Most of the time, good things come to those who wait, plan, and persevere. Every now and then, a good thing drops into your lap.
We were out at the Ocotillo Wells OHV area with the Total Chaos crew on a rather toasty October weekend when we spied Rex Rajewski's bright-yellow Chevy 1500 completely by happenstance. Rex's truck stood out for four reasons:
1-It's a Chevy. There's no shortage of Ford and Toyota desert trucks. Bow Ties are less common.
2-It's bright yellow. Not quite '80s day-glow, but it's a hue that grabs your attention.
3-There's clean fabrication from bumper to bumper.
4-It's still got a license plate.
Building an off-road truck is a tricky business. There's no set formula for success. Instead, there's whole spectrum of "right ways" to build a truck. At one end of the spectrum there's the full-competition truck with the fiberglass body, no windshield, no creature comforts, and no real-world utility beyond competition. At the other extreme you'll find a daily driver equipped with a stock steel body, a suspension lift, off-road worthy wheels and tires, and perhaps a custom bumper and some off-road lights. Competition-only trucks can survive speeds and hits that would curl a daily driver into a whimpering metallic ball. On the other hand, daily drivers do everything else, taking their owners everywhere life requires including excursions to the dirt. Rex Rajewski's bright-yellow Chevy 1500 walks the line between the two.
Rex, a professional welder from Sun City, California, purchased his '00 Chevy 1500 at an auction. Its intended purpose was to be a tow vehicle for an S-10 project truck. The 1500 was built instead.
Rex built a bumper-to-bumper rollcage using a mix of 1.5-inch DOM and chromoly tubing. A full 'cage like this is mandatory for hard driving in the dirt. Careful, skillful planning went into retaining the stock dash. It's also easy to get into and out of this truck, thanks to a set of door bars that plunge all the way to the floor where they meet with more structural tubing. By contrast, entering and exiting a competition-only truck requires a combination of climbing and contortion abilities.
Sitting inside, you're midway between two very capable suspension systems. Up front, Rex built his own front suspension system with custom control arms that are six inches wider than stock per side. There's a custom steering knuckle connecting those control arms which integrates a BMS Offroad spindle-and-hub kit that roundly surpasses the stock system. Eighteen inches of front-wheel travel are on tap. Behind you, a Rex-built four link cycles through 28 inches of wheel travel. There wasn't money for a high-zoot rear axle in the budget, so Rajewski made do with what he had. "When you weld onto the cast iron centersection, you have to heat it up in an oven first. While you're welding, you need to keep the whole thing hot with a torch," he told us. King coilovers, bypass shocks, and bump stops are used up front, and the rear is controlled using Fox coilovers, King bypass shocks, and King bump stops. The rear frame is notched above the axle to buy a little more bump travel.
Chevy's 5.3 Vortec V-8 is a great engine. There was no need to replace it, especially considering the relative light weight of this truck's standard-cab-and-short-bed combo. The Vortec isn't completely stock, though. It breathes through a K&N intake, is ignited with help from a Hypertech performance electronics system, and exhales through Magnaflow cats and a Mac Products muffler. The power feeds into the stock 4L60-E transmission which in turn spins a two-piece drive shaft built by Oceanside Driveline.
Most trucks that boast as much off-road hardware and capability as this one also have something else: an off-road only green sticker. Instead of relegating the 1500 to life as a trailer-only toy, Rex built around the stock smog control systems. This ride's street plate bolts proudly to a tube on the rear 'cage. Rajewski trailers the 1500 to and from his favorite OHV areas most of the time, but if he needed to drive it there and back he could.
Off-road ability versus everyday drivability. Walking such a fine line is never easy. Rex Rajewski and his Chevy pulled it off. Maybe you can, too.
'00 Chevy Silverado 1500 2WD
Rex Rajewski / Sun City, CA
5.3L Vortec V-8 with K&N intake and filter system, Edelbrock headers, Mac Products muffler, Hypertech power programmer
Complete owner-built long-travel system. Six inches wider per side, 18 inches of travel. Lower arms are boxed plate, uppers are round tubing. BMS spindle and hub kit integrated into custom steering knuckle. King coilover and bypass shocks, King bump stops.
Owner-built four-link system with 28 inches of travel. Stock rear axle retained, but trussed and tabbed for four-link. Oceanside Driveline two-piece driveshaft. Fox coilovers, King bypass shocks, King bump stops.
Ring and pinion ratio:
BFG Mud Terrain T/A, 35x12.50R17
Stock frame retained, but strengthened with a complete bumper-to-bumper rollcage built by Rex. Both chromoly and DOM tubing were used, 1.5 x .120-wall. Both MIG and TIG welding were used during the build.
Stock dash notched for roll cage tubing. Kartek seats, Crow harnesses, CNC brake pedal and dual master cylinders.
Favorite off-roading places:
Ocotillo Wells and Plaster City/Superstition