from the factory. That is my only major gripe with the truck. Comparing the interiors between the Ram and F150 isn’t the best comparison considering they all have similar features and materials. The fully loaded Ram TRX costs around $95,000. Having been in both trucks, I have a hard time seeing that the Blacklake XT1 is a $155,000 more difference in performance and luxury.
While the truck may cost a lot of money, that is not to say that the truck is vaporware or junk. I really believe that the Blacklake XT1 is a solid truck capable of great things, and the guys behind it are onto something truly special. From the OE fit and finish to engineering off-road performance, this truck is rock solid, and there is no doubt once they get the bugs worked out, it will be bombing through the desert in Johnson Valley. This week they will have the Red XT1 on display for their first public appearance at SEMA for an up-close look.
Chassis: 2021 Chevrolet Silverado Blacklake XT1
Engine: Chevrolet 6.2L V8 Magnuson x Lingenfelter TVS2650 Supercharger 650hp
Exhaust: Full Custom Borla Exhaust
Tire: 35x 12.50x 17 BFG KM3
Wheels: Black Rhino
Front suspension: Blacklake billet CNC Lower Control Arms and steel upper arms 11.8″ wheel travel
Rear Suspension: Blakelake 5-link watts link rear suspension
Shocks: JRI 3.0 Internal Bypass Shocks