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A California Avalanche That's Red and Ready

Front Side View
Ken Brubaker
| Senior Editor, Four Wheeler
Posted March 1, 2002

Urban Adventure Vehicle

Step By Step

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  • While the 285hp 5.3L engine remains mostly stock, it breathes easier thanks to a Gibson stainless-steel after-cat performance exhaust system. It also benefits from a rugged Red Top Optima battery that produces significantly more cold cranking amps than the stock battery.

  • Seems like storage space is always at a premium no matter what kind of truck you own, so owner Matt Westhoff added a Steel Horse stainless-steel Challenger roof rack and Off Road Basket to safely and securely haul loose items while on the trail.

  • In case the trail turns real ugly, there’s a Ramsey QM9000 winch bolted to the rear of the Avalanche.

  • With the addition of a Fabtech suspension lift, bigger Pro Comp tires, American Racing rims, lots of Steel Horse accessories, and exhaust and electrical upgrades, this Avalanche is looking good and ready to hit the trail.

  • Six inches of suspension lift are achieved by a Fabtech suspension kit, and further height is created by the addition of 33-inch Pro Comp Mud Terrain tires.

  • Aggressive 33x12.50-17 Pro Comp Mud Terrain tires offer increased traction, and 17x10 American Racing Atlas rims dress things up.

  • The cargo area has been lined with a Steel Horse carpet bedliner, and a BVG Ratchet Pro truck bed bike carrier offers secure attachment of a bulky mountain bike. A BVG Stretchnet and Secure Straps hold loose items, and a BVG bike lock keep the mountain bike from disappearing.

  • The trick gas cap cover is a Steel Horse product, and it adds an even beefier look to the vehicle’s aesthetics.

  • Specs.

There was no shortage of modified Chevy Avalanches at the 2001 SEMA show in Las Vegas, but we spun a neck bearing when we saw Matt Westhoff’s stunning, bright red ’02 Avalanche glistening under the blazing Nevada sun. It combines the trends that have quickly become standard for Avalanche builders, and it includes numerous bolt-on parts and performance features that enhance its four-wheeling manners and overall functionality.

The vehicle went from bone-stock to SEMA-ready in just three weeks. That’s quite amazing, and the first modification was the painting of the front fascia, rear fascia, and body cladding. This color-keying has become the norm for Avalanche customizers, and it visually smoothes the body without significantly changing the Avalanche’s bold exterior look. Jose Vazquez from Color Wheels Auto Body & Paint in Westminster, California, did the honors, spraying on the matching Victory Red paint that identically matches the factory finish.

In order to enhance the Avalanche’s approach, departure, and ramp-over angle, Westhoff (who is an installer at Steel Horse Automotive in Compton, California) went to work on the suspension of the truck, installing Fabtech’s new 6-inch suspension kit. The Avalanche’s stock suspension is a combination of Suburban and Tahoe components, and the Fabtech kit installs almost as identically as the kits for those vehicles do. With the new suspension installed, Westhoff found he had plenty of room for a set of 33x12.50-17 Pro Comp Mud Terrain tires, and he mounted the aggressive tires on a set of 17x10 American Racing Atlas aluminum rims.

Westhoff felt that the trick to creating a trick Avalanche was to analyze each exterior bolt-on component for its usefulness and functionality. He began the exterior mods by attaching a Steel Horse Challenger Stainless Steel Roof Rack with Off Road Basket, and this item offers plenty of rooftop storage for off-road essentials and general storage. A Ramsey QM9000 winch resides on the front of the truck should the trail get too tough, a pair of Steel Horse stainless steel Euro Bars make the climb in and out of the tall Avalanche easier, and a Trenz billet grille with stainless-steel Chevy bow-tie emblem replaced the factory plastic unit. To aid in safe night travel, Westhoff added four pairs of PIAA lights, and they’re mounted on the front and rear of the truck, as well as on the roof rack. Other exterior mods include a beefy-looking Steel Horse billet gas-cap cover and heavy-duty PIAA windshield wiper blades.

The Avalanche’s unique, factory-installed folding midgate is the vehicle’s most popular feature, and while there aren’t any ways to modify it (yet), Westhoff did find products to make hauling cargo easier and safer. The first thing he did was to install a Steel Horse carpet bedliner kit in place of the rubber factory unit. Next, he installed a BVG Ratchet Pro truck bed bike carrier to aid in hauling his mountain bike. Finally, a BVG Stretchnet and Secure Straps keep items from flying around the bed during transport, and a Super Siphon, gas can, and tow strap are all easily accessible in case of emergency.

Of course, driving comfort is paramount in any rig, and Westhoff enhanced the Avalanche’s inherently comfortable cab with a killer Steel Horse 5.6-inch hi-fi DVD overhead entertainment system. He also added Nifty Xtreme Catch-All floor mats and two APC chrome fire extinguishers.

Westhoff’s Avalanche is an example of what can be done to enhance an already bold vehicle, and it proves that it can be done in a very short amount of time. Westhoff calls the Avalanche an Urban Adventure Vehicle, and it probably is just that around its home base in Santa Ana, California, but we’d guess that with its modifications, the Avalanche is more than capable as a rural adventure vehicle.