When your hometown is smack dab in the middle of the Great White North, snow wheeling is going to be your winter recreation. We have mentioned the guys from Aqualu (known for their aluminum Jeep and Toyota tubs) and Creative Motor Sports (known for their fully independent suspension systems), and here is what happened when we flew up to their home base in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, for a weekend of winter wheeling. We bundled up and headed out to Beaverdell by way of the Sterling Creek wilderness for a few days of breaking powder and wheeling hard in the wild white woods.
These guys build their rides specifically for snow wheeling, and as such they are different from just about any other 4x4s in the world. Outfitted with awesome engines, nothing smaller than 44-inch-tall tires, and an ber-lightweight suspension system, these rigs seemingly glide over the powder. It would be cool to see them hitting some Florida mud holes since their suspensions and powerplants would be perfect.
The other thing we learned on our trip is that while snow wheeling in Canada, you eat a lot. Every 30 minutes or so the big-block powerplants would heat up from snow bashing and we would stop and let them cool, which was a perfect time to dig into some manifold burritos and bumper barbecue. Of course, eating feeds your inner engine, helping to keep you warm while you're tromping through the white stuff taking pictures, so we didn't complain even when a can of warm sardines was passed around. We can't wait for our next trip to the hinterland. If you go, don't forget a fork.
Geby Wager started this fully independent suspension craze back in the '90s, and this CJ-7 is one of the first he built. The Gama Goat centersections have 5.57 gears but no locking differentials, and the suspension uses equal-length A-arms in both the upper and lower position. Geby's Jeep also runs a Caddy big-block, a Ford T-19, and an NP205 transfer case. He really showed us how to drive in the thick stuff, where speed is your friend but where a small twitch of the wheel can have you headed for the trees. The system is to run in single-file down the snow-covered roads and try to stay in the tracks of the guy in front.
Ward Willison's bright red YJ looked great in the winter wonderland, and his 501 Cadi-powered Jeep had no problem hucking snowballs from the 46-inch Baja Claws. The YJ has an adjustable 16 inches of height due to the CMS suspension and, like many of these snow wheelers, also has rear steer. Even with this big power, the 10.5-inch ring gear in the Gama Goat centersection survives and the suspension soaks up the deep drifts these 4x4s bash over. To keep the systems simple, not only is manual transmission the norm but so are carburetors for in-field repairs.
Bruce Turner had the smallest engine of the group with a measly 454 big-block mated to his SM420 four-speed and 205 transfer case. The homemade body resembles a Toyota FJ-40 with some added girth to cover the 44-inch Boggers. Bruce has everything but the kitchen sink on his ride, from recovery gear in every nook and cranny to a chainsaw on the rear should he need to fell some deadwood and make a fire during an emergency.
In The Shop
We arrived in beautiful Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, to get in the white stuff, but before we headed out to the trails we took a tour of some shops. We saw two awesome project trucks in the works and had to leak these photos to you. The guys at Aqualu are building a way-too-cool aluminum Toyota Land Cruiser FJ-45 pickup truck (left) to be their new shop truck. These trucks are rare as hen's teeth in the Lower 48, but Aqualu is making all the bits to build your own.
We cruised by the Creative Motor Sports research laboratory and found this four-door Jeep JK (right) getting a fully independent suspension. These conversions are not cheap and not for everyone, but the low unsprung weight makes them great for snow wheeling. The suspension is a mixture of surplus Gama Goat military parts and new, custom components. The system has an intricate computerized control module to allow various configurations of control, from fully automatic to the ability to raise, lower, and tilt each tire and wheel individually by joystick.