As 4x4 guys we get some great chances to do some weird and wonderful things in our pursuit of automotive journalism, and this recent event took the cake. While not as cool as trekking across the Zimbabwe River with natives chucking spears at your rig, racing up Pikes Peak in a 450-horse Porsche Turbo Cayenne is still way bitchin'. Porsche just introduced the Turbo model, and invited us to take on the same 14,110-foot peak that the famous "Race to the clouds" takes each July. If you've never heard of the event then you're brain dead, as it is the oldest continuously held automotive race in the U.S., starting in 1916. We raced up with 13-time winner Bobby Unser, as well as David Donner, Jeff Zwart, and Paul Dallenbach who are all famous steel-nerved drivers of this dirt road event, complete with 2,000-foot drop-offs and no guard rails.
Of course the Porsches were phenomenal in this environment as we sped up the specially closed dirt road in the early morning light, slamming gears and trying to drift around corners. Luckily the stability control system kept us from killing ourselves while our intercoms crackled with "this is the corner my throttle stuck wide open during a race and I ended up in a pine tree" type of comments from our copilot and two-time winner, David Donner. We learned a lot, and realized these guys know this road like the back of their hand, and make us look a bit less competent than we think we are. We still think we need to test the new 500-horse model Porsche spies say will arrive next year, and we'll let you know how that trip goes as well.-Rick Pw
The World's Biggest Pickup?When size truly matters, this is the truck to have. At 258 inches in length, the International CXT-for Commercial Extreme Truck-is longer than a Hummer H2. Longer even than an F-350 Crew Cab. And its 11-foot overall height dwarfs either of those trucks. It's even taller than a basketball rim.
"It's not going to fit into the standard garage," understated Mark Oberle, an International spokesman quoted by CNN/Money. Blimp hanger is probably more like it.
Why the CXT? According to International Truck and Engine Corp., the CXT "is unrivaled in capability, size and appearance. It hauls three times the payload of consumer pickup trucks, is all-wheel drive, uses air brakes for unmatched stopping ability and offers towing, dumping and tilt bed capability."
Did we tell you it will retail for between $93,000 and $115,000? That's actually less than the MSRP for a Hummer H1 wagon. And given the CXT's specs, it seems like a bargain. Power comes from International's DT 466 I-6 diesel, which is rated at 220 hp and 540 lb-ft of torque. An Allison five-speed trans and two-speed transfer case route power to the CXT's all-wheel-drive system. With an optional tow hitch, the CXT can haul up to six tons. Just make sure you have firm ground to park it on; the CXT tips the scales at a not-quite-dainty 14,500 pounds.
Land Of Lincoln TrekSome say that there are no truly new ideas when it comes to wheeling, so why not take a proven idea and make the best of it? When the Ultimate Adventure passed through the Midwest's best off-road parks last summer, it brought a craving for more-more concrete-consistency mud, more chance for trail carnage, and more opportunities to check out the best hillclimbing rigs in the area.
Thus, the United We Ride, Land of Lincoln Off-Road Adventure was born. A combined effort of Tom and Debbie Wombles, owners of the Rockport Off-Road Park, and Steve Flynn, owner of The Cliffs Insane Terrain Off-Road Park at Marseilles, Illinois, the event drew nearly 50 rigs, which occasionally had to answer to the winch or strap to conquer the steep hills, deep ravines, rocky creeks, and bottomless quagmires last September.
The group ran the narrow trails at The Cliffs on Saturday, paced by capable trail guide Tom Wimberly in his trail-worn Samurai. After a full day of wheeling, participants were treated to a meal while sharing war stories. Sunday morning found a caravan of rigs heading south for the Rockport Off-Road Park, following the not-so-used backroads. At the Rockport trails, some wandered into the Rottweiler Trail, while others sought out Beggar's Canyon, which culminates with a steep over-a-tree climb that threatens to claim drivetrain parts as drivers nail the skinny pedal. Wombles guided the bravest of the group to the Tall Dog Trail where The Drop and Stump Hill raised the pucker factor, but had drivers begging for more. "This being the first time for this event, I felt we had a great turnout," said Wombles, adding that plans call for the 2005 event to be even bigger. "This allowed the four-wheeling community to learn what these parks are all about."
For more information contact Rockport Off-Road Park (217.437.5337, www.rorp.com) and The Cliffs (815.795 .5200, www.thecliffsinsaneterrain.com-Walt Gilbert
Jeep Unveils Rubicon UnlimitedWhen we were on the trail with Mark Smith this summer, he told us his fleet of Jeeps would soon include Rubicon versions of the new Wrangler Unlimited. Sure enough, DaimlerChrysler announced just weeks after our trip that it would offer such a Jeep for 2005.
The Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon is outfitted with much of the same equipment as its short-wheelbase brother-Dana 44 axles front and rear with air-actuated lockers, 4:1 transfer case, and 31-inch Goodyear MT/Rs. Manual-transmission models will have the new NSG 370 six-speed gearbox. As of press time, Jeep had announced pricing for the SWB Rubicon at $27,825, and the Unlimited Rubicon is only $28,825, both including $610 in destination charges.
We'll wring out the Unlimited Rubicon as part of our 2005 4x4 of the Year test. Look for our full report next month.
New Hummers, Special HummersSeveral news items of interest to Hummer fans crossed our desk this month. Here are the highlights:
New model preview: GM recently made some announcements regarding the new Hummer H3, which will debut on the auto show circuit this winter. Since the H3 is based on the same platform as GM's midsize pickups and SUVs, it should come as no surprise that the newest Hummer will be powered by the Vortec 3500 I-5 developed for the Colorado/Canyon trucks. Owners can choose between manual or automatic transmissions and can opt for an electronically controlled four-wheel-drive system with a fully locking rear differential, traction control, underbody shielding, and GM's StabiliTrak vehicle stability system. GM says that during its development the latest Hummer has been tested "in the most demanding off-road environments." That would explain all those mules running over the Rubicon.
Hummer is also developing a "performance series" of vehicles that will be named Alpha. The first Alpha Hummer will be an '06 H1 model equipped with a 6.6L Duramax turbodiesel and Allison 1000 transmission.
Foxy Hummer: Stinger-Mac Accessories (SMA) and Fox Racing have joined forces to create two limited-edition Hummer H2 models. The 360 is the wilder of the two and features a Rancho suspension lift, 37-inch BFGoodrich tires, and a Magnuson supercharger under the hood. Fox and SMA billet dress-up parts, 20-inch Weld wheels, a Warn winch, and a headrest DVD system are among the other accessories available on the 360. For those with milder tastes, a 180 model sits on 35-inch BFGoodrichs and 18-inch rims. Only 500 of the Fox/SMA Hummers will be built.
Spanish Hummer: GM has had to revise its Hummer sales projections since they went on sale in Spain. Despite price tags that are even steeper than they are here-$241,000 for the H1 and $96,000 for the H2-the Hummers were hot commodities among the Spaniards, who quickly snapped up about 75 percent of the country's annual allocation during just the first six months of 2004. The percentages sound grander than the actual numbers; GM expected to sell 40 during the year and sold 31 in six months. But still. A hit is a hit, even in relative terms. And GM has upped its forecast to 60. No fools, they.
Duramax "Toy Hauler" Debuts At SemaExhaust system manufacturer MBRP has turned a hard-working GMC diesel pickup into "an all-purpose tow truck with off-road attitude" for the SEMA Show. Called the Toy Hauler, the truck has been outfitted with a Fabtech suspension system, Bushwacker fender flares, a Ramsey winch, KC HiLiTES auxiliary lighting, Valley Industries towing accessories, and, of course, an MBRP 4-inch "Cool Duals" exhaust system.
Camp Jeep CaliforniaNew for this year was the Camp Jeep California, a downsized version of the regular Camp Jeep held in Virginia. Designed to spread the word on Jeep products and lifestyle, the new version held near Solvang in the Santa Ynez Mountains proved to be a hit just like its older sibling. With the Jeep 101 driving course and the Engineering Roundtables with Jeep engineers on hand, the venue proved productive and enjoyable for the participants. Trail rides were provided by L.O.S.T. KJ West-the Liberty Owners Special Team-who took drivers over some varied terrain consisting of steep hillclimbs and soft dirt canyons that challenged new drivers as well as seasoned veterans. As a special treat, the new Jeep Grand Cherokee and Liberty Diesel were available to drive, long before buyers can find one in a showroom. Our favorite part is always the historical Jeep Museum, which this year even harbored the stunt double Jeep of Nellybelle, from the Roy Rogers & Dale Evans Museum. You just don't get more historical than that! For next year's Camp Jeep happenings go to www.jeep.com.-Rick Pw
This Just InLooking for a gas/electric hybrid pickup truck? Don't hold your breath. According to Automotive News, Dodge will build just 100 '05 diesel/electric Rams and sell them all to fleet customers. GM will build more hybrid Silverados and Sierras-some 2,500-but those will go to customers in just a few states, including California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Florida. GM had been more enthusiastic about hybrid trucks but is now taking a "wait and see" approach to see how sales go, said the trade journal.
Hummer sales may be lagging in the U.S., but that's not stopping GM from opening an H2 assembly plant in Russia. That's right, Russia. An Avtotor plant in Kaliningrad will build some 200 H2s during its first year of production, all for the Russian market only. The Russky H2s will be available in three trim levels and sell for between $86,500 and $94,000. That works out to between 2.5 and 2.7 million rubles. Ain't capitalism a wonderful thing?
Is smaller better? If you're building a short-wheelbase rock buggy, it is. That's why Advance Adapters is proud of its two newest, and smallest, Atlas transmission adapters. One is a 251/416-inch billet adapter for the GM Powerglide transmission; the other hooks the Atlas to a Ford C4 and measures a wee 3 inches.
Or is bigger better? Reports out of Detroit say Ford is working on several new and bigger engines for its trucks. One, a 6.2L V-8, is named the Hurricane and could go into Expedition/Navigator and F-Series pickups. A V-6 diesel is also in the works, as is an improved Power Stroke.
Other F-Series news: The Heritage (a nicer name than "carryover") F-150 that was sold alongside the redesigned F-150 last year has been dropped for '05. Now the 4.2L V-6/manual transmission package, available only in Heritage models last year, can be ordered in the new body style, but only in two-wheel-drive models.
Californians briefly celebrated the news that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger might abolish the hated (by car and truck enthusiasts, anyway) California Air Resources Board. We say "briefly" because there's more to the story. Even if the CARB dies, it would be replaced by another smog-cop agency. Which is worse, the devil you know or the devil you don't?
Environmental & Political WatchNo surprise: A California environmentalist was the first person to take delivery of a Ford Escape hybrid SUV. Owner Number One is Bill Hammons, president of the San Diego Electric Vehicle Association, who has also owned an electric Ranger and a Think! electric vehicle. Someone be sure to tell him the Escape has no cord to plug in.
Tire pressure monitoring systems, already installed on some high-end cars, will be standard equipment on all cars and trucks (weighing less than 10,000 pounds) by 2007. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) pushed for the systems to help prevent accidents caused by tires damaged due to underinflation. The government mandate calls for the warning light to come on when the system senses a tire that's underinflated by 25 percent. Yet the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) takes issue with that figure, according to a report by the Associated Press. If the tires are inflated to just the minimum recommended pressure, says the RMA, a drop of 25 percent could mean they wouldn't have enough air in them to safely support the vehicle at its maximum weight. The NHTSA blew off the RMA, saying its own tests indicated the 25-percent figure was safe. One noteworthy item about the systems: They will be required to work with the tires that come on the vehicle from the factory, but not with replacement tires.