Coming from an office working environment, few things are as refreshing as going “out of the office.” You set your emails to auto-reply, your work phone goes straight to voicemail, and the task list is left dormant. The feeling of being unreachable is practically an alien concept in today’s 24/7, always-on, always-available world. But when it comes to King of the Hammers, that feeling is real and achievable.
Johnson Valley is home to KOH, and even in 2020, it’s hard to get a hold of someone. When the smartphone is showing “X” for the reception and the laptop is practically a paperweight, that’s when you know you’re off the grid. We got reacquainted with this feeling once more during KOH week recently, and Hellwig was there, too. Their team brought out several overlanding vehicles to sleep in (including yours truly) and also cart around journos to and from Hammertown and out to points of interest during races.
One of these vehicles was a 2019 Ford Ranger, revamped to give a whole new meaning to “overlanding.” We got the chance to check out this Ranger in more depth. We also drove it around the bumpy, dusty lake bed, and saw what it was truly capable of.
Background of the Build
We spoke with Marketing and International Sales Manager Mike Hallmark to find out more about the truck and its build history. “The whole vision behind this truck is freedom,” he explained. “When the truck is all loaded up and full of fuel and food and everything, it can support two people for up to two weeks at a time. It’s completely self-sufficient for going off the grid.”
The truck was built by Old Steel in Leona Valley, California. It was constructed partly to serve as a SEMA Show build, but Mike and his team wanted it to do more than just look pretty. To that end, they made sure the modifications made practical sense. “I’ve got close to 1,100 pounds in the back of this truck,” commented Mike. “Now, that’s within the GVRW of this vehicle, and that’s something we were mindful of as we were building.”
Knowing that overlanding builds add excess weight to the rear, it was a perfect opportunity to showcase what Hellwig’s products could do. “We are a load and sway control company,” continued Mike. “So, before I put my helper springs on the rear of this thing, it sagged about three inches. The steel helper springs leveled out the truck, getting rid of that sag. Then, on top of that, the sway bars helped out with the altered center of gravity, so the truck is level and steady.”
Showcasing both Hellwig’s products and the Ranger’s versatility, the truck is a win-win for Hellwig and Ford. It took 90 days to build from start to finish, and interestingly, used almost entirely off-the-shelf parts. “You see SEMA builds that use one-off parts, but we purposely wanted to avoid that,” said Hallmark. “We wanted our truck to use parts that you or I or anyone could get from the aftermarket so that when you see this truck driving around or parked at a show, you can get the parts list from us and put it on your own truck, or mix and match.”
The Ranger had no shortage of aftermarket upgrades and interesting touches. Starting with its exterior, the paint job and graphics were thanks to LGE-CTS Motorsports out of San Dimas, California. The front and rear sport Addictive Desert Designs bumpers, who also provided the rock sliders on either side.
Lighting is courtesy of Rigid Industries, and they’re all over the truck. Pods inside the bumper and on the hood give excellent forward projection, while accent lights on the rear give ample illumination for nighttime. Controls for the lighting can be accessed thanks to an sPOD Bantam system. Out back, the backbone is the Yakima storage rack and BEDSLIDE sliding system, providing ample storage space for all of the odds and ends.
On the storage rack, Hellwig equipped the Ranger with Daystar cam cans that store fuel and other fluids, alongside a Krazy Beaver shovel and ARB jack. Up top is a Tepui tent, and on the driver’s side, a Tepui awning spans out for campsite coverage. On the rear bumper, a retractable hammock can extend out, providing a spot to relax and watch the stars.
Of course, if Hallmark or the others want to get the party going, the Ranger can do that, too. Rockford Fosgate offered a sound system complete with speakers, subwoofers, amplifier, and head unit, the latter of which sports the only one-off part on the truck – housing in the truck bed. “When you’re out back, it’s ready to go into full party mode,” said Hallmark.
When it comes time to make dinner, the rear transforms into a tailgate kitchen. “It comes complete with a kitchen sink, of course,” commented Hallmark. Trail Kitchens provided the setup, consisting of a grill, stove, food prep area, faucet, and more. An ARB refrigerator stores the meat and veggies (and beer). It was quite a sight to see the rear turn into a kitchen in a matter of minutes.
All of this is terrific, and it gets better. For any electronics one brings to the great outdoors, the Goal Zero YETI power station is ready to deploy with 110-volt, 12-volt, and USB connections. It can recharge thanks to a set of deployable solar panels.
The Hellwig Difference
Now, all of that is well and good and makes for a comfortable overlanding experience. But like Hallmark said, it’s over 1,000 pounds of stuff that’s weighing down. That’s where the suspension comes in. It starts with a three-inch lift kit from ICON Vehicle Dynamics and is rounded out by Hellwig’s top-tier sway bars and helper springs.
The sway bars and helper springs were noticeable during drives around Johnson Valley, and I can attest to how well they performed since I drove the truck myself once or twice. The vehicle did well over washboards and even some whoop sections, soaking up compression and rebound. Not once did I feel like the truck was on the verge of tipping over; it was always balanced out.
Rounding out the list of mods, Katzkin took care of custom upholstery for the interior. The Hellwig logo found its way onto the premium seats, for example. Outside, Billet Badges made Hellwig logo badges to replace the ones that came stock. The wheels and tires were from ICON Alloy and Falken, respectively, the latter being 34-inch Wildpeak all-terrains. These tires were right at home in the dusty lands of Johnson Valley.
Undoubtedly, the Hellwig Ranger was one of the coolest (and most capable) rigs we saw at this year’s King of the Hammers. It was a pleasure to use at night during the campfire chats, and take out during the day to get to and from Hammertown. Hellwig did a heck of a job making an ordinary Ranger into an extraordinary four-wheeler. We encourage you to check out more from Hellwig on the company’s website and Facebook page.