4x4 and Truck

Ice Truckers, indeed

Monday, June 18th, 2007

Back when Bill Mertz was still writing this site, he did a post about how big rigs crossed ice roads carved into the tundra of Canada’s northern provinces.

The reason I mention this is because I noticed a commercial today for a new series on The History Channel called Ice Road Truckers.

The season premiere was last night at 9 PM central. Lemme tell you, those people are friggin crazy! There was ice cracks an inch or so wide, the unnerving sound of ice stress-cracking under the load of the semis, and talk of waves underneath the ice generated by the pressure of the trucks’ weight. No way you’d catch me doing that, but I’m sure the money’s pretty good.

Pretty cool show, and even cooler that Bill called out how cool the ice truckers were a couple months ago.


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AutomotiveBlogger.net’s Car Star Award for May 13th-19th 2007

Friday, May 18th, 2007

I’m skipping the weekly links this week because I found a Car Star for this week that is so awesome that it deserves a post all its own.

Click to see the full gallery of Ken's truck (click to go to the full gallery of pics)

I found this vehicle last year when I joined the 67-72ChevyTrucks.com message board. Since they have a great 73-87 Chevy truck section, I generally hang around in there. When I saw the truck of the guy called N2TRUX, I thought it was one of the coolest rides I’d ever seen. Last week I asked N2TRUX (also known as Ken McAvoy) if I could feature his truck as this week’s Car Star, and he agreed. Matter of fact, he had a story prepared for when he was featured in Classic Trucks magazine last year.

Here’s Ken’s story:

Internet Classic
Ken McAvoy

Every custom truck has a story, and this 77 Chevy Cheyenne is no different. Unlike the daily driver drone trucks that get you back and forth to work or school, custom trucks have a personality. Most trucks are bought from a new auto dealer, or the local used truck emporium. They get a few basic bolt-ons, and then go about the daily grind of being transportation pretty much unnoticed.

Custom trucks are usually different from the beginning. They always seem to have a story to go with them. For some the story begins in a farmer’s field or barn. For others it was bought new and passed through generations of a family until it was time for a rebuild. The scenarios are endless, but there is almost always a story.

Mine begins innocent enough. I wasn’t looking for a project, because I already had one. I bought a really clean 82 C/K 2wd Blazer five years ago, and although the transformation to custom truck has been very slow, it is finally starting to show signs of real progress. But that is another “custom truck “ story.

This story begins as I was wasting away another evening relaxing and cruising the net. One of the websites that I frequent is www.67-72chevytrucks.com.

While surfing the 73-87 message board, I ran across a post that was titled something like “Hey, look what’s on Ebay”. You know the ones I’m talking about. You are always tempted to look, but it’s almost never anything worth checking out.

This one was different. The link inside lead me to this really clean black 77 Chevy Cheyenne. It had a few pics displayed in the ad, so I spent some time viewing them. Since pictures on the net can be very deceiving, I just assumed this truck was a really nice 10 footer. As I opened the pictures up, I was surprised at how clean this truck really was. I must have spent an hour clicking each picture to “super size” it for a better view.

I could not get over how clean this truck was. The ad said it was a low mileage truck to start with, and had undergone a professional body-off restoration. I had to know more about it. That night I emailed the owner asking for more information, and of course more pictures.

He responded with a brief story about how it had been restored at a shop in Arkansas that specializes in classic restorations. It spent a few years being trailered to car shows, and winning awards before it was sold. It went through another owner before this gentleman bought it with the intentions of selling it for a profit. He sent more pictures along with the history.

The new pictures were even more impressive. I was able to see from these shots that it was just as nice as it appeared. I decided even though I had a driveway full of trucks, and neck deep in my Blazer project, I had to pursue this further. With the reluctant permission of my wife, I placed a bid. I eventually won the bid, but did not meet the reserve. I figured it was just not meant to be, and I let it go.

A couple of weeks later, I went to visit Keith, a good friend of mine. We live a few hours apart, so we try to find good excuses to get together often. There was a truck show in his area, so my family went to stay with his family, and the guys went to the show.

On our way to the show, Keith asked whatever happened to the 77 I was bidding on, so I told him the story. He said since the truck wasn’t too far from where we were, that we should go look at it. Being the good friend that I am, I didn’t want to offend him by disagreeing too much. Actually I was dying to go look at it.

I did mention how I didn’t think my wife would appreciate me buying another truck considering how many trucks I already owned. He smiled, and said that he knew she wouldn’t mind “too much”, because he had already asked her.

We called the guy that owned the truck and arranged a meeting. When we rolled up to his house it was sitting in the driveway with the sun filtering through large oak trees on it. The sunlight seemed to accent it in just the right places. WOW! It looked so sweet with the sun bouncing off the chrome trim, and glossy black paint. I was excited, but tried not to show it. My Dad taught me a long time ago, to never let a seller see your excitement.


Did Chinese automakers buy automotive secrets from Kia spies?

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

Forbes reports via AFX that five current and former employees of Kia Motors have been arrested for allegedly selling automotive technology to China, causing potential losses of billions of dollars to a key industry, prosecutors said.

The prosecutors’ office in Suwon city south of Seoul said the five are accused of stealing key technical secrets regarding car assembly.

On nine occasions since last November, the accused allegedly diverted a total of 57 secrets to an unidentified Chinese auto company through a technology consulting company in South Korea.

The secrets were supposedly technologies for assembly of Kia’s Sorento SUV.


The incident has been called South Korea’s biggest case of industrial espionage, and could cause damage of ‘a few billion dollars’.

–Will Thompson

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Jeep Wrangler Sets New Altitude Record

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007


The new four-door Jeep Wrangler Unlimited has just wheeled its way into the Guinness Book of World Records by conquering the tallest Volcano in the world, Ojos del Salado in Chile. After reaching the top of the volcano the two Wrangler Unlimiteds became the first four-wheeled vehicles to reach 21,804 feet above sea level, the altitude at the top of Ojos del Salado. The immense volcano is not only tall but it is also littered with difficult obstacles such as glacial ice fields and volcanic sand, combined with the thin air at the top it makes for less than ideal conditions for a motorized vehicle, however the two Jeep team was up for the challenge.


The expedition was lead by a German based team from Extreme Events. Taking roughly five exhausting days to complete the trip, Mattias Jeschk (team leader) and the rest of his crew guided the Wranglers from base camp up to the top of the second highest peak in the Western Hemisphere. Along the way they faced hurricane-strength winds, sub-zero temperatures (minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit), thin air, malicious glaciers, fissured rock cliffs and volcanic sand. The most difficult part of the journey was the last stretch of the climb where both Wranglers had to cross a glacier, slick enough to require cramp-ons for foot travel. At the end was a fissured ice area strewn with razor sharp snow penitents. Both Wranglers were almost completely stock Rubicon models except for the addition of Goodyear MT/R tires, a pair of winches, and special altitude measuring instruments, making the trip all the more impressive.

Goodyear tires at work

Senior Vice President of Global Marketing for Chrysler, George Murphy had nothing but praise for the trip, “This was exactly the challenge to separate the new Jeep Wrangler Unlimited from all other 4×4 vehicles. A climb like this in not just off-road, but extreme conditions, is a testament to the performance of the vehicle’s power train, suspension and overall quality. We are very proud that Wrangler Unlimited was the first vehicle to be able to complete such a rigorous challenge, and believe that it really does set the vehicle apart from its competition”.


As a Jeep owner I’m proud to see another Jeep make this great achievement, especially one that shares some lineage with my old CJ7. But I have to admit, the hiker/backpacker in me is a little sad to see motorized vehicles climbing mountains instead of people on foot, and the idea that Jeep has now dubs this great volcano “the highest parking lot in the world” says a lot about the direction our society is going in. But I guess those are the conflicts that someone who likes Jeeps and likes to hike has to deal with. By the way; the old record was held by a VW Touareg at 19,950 feet.

Jeeps reach the previous record altitude

Good job Jeep! I think.

-Bill Mertz

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Wanted: Small Diesel 4×4 Pickup For Veggie Conversion

Friday, February 16th, 2007


My girlfriend loves the mountains. She frequently hauls her dogs and ski equipment up to the Sierra Nevada range or up to Oregon to hit the slopes in the winter. For anyone who has driven to the mountains in the winter, you know it is much easier to pass by the chain control people if you have four wheel drive and snow tires instead of pulling over and chaining up in the bitter cold, or shelling out big bucks for someone else to do it.

She came up with the idea of getting a small diesel 4×4 and running it on Biodiesel. I must admit I liked the plan, although I’m a big advocate of SVO (Straight Veggie Oil) as it can be attained for free. Small trucks are great; they are easy to park and maneuver in city traffic, they get good gas mileage, pollute less than larger trucks and you can still haul a ton of stuff (scooters, beds, gravel, dogs). Diesels are pretty cool too; they are torquey, get good mileage and run forever if you take car of them. And of course I love 4×4’s and I’m all for alternative fuels, so the package did sound appealing. The only problem is there aren’t very many trucks in the US that meet these requirements.

I spent hours scouring the internet for small diesel 4×4’s and I cam up with a very short list of possibilities. The first, and best in my opinion, is the Mitsubishi Mighty Max which was also sold under the Dodge brand as the Ram 50 or D50 and under the Plymouth badge as the Arrow Truck. I believe the Mighty Max was available in the US from 1982 through 1996. The reason I like the Mitsubishi is it came in 4×4 and with a turbo diesel four banger, the 4D55 (later replaced by the 4D56). The 4D55 puts out a respectable 83 horsepower and 129 lb-ft of torque. This means that compared to other diesel trucks of its size it could actually develop a little speed on the road. Fortunately the Mitsubishi diesels were also very popular outside the US so there are numerous low mileage motors floating around and parts are still readily available.

Mighty Max

Option number two is the Isuzu Pup or more correctly P’up. Like the Mitsu, the Pup was also sold under the Chevrolet brand as the Chevy Luv. In my own personal searches it appears that the Isuzu diesel 4×4’s are a bit more common than the Mitsubishi’s and have quite a cult following. The C223 diesel engine became available in 1981. Producing 58 horsepower and 93 lb-ft of torque the diesel powered Isuzu achieved a remarkable 33 mpg city/44 mpg highway. The C223 diesel also proved to be extremely robust and it was not uncommon for them to go 500,000 miles between rebuilds. With production running into the mid-1990’s there were plenty of Pups made. Also like the Mitsubishi this truck had a large following outside the US so parts availability isn’t much of a problem. While the Pup is a naturally aspirated truck there are also plenty of upgrades available from bolt on tubochargers to complete turbo motor swaps. I also heard mutterings of a factory turbo, but I have a feeling it was only available on the gas powered engines.

Isuzu Pup on the trail

Nissan/Datsun also made a small diesel pickup from 1981-1986 called the 720. Unfortunately in the US the diesel was only offered in the 2wd truck, however a swap into a 4×4 would probably be a straight forward endeavor. Sporting a naturally aspirated SD22 diesel engine up to ‘83 when it was replaced by the SD25, the Datsun is similar to the Pup in performance, and like the other two trucks parts are readily available for this vehicle.

While I heard rumors that both Toyota and Ford made small diesel 4×4’s for the US market, I couldn’t find any concrete evidence to prove it. However, many of these companies sold small diesel trucks in other countries such as Canada and Mexico. This led me to investigate the last option, importing a truck to the US. After sifting through mountains of info from government sites like the DMV, to private accounts of bringing cars across the border I decided to throw this idea out the window. It appears to be an incredible hassle with high odds of failure and an extremely high price. The chances that you could buy a vehicle and have it not allowed into the US were too high for me to seriously consider.

Despite the fact that these trucks are hard to come by, they are still remarkably affordable, usually in the $1500-$5000 range. Now if anyone knows where I can find one of these diesel 4×4s at a decent price please let me know. If I do succeed in my search and convince my girlfriend to actually buy the truck, look for an in depth write-up on straight vegetable oil conversions.

Pup in the mud

-Bill Mertz

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Dodge to Produce Clean Light Duty Diesel

Thursday, January 25th, 2007


Good news for all the Dodge truck fans out there. Dodge says it will introduce a new turbo-diesel engine for its light-duty truck line in 2009. With the help of the new Cummins clean-diesel technology this new power plant will be 50 state legal meeting 2010 emission standards. According to Dodge the new turbo-diesel will give a massive boost in low-end torque, be 30 percent more fuel efficient and produce 20 percent less carbon dioxide (CO2) compared to a similar gasoline engine. This new clean diesel will provide plenty of hauling and towing capacity while being both cleaner and more efficient than previous motors of this size and power potential.


For those who don’t want to wait until 2009 to get their hands on a Cummins clean-diesel Dodge has announced it will be putting a 6.7-liter Cummins turbo-diesel in its Ram Heavy Duty trucks starting in March of this year. Like its smaller counterpart the 6.7 liter giant will meet 2010 emission requirements for all 50 states.

Dodge deserves some kudos for changing with the times and putting cleaner more efficient engines into their trucks. Any time you can get more power while being cleaner and more efficient you are taking steps in the right direction, and it seems that Dodge and Cummins have done just that.

-Bill Mertz

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Millen Wows the Crowd in a Toyota Tacoma

Monday, January 22nd, 2007


For those who don’t already know, Rod Millen isn’t just your run of the mill race car driver. Millen was born in New Zealand where he loved to surf and sail and occasionally pop around in a dune buggy. His love for cars, and particularly sliding them, grew into an obsession and quickly Rod Millen became involved in the New Zealand rally scene. After proving his worth in the southern hemisphere Millen came to California where he continued to show his rally prowess. He signed on with Toyota’s off road racing division and became a hero to thousands of little kids by dominating the Mickey Thompson Stadium Off-Road Racing series. But the real legend of Rod Millen involves a Colorado mountain called Pikes Peak.

This 14,110 ft. mountain is home to possibly the greatest hill climb in motor sports. With a massive change in altitude, 156 dangerous curves, slippery dirt and sometimes inclement weather the 12.42 mille Pikes Peak hill climb is not for the faint of heart. For Rod Millen this is simply another day at the office. Pikes Peak is Millen’s home turf and he has proven himself time and time again in a myriad of different vehicles and classes. In 1994 Millen charged is all wheel drive Toyota Celica turbo to the top of the mountain in a record time of 10:04.06, a record which still stands today. This is just one of many titles and records that Millen holds on what many call “Millen’s Mountain”.

In 1998 Millen and his company MillenWorks built a custom Toyota Tacoma race truck to bring to Pikes Peak. The low slung rally truck won the unlimited class at Pikes Peak two years in a row. Millen decided that it might be fun to bring some of his Pikes Peak vehicles out to another great hill climb, the Goodwood Festival of speed, so in 2002 he brought his record holding 850 horsepower Celica to the hill at Goodwood and put on quite a show. Not to be outdone by… himself he vowed to return the next year with something even faster. That of course would be the 900 horsepower turbocharged Toyota Tacoma, and again Millen wowed the crowd with an even faster run than the previous year.

A friend of mine alerted me to this great video of Millen’s Goodwood run from YouTube.

Running his Celica

Running his Tacoma

-Bill Mertz

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Can Robby Gordon Win the Lisbon to Dakar Rally?

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007


After winning the Baja 1000 Robby Gordon had high hopes for his third run at the infamous Dakar Rally. This year Gordon is driving a fully customized H3 Hummer desert race truck with all the bells and whistles. While a little on the big side for some of the tighter sections the hope was that the big hummer would dominate in the open desert and dunes with its powerful engine and massive amounts of suspension travel.

Starting out in Lisbon, Gordon hung tight for the first stage staying close to the front of the pack through the tight sandy course. While not stellar, his performance was strong enough to put him with in striking distance of the leaders during the higher speed stages, however the next day the team suffered a speeding penalty and an off course excursion which set them back into 46th place for the day and 18th in the overall standings. The next day Team Dakar USA and the Monster Energy Toyo Tire Hummer (sound like NASCAR?) made up some ground on the faster 3rd stage only to have their fortunes turn with a fuel problem in stage four.

It turned out this fuel problem had nothing to do with the vehicle itself but was simply tainted gas. However, after limping the Hummer through much of the stage due to low horsepower from the bad gas, and lot of diagnosing time, the team fell way off the pace. The poor performance in stage 4 meant that Gordon had to start from the 77th position. Unfazed by his bad luck Gordon had a brilliant drive and brought the Hummer in with a 15th place finish good enough to bump the team up to 36th in the overall classification.

Gordon during the 5th stage

As is often the case in the Dakar rally things come in waves, both good and bad, and Gordon’s good fortune continued for stage 6. After a night of wind and rain, the dust subsided the next day and conditions proved to be perfect for the H3 Hummer. Robby Gordon went on to capture the stage win becoming the first American Team to do so in this year’s event. The victory gave the team a large boost in morale and bumped them up to 19th in the overall standings. Over the next few stages the team had a mixed luck, but most of it was good. With some great driving and good strategy for the longer marathon stage, the team broke into the top 10 of the standings. After 9 grueling stages Team Dakar USA is now in 8th position overall. Gordon himself remains very upbeat as there is still a great deal of racing left. When speaking of the 10th stage Gordon said “Tomorrow we are going to try to win the special. I think the special is especially well suited to the Hummer so the 10th stage might be Hummer time.”

U S A! U S A! U S A!

I should also mention that US driver Mark Miller, who is driving a diesel Volkswagen Toureg, is currently 6th in the overall standings. This means there are two very legitimate contenders to become the first American ever to capture a victory in the Dakar Rally, and one of them is an entirely American team, car and driver. I’m actually not a big Robby Gordon fan and I really don’t like Hummers, but I would love to see one of these teams snag a victory for the US, so go get ‘em boys.

For more coverage of the event go to www.dakar.com or watch the Versus Network.

-Bill Mertz

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Mini Truckin

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007


Usually when I think of mini trucks I picture the a late 1980’s or early 1990’s compact pickup that has been lowered to the weeds with 13″ diameter super wide rims, an outrageous paint scheme and helicopter bed. But today I heard about a different mini truck, this one is an actual Mini truck. Austin produced a great looking pickup truck version of it’s successful Mini back in the 60’s but I bet no one would have ever dreamed that some one would take the little truck and turn it into an over the top gaudy custom truck.

Enough gauges for two engines.

This Austin Mini was the brain child of English car customizer Paul Ireson, and oh how did Paul customize it. From the hand built body with single driver side gull wing door to the outlandish single seat interior with enough gauges to make the astronauts jealous, everything on the Mini has been modified in some way by Ireson. It has a massive sound system, a radical and ridiculous paint job, and cool name brand parts for practically every component on the car, but the best part is this thing is a twini Mini with a motor up front in the stock location and one out back underneath a Plexiglas cover. As if that wasn’t enough, Ireson decided to ditch the stock and feeble Austin power plant in favor of a pair of Honda B16 four cylinder engines with VTEC, and twin turbochargers….and nitrous. Ireson estimates that the two mills put out a combine total of 1100 horsepower. For the love of God Paul, the car only weighs 1800 pounds! Mated to a custom Honda five speed this all wheel drive Mini pickup should be a screamer once Paul get’s a chance to test it.

Twin Honda motors, one in front one in back.

I must admit, at first look I thought this was one of the tackiest vehicles I had ever seen. Actually I still think that, but I also think it is one of the fastest tackiest vehicles I have ever seen. On a serious note, while this car isn’t my cup of tea in terms of looks, I think Paul Ireson did a masterful job of designing and building this super-Mini. The work looks clean and professional and the car is done right (see EBay X1/9 for a car done wrong). Cheers to Paul for being bold and innovative in his project and may he keep bringing new wild creations into the world.

To read a full write up by Truckin’ click here: www.truckinweb.com

-Bill Mertz

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Road Train

Monday, January 8th, 2007


I love trains and I love trucks. For a long time I thought the two were mutually exclusive, that is until I discovered road trains. Road trains are simply extremely large trucks towing anywhere from 3 to 6 full-sized trailers behind them. This allows trucks to move massive loads across barren areas where there are no train tracks, such as the center of Australia or the barren state of Nevada.

In case you hadn’t guessed already the road train is product of those crazy boys from down under. I discovered an excellent television hosted by Jeremy Clarkson called Motor World. In this series Clarkson travels to the different reaches of the world exploring their automotive history and culture. I found a segment of Motor World where Jeremy Clarkson is exploring the outback and takes an in depth look at road trains. He even interviews the gent who invented the concept of road trains. This a really great program and I will try to dig up more snip-its from it in the future.

Until then enjoy this clip:

-Bill Mertz

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Bandag Bandit

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007

Bandag Bandit smokes ‘em for the crowd

I have always been a big fan of trucks. Not just pick up trucks but big rigs. As a kid I thought I would some day become a truck driver and I often day dreamed about what my rig would look like. But perhaps my favorite big rig of all time is a highly modified Kenworth truck called the Bandag Bandit. I first found out about the Bandag Bandit when I got a picture book about the truck as a little kid. The book profiled several cool trucks owned by Tyrone Malone, but at the time I was too young to understand just how neat these rigs were. Years later when I was a college student driving across the country with some friends I spotted a truck being pulled on a trailer near the Bonneville Salt Flats. As I got closer I recognized the truck, it was the Bandag Bandit. This inspired me to do some research. After extensive searching I finally found an excellent site dedicated to Tyrone Malone and his amazing trucks.


Old Blue with Little Irvy the Sperm Whale on board

Malone, a showman and a drag racer, came up with a crazy idea one night while drinking at his favorite bar. He decided it would be a good idea to get a Sperm whale, freeze it and drive it around the country showing it to people. After securing a hard to get whaling permit, getting a whale and building a custom rig to house the frozen sea creature Malone’s dreams came true. As he drove around the country to different venues he realized that his custom truck was getting as much attention as the whale itself. So naturally he decided to build a show truck called the “Boss truck of America”. Things began to snowball and soon he was building his next truck called the Super Boss. This was an all out race truck complete with down force generating wings and a 1000 horsepower diesel motor. Malone took the Super Boss to Bonneville and set a land speed record at 144 mph. The 1300 horse power Bandag Bandit came shortly thereafter.

Record setting Super Boss

During this period Malone gained sponsorship from the Bandag tire company who made high quality retread tires for big rigs. The company loved the publicity that Malone brought with his traveling show so they decided to send him on a tour around the world. Tyrone Malone bounced from town to town doing burnouts, wheelies, drag racing and putting on a great show with his race trucks. He even made a few stops on the custom car circuit and was a huge success.


Bandag Bandit on board the Hideout truck

The Bandag Bandit and the Super Boss also had their own custom transport trucks, the Hideout truck for the Bandit and Papa truck for the Boss. Malone had a slew of other custom trucks and I must say they are some of the coolest big rig creations I have ever seen. Unfortunately Malone passed away in a car accident in the late 1990’s and his dream of building a trucker hall of fame never came to fruition. However, he and his amazing trucks will always live on in my childhood memories.

-Bill Mertz

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Dobbertin Surface Orbiter & Project Earth-Trek

Tuesday, December 19th, 2006


It sounds like the title of a low budget science fiction movie, but the Dobbertin Surface Orbiter (DSO) and Project Earth-Trek is quite real. It all started when Rick Dobbertin hatched the crazy idea of creating an amphibious vehicle in which he could circumnavigate the world. In the early 1990’s Rick had already built two prize winning hot rods. According to DSO legend, Rick was in Australia showing his vehicles when he decided to take a side trip to see some outback wild life. He was trying to feed a Kangaroo when the marsupial got agitated and punched him square on just like in cartoons. Fortunately his wife caught the whole thing on tape and submitted it to “Totally Hidden Video”. The video was a winner and the couple came home with $10,000 in prize money which served as the starting point for the Surface Orbiter.

The basis for the Orbiter is actually a 1959 Heil tank trailer that was designed to transport milk. The trailer measured 7ft x 32ft which was too big for Rick’s garage at the time so he simply added another 16 feet onto his garage to fully enclose the trailer. Over the next four and half years Rick worked roughly 14,000 hours creating one of the most amazing vehicles ever to grace both roads and oceans.

The Dobbertin Surface Orbiter in the Atlantic Ocean

The DSO is powered by a 6.5 liter Chevrolet Turbo-Diesel which puts out 250 horse power. The engine was modified for marine use and is mated to a 4L80E automatic transmission and a Borg Warner four wheel drive transfer case. With heavy duty axles turning six 35″ BFG Mud Terrain tires the Orbiter can do 70 mph on land and gets around 12 miles per gallon. In the water the DSO makes use of a single 22″ propeller with a 12″ pitch which will push the behemoth up to a cruising speed of 10 knots giving only two miles per gallon. The rig is fitted with dual steering wheels (one for land one for water), a self inflating life raft, six full size spare tires, 40 gallons of potable water, 340 gallons of diesel fuel, and enough communication and navigation equipment to run a small airport. The interior of the Surface Orbiter is both functional and luxurious with a full kitchen, bathroom, sleeping area, navigation control area and storage.

Cockpit view of the DSO

The journey itself started in December 1993 but due to a lack of funding the trip was cut short in June 1996. Even so the Dobbertin Surface Orbiter traveled 27,300 land miles and 3,000 ocean miles in those two and a half years and the couple themselves had many adventures. Apparently the Orbiter looks like a drug smuggling vessel because the Dobbertins were stopped by the FBI, the DEA and a group of heavily armed Columbian guerillas. Each time they were let go, but not without taking pictures first. In the 3000 miles of ocean travels the DSO faired reasonably well in seas up to 18 feet, it also became the first ever amphibious vehicle to pass through the Panama Canal.

The Orbiter in the Panama Canal

After the trip ended Rick and his wife split up. Now, apparently, the Dobbertin Surface Orbiter is up for sale. The price tag is around $200,000.00 dollars, which when you think of it as an old mild trailer seems a bit outlandish, but when you call it a “surface orbiter” it seems right on the money. With my new found obsession for world travel I will officially add the Dobbertin Surface Orbiter to my dream car list, but don’t expect me to be taking out home loans for the DSO anytime soon.

-Bill Mertz

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NSU Kettenkrad: The Ultimate Off Road Motorcycle.

Thursday, December 14th, 2006

Kettenkrad in Saving Private Ryan.

Towards the end of the movie Saving Private Ryan there is a scene where two guys hop on a little tracked motorcycle and speed off to try and lure a group of German tanks into an ambush. When I first saw the vehicle I was really curious what exactly it was. I’m a WWII guru so-to-speak and had never seen one of these tank/motorcycle hybrids before. In the movie they called the vehicle a Rabbit, but I couldn’t find it in any internet searches so I slowly forgot about the oddball bike.


This week by pure coincidence I opened Keith Martin’s Sports Car Market, and toward the back of the magazine I saw a picture and short write-up of the little Rabbit. It turns out it isn’t a Rabbit at all, it is actually a German made NSU Kettenkrad. A quick visit to Andreas Mehlhorn’s wonderful Kettenkrad homepage gave me more information on this amazing vehicle than I could have dreamed of. Now I really want one and Andreas has three. What do you say Andrea, even swap for my MGB?

The NSU Kettenkrad was a small tractor designed in WWII (it continued production even after the war) to tow a small gun or a trailer over difficult terrain. Although it has a motorcycle front wheel and fork mounted on the front it really is much more of tank than it is a motorcycle. At just under 10 feet long and with room for three people it was the smallest tracked vehicle in service in Europe.

Because NSU only produced single cylinder engines at the time, the Kettenkrad was powered by a water-cooled Opel four cylinder lifted straight out of the Opel Olympia. The motor put out a respectable 36 horsepower which proved to be more than enough grunt to scoot 2700 pound half-track around quite briskly. In fact the stated top speed of the Kettenkrad was 50 mph–tremendous for a down-sized tank–and Andreas reports that the NSU is a very fast vehicle indeed. Remarkably the Kettenkrad gets 18mpg imperial which really isn’t too bad.


At first glance the Kettenkrad looks like it uses conventional motorcycle steering but this is only partially true. At high speed the motorcycle front tire adds an element of stability and in large arching turns the front wheel is what steers the vehicle. But when the NSU needs to make a tight turn it relies on a steering brake system much like a bigger tank. When you turn the steering wheel sharply the brake is applied to which ever tread you are turning towards, making the Kettenkrad a very maneuverable vehicle.

Slightly over 9000 Kettenkrads were produced and only a fraction of those survive today. It is a pretty obscure find. However, in my search for the Kettenkrad I think I found something even rarer, Kettenkrad Porn. Seriously I found a photo of a Kettenkrad with naked girls posing on it, what a world we live in. With no Kettenkrads on Craigslist it is doubtful that I will own one any time soon, But I will definitely have to add this rare vehicle to my dream car (tank-motorcycle) list.


-Bill Mertz

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Rubber vs. Polyurethane, What Gives?

Wednesday, December 13th, 2006

As is often the case, some routine maintenance on the Jeep has quickly become a philosophical debate on several 4×4 forums that I post on. My Jeep has developed a pretty severe drive line vibration which I believe to bad transmission mount combine with old motor mounts allowing everything to shift around a lot under load. The quick and easy solution is to replace all the existing rubber mounts with new rubber mounts, but then I found some vendors that make polyurethane mounts for my CJ7.

So what exactly is polyurethane? Prothane, a company that deals in polyurethane auto parts, gave this brief definition: “Polyurethane is a term used to describe a wide ranging family of elastomers (any compound exhibiting the characteristics of natural rubber; stretchy and elastic.). Poly meaning “many” and “urethane” the classification of the chemical structure. Polyurethane or urethane for short, is used as a solid cast material (bushings). Polyurethane can be as soft as a rubber band or as hard as plastic.”

Polyurethane transmission mounts.

Sounds wonderful to me. The polyurethane seems to offer the benefits of rubber–elasticity and give–but also hold up better to deterioration and provide an extra degree of stiffness that rubber lacks. In fact as soon as I found out about the polyurethane mounts I was basically sold. Then I found out that the cost about three times more than the standard rubber mounts.
On further exploration of the subject I began to question the ability of the urethane mounts to be both more rigid than rubber and as flexible as rubber at the same time; impossible.

After posting to a couple of 4×4 bulletin boards (CJOffroad and Pirate4×4)this is what I learned:
1. Polyurethane mounts are much stiffer than rubber and therefore hold the drive train in place much better. But this also means that a lot more noise and vibration is transmitted to the driver and vehicle from the engine and transmission.

2. Rubber mounts are softer and absorb vibration better, but they deteriorate rather quickly, especially when engines leak oil on them, compared to polyurethane mounts.

3. Most Jeep guys don’t seem to care about added noise and vibration in their trucks.

A rubber transmission mount will turn your Jeep into a Cadillac

To address my third finding first, I don’t generally care about a little noise or vibration in my Jeep, but a lot of vibration is pretty annoying, especially since my CJ sees a lot of daily driver miles. Many people responded to my worries of the added vibration of polyurethane mounts by saying “it’s a Jeep not a Cadillac”. This statement is true to a degree but I find you can quickly start using that as an excuse to drive a poorly put together vehicle. I know because I used to say that myself when my engine was spurting oil and my drive shaft was about to fall off. It is much nicer to drive a vehicle that has minimal squeaks, rattles and vibrations, and it is possible to make a Jeep pretty quiet. So while the urethane may hold things in place better I like the give and absorption of the rubber mounts better. Score 1 point for rubber.

The rubber mounts will deteriorate faster however, even without oil pouring on them, but the question is how fast? I’ve never changed the transmission mount in twelve years of owning the Jeep and have only done one motor mount (young and stupid or I would have done both) about nine years ago. Now that I have an engine that doesn’t leak oil that lifespan may increase. For me that interval is perfectly acceptable. No points awarded either way.

Now cost is always a concern for me. As an automotive writer and mechanic I’m not exactly making the big bucks, so trying to justify paying $90 for a set of polyurethane mounts instead of $30 for rubber mounts is pretty tough. I mean I could buy a lot of Top Ramen noodles with $60 in pocket. Score 1 for rubber.

With some Ramen in my stomach I will really appreciate my Jeep’s Cadillac ride.
The rubber mounts have claimed a two-nil victory over polyurethane for my particular application. I’m a happy to say I will be driving a quieter Jeep for another ten years with a tummy full of cheap noodles, and by then who knows what cool products will be on the market to do battle with rubber.

-Bill Mertz

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Top Ten Ugliest SUV’s

Saturday, December 9th, 2006

I was just thinking about how horrible most SUV’s looked when it occurred to me to make a top ten list of the ugliest monsters on the road. This is actually much more challenging than it sounds. There really isn’t a whole lot that separate these SUV’s aesthetically except for grills and taillights, but I think my list represents a pretty sizeable chunk of the most horrible looking creations on four wheels. I should quickly mention that it is painfully hard to make an SUV that is not ugly. Personally I like SUVs that are more utilitarian and really haven’t been styled much at all. It is the SUV’s that are styled to look utilitarian but aren’t at all that really bug me.

1. Pontiac Aztec (2001-2005)pontiac_aztec.jpg
Designed by committee, need I say more!

2. Hummer H2 (2003-present)h2.jpg
Oh let me count the ways that I hate this “wish I was an H1 Hummer” Hummer. It is bulbous and offensive, and not nearly as capable as its older brother. Not to mention that you rarely see them doing anything that necessitates the use of four wheel drive.

3. Buick Rendezvous (2002-present)buick_rendezvous.jpg
This is really similar to the Aztek but horrible enough in its own right to make the list. Amazing that one parent company can produce two vehicles that are so distinctly ugly in different ways.

4. Chevy Avalanche (2002-2006)chevrolet-avalanche.jpg
I guess this is more of an SUT, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is horrible. It looks like a 5 year old got loose in daddy’s model car boxes and built his own creation.

5. Subaru B9 Tribeca (2005-present)2006subarub9tribeca.jpg
The grill alone makes me want to upchuck. I believe the designer previously worked for Alfa Romeo and just flipped the classic Alfa grill upside down. It will take more than that to make this Subaru even remotely attractive.

6. Lincoln MKX (2007)
I don’t know if it’s the tail light that stripes all the way across the back or the recessed front grill/headlight treatment complete with unibrow chrome on top, but something about this new Lincoln rubs me the wrong way.

7. Mercury Mountaineer (second and third gen. 2002-present)mercury-mountaineer.jpg
In its first generation the Mountaineer was simply a rebadged Ford Explorer, still not pretty but tolerable. Then Mercury decided to set the Mountaineer apart with some unique styling. Congratulations, this thing stands out like a pimple faced teenager at a super model convention.

8. Nissan Murano (2003-present)murano.jpg
I actually didn’t realize the hideousness of this vehicle until I was searching around Nissan’s website. This thing looks like it crashed into the forest where ugly sticks are harvested.

9. Dodge Nitro (2007)
I was going to put the Durango on my ugly SUV list, but then I saw the new Nitro. The motto for the Dodge Nitro is “Go Bold or Go Home”. See you guys at my house. I guess “bold” sells, but to me the gargantuan plastic flares look cheap and the tall roof line and narrow headlights give the Nitro horrible proportions. This is one horrendous looking ride.

10. Toyota FJ Cruiser (2007)fjcruiser.jpg
Last but not least is a vehicle that many people think looks great, not me. I must admit I like the original FJ 40 Land Cruisers. Much like my Jeep they were simple and functional vehicles, but I would never accuse one of being attractive, my Jeep either for that matter. The simple fact is I like these vehicles because they go places normal trucks can’t, and as a result the ugly look has grown on me. Now the FJ Cruiser looks like a bad plastic caricature of the old FJ40 and frankly I think it’s insulting to the old Toyota. I doubt that the new Cruiser is anywhere near as capable as the trusty old FJ’s.

Well that’s my list; I know many will disagree so let’s hear what you think.

-Bill Mertz

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About Automotive Blogger

Some people use their automobiles only to get from Point A to Point B. You know there's more than that. You get mad when someone makes a remark about your car that's less than flattering. You get riled when a cool car is destroyed in a straight-to-video movie. You realize when a new car doesn't deserve it's name of a great car of the past. When you see someone driving a boring vehicle, you feel sorry for them. You know it's not the destination that counts - it's the journey. Welcome home gearheads. Welcome home, car freaks. Welcome to the site that fuels your automotive obsession - AutomotiveBlogger.net

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