It's hard to believe I'm in my fifth year here in magazine-land. It is also hard to believe that it took me this long to agree to go to Four Wheeler magazine's Top Truck Challenge in Hollister, California. Every year Cappa tells me I should crash it with him, and every year it's always something-I'm out of the country, I have four Jeeps and none of them are capable of making the trip, or whatever. Well this year, the stars aligned and I went. I gotta say that I'm a dumbass for not going sooner.
The key thing to remember is that while TTC is a competition, it isn't a competition like we are all used to seeing. There is no show-and-shine snoozefest here, there are no stock Jeeps on street tires running up a rock the size of a curb for a picture, no series of rock buggies humping a sprayed-concrete wall. This competition is a gathering of the biggest and best wheeling machines in the country. The courses are designed to test the mettle of the competitors and the vehicles, and test them they do.
Cappa put it well, "This is the only event where you will see all the vehicles there run to ten tenths of their capability, and then pushed beyond that." What I learned is that, well, he was right (much as I hate admitting it). This is a competition in the truest sense of the word. It is like the Superbowl or World Series of wheeling. Everyone there is there to win. It is a clean competition with good camaraderie between teams, but everyone is definitely going for gold and thrashing the tar out of their rigs in the process.
The competitors are chosen by votes that Four Wheeler's readers mail in and they can put their own rigs up for consideration. The Four Wheeler editors then decide whether or not the vehicle meets the criteria, and put them in the magazine for the readers to vote on. We'd love to see more Jeeps in it. But if you are even a little bit worried about sheetmetal or broken parts, don't even think about it.
This year there were three Jeeps competing, and while there was an alternate scheduled, that team decided to stay on the East Coast rather than spend all the money to get there and likely not compete. That left us with a TJ-skinned and completely powder coated buggy from Missouri, a down-to-earth but still sky-high CJ-7 from California, and a completely bed-lined LS-powered FC-170 hailing from New York.
For those of you unfamiliar, there are rocks, mud, water, deep mud, hill climbs, and more. A well-rounded vehicle is the order of the day at this event. Don't bring your desert rock-buggy and expect to win-you'll drown the engine and throw a rod in the first event. Don't bring your pond-running mud truck and expect to tromp all the moon buggies-you'll lose most of your sheetmetal on the rocks. The way to win at this event is to build a rig with everything in mind and then use it in the worst areas you can think of. Get familiar with your pile well before TTC.
It didn't take a rocket scientist to see that this year the courses were harder than ever. The event coordinators saw how many 54-inch tires there were (40's looked small in this crowd) and took special care to make each event challenging to all. There were Volkswagen-sized holes in the Hillclimb, and trenches in the Mini-Rubicon that you could stand waste-deep in the water and barely see out of the hole.
How did the Jeeps fair against the tricked-out buggies? How do you even build a Jeep to be competitive at this level? Well read on to see what the biggest and baddest Jeeps in wheeling were this year, and maybe I'll see you there next year (there is no way I'm missing this thing ever again).