Heading out to the desert in our 4x4 to explore, camp, and play with our friends is one of the things we live for. Sure, attending a large off-road event is fun and a great way to meet new friends and see new stuff, but sometimes the best adventures can be had on spontaneous trips to a new off-road area with the same old friends and rigs. Our pals know how to have a good time. Like us, they eat, sleep, and dream about off-roading, so tagging along on one of their trips makes for an easy decision.
With our tents stowed and some food and beverages in the cooler we headed to the town of Superior, Arizona, en route to a trail known as Hackberry Creek or The Power Line Trail. The trailhead is a few miles east of Superior, and the geology and topography around the trail is spectacular. This trail offers shallow desert water crossings, beautiful scenery, and plenty of rock obstacles that would prove fun for all of our off-roading pals and their range of vehicles. While on the trail we snapped some photos of our pals’ rigs in action and later at camp looked for cool tech ideas we could borrow for that next build and share with you. Check it out.
My buddy, Mike, has one cool flatfender. It’s a 1948 CJ-2A that has been extensively modified. Mike built the frame and stretched the body himself. He also rebuilt the Chevy 350 engine (bored 0.030 over), including doing most of the machine work. The transmission is a SM465 bolted to an NP205. The front axle is a GM-based Dana 44, and the rear is a narrowed Dana 60, both with ARB Air Lockers and chromoly shafts. Up front the Jeep has a Warn 9500 with synthetic rope. Under the hood is a Sanden A/C compressor converted to run onboard air. Mike also built the top, which carries over lots of features from the original tops these old Jeeps had.
Mike’s flattie has lots of Easter eggs that are good to steal or borrow. For one, he used these trailer lights that are very similar to the original taillights found on an old Willys. To give the lights a little added protection, they are mounted inside the rear fender, which sits in front of a stout rear bumper.
We’re not exactly sure when cup holders were invented, but if they did exist before flatfenders were built in the mid to late 1940s and into the 1950s, they didn’t find their way into these Jeeps until later. Mike added these bottle holders from a bike shop. They are cheap and mount to his rollcage to hold Slurpies.
Hanging pedals in a flattie requires getting funky with the pedals. That generally includes shortening them and adjusting where they are relative to the floor. What do you do if you don’t have pedals? Make some out of plate steel and use a cutoff wheel in an angle grinder to add traction.
Our friend Rob Bonney is one hell of a fabricator. His longtime wheeling rig (he’s had it since he was 15 or so) is this 1952 Dodge M37. We like to refer to it as his mining equipment because it bangs and scrapes up the trail. It’s big, it’s heavy, it’s incredibly durable, and it’s amazingly capable with Bonney behind the wheel. His first good idea is keeping it looking military since OD green and rust lend themselves to hiding dents and rock rash.
Military rigs have lots of handles and bars, so this tubing that protects the huge filler neck on the M37 is functional and looks right at home. It is relatively easy to make heavy-duty protection pieces like this for old military rigs. Add some OD paint, scratches, and a little rust, and you’re done.
Sometimes old parts on an old truck break. Restoration parts can quickly get expensive and may not be all that useful. How about using a tractor hitch pin to make a part like a windshield frame pivot removable? That works for us, and hoodpins are cheap and readily available.
Jay Kopycinski’s name is difficult to spell, but his 2001 Toyota Tacoma is a righteous rig. As a freelance writer he built the truck in the pages of one of our sister magazines. It holds tons of cool ideas and tricks. Also, get this. The truck started life as a 2WD Prerunner Tacoma. Kopycinski added a solid front axle and a couple of T-cases to build one capable and good-looking trail rig.
Kopycinski’s Taco had fender flares from the factory, but he didn’t really like the look or want the added width, so he removed them. That left mounting holes exposed in the body that would have been expensive and time consuming to fill. His fix: Color-match some carriage bolts and bolt them in the holes.
Keeping a Hi-Lift jack on a trail rig is a no brainer. Mounting it can be more difficult, but the foot plate uses all these holes that can serve as a mount when studs are intelligently placed in your bed like this.
Rob Bonney’s good friend Tom Estelle, with his son Carson, brought along this well-loved and well-built 1989 Toyota DX truck. The original paint has been beaten into a theme. The theme is “recycling day,” and clearly Estelle isn’t afraid of a little body damage. The truck is simple yet effective and hides more than a few tips and tricks within.
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Somehow, and not for a lack of trying, the original glass is still in one piece in Estelle’s driver-side door. It still closes (with a little persuasion) and still does its job. Off-road vehicles should follow the KISS rule: Keep it simple, stupid. Keeping parts that may seem mangled but still work is a great idea.
Pitman arms do an important job and can see amazing amounts of force leading to bends, and twisting. Estelle’s pitman arm is properly beefed to help deal with the additional loads seen when rockcrawling with big heavy tires. You want your pitman arm to be stronger? Do this.
This image shows at least two things that make sense to us. For one, a trail spare doesn’t have to be pretty; it has to hold air in a pinch and survive when others have failed. Second, Estelle’s got the right idea for cooking dinner with that mini BBQ stashed inside the trail spare’s wheel. A warm dinner makes camping all that much more fun.
Chris Arviso’s 1988 Toyota 4Runner is a work in progress, and we like that. Sure, everyone would love to have a dedicated trail buggy, but modifying a cool old rig like this as needed (and as the check book allows) is a great way to enjoy off-roading without a second mortgage. This Toyota still runs the IFS, but with Marlin Crawler dual T-cases and lockers front and rear the SUV keeps up with the big dogs.
If your friend is a great fabricator (like Rob Bonney) lend a hand in your area of expertise in exchange for some help building awesome parts for your trail rig, like Arviso’s rollcage. Bonney knows how to build a strong cage right, and with Arviso providing some of the labor and working on one of Bonney’s projects to repay the favor, he ended up a very nice rollcage in his 4Runner.
Trent McGee is a freelance writer and a longtime contributor to 4-Wheel & Off-Road. His 1997 TJ-based buggy has been on several Ultimate Adventures. Simply put, it just works. It is light weight, stout, and well thought out. It’s also not hard to believe that there are some great ideas hidden on this rig.
Knowing any and all possible week points on a rig is a good thing. Carrying spare axleshafts for a junkyard rear axle is a great plan, and keeping that weight somewhere low and out of the way takes that plan even further. McGee has a spare axleshaft for his rear Ford 8.8 tucked up under the rocker guards next to the frame in case he needs it on the trail.
How about using some turnbuckles from the hardware store to keep things in place in your trail rig? They are nothing fancy and not too expensive at a well-supplied hardware store, yet are a strong and secure way to mount a fridge when combined with a well-thought-out rack.
We brought along our 1949 Willys Truck for this trail ride. The bed was full of stuff, and the low gearing from an Offroad Designs Doubler helps a ton. Add in the low center of gravity, and hit the trails.