Sportsmobile owners are a tight-knit group, and well they should be. They drive one of the most capable off-the-shelf 4x4 vehicles on the road, not to mention that the Sportsmobile is a fully self-contained camper, with sleeping for four, kitchen, toilet, dining area, and storage. Depending on the model, some have a shower, microwave, DVD player, leather interior, front and rear lockers, custom bumpers with a winch, and auxiliary lights. In fact, it's hard to find two Sportsmobiles that are alike, considering the number of available floor plans and options (see www.sportsmobile.com).
Once a year, Sportsmobile owners gather like birds coming home to nest. The annual Sportsmobile Rally is an event no owner wants to miss. The theme of the rally alternates every year from educational to adventure-oriented. Last year saw these backroad campers crawling over the slickrock in Moab, Utah, where you'd expect to find Jeeps. This year, the theme was was "back to school." It was an opportunity for owners to learn more about the capabilities of their machines, how they work, how to fix them in the boondocks, information on many accessories that can help them travel safely off the beaten path, and even a few tips on cooking.
The 2005 rally took place at the Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area near Gorman, California (www.ohv.parks.ca.gov). During the three-day event, owners were able to attend seminars by Jim McGean of Dynatrac (www.dynatrac.com), who explained gear ratios, lockers, limited-slip, and other axle function basics. The new 4x4 conversion now being offered by Sportsmobile in Fresno, California, features a custom Dynatrac Pro 60 front axle with a Dynatrac full-floating rear as an option.
Eric Sullwold from Pewag Chain (www.pewagchain.com) demonstrated the how-tos and what-ifs of installing mud and snow chains, including how to choose the correct style for a specific application and vehicle. At the other end of the huge "school" tent, talented volunteers showed how to prepare a Spanish paella and other delicious recipes from the Sportsmobile Cookbook.
A popular class was presented by Gary and Monika Wescott of The Turtle Expedition (www.turtleexpedition.com), exploring a variety of topics about safe travel in Mexico, including water, food, bathrooms, security, fuel, tires, special equipment, bandidos, Federales, military checks, health, paperwork, insurance, and general driving tips. Gary also gave a class on the use of a Hi-Lift jack.
Mike Quigley, owner of Quigley Motor Company (www.quigley4x4.com), which provides one of the 4x4 conversion options for Sportsmobile, spoke authoritatively about the Quigley 4x4 system. There were lectures on the Power Stroke turbo engine which most Sportsmobile owners opt for, with information on the new 6.0L and the five-speed Torque Shift transmission.
Chris Wood of ARB (www.arbusa.com) explained the function of ARB's locking differential and taught off-road driving techniques on the three uphill courses reserved by Sportsmobile for the rally. This was a great experience for new owners to get a feel for how their vans perform.
Jim Fleschner of AmsOil (www.amsoil.com) talked about the pros and cons of synthetic oils and the dual-filter system which is purported to extend oil changes on engines to 15,000, 20,000, or even 25,000 miles. Meanwhile, George Carousos, owner of Extreme Outback Products (www.extremeoutback.com) gave an interesting class on tire repair, off-road tire pressures, compressors, and related off-road equipment. Scott Porter came down from Warn Industries (www.warn.com) to teach a class called Winching 101.
Morning and evening, everyone was treated to the fabulous food prepared by Fat City Smokehouse. Fat City has catered the Sportsmobile Rally for several years, and the restaurant's smoked tri-tips, ribs, salmon, and mahi mahi were truly gourmet. After dinner, the Sportsmobile Band showed their amazing talents (considering they only jam together once a year).
In keeping with this year's theme of "back to school," there was a Friday-night sock hop, and many owners came in their best poodle skirts and retro attire. There was no sign of the Fonz, but the Sportsmobiles were a reasonable stand-in for '55 Chevys.
One afternoon, we were treated to an amazing demonstration by members of Caltech's DARPA Grand Challenge team. Sponsored in part by Sportsmobile, this year the team's 4x4 vehicle will again attempt to navigate a course between Los Angeles and Las Vegas in the fastest time under 10 hours. The winning team receives a $2,000,000 prize. We should mention one catch before you think of signing up: There can be no driver or passenger in the vehicle, and only publicly available signals (e.g. GPS) may be used for navigation. Otherwise, the vehicle must be fully autonomous, receiving no other signals for navigation, path planning, obstacle avoidance, and terrain differentiation. More details may be found on the DARPA Grand Challenge website, www.grandchallenge.org, or at www.team.caltech.edu.