Trail’s End: Trade Beautiful for Bulletproof
The name Soni Honegger might be familiar to fans of Four Wheeler’s flagship event, Top Truck Challenge. In fact, this very vehicle graced not only the starting lineup of the inaugural Top Truck Challenge back in 1993, but also the cover of Four Wheeler in September 1989. It’s been nearly 30 years since we photographed Soni’s “Tank,” and in no way has our love of OD Green, fullsize 4x4s shrunk, even though the theme for the aforementioned issue was “Ugly 4x4s.”
Soni’s goals for this truck were simple: build something bulletproof and strong like an ox, letting the fancy paintjob fall by the wayside. And so, the project began in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with a ’76 Dodge Ramcharger. Soni’s truck originally came with a 318ci V-8, which just wasn’t enough. After replacing it with a 360, he still wasn’t happy, so he finally decided on a 426ci Hemi V-8. Soni bored out the cylinders 0.020 inches, added Mullen aluminum Hemi heads, a Direct Connection cam, 10.0:1 pistons and rods fit for a NASCAR racer, and much more.
To make sure the Tank could still breathe while plunging into the muck, Soni installed a snorkel, which feeds air into a cleaner system recessed into the fender housing. Before air hit the Carter 750 AFB carb, it passed through a watertight Kenworth truck air filter housing that sat beneath the hood. The Tank exhaled first through a set of homemade headers and dual 4-inch Thrush Racing glasspacks, then let exhaust fly up high with a stack pipe routed out the roof, safe from mud and water.
First in line for the 520 horses and 490 lb-ft of torque was the 727 TorqueFlite automatic transmission. Soni could breeze through the gears with a B&M shift kit while the extra oil capacity and remote-mount cooling system kept the tranny from overheating. At the heart of the Tank was a New Process 203 transfer case with a Mile Marker part-time 4WD conversion kit. The Dana 60 front axle was held under the rig with custom springs mounted 3.5 inches forward of their original location. A trio of Rugged Trail shocks sat at each corner of the truck, and limiting straps kept the axles from over-articulating when the Dodge inevitably caught air. The 14-bolt GM rearend was centered beneath the Tank by a ladder-bar assembly and a pair of Firestone 6,000-pound airbags kept the enormous rig riding smooth and level. Both axles had 4.56:1 gears, and the Detroit Lockers made sure the 17x40-L 16.5RT Monster Mudders and 16.5x12-inch Bart steel wheels stayed spinning, even when traction was at a minimum.
The face of the Tank was as rugged as the name suggests, with a custom-built bumper, brushguard, grille, snowplow mount, and winch mount, all painted black to match the wheels. Soni was known to use the Tank to recover terminally stuck vehicles, so the vintage 1945 Koenig 12,000-pound PTO winch was a necessity. Among the battle-ready items hung from the Tank were gas cans, a shovel, axe, pick, a Hi-Lift jack, and three NATO-style 5-gallon steel gas cans.
In the days since its appearance on the September 1989 cover of Four Wheeler, the Tank has made quite a journey. It was rumored to have traveled from its home state of Arkansas to Saudi Arabia, Texas, Arizona, Wyoming, and may now be parked in California. Though it appeared as “The Tank” in the Four Wheeler story, the rig has been referred to as “The War Wagon” on the Internet, and today bears white stars and the name “Peacekeeper” across the door panels. A keen eye will notice the fabrication work that has gone into the truck since its creation, and perhaps more importantly, the new rumble emanating from the 6BT turbodiesel engine. Despite the changes, the truck looks much like it did when Soni first built it.
Do you remember this truck from the days of Top Truck Challenge? Maybe yours was among the many driveways where this rig was parked. We’d love to hear your story (and see your pictures), so send us a note at email@example.com.