I think the absolute best time in my off-roading career was when my only vehicle was a simple single cab Dodge truck with some twin-tube Rancho shocks, custom coils and leaves, and no sway bar. That was it - those were the extent of my mods. I would spend most of my time on trails around a place called Pozo in San Luis Obispo County, or at Pismo Dunes. My idea of getting ready for a day-long off-road trip was throwing my girlfriend in the passenger seat, packing some snacks, and making sure I brought a valve stem remover to lower my tire pressure. I had no lockers, no fancy equipment in case I got stuck, save for one Hi-Lift jack mounted in the bed. I wheeled for years like this without ever really having a problem. Sure, I got stuck a time or two, and even wasted a couple tires that I had to swap for a stock-sized spare. But I always made it home, and I always had fun. Using a truck such as that, instead of starting out with a bunch of fancy gadgets like locking differentials, an extreme-travel suspension, and 40-inch tires made me a better wheeler, without a doubt. I'd have to actually think about stuff instead of pointing my truck in a direction and just stepping on the gas like I can today.
Don't get me wrong; I really like all the high-zoot parts on my trucks, and I always aspired to one day have these super-cool toys when I was younger, but I don't think all the expensive parts and added debt brought me extra happiness.
I was just as excited to go romp on my mildly lifted truck ten years ago as I am today with big blocks, coilovers, 1-ton axles, and 40-inch tires. If anything, I think I stress more now than I used to because I'm worried about the ultra expensive parts (and with more mods comes more maintenance) and the harry situations I put myself in with more capable trucks.
I'm recollecting all this because I'm afraid there is a false condition affecting the off-road world - I'm going to call it Magazine Syndrome
Magazine Syndrome is a sickness that makes you think you need Dana 60s, coilovers and beadlocks to go have a good time off-road.
Unfortunately, the good majority of vehicles you see in off-road magazines do make you think you need all these parts. At least it made me think that! I wasted tons of money and ran up big credit card bills trying to put coilovers on my truck and lock the rear end. I bought all the cool little upgrades I could find, and most of them actually did help. But when I started getting a little more serious - like swapping from coils to coilovers - I started to realize this would be the downfall of any potential savings account that would ever be in my name. Not only that, but it meant a lot more downtime for my truck. Sometimes making one big mod demands that you make another big mod, or else the truck will actually perform worse! And then that next part you add demands yet another part...it becomes a vicious circle. And you spend more time working on your junk and wasting money than you do just going out enjoying the outdoors while off road. I don't know about you, but I got into off-roading for the driving aspect of it, not for the constantly-working-on-my-junk aspect.
The fact is that you can have a ton of fun in even a stock truck. A stock vehicle can make even a mild dirt road fun to drive on - and that's really why we're all doing this - for fun, right?
Badass trucks with badass parts are awesome, and definitely sweet to drive, but don't be discouraged if your ride is more mild than wild.
Don't fall victim to Magazine Syndrome. All the vehicles you see in off-road magazines look like the best of the best because a lot of times they are. Because that's what we're supposed to show you - the most exciting stuff you could possibly see so you'll buy another copy of the magazine
In reality, the great majority of off-road trucks and 4x4s out there are not built like magazine trucks, but still get their owners almost everywhere they want to go.
We got into some axle building. But in an effort to avoid the Magazine Syndrome stigma, we decided to leave out any Dana 60 stories in our axle special! You'll find info on Ford 9-inches, 14-bolts, Dodge AAM axles, and even Ford 8.8s, but there is no Dana tech in this issue, folks. We also made it to Pennsylvania this month to check out some crazy off-road racing fun, East Coast style! Check it out - "Tuff Truck"-style competitors like we saw in PA are perfect examples of guys having a ton of fun without breaking the bank.