The Ultimate Adventure is coming around the corner, our yearly weeklong off-road-trip when we pack all our gear in a 4x4 and take about 20 of our closest friends, advertisers, and readers for an adventure.
Every year we build a new truck to lead the Ultimate Adventure trip, a vehicle that can cruise down the highway and still rockcrawl, mud bog, and trail ride. The goal is to show that you can build something that can tackle hard trails one day and asphalt the next, as well as have a good time doing both.
We have built a lot of cool vehicles in the past for Ultimate Adventure, but recently we’ve been building mostly brand-new trucks—a new Ford last year, a new Jeep before that, another new Ford before that, and so on. One response we’ve gotten from readers was they want to see something older, and this time around we’re doing just that. Depending on your age you may or may not consider a ’90 Dodge truck old, but either way this is our truck for 2014.
We’ve had this Dodge for years. It was originally purchased as a parts truck for other magazine project vehicles. It’s been getting dusty and disassembled for a while, and only recently was it even considered to be put “back on the road.” Now this sow’s ear is going to get polished and pampered into a fine wheeling machine. After which it will get beaten and abused on our Ultimate Adventure trip for 2014.
Step By Step
Our UA truck started life as a ’90 Cummins
diesel Dodge truck that was shortened and
used as a military tug to pull airplanes around,
thus its nickname, Tug-Truck. This truck is twowheel
drive and has a 5.9L Cummins diesel and
a TF-727 automatic transmission. The bed had
a giant metal box filled with concrete to give it
enough weight to pull airplanes around.
Under the hood is that venerable 5.9L Cummins
diesel that sounds like a tractor and
runs with very few wires and no computer. We
had originally got this truck to pull the engine
out and put it in a Chevy military truck we had
years ago, but that truck got stolen so the
engine stayed put. We love the simplicity of the
engine, and plan on taking that idea through the
whole build. The less complexity, the less stuff
to go wrong. Step 1, clean that engine bay out of
all the extra garbage, dirt, and dust from sitting.
The rear axle of this 2WD was a Dana 70 with
7.17 gears and a Detroit Locker. It was scavenged
years ago to find its way under the Toyota
we built known as Clampy. For years this thing
sat on blocks (literally wood blocks) at a friend’s
house in the desert.
One day we came across this photo of an old
feature truck, it was built by Soni Honneger
and was known as the War Wagon. Though it
was based off a Ramcharger, we instantly saw a
possibility to use our Tug as a wheeling rig with
a similar look. However, it will be a bit more modern
than this machine, and less military.
The first step was to make Tug a truck again.
We tossed all the heavy metal off the back
of the truck (along with the million-pound metal
box full of solid concrete) and started stretching
the frame. Custom C-channel lengths were
formed at Western Fabricators in Hesparia, California,
out of 0.188-inch-thick plate.
The framerails were attached to what was
left of the original chassis with fishplates,
and now we were ready to roll some axles under
the Tug-Truck. We’re also going to need to develop
a front suspension and a transfer case since
the tug was originally two-wheel drive. We’ll
reveal more of that plan next time.
Behind the cab we wanted a simple bed.
We sourced this M101 military trailer box
from 100 Dollar Man, a military surplus yard
in Lucerne Valley, California. This will give us
a strong steel bed with an industrial look that
should hold up well to off-road abuse.
The Tug-Truck is going to need a lot of work
in the next few months to get ready for the
Ultimate Adventure, so we’re loading it up and
heading to the official fabrication shop of UA
2014, Pacific Fabrication in Gilroy, California.
Once there, a serious amount of cutting, grinding,
welding, and wrenching will be taking place
to get old Tug into tiptop shape. Come back for
our next installment to see the progress.
Watch It Transform
The buildup of the Tug Truck will be documented in these pages, but also as an episode of Dirt Every Day on the Motor Trend channel on Youtube.com Expect to see it air on November 13, 2014. Also plan on a week of Ultimate Adventure coverage on the Motor Trend Channel airing the first week of December 2014.