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The Hands of Adversity

Posted in Features on February 16, 2006 Comment (0)
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What is living? Being a functional being in society is what's expected of an individual, but working to sustain an existence is only one part of all the elements needed to support life. Things that develop passion are essential in character development, and character is what keeps us from being emotionally stagnant. An identity that is your own is formed from your characteristics. The things that you like or dislike will pave the way to your identity, and your identity will set you on a path to passion. Something you love to do, something that drives how hard you work, what you argue over, and what you brag about may seem relatively insignificant, but it paints the picture of who you are. For some, this identity comes in the form of off-roading.

In the Feb. '05 issue of OFF-ROAD, we started a journey with Frank Sperling who set out to revamp the mojo of his '67 Bronco. This first segment entailed fitting an old frame with a new suspension, powdercoating, and assembly of a rolling chassis. The second part in that series ran in April '05 and entailed cleaning, prepping, and painting the tub and all of the refreshed parts. We had every intention of running the final segment shortly after to conclude our Bronco coverage, but little did we know what the hands of adversity would dish out over these last few months.

With all his attention drawn to the Bronco, Franko (Frank + Bronco = Franko) strived to finish his Blue Oval so we could capture its debut with the camera's eye. We gathered up our gear, loaded up our rigs, and headed out to see the miles of rolling fine granules known as the Imperial Sand Dunes. The cold air blew through our jackets as the wide-open Hedman headers put to rest the tranquility of that early Saturday morning, yet there was something amiss. Franko tapped on the glass of the oil pressure gauge, paused for a moment, then nodded and crept off to allow the engine to heat-soak a bit before finding out what his revamped Bronco could do.

The throttle on the Bronco came back to an idle, and once again Franko tapped the oil pressure gauge. It was then that we knew something was wrong; he threw up his hands and shut the motor off. The engine was making 25 psi of oil pressure when we left camp, and now it was making less than 15 psi. In sheer disappointment, Franko towed his new toy home. It seems that sand (imagine that) somehow got into the engine and destroyed every sealing surface beyond reconditioning. Need we mention that this engine had been to Glamis sand dunes a number of times over the past nine years and had seen better days? This time, a call was made to Summit Racing for TrickFlow heads, an SVO block, JE Pistons, Comp Cams, and a plethora of other awesome parts to match a 570hp build that hit the June '05 pages of Sport Truck, and yes, that little stroker combo is impressive!

We had previously mentioned to Franko that the clean little pony looked odd with huge square holes where the doors were, and that some door inserts would bring a good finish to his build. Not two weeks went by and we received an e-mail from our old friend showing sanding and smoothing of a seamless Bronco body from tip to tip. He had the fenders, door inserts, and rear fender flares fused and smoothed for what was truly a killer look. Now some might say that a true off-road vehicle doesn't care about paint and body because it's just going to get destroyed anyway. We've also heard the argument that running around with a winch cable and hook in your hand isn't off-roading either. Of course, there's also, "If it's not doing 100 mph through the desert, it's not real off-roading." We've heard just about enough sniveling over what is and what isn't off-roading. The truth is, if it's not on-road, it's off-road.

Bestop's TrailMax front Aqua Sport buckets and Aqua Fold & Tumble Rear Bench are sold as Jeep seats, but Franko had some custom bracketry made to fit the rugged seats to the Bronco.

Meanwhile, Franko's wife was getting impatient with his zeal driving him to work late nights tinkering with his toy. With three children and one in the oven, there was no way the small three-bedroom house was going to provide comfortable living for the family. A decision was made to expand the house in front and out back to make the needed room. After seeing what was available in home equity loans and how much it was going to cost to build the new additions, Franko took one of the cheapest bids he could find. Without fail, the bottom-feeding contractor barely spent any time working on Franko's home, and when he did, it was with leftover or second-rate materials.

Proto Fab also has a killer winch-ready crawler bumper. Franko asked the folks at Proto Fab to fab a prerunner-style light bar to ours so we could get the strength and desert looks from the thick plate bumper.

The family soon started spending all its time at grandma's house, leaving Franko to his torn-down home and almost-done project. Franko started feeling fatigue and pain spikes in his body. We received a call late one day from Franko relaying what his doctor had told him: "Yeah, things aren't going so good right now. I have clear cell sarcoma, which is a rare kind of cancer. They're going to cut it out next week. Then, they want me to start radiation treatment."

A couple of months later, we called to check on Franko to see how he was doing. He sounded much better, but his incision had gotten infected and he was almost done with the antibiotics for the infection. We told Franko that we were going to Glamis sand dunes and that we would miss him. He asked what day we planned on going and how long we planned to stay. Two days before our trip, the phone rang and on the other end was Franko. "I'm going to make it to Glamis for this trip if it kills me. Where will you be camping?"

We picked his favorite spot but didn't really expect that his wife would allow him to show. Friday afternoon passed and soon came the clear night sky, yet still there was no sign of the yellow beast or its owner. The warm campfire and long ride we took that day brought us an early sleep. Eventually, our sleep was abruptly interrupted by the sound of Franko's high-powered Ford small-block cracking the silence on an early Saturday morning once again. This time the engine wasn't stumbling, and there was no doubt that the new powerplant was ready for action. The shock mounts were refitted with a set of Bilstein 9100-series, 2.65-inch, threaded body shocks. Franko also said that the threaded bodies were going to be fitted with a spring and that removing the old coils and leaves was on the list of things to do after he finished his house and started down the road to recovery.

Proto Fab's six-point rollcage provides a guilt-free grab bar for the front passenger and plenty of protection for the kids strapped in with five-point harnesses to the Bestop rear bench.

Franko eased into romping his rig, and it was like he had never been sick. We cut over the deep bowls, hit the 60-mph mark through the smaller woop sections (not bad for a short wheelbase), and tackled Competition Hill as fast as the stroker 347ci engine would carry us. After a year and a half of rebuilding his Bronco, Franko was finally back romping through the dunes with a smile from ear to ear. When we got back to camp, it was obvious the hard ride had taken its toll on Franko. When we asked if he was all right, all he said was "couldn't be better." Like all passions, what started out as a "get-the-job-done" weekend turned into a brief interlude of pleasure for Franko -- just enough fun to remember why he started this project and why he comes to this place.

TrailReady's cast-aluminum bead-lock wheels really allowed the big-power motor to rip through the dunes without fear of pulling the paddles free of the safety bead. Not to mention they look awesome!

Prevailing before the hands of adversity to pursue an off-road passion -- now that's zeal. The Tank Trap in the Tough Truck Challenge, the sheer face of Moab's Hot Tub, the 1,000 miles of Baja, and the perils of Paris-Dakar are mole hills compared to obstacles like clear cell sarcoma. The passion to live is how people prevail in these situations. It doesn't matter if you rockcrawl, mud bog, desert run, dune, or rally. The exhilaration of prevailing against adversity gives all off-road enthusiasts a purpose, providing an identity to be passionate about and a reason to live.

Off-roading is a means for some to find a spiritual state of mind above this physical plane of existence. It's what sets us apart from others, and even though we may be different in our views of off-roading, this common goal bonds us together. And if you care to be passionate, dare to stand together against the sanctioning bodies that threaten to close our off-road parks.

The Bronco being Franko's first vehicle was a blessing in disguise. The truck kept the teenage Franko's unguided attentions to small goals that brought instant satisfaction. This introduced his life to structure and principle despite the lack of a father figure. The desire to shred the dunes meant lots of work hours fixing all the broken parts that go along with off-roading. The endless wrenching attracted Franko's friends who either praised him for being able to do the work or laughed at him for constantly having to fix his 4x4. Those young nights were spent bragging about trailing deeper than any other trucks would dare to romp. On occasion you could hear Franko say, "Someday it'll be bad enough to be in a magazine."

And in the end Franko made the journey to grace the pages of OFF-ROAD, and he did it from his garage with his own hands.

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