If you’ve been with us since the early days, you might remember when we took a chance and created a little ol’ competition in 1993 called Top Truck Challenge (TTC). Our sister magazine Hot Rod had been doing an annual rally called Power Tour, and we thought four-wheeling should have its own flotilla. It would be about driving and engineering, would be held in Hollister Hills, California, and it would have 10 competitors who’d been chosen by Four Wheeler readers. The first TTC looked real good on paper, but we didn’t know much about holding a competition, so the inaugural event involved slow speeds. In fact, slow was kind of the overall theme, and we probably should have thought about time limits. Nevertheless, TTC quickly became a well-oiled machine, much like the competitors’ unusually crafted and purpose-built rigs.
On fourwheeler.com, you’ll find loads of history about TTC, including all the winners and coverage of the events. The following pages focus on some of the best action we’ve run and the most popular groundbreaking vehicles in (mostly) their greatest action. We’ve also included “lost” TTC photos you’ve never seen before and some of our favorite behind-the-scenes moments.
Jeff Seely’s ’69 Chevy Suburban, 2011 TTC. A 502ci mill, 52-inch leaf springs, Dana 60/GM 14-bolt, and 44-inch Boggers are among the details.
It’s Quagmire, which belonged to Mike Neibuhr, and was a ’75 K-30 Chevy, and its rare build made it a hit of the 1998 TTC. The truck had an airbag suspension, Dana 60/5-ton Rockwell combo, and 454ci engine bored to 468 ci.
“We created Top Truck Challenge as a test of engineering smarts and driver acumen,” is how we explained the competition. In 1999, notable engineering smarts came via Bill Galle and the Flexy Monster, a ’92 GMC Safari. The frame was a ’77 Jimmy (with the crossmembers removed), and it had a custom four-link suspension, Dana 60/GM 14-bolt setup, in-cab sway-bar disconnect, and 454ci bored to 468ci.
This is Brad Pellet’s ’02 Dodge Ram 2500 from 2006. This pic was from Water Hole Six, and despite what damage you think you see taking place, there were no mechanical issues—even the radio and A/C kept on trucking through the course.
It’d be sacrilegious to not mention TTC’s first winner, Jim Piatt, whose stealth ’84 Jeep CJ-7 with a Chevy 350ci V-8 had six First Place finishes.
Ferris McCollum’s hot rod was a ’30 Ford Roadster pickup on a ’73 Bronco frame and aftermarket Jeep coils. There was also a 460ci V-8 from a ’73 Lincoln. He also won the Driving Elegant Award for his 2001 venture.
You ain’t seen articulation ’til you’ve seen Warren Kreyer’s ’51 Dodge M37 from the 11th annual TTC. The Articulator used a hydraulic ram, and the new frame had a central pivot with a crossframe hydraulic ram mounted to make the whole area pivot.
Heath Bigg’s Scorpion MK1 (thunk up by Soni Honneger) from 1998 blew everyone’s mind with its tube/aluminum chassis, Scout II axles, custom-built frame, custom leaves, airbag suspension, and Chevy 350 V-8. It snagged the Best Engineered award.
*Never-Before-Seen TTC Photos*
Even More Best of TTC
Newly minted Four Wheeler Editor Ken Brubaker shared a few of his favorite best-of moments in TTCs gone by:
2000: When the engine wouldn’t start in Tank Trap near the finish line with the clock running, Sam Patton opened the hood of his Jeep, straddled the engine, and sprayed Chemtool down the intake while his co-driver, Mike Cox, drove. Patton shouted driving instructions to Cox, who couldn’t see due to the open hood, and they crossed the finish line with 30 seconds to spare. They won the competition that year.
2006: Addie Sheeley drove her TJ through the Tank Trap when even much more modified rigs didn’t make it, even though her rig was on small-by-comparison 38.5-inch tires.
2012: Geby Wager’s ’92 Jeep CJ-7 (the same vehicle he won TTC in 1997) fell short on a trench-jumping attempt in the Obstacle Course during the 2012 Top Truck Champions’ Challenge, causing an end-over-end roll. Nonetheless, he was back for the next event!