We have built a lot of Ultimate Adventure vehicles over the years and have learned a thing or two about building a vehicle capable of street driving and extreme trail abuse. All the while this 4x4 has to haul a week’s worth of supplies and parts for two people. We’ve tried a lot of different things—some worked great, some didn’t—so maybe it’s time to jot down a recipe of sorts for building a quality UA machine.
Since we wrapped up our UA coverage last month and many of you are probably scheming for a way to get into the event for 2013, we figured now would be a great time to showcase what we think works and how we would build a 4x4 to survive the UA. Read our ideas, spend some time daydreaming how you can make all this stuff work in your rig, and then get to prepping your own ride. We’re anxiously waiting your application.
What to Start With
We are not going to tell you that any single make or model vehicle is the perfect platform for the UA. We’ve had good luck with just about every make 4x4 and also had problems with most every type. Jeeps are fairly common on the trip and for good reason. From their huge support in the aftermarket to their off-road prowess out of the box, Jeeps are great. But other makes are worth considering too.
The Offroad Design guys have proven that fullsize GM trucks with solid axles work great. Meanwhile, Tim Hardy has repeatedly shown that a well-built Samurai with a carbureted four-cylinder can survive the week with style. Pickup trucks and SUVs can both make the trip, though we’ve seen many a side or back window smashed on tight trails, so a truck with adequate storage may be a slightly better idea.
We will say that independent front suspension has never finished the UA without a failure of some sort, and we have seen everything from lightweight Suzuki to OEM Chevrolet and last year’s over-the-top Ford IFS, which we built (“Ultimate F-150,” July ’11 to Jan. ’12). We’re not saying IFS isn’t possible; it has just not proven itself well on prior trips.
Also, late-model or older 4x4s have both done well, but remember: Body damage does happen, so plan accordingly.
Tire Size & Wheels
Choosing a tire size is important for choosing a drivetrain. We require only that tires be 35 inches or taller. This is important because we hit some really hard trails and anything smaller could be a struggle. Even though the tire size can be unlimited, we’ve found that tires 37 to 42 inches are about perfect depending on wheelbase and drivetrain. Unless you’re wheelbase is less than 100 inches we wouldn’t recommend anything under 37s. At the same time, if you are running a wheelbase over 120 inches you’ll probably want a tire around 40 inches or larger just to keep the belly from bottoming out on break-over obstacles.
We do not require beadlock wheels, and yet most drivers use them on the UA. They do add weight to your wheel and tire combo, but they are helpful for low-pressure off-roading. We have run Trail Ready beadlocks and Walker Evans beadlocks with great success on official UA trucks.
Your tires and wheels will get damaged from rocks, dirt, and trail obstacles, so protected valve stems and wheels with easy-access lug nuts seems to work best.