We built it in three months, wheeled it for one week, and now it's ready for the body shop. Yes, we are back in lovely Southern California daily driving our battered Ultimate Tacoma after a short summer of wrenching, welding, wiring, painting, and wheeling.
When we last checked in on the buildup, we had just left the paint and Rhino Lining shops, and got on the road. But leaving with just a built-to-the-hilt 4x4 has never been our Ultimate Adventure style. This year we again packed our truck with some crazy widgets, as well as tools and some creature comfort parts. We know that most of you are not looking for video cameras and DVD players for your off-road rigs, but some of you are, and this isn't your normal off-road rig either, since it also has to work a bit as a show truck at this year's Off Road Expo in Pomona, California; 4x4 Nationals in Phoenix; and the SEMA show in Las Vegas. So follow along to learn all the extra toys we stuffed in our favorite 4x4 Toy.
The cab of the Taco was going to be home for a few staff members for about two weeks during Ultimate Adventure, so we tried to make it as comfortable as possible. Our seat sponsor, Corbeau, hooked us up with a pair of VX2000 seats covered in leather, and the first set they could get us were both driver-side seats with the recline/fold forward lever on the left side. This is actually a bonus, as now the driver can easily fold forward the passenger seat to access items in the extended cab. Also, our initial feelings were that the seats were too hard, but after nearly 24 hours driving in them to the start of UA we were still comfortable and supported. The seat's injection-molded foam and integrated shoulder, kidney, and thigh support worked excellently, and we still feel great about the seats. The side bolsters are low enough to get in relatively easy (for a lifted truck on 37s), and other than some normal trail wear from getting in and out with dirty clothes, the seats seem to be holding up well.
Between the seats we needed a place to stuff a camera, carry a Diet Coke for Editor Pw, and a cup of coffee for Feature Editor Williams, so we called the good folks at Tuffy Security Products. Tuffy is known for its lockable center consoles that have been at home in Jeeps and other open-top rigs for years, with 16-gauge steel construction and optional speaker and toolboxes, they are a great bet for keeping things from disappearing in any of your trail rigs. Due to the tight confines between our Corbeaus, we eventually settled on a console for a Suzuki Samurai, and moved the cup holders to the front for close-at-hand refreshment. Also notice our Corbeau four-point seatbelts.
On our way home from the paint shop we stopped by Blue Devil Products for some off-road lights as well as some high-zoot rockcrawling cameras. The system is pretty cool; with four cameras mounted around the truck we are able to see a lot more of the trail, as well as record everything for the UA DVD. The small units are waterproof and very rugged, and the lenses are covered by clear plastic lens covers that are the same ones used on mini-Mag-Light flashlights, so they are cheap and easy to change.
We selected a color camera on the front axle pointing backwards to see the rear diff and tires as well as a color camera on the rear axle facing forward. In addition to the underbelly cams, we also added an infrared camera and two infrared lights on the grille. During the day this camera is a normal black-and-white camera, but at night you can turn on its lights (which cannot be seen by human eyes) and creep around in the dark. We also found this camera useful in a torrential downpour when we could hardly see out the windshield, but could still see the road on the internal monitor.
In the cab we mounted the control box, a camera for recording in-cab driver antics, and the monitor to see what each camera is viewing. The system works by running all the feeds through the computer brain, and then using dash-mounted switches to decide which camera you want on the monitor. We also chose to put a quick switch on the transmission shifter so we could easily flip from the front to rear axle-cams. To record what is being viewed you simply hook your standard video camera to the brain, and take the live feed from the truck. Our UA video cameramen took some footage, which will most likely make it onto the DVD, and other than a couple minor glitches (some camera feed wires were melted by the exhaust) and a weird monitor glitch (being fixed as you read this), the system was great fun to play with and record our trip.
The off-road lights we installed are called ARON Blue Lights and they emit a blue-ish white light. They are similar to LEDs and use what is known as ARON technology. These small rock lights are only an inch tall and 3 1/8 inches wide, yet they put off a strong glow for under-truck wrenching or spotting of rocks at night. Plus, the lights use only half an amp of current draw, yet have a life expectancy of 75,000 hours. The guys at Blue Devil Products installed the lights on our rock-slider mounting bars.
When you are heading to the mud with limited internal space to stash camping gear, it's wise to look at new options for keeping your clothes and sleeping bags dry. We contacted the folks at Watershed to round up some waterproof bags. Designed for canoes and kayakers, these bags have a patented Zip Dry closure similar to a zip-lock bag that has both an air- and water-tight seal. We used two big bags for our camping supplies and smaller bags for tools, parts, and camera gear. When we return home muddy, we just hose off the bags with no worries of soaking the contents. Imagine the possibilities for open-top Jeeps and buggies in the rainy parts of the country.
Again this year we went to Matco Tools to fill our grubby paws for when carnage struck. We outfitted the Taco with standard and metric ProSwing ratcheting wrenches, a full assortment of screwdrivers and pliers, 1/2-inch ratchet and impact sockets, prybars, a circuit tester, a tool bag, and the ever-needed 20-ounce ball-peen hammer. We also had plans for mounting a 2-ton aluminum jack like the prerunner trucks we often see in Baja, but eventually decided that our chosen trails were more conducive to a standard Hi-Lift.
In the bed of the Taco we mounted two PT-10 Power Tank CO2 tanks. Since we already had a bunch of power-sapping electrical components, we felt the sure-fire option of a CO2 tank over an electrical compressor would keep our air tools and tire chucks working the whole trip. We opted for two small tanks, and barely used one by the end of the week, and that was after many days of airing up and down and running power tools on multiple vehicles for repair. We usually pay between $10 and $20 to fill the tanks, and the lockable bed mount held them firmly in place over the harsh terrain.
Yes, it was excessive, but we wanted to be able to sit at camp and watch last year's Ultimate Adventure DVD to make sure we were having more fun, so we contacted Pioneer Electronics and soon had our hands on the most outrageous and awesome stereo system ever put in a 4x4 by 4-Wheel & Off-Road. The Pioneer AVIC-N1 system comes with a GPS navigation, DVD and MP3 player, XM satellite radio, CD player, and tons of other options including a reverse camera and vehicle dynamics display. Not only can you type in the address of where you want to go and the sexy GPS lady will tell you where to make your turns, but the system can also tell you your exact speed in case your tire changes have the stock speedo confused by using information from speed sensors, GPS, G-force, and gyroscope sensors. Plus it can measure cornering g's, battery voltage, slope angle, and angular velocity.
The navigation system in the AVIC-N1 is really pretty amazing. First you must load a CD with either the eastern or western part of the country on it, and then you just follow the directions to your destination. But it gets even better. You can also search for businesses by name, or set the map to show points of interest including all the restaurants or gas stations along your desired route. This was particularly handy when on unknown roads during UA. One warning, though: The system is not fond of dust, and we now give it a thorough vacuuming as often as possible.
The stock steering wheel had some weird funk on it from the previous owner's sticky fingers and didn't quite fit into our race-truck theme, so we contacted Kartek Off Road and ordered a Dragster wheel from the race line of Momo wheels. This Italian-made wheel is urethane-textured like leather, but it won't stain or be affected by liquids like leather, plus it is about half the price of a leather Momo. We also ordered up the Toyota wheel adapter, and did some custom column work to keep the cruise control for the long over-the-road hauls.
Rocky Boots were the official boots of this year's Ultimate Adventure, and it's hard to give you the lowdown on boots since we aren't Petersen's 2-Feet & Off-Road Walker magazine. Though we do spend a good amount of time humping through dirt, rocks, and mud to get all the pictures you see in this book, we rarely take time to evaluate what's on our feet. We all have different types of boots we like (high top, low cut), and though some of us are new to the Rocky line (Pw rarely ever takes off his sandals), UA attendee and all-around good chap Chris Durham has been wearing Rockys for 11 or 12 years and not only have they helped his throttle-down driving style, but they also aid in his world class spotting and trail repair skills.
A handy tool for keeping track of the UA flock is a citizen band radio. This year we contacted the folks at Karl's C-B shop in Las Vegas via CBradioUSA.com to see what they recommend. We agreed on a Cobra C75WXST 40-channel handheld remote unit and a Wilson 1000 Antenna. This piece is great for a rig with little spare room in the cab, and we found the range almost perfect for when our group got spread out on the long highway days. The 10 weather bands also came in handy when storm clouds threatened.
There are few things more important on an off-road trip than the cooler. Of course you want the truck to work and the tires to have great traction, and lockers help, but when all else fails, you need to have a cold beverage to relax with and figure out how to get home. Coolers of different sorts are available, but if you want the best for your ultimate rig, then you want an ARB freezer fridge. We chose the 33-quart variant, and stuffed it right behind the driver seat. This gave the passenger room to recline, and also let him get a cold one for the driver. The fridge is great because it can keep beverages cold, or can be cranked up to even store things like ice cream or Pw's freezee pops, all the while using a low amperage draw. Our only regret is not ordering the optional transit bag to protect the finish from bouncing luggage and reclining seats.