Somewhere just east and south of pretty much anywhere in California you’ve ever heard about is a strange place we love to go. It’s dry, desolate, and foreboding to most. Why do we love to go there? Well, we often ask ourselves the same question, but year after year we return. The area just west of the Salton Sea is a unique area filled with history, geology, amazing views, unpredictable weather, and some awesome off-roading. The history of the area includes geology formed by an ancient seabed, Native American subsistence in the area, a dry lake that was accidentally filled in 1905, an attempt at a failed centrally located desert lake resort, and more.
The off-road history comes from the world’s oldest off-road event known as Tierra Del Sol’s Desert Safari. The Safari, generally known as TDS (the initials of the off-road club out of San Diego, California, that puts it on every year), is unlike just about any off-road event mainly because of the area that hosts it every year. With mud hills and sand stone ledges as far as the eye can see and trails crisscrossing the area, the terrain is a great test of any off-road vehicle’s prowess, and a great place to meet up with friends to have fun in the desert.
This year’s Desert Safari was the 56th such event, meaning the event itself is probably suffering from knee aches and getting letters from AARP, all while contemplating taking more fiber pills. It’s great place to see 4x4s and off-road vehicles of all type and sorts. From mud trucks to sand rails, stock Jeeps to decked-out side-by-sides, one (if not more) of just about everything is on hand to play in the huge sand box (mostly dirt) that is this area of the Southern California desert.
One of our favorite pastimes, besides playing in the dirt hills of the area, is to look for unique rigs to share with you. Check out what we saw this year at the Tiera Del Sol Desert Safari. For more information on TDS 2018 and next year’s event, the 57th Desert Safari, check out tds4x4.com
Tierra Del Sol’s Desert Safari is a great event to check out all kinds of unique rigs. The mud hills and notches are the place to twist up your suspension, find the limits of your traction, and have fun, but the washes allow for high speeds, especially with the right rig. We saw (and heard) this cool desert-prepped square-body Chevy in one of the washes near the Ocotillo Wells Training Center. We don’t know what powered this retro-tastic prerunner, but it sounded healthy.
A Subaru wagon with skid-steer directional tires? Sure, why not? Why bother with trimming fenders when you can just remove the whole stupid things? Whatever it takes to have fun in the dirt!
We have always liked the looks and utility of the first-gen Toyota Tacoma double-cab trucks. We saw this one near the training center and had to snap a pic. With just the right balance of go-fast goodies, 35-inch tires, and a couple of lockers, this thing could be a ton of fun just about anywhere in the desert.
Is that the most annoying sound in the world? It’s not every day you see Lloyd and Harry cruising the sheep dog at your favorite off-road event. It’s good to see these guys are still friends after all those adventures and many years gone by. In all seriousness, we think that’s a late-model Geo Tracker under that brown carpet. Whatever it is, seeing it wheel was almost as much fun as the guys driving it were having!
We spotted two off-road cars at TDS this year . . . and while not quite the traditional trar (truck car) that a Camaro body on a Blazer chassis is, these were still fun to see. We are digging the affordable side-by-side alternative of the modified Mazda Miata. That Toyota Supra reminds us of some awesome Toyota-based rally cars from the 1980s and 1990s. The Toyota wearing side-by-side tires looks pretty pristine for a dirt car, and apparently the Miata was out of registration. The owner got to have a good long talk with the local authorities and may have won a ticket right in the center of the Ocotillo Wells Training Center.
Who doesn’t want a Fuso-based miniature version of a rally truck? We sure do. While most folks are spending their days turning 4x4 Fusos into overlanding campers, this guy mounted spares, built a canopy, and tuned the suspension so he could have his very own Dakar Rally–style support/race truck. Hopefully next on the docket for this truck is some race livery and rad air time.
Vintage iron in use is always fun to see. How about this rowdy-looking 1960s Chevy C-10 truck? Where’s a mud hole when you need one?
Speaking of vintage iron, check out this International Scout Traveler. The truck is powered by a 345ci tractor engine backed by a TF727 transmission. The suspension is built to go fast with a trick TTB front axle and a five-lug Dana 60 rear. Have a good long look at that front axle and see if you can figure out what makes that particular TTB axle very unique (hint: we’re not talking about the custom steering).
Mini Feature, 2001 Dodge Cummins Crawler
We have always wanted to build a second-gen 3/4-ton Dodge 4x4 into a crawler, so when we saw this truck at TDS we had to get a closer look. This crew-cab shortbed would make most folks super-happy as a tow rig with its 24-valve 5.9L Cummins. A coil spacer and ample fender trimming up front make room for a set of trophy truck take-off 39-inch BFG tires. The factory Dana 60 front has a Lock Right, while the rear Dana 80 spins tires thanks to a tight factory limited slip. Fred, the owner of the truck, plans to build a winch bumper, as he continues to build the rig. But as it is, it’s a great place to start, and until it’s “done,” there’s plenty of fun for weekend getaways like Tierra Del Sol’s Desert Safari 2018.
Mini Feature, 1977 D100 Dodge
In the late-1970s, Dodge built some very potent 1/2-ton trucks powered by 440-cubic RB big-blocks. It’s not every day that you see one of these trucks, let alone one that has been all decked out with custom suspension for playing in the dirt. This Dodge D100’s original 440 is heavily breathed on with a solid-roller cam, Edelbrock heads, headers, and more. The truck also has extensive tube work to allow lots of wheel travel from the factory front Dana 44 axle via King coilover shocks. Out back the factory Chrysler Corporate 9 1/4 axle also travels thanks to King coilovers mounted on a cantilever. This was done so the bed of the truck could remain usable and completely uncut. Tires are 35x12.50R15 BFGoodrich KM2, and they’re on alloy wheels. Between the unique suspension, the rarity of the truck, and the sound of that big-block, this truck makes our hearts go pitter-patter for sure.