The word prolific is defined in the dictionary as producing abundant works or results, and it easily describes the wheeling habits of the Built to Grind Rockcrawlers off-road club from Phoenix. Everyweekend these guys are battering the bajeesus out of their stable of homebuilt tube machines in the desert rocks of Arizona. Do they wheel more than anyone else in this country? It's hard to say, but for working stiffs who only have 62 hours between Friday at 5 and Monday at 7 to get in some quality rockcrawling, these guys make the most of it, and have the skills to take on some of the toughest obstacles we've seen in a long time.
Being prolific wheelers also requires having well-built rigs that can take abuse and be driver-repaired when trail carnage strikes. In true car-club fashion, members have hours of garage wrenching and welding in their rides, and most have had other club members lend a hand in the assembly of their rigs. We spent a long weekend with this crew of guys running some trails north of Phoenix and found that even though most buggy-mobiles running BTG stickers were far from pretty show machines, they all worked very well and are piloted by drivers who like to wheel at every chance they get on the hardest stuff they can find. In fact when they invite outsiders to run some of the trails they've discovered, they usually take them to the easier obstacles first since experience has shown that the tougher trails typically result in broken axles and suspensions, and they know a long weekend of wheeling is more fun than instant carnage. However, don't expect to see these guys on the competition circuit any time soon. They wheel for the fun of it, and their club isn't designed to justify silly jackets, patches, or tattoos. Nope, this club was formed because these guys all have a serious addiction and figured group therapy was needed. Luckily it just made it worse and they kept wheeling harder and harder.
Now being hard-core doesn't necessarily mean they are hard on the trails they run. The BTG guys have a few unspoken rules. First, no rock stacking. If your rig can't make the obstacle, pull the winch cable. It's not a pride thing, it's about keeping the trails tough, and maybe next time your rig or your skill will make it up. In fact, it's more environmentally conscious. Other than some tread marks in the dirt up to the extreme climbs they attempt, there are few signs these rigs went there. And in keeping with that goal they also clean up after themselves. Break an axle? Haul out the broken bits. Smash an oil pan? Bag up the oiled soil and take it home for proper disposal. And if they come across garbage from other jokers out there, it gets bagged and hauled home as well. Yes, these guys run tube buggies up near-vertical cliffs but they're not crazy. Leaving their trails a mess would be crazy because that would get them shut down. Bravo BTG, keep pushing the limits and leading the pack.
Chris Villarreal is the documenter of the club, doing a lot of filming of his cronies' escapades. His Web site, www.azrockcrawler.com, has become the home of BTG online and even offers DVDs of their wheeling trips. Chris has built multiple buggies over the years after starting with a Samurai. His latest was computer designed and built in his spare time, and he is even selling copies of his designs to other do-it-yourself buggy builders.
Make/Model: '05 Rock buggy
Engine: Supercharged 3.8L from '99 Pontiac Grand Prix V-6
Transmission: TF-904 from '86 Cherokee
Transfer Case: Passenger-side drop D300 with Teraflex 4:1s and 32-spline outputs front and rear. No adapters required to bolt the drivetrain together, just had to relocate the starter and redrill the flexplate.
Front Axle: '78 Chevy D60, narrowed to 60 WMS, 35-spline, Warn drive flanges, ARB, 5.13 gears, 3/4-ton disc-brake swap, shaved for ground clearance
Rear Axle: Hybrid '78 Ford D60 with 14-bolt outers welded to tubes. Narrowed to 60 WMS, 35-spline axles, 5.12s with spool.
Tires & Wheels: 40-inch Maxxis Creepy Crawlers, competition compound on 17x9 two-piece Trail Ready bead locks with 3.25-inch backspacing
Suspension: Dual triangulated four-link suspension front and rear. 16-inch dual-rate coilovers front, 14-inch rear.
Extras: Chassis was completely modeled in Solid Works before building it. The design goal was for a compact and light three-seater that could handle any trail he wanted to try. Specs include108-inch wheelbase, 78-inch outside of tire to outside of tire, estimated weight at 3,500 pounds. 50:1 final crawl ratio and horsepower should be around 225 at the wheels.
Dennis Dennison is the old guy of the group, but with that status also comes knowledge, and Dennis is happy to share his skills in fabricating with the guys in the group. Dennis also drives the cleanest ride in the group with his Bronco-esque buggy housing portal axles with some awesome ground clearance and clean metalwork and trick hot rod details.
Make/Model: '05 Bronco Buggy
Engine: 3.8L Supercharged Ford V-6
Transmission: Ford AOD trans
Transfer Case: Atlas 4.3
Front Axle: Volvo portal with custom Detroit Locker, 6:1 gearing
Rear Axle: Volvo portal with custom Detroit Locker, 6:1 gearing
Tires & Wheels: 40-inch Maxxis Creepy Crawlers on 1-inch Trail Ready with custom AR60 centers
Suspension: Three-link suspension front and rear with Fox air shocks
Extras: Chassis made of 1.5-inch 1018 DOM tubing, built it in garage in about eight months, 106-inch wheelbase, approximately 3,000 pounds
Jack is the unofficial head clown of this posse. He seems to be the one that can get the ducks in a row and the buggies to the boulders almost every weekend. Jack's buggy started out as a Toyota pickup, but now only a small section of frame is left. However, like most of his clubmates, he built the whole thing in his garage.
Make/Model: 5% Toyota pickup, 95% Tube Machine
Engine: Ford 5.0L HO V-8 with polished valve covers
Transmission: Art Carr C4 with full manual valvebody and 2,400-stall torque converter
Transfer Case: Two-speed StaK
Front Axle: Dana 60 with ARB Air Locker, chromoly shafts, and 5.13 gears
Rear Axle: Dana 60 with welded spider gears and 5.13 gears
Tires & Wheels: 39-inch competition compound BFGoodrich Krawlers on 17-inch Walker Evans bead locks
Suspension: Four-link with Sway-A-Way coilover shocks front and rear
Extras: Copied all the designs that worked for his type of terrain and built it at home.
Pat Murphy was at home wrenching on his buggy the weekend we hit the trail, but his clubmates felt he had to be included as well, so they sent us the specs and photos of him wheeling his new ride a few weeks after we got back. Again, homebuilt and designed for the toughest trails they can find.
Make/Model: Homebrew rockbuggy
Engine: Chevy V-6 with propane injection and headers, MSD ignition
Transfer Case: Dana 300 with 32-spline outputs and 4:1 gears
Front Axle: Chevy 60, 5.13 gears, welded
Rear Axle: GM Corp 14-bolt, 5.13 gears, welded
Tires & Wheels: 42 IROKs bias-ply on Allied bead locks
Suspension: Four-link with Fox air shocks front/rear
Extras: Olive drab with general star and satellite radio for anywhere tunes
Brian Fox came to the crawl with a secret weapon in his tube car, rear steer. Though the other guys gave him grief for "cheating," it was all in good humor, and truthfully it was useful in some places and nothing special on other obstacles. That is another cool thing about BTG: Everyone drives something different, so each member has to drive each obstacle in his own special way.
Make/Model: '05 rockbuggy with a Toyota Land Cruiser hood
Engine: '02 Chevrolet 4.3L V-6
Transmission: TH400 with full manual valvebody
Transfer Case: Atlas 5.0
Front Axle: '94 Ford high-pinion Dana 60, Superior axles, CTM joints, spool
Rear Axle: '94 Ford high-pinion Dana 60, Superior axles, CTM joints, spool
Tires & Wheels: BFG 39-inch Krawlers on 17-inch Walker Evans bead locks
Suspension: Four-link front and rear, Fox 2.0 air shocks
Extras: Front and rear hydraulic steering
Jay Kopycinski is no rookie to the pages of a 4x4 magazine. He's written a few stories for our sister pub 4Wheel Drive and Sport Utility, and his buggy also houses the remains of his '85 Toyota pickup. Jay's ride is well thought out and not only capable but also comfortable.
Make/Model: A little bit of '85 Toyota truck frame with a buggy built around it
Engine: 5.7L GM TBI V-8
Transfer Case: Marlin Crawler dual cases (2.28 and 4.7 low ranges) with All Pro chromoly output shaft and FROR twin stick
Front Axle: Homebuilt Toyota front axle with stronger DOM tubes, ARB locker and 4.11 gears, All-Pro high-steer, hydro assist, Toys by Troy aluminum steering rods, 27-spline Longfield birfields, and Poly Performance Chromo inner shafts
Rear Axle: Toyota with stronger DOM tubes, FROR full-float kit, chromoly shafts, and 4.11 gears with a spool
Tires & Wheels: 38x12.5-15
Suspension: Datsun hybrid front leaf springs with Bilstein 7100s front and double-triangulated four-link rear with 2.0 Fox air shocks
Extras: Warn M8000, Powermaster welder, Corbeau seats, Nordskog gauges
The smell of a forklift was following Cary Gleason up the trail in his propane-powered Toyota buggy. Cary explained how his club runs have forced him to constantly upgrade and improve on his ride to keep up with the gang. Seems like the perfect excuse: "Hey, Honey, the guys in the club all said I need a Dana 60, so I guess I better get one."
Make/Model: '87 Toyota that ran into a pile of 1 3/4-inch tubing
Engine: Propane-powered turbocharged four-cylinder (Cary states, "It can keep up with Jack's mustang motor just fine on a drag race.")
Transmission: Toyota five-speed
Transfer Case: Dual cases with 4.7 gears in the rear case
Front Axle: Toyota FJ-80 front axle with 4.10 gears and a spool (until the Dana 60 is found)
Rear Axle: Toyota V-6 rear with a spool and chromoly axleshafts
Tires & Wheels: 42-inch IROKs on 15-inch Champion bead locks
Suspension: De-arched front leaf springs, four-link with air shocks in rear
Extras: Built low and light, but still with a 24-inch belly height and a 110-inch wheelbase. Cary's front winch cable is run down to the front axle to help compress suspension during extreme climbs.
Scott Maiden is a quiet guy, so he lets his driving speak for him. He pilots the most hammered ride in the club, but can control it like it's a part of him. Scott's rig, based off a Jeep YJ, was the only one in the group to climb this crazy near-vertical waterfall the weekend we were there.
Make/Model: Started life as a '93 Jeep YJ
Engine: Original 4.0L straight-six
Transmission: AW-4 Automatic out of a Jeep Cherokee with manual shift control from www.awshifting.com
Transfer Case: Dana 300 flipped to work upside-down and outfitted with Tera 4:1 gears and a heavy-duty rear output
Front Axle: Rockcrusher high-pinion Dana 60 with ARB Air Locker, 5.38 gears, Alloy USA axles, and CTM U-joints
Rear Axle: Ford E-350 van Dana 60 with 35-spline axleshafts, 5.38 gears, and a spool
Tires & Wheels: 39-inch BFG Krawlers on Trail Ready bead locks
Suspension: Custom front and rear four-link with 16-inch Fox air shocks up front and 18-inch Fox air shocks out back
Extras: Custom sheetmetal dents made by old rocks and designed to help slide over new rocks