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No-Pay Dirt

Posted in Features on June 17, 2005
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Photographers: Harry WagnerThe 4-Wheel & Off-Road Staff

Nearly a year after the staff here at 4-Wheel & Off-Road started our cheap truck projects, we finally got them in the dirt--at least a few of them. Back in the July '04 issue, we introduced you to the challenge of buying and building a 4x4 with a maximum budget of $1,500, and since that time we've wrenched, broken, bartered, and stolen our way to a few running rigs. Finally, on the first weekend of March we invited some cronies along with similar rigs and headed out to the desert to see what our piles could do.

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The 4-Wheel & Off-Road staff headed to Salton City and Truckhaven Hills recreational area during the Tierra Del Sol Desert Safari to initiate the first Cheap Truck Challenge. This was a perfect place to go, since the event brought lots of vehicles, but since it's like a giant sandbox, you can get away from everyone and still find places to play. Plus, the terrain is very forgiving without too many body-crushing rocks and death-defying cliffs (though there are some). A three-way race/photoshoot had us all bombing down a wash. Jones was taking it easy, Pw and Hot Rod Editor David Freiburger were just happy to be out of the office, and Williams was making every squirrel under the hood scream as he tried to keep up.

Day one started with our ragtag group trying to find each other in the midst of the TDS Safari. Editor Pw's Old Guy Club (OGC) had arrived from many miles away to get to the desert, sip some beverages around the campfire, and go wheeling, but it was Pw himself who was running late that first day. When he finally arrived with DED touring buddy Freiburger, we had the normal handful of last-minute repairs before we could wheel. Freiburger was spray-painting a new MSD ignition box so it would match the olive drab of the rest of the CJ-8.

From the start, this exercise in fiscally responsible wheeling was intended to prove that fun in the dirt doesn't need to cost a ton, especially if you have a can-do attitude, are not scared to take your time and scavenge parts, and are not trying to impress everyone with how much money you spent on paint and chrome. It's true that most of the vehicles that made it to the dirt also exceeded the budget in one way or another, but none of them were pushed beyond budget for aesthetic reasons, and most of the inflation was due to parts breakage before the actual trip started (some of us just had to do some "testing" while waiting for others to get their junk done).

So you might ask, "Who won the Cheap Truck Challenge?" And truthfully, we don't care. Editor Rick Pw's junk was pretty cheap, but he didn't drive it to the desert, but rather towed it there and back with his lux-o-camper. Technical Editor David Kennedy didn't drive his Bronco either, but that's because it's gone beyond cheap and into the Kennedy-project Bermuda triangle, where trucks get super modified but rarely finished. Feature Editor Jerrod Jones drove his Dodge Lawg there, though it wasn't really his. At some point in the past year, Kennedy bought it from him, but then Jones bought it back, but never paid Kennedy, so technically a Kennedy project did make it to the dirt, but with another driver. Either way, it was almost a day late, and not exactly the best suited for some of the tighter trails, though the big 440 and Parnelli Jones driving style made up for that. Finally, Feature Editor Fred Williams showed up on time, slept in his junk, wheeled it hard, and drove it there and home under its own power. Of course, he also had the slowest rig, and lost tons of plastic parts on the trail, not to mention that driving his junk was more an exercise in physical fitness than skill since it had no power steering. The fact is that what we were really after was fun with junk, and we found tons of it. Going cheap is great because you are so carefree about carnage, and if any one of you readers start building a cheap rig and get it in the dirt, then we've won. Yes, we want you to support our advertisers, but even more so, we want you wheeling instead of sitting at home in front of the TV. Stay tuned and we'll definitely do more with our junk. And next time you should come along.

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