There is no denying that Jeeps dominate the trails, at least in terms of sheer numbers. We aren’t certain whether it is because they come with solid axles, or you can remove the top, or the aftermarket makes every part imaginable, or some combination thereof. That doesn’t mean that a CJ or Wrangler is the only way to conquer the trail though. Many people are inclined to build something different as part of their off-road identity. We recently gathered with a collection of such people.
The group was made up entirely of fullsize trucks, half of which have graced the cover of this magazine. You could call them the Super Friends of off-road. All of the vehicles had 1-ton axles, the bulk of them had Offroad Design Doubler T-case setups, and most had at least 40-inch-tall tires. As a result, they didn’t have any issues in Secret Canyon, a trail more often traversed by downsized Jeeps and Toyotas. And this was in winter, when daylight was scarce and the temperature frigid. But these trucks all had enclosed cabs with functioning heaters and plenty of space for snow boots, blankets, thermoses, and more. Big really is beautiful!
Grant Chapman was on the cover of our Jan. 2019 issue with his sweet Stepside Chevy (“The Hot Stepper”; bit.ly/2STewhc). He drives his truck everywhere—he doesn’t even own a trailer or a tow rig. With a 383 stroker and an NV4500 with overdrive, the truck works just as well on the street as on the trail.
The extra wheelbase of Wyatt Barry’s longbed square-body meant that dropping down the steep, loose hill into Secret Canyon was free of drama. Shorter-wheelbase vehicles can get a little sketchy on steep hills, particularly when you hit the brakes.
Steve Tonti had the most sheetmetal and the least tire on the trip, but he didn’t let that deter him. Rockhound Off-Road built rock sliders for the diesel Ram, and Tonti put them to good use on the trip. The front ARB Air Locker and rear Detroit Locker kept him moving forward even when dragging the sliders across rocks.
One of the benefits of a fullsize truck is that there is room for the entire family. Jake Shurtleff brought his three kids along in the family Chevy. WFO built a front suspension with 12-inch-travel coilovers and radius arms to locate the Dana 60 front axle.
A longbed truck is great for steep climbs and descents, but there are trade-offs in terms of maneuverability. Wyatt Barry has a four-speed Atlas transfer case in his square-body that allows him to front dig, powering only the front wheels. This helps on tight trails, but Barry was still making some three-point turns.
Grant Chapman’s Stepside was a show truck when he purchased it, with a huge lift and 15-inch-wide tires. Since that time he has rebuilt the engine, swapped in an Offroad Design Doubler, and reengineered the suspension to work better on the street and the trail.
Our F-150 fits 41.5-inch Pit Bull Rockers on TrailReady beadlock wheels with only a 4-inch suspension lift, thanks to generous fender trimming. Older trucks typically have plenty of sheetmetal that can be removed without concerns about the fuse boxes or evap canisters found on newer pickups.
Chris Sparks was on the cover of our Aug. 2017 issue in his 1971 GMC (“Rock Hound”; bit.ly/2nxt7xw). He runs Rockhound Offroad in Auburn, California, and helped put our run together for fullsize trucks. His longbed truck runs 40-inch Goodyear Wrangler MT/Rs on Allied beadlocks.
Steve Tonti has rock sliders and skidplates on his Ram 2500, but his truck still wears the factory bumpers and has an S&B intake hanging under the front bumper. Careful driving and expert spotting from Alex Anderson allowed Tonti to complete the trail unscathed.
Objects in the mirror may be larger than they appear! Some runs put the less capable vehicles in the front to set the pace because they will typically go slowest. We put the biggest trucks at the front of the group so they could tug the smaller trucks, but tugging was never necessary.
The last time we were on the trail with Grant Chapman he had tube doors on his truck, but that wasn’t very practical for our December trail ride. Visibility is an issue with this much sheetmetal, and Chapman confessed that it’s a lot easier to see what’s going on with the doors removed from his Stepside.
Your author was tired of bending steel tie rods on his 1977 Ford F-150. I recently installed a 7075 aluminum tie rod from Chris Durham Motorsports. The memory of the aluminum allows it to return to its original shape when it flexes, rather than remaining bent. So far so good!
One downside of a fullsize truck is that the tires don’t stick out very far from the body. This not only makes tire placement difficult to see on the trail, but it also means that the sheetmetal comes close to the rocks. Chris Sparks used finesse and his Offroad Design Doubler gearing to get his GMC through this tight obstacle unscathed.
The rocks in Secret Canyon are no joke! Jake Shurtleff has a Smittybilt winch mounted on an Offroad Design bumper on the front of his 1994 Chevy, but he never had to pull cable on the trail. The only issue he experienced was a rock hitting the PSC hydraulic ram used to turn his 40-inch Pro Comp tires.
Much of Secret Canyon is a seasonal wash full of boulders of various sizes. There are numerous lines through the trail, providing challenges for everything from a full-bodied pickup truck to a rock buggy. Nothing is so tight though that body damage is a requirement.