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Doomsday 4x4 Vehicle Buyers Guide

Posted in Project Vehicles on December 1, 2012
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Photographers: Jason Sands

The Mayans predicted that December 21, 2012 would be the end of the world. Some fret that it will be the zombie apocalypse, while others worry that they will get stiffed on Christmas gifts. We’re not ready to drink the Kool-Aid, but just in case we are wrong, we figured we should start prepping now. Surviving Armageddon could be the equivalent of an extreme camping trip and turkey-shoot rolled into one.

The idea of hunkering down in one place may seem like a sound option, but if the stuff hits the fan, being mobile could be the key to your survival. Imagine this: The sky is falling around you and the zombies are starting to invade your town. Are you going to hide in the closet with a broomstick like your Prius-driving neighbor? Or will you jump into your zombie-slaying doomsday 4x4 and get the heck out of Dodge?

While many of you may believe that your current 4x4 is Armageddon ready, the reality is, it’s probably not. Sure, your tubed-out Jeep Wrangler may have what it takes to get you through black-diamond trails, but will that soft top and delicate electrical system survive the gnawing jaws of a zombie ambush? Where will you sleep when you’ve retreated to the safety of the mountaintop? Can you carry enough supplies to last you for weeks on end? Get the picture?

The perfect doomsday rig should be part-tank and part-motorhome. You’ll need a place for supplies, ammo, extra fuel, and a spot to catch a few hours rest between fending off zombies. The rig also needs to be something easily serviceable, as your local shop may be reduced to a pile of rubble. To give you an idea of what we’re eyeing for doomsday getaway-rigs, we’ve compiled our top four picks for Armageddon-ready 4x4s. All of the vehicles on our list have durable diesel engines, limited electronic nannies, and gracious aftermarket support. And if you wake up December 22nd and all is right with the world, you’ll still end up with pretty wicked camper/tow rig. Not a bad fallback option at all.

Weighing in at 13,000 pounds, the M35A2 (aka the Deuce-and-a-Half) is a heavyweight fighter in every way imaginable. Since the ’60s the U.S. military has used the M35A2 platform for everything from arms-haulers to basic troop-carriers. While the latest renditions of the classic M35A2 are a tad pricey for the average consumer, the ’60s- and ’70s-era trucks are extremely affordable.

One of the best aspects of the M35A2 is the inline-six multi-fuel diesel engine. The multi-fuel option allows you to feed the engine a mixture of diesel fuel, old engine oil, bourbon, and a host of other liquids if need be. Assuming fueling stations may be few and far between on December 22nd, the ability to burn a variety of fuel sources could be paramount to your survival. The downside of the fuel curve is that you’ll likely only get 7 mpg.

The standard five-speed Spicer 3053A manual transmission is as tough as they come, but try and opt for the better Timken T136-27 air-shift transfer case if you can. The Timken T136-21 sprag-style transfer case uses a form of a clutch that only engages in one direction and can be problematic. On the upside, even if the front fails to engage you will still have two 2½-ton Rockwell rear axles to push you along.

Look for models with the more powerful “whistler” turbo engine, but don’t expect a fast getaway. Top speed is around 55 mph, maybe faster if you can stuff on a larger set of tires. Forty-four-inch tires will fit with no lift, but you’ll need to flip the rear-axle-hubs when converting from a dual- to single-wheel setup. Since carrying supplies will be critical for surviving, a radio truck or ambulance model Deuce will make for a great starting platform. The rear enclosure would work well as a living space, and the thick walls and roof could easily be modified to carry extra gear.

Some of the models were even fitted with gas heaters. With some creative engineering you could convert the gas system to power a stove and possibly a flamethrowing device! A dozen char-fried-zombies coming right up! Ultimately, you don’t have to do much to the M35A2 to make it doomsday-ready. Focus on converting the rear half into sleeping-quarters and gear-holds, and we have a feeling we will likely see you on the other side.

Pros: Heavy-duty frame and parts, multi-fuel engine runs on almost anything, inexpensive initial cost, limited electronics, great base for a camper, plenty of load-carrying capacity, massive size, and heavy-duty bumpers makes for great visibility and zombie-dozing; aftermarket lockers, axleshafts, and steering components can beef-up the drivetrain even more

Cons: Slow, heavy, loud, older air components and lines are more susceptible to damage, long wheelbase hinders maneuverability, poor fuel economy, no A/C, older 24-volt electrical can sometimes be problematic, older models only available with a manual transmission, which could be a problem if you lose a limb in a post-apocalyptic zombie-battle

12-Valve Ram
When it comes to a simple, strong, and reliable truck, it doesn’t get much better than the Dodge Ram 4x4-equipped with the 12-valve Cummins diesel engine. The classic inline-six trucks have a reputation for lasting well-over 500,000 miles. The 12-valve spans from ’89-’98. The ’89-’93 trucks were fitted with a Bosh VE-style injection pump, which doesn’t quite have the power-potential as the Bosch P7100 pump that was used in the ’94-’98 trucks. The P-pump engines are easily tunable and fuel economy numbers are some of the best you’ll see out of a 1-ton truck. Another bonus of the P-pump is the ability to modify the injection pump fuel plate. Changing the fuel plate will turn up the power and leave your zombie tail in a haze of black soot.

Behind the Cummins diesel both manual and automatic transmissions were available. The early automatics had non-lockup converters which makes them a little easier on parts and cheaper to build. The later 47RH and 47RE automatics are a bit stronger, but weren’t engineered to hold much over the stock power-levels. The manual option for the early trucks was a Getrag 360, while the super-beefy NV4500 manual came in the later editions.

The chain-driven transfer case splits power between a Dana 60 front and Dana 80 rear axle. A mild lift, chromoly axleshafts, and lockers will make climbing over the rubble much easier. Luxuries like air conditioning and roll-up windows will make the hell-fire and brimstone much easier to navigate. And given the trucks namesake you should easily be able to push over a dozen or so zombies. The aftermarket support for these trucks is great, so you don’t have to cobble together your own Mad Max barbed-wire bumper.

A flatbed version would allow you to build your own digs, but for the less fab-savvy, a drop-in-style camper would provide plenty of living and storage space. Vegetable oil conversions and biofuel kits are an excellent way to keep you on the go. Another plus is that these trucks are nearly 2,000 pounds lighter than their modern-day counterparts.

Pros: Inexpensive purchase price, easy to service, simple and durable parts, powerful engine with great fuel economy capabilities, ample load-carrying capacity, great for a slide-in camper or custom zombie-proof bunker, strong aftermarket support, can run on biofuels.

Cons: Sheetmetal is more susceptible to zombie pounding, weak factory bumpers, by today’s standards these trucks are slow, but still fast enough to outrun zombies and heavy enough to push any disabled Honda out of your path.

PhotosView Slideshow

Quigley’s 4x4 Van
If you are already living in a van down by the river, then listen up-this is your time! Owning a van may be a hard pill to swallow, but before you completely rule it out, allow us to give you the rundown on the Quigley Motor Company. For over three decades Quigley has converted Ford and Chevy fullsize vans into 4x4s capable of some very impressive feats. We’ve seen these breadbox-wheelers scale nearly vertical hot tubs in Moab and power through trails that would scare off your average wheeler.

Though there are many renditions of the Quigley vans, the Ford E-series fitted with the 7.3L diesel are high on our Armageddon pick list. The 7.3L diesels weren’t without faults, but the massive V-8 has proven itself to be one of the most reliable diesels ever paired with the Blue Oval namesake. The vans can haul up to 10,000 pounds, are fitted with huge fuel tanks, and have even been used by the U.S. government Special Forces for years. With plenty of cargo room for supplies, gear, and sleeping quarters, the work-van conversions have the perfect foundation of a doomsday wheeler.

An optional pop-up-style roof will give you roomier digs, but could prove to be an easier point of entry for more spirited zombies. The aftermarket support is bigger than you may think and many of the F-series truck parts cross over to the van line. Dana 60 and Dana 70 axles are common under the vans and fitting larger tires and lockers is a pretty easy upgrade. For you die-hard Bowtie fans, Quigley does offer 4x4 Chevy vans outfitted with the 6.6L Duramax diesel.

Pros: Nimble and powerful platform, great enclosed cabin, can easily be converted to run on alternative fuels, good aftermarket support, lots of crossover truck parts

Cons: Higher initial cost, can get top-heavy the higher you lift it (true for all makes), sheetmetal may need reinforcing to withstand zombie pounding, your neighbors may hide their children when they see you, shorter front will make for a more up-close zombie-smashing experience

Mercedes-Benz Unimog
Following World War II Germany looked to create a vehicle to better serve the needs of its farmers. The idea was to build a vehicle that could work in the fields during the week and haul goods to market on the weekend. What resulted from this multipurpose tractor idea was the Mercedes-Benz Unimog. Unimog is short for Universalmotorgerat, which means universally applicable motorized implement.

In the U.S. the Unimog was never available new from Mercedes-Benz. This leaves only used imported models as options to purchase. While the challenge of finding a well kept Unimog may seem like more trouble than it’s worth, we say it’s worth a look. The most common type of imported and pre-owned Unimog is the 404 model. While the 404s have strong points, the scarcity of diesel versions makes them less desirable than the later 406 and 416 models.

Our money would be spent on a diesel-powered 416. The 416 has a longer wheelbase, larger tires, and a plenty of gearing options. The naturally-aspirated diesel engines are not powerhouses, but are very simple and reliable. Since the Unimog is more tractor than passenger car, many are fitted with extremely low gearing which limits the top speed. You may reach 70 mph, but it’s not likely. Factory selectable lockers placed inside of the ultra-high-clearance portal axles offer the ’mog more ground clearance than any other rig on our list.

The frames are just as stout as the drivetrain components and like the M35A2 there are dozens of different service models that can easily be converted into campers. Servicing the Unimog may seem like a nightmare, but overall the trucks are very simple to work on. After all, they are farm trucks designed to be serviced in a field. Admittedly, the most challenging part could be finding spare parts.

Pros: Great visibility, lots of gear-range options, heavy-duty platform great for building your own camping digs or securing a drop-in camper, portal axles are extremely robust and offer tremendous ground clearance, factory lockers, due to high ground clearance you can more easily run-over a higher number of zombies

Cons: Top-heavy, higher initial price, harder to find, potentially more expensive and difficult to service, U.S. parts availability may be limited, slow, air-assisted brakes and lockers could be problematic

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