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Top Truck Challenge 4x4 Trucks Evolution - Limited Articulation

Posted in Features on November 1, 2009
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Sixteen years doesn't seem like too long a time, but in many ways, it was a lifetime ago. In 1993, the average gallon of gas went for $1.19, and you could catch a movie for $4 at the local cineplex. O.J. Simpson was just a washed-up ex-footballer, and Tiger Woods was a senior in high school. Words like "Google" and "blog" hadn't yet entered our vocabulary, nobody had wheeled at The Hammers or The Badlands, and any essay that included words such as "teh" or "pwned" would surely have felt the wrath of our copy editors. It was then, in that somewhat less-complicated time, that we ushered in a competition for the enjoyment of our readers, never imagining that it would become a four-wheeling institution.

The rigs that showed up to compete at Top Truck Challenge v1.0 were pretty indicative of their time: A mixture of Jeeps and fullsize trucks with intact frames, complete sheetmetal, and bolt-on rollcages. Suspension lifts were nearly all off-the-shelf kits, and the most extreme mods were generally limited to super-tall springs and engine swaps. That first year, a Jeep rolling on 33-inch tires and a stock rear axle won the event by a lopsided margin. Sixteen years later, an owner of a rig like that probably wouldn't even bother to enter.

Things didn't stay that way for long, though. The first big breakthrough came at TTC '95, when an Arizona wheeler named Randy Ellis showed up at Hollister Hills with a three-link rear suspension beneath his CJ-5 that showed levels of flex and articulation we never imagined possible. He went on to win the event, and nowadays Randy owns his own fabrication business, Randy Ellis Design, where he manufactures and markets the Sleekster lightbar. The year after that, Shannon Campbell upped the ante one step further with a rear four-link that, once again, took top honors at TTC-and like Randy, he hasn't rested on his laurels. Anyone who's worked with Campbell Enterprises or followed the competition rock-driving circuit knows his driving and fabbing skills-the same skills you need to master events such as the Frame Twister and Tank Trap today.

In the ensuing years, we've seen rigs running Gama Goat axles, four-wheel independent suspension, fully articulating and pivoting chassis, and 53-inch radial tires. These ideas all seemed a little crazy at the time, yet all ended up winning at Top Truck in different years. The moral of which is: Creativity is not only encouraged at Top Truck Challenge, but more often than not is richly rewarded.

And now? Today's Top Trucks are nearly all ground-up creations, with owner-built chassis, suspensions, rollcages, rod ends, U-joints, beadlocks, you name it. Axles are Mil-spec in torque yields now; rear steer-once a novelty-is now a near-must; and tire sizes have continued to grow, yet centers of gravity have remained relatively constant. In short, today's TTC rigs boast more ingenious and clever engineering tricks than ever before, and you can see this year's field-and a tough group of trucks it is-starting on page 32. We can't wait to see what kinds of rides you guys will be building 16 years from now.

-Douglas McColloch

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