Just when you think you’ve seen everything an event has to offer, it shows you another side – a new location you’ve never been to before, a build you’ve never seen, or a group of people that might surprise you. Whatever the secret sauce may be to have to make for a successful event, Tierra Del Sol has it in spades.
Whether you’re a first-timer or a veteran attendee to TDS, you’re in for a treat when you come to the early spring event held in Ocotillo Wells SVRA in Southern California. We saw some great feats at this year’s event, accomplished by rigs that had numerous upgrades that gave them a unique aesthetic and peak rockcrawling or desert-running performance.
We’re going to take a closer look at the top five vehicles that made us do a double- or triple-take. Starting us off is Joe Godde and his 1988 Toyota 4Runner.
5. Joe Godde’s 1988 Toyota 4Runner
Perched high above the obstacle course at Truckhaven, Joe Godde’s 1988 4Runner was able to provide a great vista of the goings-on below. Still, we couldn’t help but be drawn to the SUV’s stance, articulating on the on the uneven dirt summit and looking ready to climb a few more.
Joe had given the rig a good amount of upgrades, naturally, starting with the 22R-E four-banger that was often found in this era of 4Runners. We also couldn’t help but notice the solid front axle that had also been swapped in.
“I bought it stock a few months before the last TDS,” he said. “I got the motor from a truck that I had rolled previously, and I swapped it in along with the solid front axle. It’s been a big project, and took about a year to finish.”
The rear axle is spooled to give it extra traction, with an Eaton Positraction differential in the front. With 5.29:1 gearing, the SUV has the low-end torque to power it up a variety of obstacles, with 15-inch aluminum Eagle wheels and 35-inch BF Goodrich mud terrains taking care of traction.
Joe plans to eventually install a doubler transfer case for even more crawling capability, as well as a full cage and arrangement of lights. For now, though, Joe just loves driving it!
4. Josh Parrish’s 1991 Ford Explorer
Battered, bruised, but still taking on challenges was Josh Parrish’s 1991 Ford Explorer. We caught sight of the vehicle as it was making its way over some concrete piping, known as the “Leftovers” obstacle there in Truckhaven.
Given its state of appearance, we had to know more. We pulled Josh over after a successful pass and got his insight into the build. “I bought it from a gentleman who did most of the original build,” he said. “I’ve had it since 2011, and wheeled it all over the place – the Midwest, the East Coast, and now the West Coast.”
Powering the Explorer was its stock 4.0-liter OHV V6 and 4R55E automatic transmission, which had been bolstered by a doubler BorgWarner 1354 transfer case setup. Driveshafts to the axles (Dana 44 front, Ford 9-inch rear) were made from chromoly, and the differentials were upgraded to Eaton Detroit Lockers.
Suspension-wise, the Explorer had a parallel four-link up front, but still ran on leaf springs out back, with Bilstein 5100s on all four corners. Tires and wheels, mean and mighty as they were, were 37-inch Pitbull Rockers and recentered H1 beadlocks.
3. Dan Papaccioli’s 1979 CJ
Jeeps are the stars of the show at TDS; after all, the logo itself for TDS features an old cartoon-styled CJ. But there’s a reason these rigs dominate the atmosphere of the event – they just won’t quit.
One such survivor was this 1979 CJ, owned by Dan Papaccioli. He and a Toyota-driving buddy were taking turns on “Rocker Knocker” obstacle at Truckhaven when we happened upon the scene. It took a couple of tries, but the Jeep eventually made it up the staircase-like obstacle, to the cheers from the nearby crowd.
“This is my ’79 CJ, it’s got a Dana 60 front and a GM 14-bolt rearend,” said Dan. “I’m rocking the AMC 360ci V8 in there, ’cause I like to keep it Jeep. Same goes for the T18 transmission and the Dana Model 300 transfer case.”
You don’t have the kind of wheeling in New Jersey that you do out here. – Dan Papaccioli
Having moved to the San Diego area in 2013, Dan has really had a chance to get his fill of off-roading, and his CJ has always been there to make it happen. “Now that it has the Dana 60, it’s doing a lot better,” he said. “It gives me nothing to worry about.”
2. Steve Reyes’ 1982 GMC 2500
Words come to mind looking back on when we saw Steve Reyes’ 1982 GMC 2500 – “imposing,” “gargantuan,” “green” – but at the time, all we could do is gawk at this larger-than-life crew-cab. After chasing the truck for some distance, we were able to flag down Steve and learn more about his jolly green giant.
One thing we picked up on right away was the churning noise from under the hood, which we knew to mean diesel. Sure enough, Steve confirmed this for us as we discovered it was none other than a 12-valve Cummins.
“I bought it from a guy in 2011,” Steve explained. “It was a project that was already halfway done, and I pushed it to the next level. I regeared the axles to 5.38:1, added lockers front and rear, and so on.”
The biggest modification – the Cummins straight-six – was due to the original builder’s decision to use a carbureted Chevy big-block. “I always struggled with it bogging,” said Steve. “Now, with the fuel-injected diesel, it just rolls really well, and it’s a fun truck!”
One aspect that Steve wants to change sooner rather than later is the TH400 transmission. “I’d like to get an Allison automatic,” he said. “That way, next time, there’s no excuses for why it can’t do something.” We believe he was referring to the fact that the truck, as it sat at TDS, could not go in reverse; only forward.
Steve has a goal to get the bugs worked out before he goes to his house in Big Bear Lake, California, in May. “Once I get the adapter plate and flywheel, I should be good to go,” he commented.
1. Dion Chapman’s 1975 Ford F-100
Dion and his wife were enjoying the quieter side of Tierra Del Sol on the other side of the S22 highway, driving around in this gleaming blue specimen of a Ford F-100. Beyond simply looking magnificent, this truck also carried a special pedigree from the shop that built it.
“I gave it to Raceco USA in 2015 to do a full rebuild,” said Dion. “It had to be done from the floor up because I had rolled it – ran out of talent, you might say – over by Salton Sea. Not something I want to do again!”
Evidently, Raceco did a fantastic job with rebuilding the F-100, snippets of which were posted to the shop’s Facebook page throughout 2016. Dion says he had minimal involvement with the project, but even so, Raceco was able to interpret what the man wanted, and give it an amazing finish, too.
The F-100’s upgrades include a Dart 427ci V8, a Camburg rearend and front end, Fox shock absorbers, Walker Evans beadlock wheels, and a set of 37-inch BF Goodrich Baja T/A KR2s. All of it is complemented by an immaculate blue-and-white racing stripe color scheme, giving the Ford an outstanding appearance that drove us green with envy.
Asked what his favorite part about the truck was, Dion joked, “My favorite part is that it’s done! Other than that, it’s just really clean, and I like that better than anything else.”
What did you think of our top five vehicles from the 2017 Tierra Del Sol? Did you see anything ridiculous or radical this year? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.