It’s a common point of view that a truck project is never really done, but few go under the knife as extensively as Joey Sotomayor’s yellow and black truck, called Tatonka.
The body is easily recognizable as a 2001 Ford Ranger, but looks somehow different at first glance. That’s when you notice the FiberwerX flared fenders and Super Duty grill that has been cut, narrowed and reshaped to fit the Ranger’s front end. The custom grille is just a hint at the extensive work that has been done on this truck.
Joey and his crew are regulars at the Azusa Canyon OHV area in Southern California. They love to challenge the terrain there, but they also make a point of coming to the rescue when others get stuck.
Tatonka is capable of getting out of almost anything on its own. For others that are less fortunate, there is a PTO-driven 30,000-pound winch with 300 feet of cable mounted between the frame rails out back. The number of people Joey has helped to get unstuck and the show he puts on in Tatonka have made him somewhat of a celebrity at the OHV area. His personal best had him doing 31 recoveries, all in a single day!
Joey puts his truck to the test all of the time, so every inch of it has been built with strength in mind. The chassis started life under a 1987 F-350 and has since been gusseted, boxed, bobbed in the rear; also, several crossmembers have been added.
Careful planning has been used in the design so that the in-cab cage is mated to the frame in the same location as several of the added crossmembers. This ties the entire truck together and provides the strength needed when counting on the torque from the engine or the grunt from the winch.
The drivetrain is pure beef. Joey has had several big-block Fords under the hood in naturally aspirated, fuel-injected, and propane-injected configurations. The big blocks are gone, and in their place is a Chevy/Isuzu Duramax LBZ diesel V8. The turbocharged and intercooled diesel puts out 515 horsepower when programmed at the factory settings; 785 when cranked up to full race mode.
It has enhanced fuel flow and better breathing due to products from Pacific Performance Engineering (PPE). PPE also supplied the tuner that allows the enhanced programming to take place.
Plumbing on the – including the turbo, radiator lines, transmission plumbing, and brake lines – were all done by co-pilot and chief mechanic Andy Batestelli. The torque is transferred through an Allison six-speed transmission to a divorced NP205 gear driven transfer case with a power take off that spins the winch.
The front differential is a kingpin Dana 60 with 4:88:1 gears and a power lock electronic locker modified by Joey’s friend, Karl Knoll. Karl also helped with the custom high steer setup that handles the load when turning the 19.5/44R15 TSL Bogger tires mounted to Raceline 15×14 monster beadlock wheels.
Out back resides more of Karl’s work – a full floating 14-bolt with disc brakes and an Eaton Detroit Locker. Custom Atlas leaf springs designed by Fernando Gutierrez give a controlled ride while allowing ample articulation, and Rancho RS9000 shocks take care of the damping.
The custom features continue when you enter the cab. Occupants ride in the comfort of PRP suspension seats that are securely mounted to the roll cage and are further secured by Mastercraft five-point harnesses.
A full complement of Autometer gauges are strategically placed in the FiberwerX dash that has been narrowed to fit the cab. A Painless Performance Products roll cage mounted switch panel overhead also contains vital fuses in easy reach while strapped in.
Whoever takes this wheel in their hands is in control of a very powerful beast of a truck. Within easy reach is a Grant steering wheel and Cheetah shifter. Brice Billets is responsible for the custom wiring, which includes a hinged, drop-down panel that makes access quick and easy.
Just behind the driver’s seat is a storage box with slide-out doors made by Joey who is a cabinet maker by trade. The box used to be mounted in the bed but was moved inside the cab.
Inside and out, Tatonka has seen non-stop evolution over the years. The many hours spent playing in the mud and rocks, not to mention countless recoveries have led to a prime example of the ultimate off-road vehicle.