Few people get the opportunity to experience what real horsepower feels like. We're not talking about your roommate with the 350hp EVO or even the 500hp mud truck your uncle let you drive. When you stab 1,000-plus horsepower in a 2,000-pound chassis, add a suspension that lets the tires hook, and launch it up a sand dune from 0-100 mph in just a few seconds, there's nothing in the world that will smear the smile off your face. So when Editor Cappa told me to line up a photo shoot of legendary motorsports figure, Larry Minor, and his latest sand Jeep, I was on the phone before he finished his sentence.
For the uninitiated, Larry is an iconic figure in the world of motorsports, having cut his teeth in the sands of Glamis since 1956. Early on, he took the family CJ-6 and cut out 20 inches of wheelbase, then installed triple rear tires for traction. In 1966, he raced the first fiberglass-bodied Jeep, dubbed Flower Power. The CJ-2A ran a 377ci, 6-71-blown, small-block Chevy that snorted nitromethane. He's a two-time overall winner of the Baja 1000, having taken the checkered flag driving a Bill Stroppe Bronco in both 1968 and 1969; being named Driver of the Year in 1968; and then placing prominently in other Baja and off-road motorsports through the '70s. By the early '80s, Larry had graduated to the world of NHRA top-fuel racing, winning a world championship in 1983 with Gary Beck.
Nowadays, he runs Larry Minor Motorsports, which builds tube-chassis, fiberglass-bodied sand Jeeps with huge horsepower and trick components. They're loud, fast, and unique-and have introduced the phrase Minor Jeeps into the off-road lexicon. While most Minor Jeeps follow a similar build formula,Larry's personal vehicle represents an all-out effort to shave weight without sacrificing performance or durability.
Chassis and Driveline
For starters, Larry has all of his engines built back east by John Lukavitch to his specifications. Larry knows John from his top-fuel days, and once you find a good engine-builder, you hang onto him. Larry called the engine in this Jeep a "small one" at only 750 hp. The aluminum block is punched with a 4.155-inch bore and employs a billet-steel Lunati crank with a 4-inch stroke to bring displacement to 434 cubes. Billet Oliver rods and forged JE pistons deal with the 16:1 compression, while a hand-fabricated Stef's oil pan handles windage and ensures lubrication during high-G maneuvers. On the top end, a pair of GM Performance Parts CNC-ported SB-2 NASCAR Race Heads with 2.15-inch intake and 1.65-inch exhaust valves allow tons of air into the cylinders, thanks to a serious 334-degree-at-0.050-duration, 0.660-lift solid roller cam ground with the number 4- and 7-cylinder firing order swapped. Induction is handled via a Chevy SB-2 single-plenum, high-rise intake, a 1,050-cfm Demon carburetor, and a 300hp Wilson plate nitrous system.
All of Larry's transmissions are built by Mike's Transmissions in Lancaster, California, and the Powerglide in his orange missile is no exception. A Dedenbear case holds tons of trick components, but the highlights include an 8-inch, 5,000-rpm converter, billet internals, a deep Moroso pan, and a special 1.64:1 First gear that Larry has specially built. Most Powerglide First gearsets are 1.82:1 or 1.76:1, but Larry says the taller ratio works better for him with the rear-axle gears he runs. A strong yet lightweight carbon-fiber driveshaft connects the Powerglide to the rear diff with 1350 U-joints.
The entire chassis is constructed from TIG-welded 1.5-inch, 0.065-wall 4130 chromoly tubing. The front suspension is comprised of 4130 A-arms with billet-aluminum spindles. Notice the distinct lack of front brakes. Out back, a four-link locates the Winters magnesium open-tube rearend. Larry runs 7.00 gears in the quick-change centersection. Hollow 3-inch, 41-spline shafts extend out to meet the hubs, while super-lightweight Winters aluminum rotors are clamped by Wilwood four-piston calipers. It may take some readers a little extra time checking the photos to grasp the concept, but the Winters rearend eliminates a lot of weight while retaining the ability to translate massive amounts of horsepower to the sand.
Suspension-wise, a quartet of remote-reservoir, 2 1/2-inch King coilovers provide 20 inches of wheel travel front and rear when we photographed the Jeep, but Larry reports he's since changed over to Revolution shocks with fully adjustable internal bypass valves and is more than happy with the results.
Body and Interior
If you're scratching your head and wondering what Jeep came with that type of grille, the only answer is a Minor Jeep. Larry has been running glass-bodied Jeeps for over 40 years and designed his own fiberglass bodies, but technically, this isn't one of them. The body of this Minor Jeep is laid in carbon fiber, which makes it much lighter, yet stronger than a comparable 'glass body. The carbon fiber extends into the dash and center console, which houses an integrated cooler with enough room for half a day's worth of beverages.
Inside, there's a pair of comfy PRP bucket seats with Crow harnesses. The interior is surprisingly comfortable, with plenty of legroom and a small compartment behind the seats for gear and a small toolkit. Larry fingers a Pro Action shifter to engage the Powerglide and keeps tabs on engine vitals via a trick Race Pack electronic digital display. Next to the Race Pack is the Lowrance GPS. Custom open headers provide the tunes.
A Howe Performance rack-and-pinion tells the 12.0-15 Sand Tires Unlimited tires on 15x7 Real Racing Wheels which way to go. Out back, a pair of 15x17 Real Racing Wheels hold 20.00-15 Sand Tires Unlimited Padla Trak 18-paddle tires. Both front and rear wheels are outfitted with OMF bead-lock rings.
Cooling is handled via a Ron Davis aluminum radiator and an electric Flex-A-Lite fan. Out back, a custom cell holds 20 gallons of VP's 116-octane C-16 fuel. Perched just above the fuel cell is a tranny cooler with electric fan 'cause nothing heats an automatic more than 1,050 nitrous-juiced horsepower.
Why I Featured IT
You walk around this Jeep and the attention to detail grabs you by the shirt collar and smacks you upside the face. Every tubing notch looks perfect. The paint is just the right color and has just the right amount of flake. Lines and plumbing are cleanly run to their destination. The list of trick components is too long and storied to mention. Even the bolts are hollow chromoly tube with the threads rolled into them in an effort to save weight. And Larry is just a hell of a nice guy.
At Glamis, I slide into the passenger seat and harness up. Larry flips the starter button and I'm greeted with the sweet scent of partially burnt C-16 race gas. We poke out through camp at idle with each paddle slapping the sand like we're driving over railroad ties. We hit the dunes on our way out to Oldsmobile Hill and effortlessly glide up and over monstrous walls of sand. I'm constantly checking the digital tach, wishing to see it finally spin above 3,000 rpm. It doesn't. At the bottom of Olds, Larry lines up on the steep, righthand side and reaches behind my head to open the valve on the nitrous bottle. "Ready?" he asks, and then there's no sound except for the solid wail of compression and explosion. The engine redlines at the edge of time and space, and Larry's hand reaches for the shifter to grab Second gear. Three-quarters of the way up Oldsmobile, Larry gets off the gas, and we're doing something in the neighborhood of 80-100 mph. We coast to the top and I realize I had been laughing like a lunatic the entire time.
Vehicle:Larry Minor Motorsports
Engine:434 Chevrolet small-block
Suspension:A-arm front, four-link rear, King coilover shocks
Axle: Wilson magnesium quick-change open tube
Wheels:Real Racing Wheels with OMF bead locks, 15x7 (front); 15x17 (rear)
Tires:Sand Tires Unlimited 12.0-15 Razor Back (front); Sand Tires Unlimited 20.00-15Padla Trak 18-paddle (rear)
Built For:Recreational sand use