... he and his trusty YJ Wrangler have also graced the cover of 4 Wheel Drive & Sport Utility a while back. But time marches on. After selling the YJ to a discerning buyer, Steve wanted something that could compete in rockcrawling competitions as well as explore the most extreme backcountry trails. After looking at all the options, he decided to build his own rock buggy from scratch.
Steve started by laying out his requirements. He knew how well CJ-8 Scramblers and Toyota pickups work. Their 103-inch wheelbase would be perfect for what he had in mind. It's long enough to be stable on steep climbs, but short enough to get around the boulders in tight canyons. He also wanted a smooth underbelly to slide over obstacles when the breakover was too steep. As he started bending the chassis out of 2-inch, 0.120-wall DOM tubing, he had another idea. Why not make the buggy a tandem -- only wide enough for a single seat? This would allow the driver to see both sides equally well. The axles would be left full width for stability.
The chassis was quickly finished, as were the 64-inch-wide Dana 44 frontend and the Ford 9-inch rearend. Detroit Lockers and 5.38 gears were installed front and rear. Steve salvaged a 360ci V-8 from a Jeep Cherokee, then coupled it with a Chrysler 727 automatic transmission, and a 208 transfer case. To keep the engine running at all attitudes and altitudes, a throttle-body fuel-injection system from Howell Engine Developments was installed. Transferring power to the front and rear are Tom Wood's custom driveshafts.
Coilovers are all the rage right now. While Steve fabricated his own three-link suspension using coilovers from Black Diamond and Johnny Joints up front, he was concerned with the weight transfer that coils at all four corners allow during steep climbs and descents. To combat this, he installed YJ Wrangler leaf springs from Superlift, which are controlled by Rancho RS 9000 shock absorbers in the back.
In the passenger compartment, the Mastercraft seating is tandem. A removable steering wheel operates the hydraulic ram steering, which steers the Centipede no matter what it faces. An Art Carr shifter is precise and positive, and Auto Meter Ultra Light gauges keep Steve informed of what's happening up front in the engine compartment. While the Centipede isn't street-legal in many places, it is legal in Arizona, where Steve now resides. So a windshield wiper and turn signals were installed. Super Swamper 39.5x15-15LT TSLs were mounted on 15x10-inch Baja wheels with Champion bead locks. Finally, if even the Centipede can't make it over something too steep, a Warn HS9500i winch will save the day.
We had a chance to drive the Centipede during our photo shoot. After taking on a few obstacles, it was hard to wipe the grins from our faces. The hydraulic steering, while being a little strange at higher speeds, worked great at rockcrawling velocities, and the narrow chassis was awesome.
Imagine leaning out the left side to see where things are, then, leaning out the right to take a look there, too. The visibility was superb. The Black Diamond/Steve Nantz three-link front suspension and Superlift rear springs seemed to be the ticket, too, as the Centipede crawled up an obstacle that no one else had been able to make before. The suspension also articulated well and allowed the Centipede to crawl around the terrain like, well, a centipede!
Steve has built a sweet rock buggy that works great. While Steve is a good fabricator, we'd like to point out that he built the Centipede with very few specialized tools, in his own backyard, so to speak. The Centipede flies (crawls) in the face of those who feel you have to spend megabucks to have a competitive 4x4 for extreme situations. Centipede, crawl on.