Part 3: Our Truck Gets Caged and Rocked
This story goes to press about eight weeks before Ultimate Adventure begins, but for some reason this year feels different. No, the truck isn’t finished, but maybe the reason we’re not losing sleep is because the crew at Randy Ellis Design is doing such a topnotch job. (Or maybe we just sleep less.)
As a refresher, Ultimate Adventure is our weeklong hellfest where Editor Péwé takes a group of about 20 rigs through the backroads and hidden trails of America on a camping, wheeling, exploring trip of a lifetime on what often turns out being the hottest week of the summer. We eat mostly from gas stations, sleep in the dirt, and earn our stripes winching, rockcrawling, and mud boggin’ through whatever unheard-of two-tracks Péwé leads us on.
Every year we build a truck to lead our charge (and for Péwé to drive). This year it’s a new Ford F-150 with the twin turbo V-6 EcoBoost engine. Ford is very proud of this performance powerplant designed for V-6 mileage and V-8 power, so Ford not only supplied the truck to showcase its abilities but also signed on as Official Truck of the Ultimate Adventure.
We took the truck directly to Randy Ellis Design (RED) in Phoenix for the buildup. RED is known for its line of Sleekster bolt-on light bars, but RED also has a full custom fabrication shop ready for any hot rod, monster truck, race buggy, or old Jeep project you are dreaming of.
The goal of this build is simple: big tires, room for gear, strength of components, and something capable of running down the highway and trail. If you missed the July and August installments, check them out at 4wheeloffroad.com, where you can also see weekly updates in the blog.
When we left off, most of the truck had been torn down for a rebuild and the rocker panels had been trimmed and fitted with steel plate for boat-siding. The steel plate, most of the tubing, and some chromoly material destined for the front suspension all came from Competitive Metals in El Cajon, California.
Competitive Metals is a small materials company that has been supplying steel and aluminum to the SoCal off-road market for years. What makes the company different from some bigger companies is that not only does it sell this stuff but it also uses it in its own 4x4s and race trucks.
Some of the Competitive Metals 2-inch tubing went into the rollcage portion of the F-150. Putting a safe rollcage in a truck that still allows driver/passenger comfort and daily use is tricky. First, the entire cab must be gutted of seats, carpet, and everything else.
There are many different ways to build a rollcage, and on a new truck like the F-150 the cab is already very strong structurally and built for general occupant safety. We used that to our advantage and made the cage a part of the cab structure by welding the tubing directly to the pillars, firewall, and floorboard.
Above the door openings the cage has plates that tie into the cab similar to the style used in many off-road rally cars. However, we are not tying directly to the frame with the cage; rather, we are relying on the beefy body mounts to secure the cab yet muffle noise from the suspension and drivetrain.
The finished bar is safe and secure and will allow both front and rear seats to be used and retain the recline feature should the passenger want to catch some Zs on long road days. Access to the rear seat isn’t easy but still possible, though it will typically be storage for gear.
Up front the F-150 will be hauling a new Warn CTI winch and some off-road lights, so a bumper was designed to support them without decreasing approach angle or protection. The Randy Ellis Design team started with 1⁄4-inch steel uprights and a horizontal winch base plate.
Next, they began bending 2-inch tubing to protect the front corners of the truck. New-style pickups like the ’11 F-150 have nice, yet expensive, headlights. A well-built bumper should protect them from rock and tree encounters.
A large hydraulic tubing bender is used to make the bends. Note the hydraulic ram, which is powered by a 110V hydraulic pump. The length of the ram shaft is measured so that the bends can be duplicated and both sides of the bumper will match.
As with all the fabrication on the truck, nothing is welded together without careful measurement. Many parts are simply tacked in place with the Miller MIG welder until further steps like suspension, tires, and steering are finished, just in case something needs changing.
While working on our truck, Randy Ellis is also working on other custom 4x4s. Check out the plate bumper he is fabbing on this diesel Chevy solid-axle truck being built for a customer.
A big front skidplate is in the works for our front bumper as well as final light and winch mounts, but more on that next time. A keen eye will pick up some hints to the custom front suspension we have in the works.
The truck bed was trimmed about a foot for greater departure angle, but the cut line required some zig-zagging to retain the wheelwell opening and taillight. A straight cut inside the bed was made, and everything was then tacked back in place.
Rear bumper duties include taillight protection; clean departure angles, tailgate use, recovery points, and trailer hitch integration just in case the F-150 ever gets hitched. Again 2-inch tubing and 1⁄4-inch plate were used for strength and simplicity.
Behind the rear bumper is a heavy piece of rectangular tubing that replaces the rear frame section that had been cut off during the bobbing of the tail end. Space is full for this month, and we need to get back to building this Ultimate F-150, so come back in 30 days for part 4.