It takes a standout vehicle to become a feature truck. While it's true building an off-road rig certainly cannot be done on the no-budget plan, we're not necessarily looking for deep-pocket trucks when we decide what to feature. What do we look for? It usually boils down to a mix of readily available parts and custom fabrication. We look for cleanly built trucks that suit their owners' unique needs.
So, what stood out among the standouts during 2013? Read on for our top four favorites.
Mike Friel's 1972 Ford F-100 looks like the nineties on the outside, but underneath the updated sheet metal and fiberglass sits a vintage frame and drive train. Roper Design & Fabrication in Ventura, California, seamlessly synched the different-generation Ford parts with a bumper-to-bumper rollcage structure that also provides mounting points for thoroughly modern Fox coilover and bypass shocks at each corner. The F-100 is powered by a well-built Ford FE 390 big block connected to a stout C-6 three-speed automatic. This power package is augmented by an Edelbrock intake manifold, a Holley Truck Avenger carburetor, and Cobra Jet cylinder heads. The Guacamole Express is a bit of a sleeper: The truck isn't overly wide, and no gaudy graphics or stickers cover the clean silver paint. The blacked-out center of the hood keeps the glare down while running at night. Mike's in for years of fun with this one. All hail the Guacamole Express!
It takes dedication, determination, and unvarnished stubbornness to finish a major truck build, especially when you're a full-time fabricator during the day. Jesse Nelson of JD Fabrication started off by buying the 1996 Chevy 1500 2WD on the cheap from a friend. It was built during evenings and on weekends. The initial plans described an easy, mild build, but one thing led to another, until Jesse ended up with the masterpiece he drives today. The back half of the frame was chopped off so Jesse could re-configure the rear suspension as a linked system that features plenty of bump travel. Up front, you'll find a custom A-arm system guided by a production steering box that connects to a custom sliding centerlink. Everything works on this truck, with one notable exception: the Auto Meter clock is permanently set at 5 o'clock. No matter what time it is on the outside, it's always 5 o'clock on the inside. Building the truck was a huge effort, and Jesse made it that much more intense by TIG welding the whole thing. He's happy with the Chevy, but comments, “Never again!” Since this truck was done once and done right, Nelson won't need to.
(David) London Calling
David London's 1987 Jeep FSJ wood-grained Wagoneer looks like the good old days. Sometimes, the good old days were only the good old days because we've forgotten about all the things we used to have to put up with. You know: coughing carburetors, barely there brakes, and tenuous tires. David liked the vintage look, but decided the functionality of his truck was going to be plucked from the current era. There's a GM LS1 under the hood: reliable and powerful. The LS1 feeds into a 4L60-E transmission, which then spins the internals of an Atlas II transfer case. The suspension is inspired by desert racing but is adapted for all-around use: custom radius arms and coilovers up front along with progressive leaf packs and adjustable reservoir shocks out back. OX selectable lockers provide ultimate traction when needed and friendly street manners in the interim. All this trickery resulted in a rig that can be used for a variety of off-road activities, from crawlin' to haulin' to fishing-hole finding. If David London's calling, there's a good time in the offing.
Many of us cringed at our family's grocery-getter. Steven Lutz couldn't wait to build and 'wheel his. Once Steven's parents handed him the keys, he set to work converting the 2WD 1990 Nissan Pathfinder to 4WD. The mods didn't stop with the addition of a transfer case and a front drive system. This Pathfinder was built for hardcore trail use with the addition of a custom three-link front suspension system that connects to an equally custom Diamond front axle. The Diamond axle can be configured to run common third members, such as a Toyota 8-inch or a Ford 9-inch, but Steven wanted to keep as many Nissan parts on board as possible. As such, the Diamond axle has a Nissan H233B third member plugged in. After a while, the Nissan transfer case was set aside in favor of an Atlas II, which required research on Steven's part in order for the Atlas II to connect directly to the Nissan transmission. Between Steven's ravenous research and the parts list at Advance Adapters, the Atlas II conversion was a success. Steven has built more than a Pathfinder. He's built a Nissan-focused off-road business along the way: Rugged Rocks Offroad.