Whether you are a lifelong dirt head or someone who has pursued this passion a bit further and turned it into a career, getting to see other people’s work and other companies’ products helps spawn ideas, innovation, and collaboration. Your average off-road event is a great place to see vehicles and parts in action, but on race day, racers are focused on a win. Also, the conditions at your favorite trail ride might not always lend themselves to easy inspection of that new and hot gizmo.
Enter the Off-Road Expo. This is quite possibly the largest off-road show in the world, and unlike your average race or trail ride it involves very little competition or dirt. Instead, everyone shines up their rigs and latest offerings to show them off to the public and industry insiders. We’ve been rushing to Pomona, California, for the Off-Road Expo since its inception and plan to continue to go. Not only is this a great place to shake hands with current and former off-road legends, but it’s also a good place for the average dirt head to get to talk to manufacturers, silly magazine guys, and so on. For families, Off-Road Expo gives younger dirt heads a place to get a closer look at the dreams of their futures and lets Mom or Dad get a special deal on that otherwise hard-to-get new part for their trail rig.
A show like this surrounds you with awesomeness. One of our favorite pastimes at any and all off-road shows is to look at what is before us searching for tips and tricks that could make our rigs that much more usable and enjoyable. Here are a few tips and tricks we noticed at Off-Road Expo 2015, followed by a gallery of pictures of cool trucks and parts we’d like to share with you.
If you are into Ultra 4 racing at all, you know Shannon Campbell is fast. He is also one heck of a nice guy. He makes almost everyone who meets him feel like his friend, with a smile and a handshake. Maybe some of the biggest news of Off-Road Expo 2015 was the public unveiling of Campbell’s new car. It is a work of art and will no doubt strike fear into anyone who sees it in the rearview mirror.
Shannon’s new car is filled with innovation and rock-solid components. One nifty idea that grabbed our eye is the rear axle vent. It’s simple yet effective. With lightweight aluminum fittings and heavy-duty hose, a length of tube runs up one of the sway bar links and back down. This allows the axle to breathe as internal temps change. It is going to be hard for any dirt to make its way into the axle during a race, and the likelihood of deep water fording at KOH is low. The loop also means that if the car rolls the gear oil won’t rush out of the vent and onto our public lands.
Too cut or not to cut. That has been the question of many an Early Bronco owner. It surprises us that this is the first time we’ve seen this third option (though it may have been done before), which was well executed: the Early Bronco flared rear fender. Now the oversized tire can tuck up under the fender, and cutting is not necessary. Also, with a few inspections we decided that this flare was all steel. That’s awesome, although a fiberglass version might be easier to mass produce.
Yet another great idea that we can’t believe has not been done before can be seen in this VW Beetle—er, side-by-side. That’s right. It’s not a custom German car built for the dirt, but rather a side-by-side dressed up to look like something way cooler than it is. The retro homage to off-road heritage is way cooler than some cheap (and ugly) plastic factory body pieces. Way to go, Rugged Radio! Now where is the part number or a similar body kit to make a side-by-side look like a flatfender Jeep or Early Bronco? Hello aftermarket. Hello?
Matt Lovell races his Ford Ranger in class 7200. He built the truck himself. That earns him a notch of credibility over anyone who bought a race truck in our book (though we’d like to be friends with anyone who owns a race truck). We first met Lovell at King of the Hammers a few years back, and he is a great person. His truck is also very cool and well thought out. Lovell gave us a few tips and tricks that he used to build this truck, and with a trophy truck in the works we bet we’ll be seeing more of this guy in the future. One tip that he told us is that all the tools and spare parts on his truck are secured to the truck using bolts that have the same size head on them (also corresponding to his lug nuts). He carries an electric impact with the correct socket already installed so if he needs his jack, tools, fluids, spares, or this small winch fast on the side of the race course, all he needs is the electric impact to get them off.
Wait. Did we just say “small winch”? Yes, Matt Lovell carries a small 4,500-pound winch with synthetic rope in the bed area of his truck. If he gets stuck he can slide the light winch into this tube bumper–mounted round tubing receiver and get a tug even if he is alone. A 4,500-pound winch is too small for a trail rig, but he has to keep things as light as possible, and with skill and luck he won’t need the winch during a race.
Another thing that Matt Lovell recommends is textured sheet ABS plastic. This is the stuff that most desert race trucks use as a front bumper or air dam. It is lightweight, cheap, and tough, and can be bought at a plastic supply place as a sheet. You can also get it to hold a bend by heating it up to just below melting and then forming in a sheetmetal brake. Lovell uses the black ABS as an air dam but also shapes it into mud flaps that help keep dirt, mud, and sand out of areas where he does not want them.
Weight distribution is very important in race cars and trucks that win. Shaving weight from areas where it’s not wanted is important. Aluminum is a great metal to use for this, and we saw more than a few examples of aluminum parts and tools at Off-Road Expo 2015 that you might not expect. We noticed this aluminum shovel on a sand car. It would work great in a pinch (especially in the sand) and is very lightweight.
A scissor or other jack with a nut welded on the screwing mechanism combined with an electric impact makes for a quick way to get your car or truck up in the air. Also, the aluminum plate that is bolted to the bottom of this jack will help it work in loose sand or dirt way better than wheels that make sense on a jack that’s used on concrete or asphalt. The pinned lift point and corresponding mounts on the axles, suspension, or other areas of the undercarriage mean that the car is much less likely to fall off the jack on uneven surfaces.
Aluminum is also a great metal for steering parts. Light, strong, and resistant to bending these tie rods also are fluted to make them even lighter.
We don’t know who makes these billet aluminum parts for Hi-Lift jacks, but they are a great way to cut down on weight of a tool every dirt head should have.
It’s not always easy to stand out in a sea of sameness. TJ Wranglers have been built every which way, so it’s very nice to see a TJ that is different. This TJ pushes the envelope a bit, but it shows amazing innovation. There are more images of this Jeep, other cool and vintage trucks that push the lines of innovation, and a few more tips and tricks in the gallery of photos that follow this article.