Top 5 Vehicles From 2018 Off Road Expo

Every year, the Off Road Expo comes to town in Pomona, California, and with it, thousands of visitors and several companies with their latest developments and builds. It’s a celebration of the off-road lifestyle, and one that you can’t miss if you call yourself an off-roader.

We made our way to the event to check out the latest and greatest products from companies, and also see some awesome builds. The latter are what make up our list of the Top 5.

From righteous pickups to crazy Jeeps to sexy SUVs, these were the rigs that made us do a double-take. So, without further ado, let’s start things off with number five – John Bitting’s Bronco.

5. John Bitting’s 1995 Ford Bronco

While walking through the Pomona Fairgrounds, we came across this beautiful Bronco near the KMC Wheels booth. Its near-perfect paint, flashy wheels, and beefy BFGs made us stop and want to know more. We spoke with the owner, John Bitting, and found out all about it.

“I’d built a Chevy Blazer and sold it to BJ Baldwin,” said John. “To replace it, I wanted something more drivable and family-friendly. I bought the Bronco with a little lift and fiberglass front fenders already installed. I told the wife the same old story – that I was going to leave it as-is. That only lasted about a month.”

The front end features crossover steering, widened I-beams, and Solo Motorsports radius arms. The rearend also has Solo parts with a Deaver spring kit. He gets 12 inches of travel thanks to the Bilstein coilovers.

Over the course of five years, John tinkered on the Bronco. He installed crossover steering, as well as three-inch-wider Solo Motorsports I-beams and radius arms to match. The rear received Solo Deaver springs and a skid plate for the gas tank.

Shock absorbers are Bilstein coilovers. “I reached out to Bilstein for this build, and they helped me out big-time,” said John. “I did the valving on them myself, and they’re beautiful, inside and out. I’m stoked to be running them.”

John kept the Eddie Bauer dream alive on his truck having it custom-painted to match its old looks. "I'll get it repainted at some point to make it all match up perfectly," he commented.

For the drivetrain, Bitting installed a Currie Enterprises F9 semi-floating axle in the rear, and kept the Dana 44 front but fitted it with wider Solo chromoly axle shafts. The body features rear FiberwerX fenders, while the fronts are old Glassworks units that came with the truck when John bought it.

4. SMP Fabworks-Built 1990 Chevrolet Suburban

Next up is this Suburban built by SMP Fabworks out of Sun Valley, California. These guys have been around for over a decade and have been producing solid trucks and SUVs throughout, and seeing their work here at the Off Road Expo reaffirmed their amazing ability to turn anything into a work of art.

Steven Parks of SMP Fabworks had a heavy hand in the Suburban’s construction, and laid it out for us. “A customer was having me build him a Silverado prerunner, but then he bought this Suburban and had we stop the truck and work on this,” he explained.

Along the way, Steven changed the front of the truck to accept an eight-lug Dana 44, while the rear was changed to a 2002 Suburban rearend. The engine is a 454 Big-Block Chevy with a 4L80 transmission, while the transfer case is an NP241. 2.5-inch-diameter King shocks absorbers (10 inches front, 12 inches rear), King bump stops, Off-Road LTD bumpers, custom-made rock sliders, and an array of Baja Designs pod lights round out this sexy Suburban.

Even with Atlas leaf springs on all four corners and six inches of lift, it rides like the "best driving straight axle truck you've ever driven," said Steven. "The trac bar keeps it nice and tight, and the adjusting on the shocks makes it possible to keep things smooth. You could drive this with your knee and eat a cheeseburger if you wanted."

3. Daystar’s 1983 CJ-10A Military Tug

Daystar chose to go old-school with this odd and rare build of a Jeep. It’s called the CJ-10A and dates back to the mid-1980s, and was used stateside to tug aircraft around air bases throughout the country. Elsewhere, it was marketed as a competitor to the Toyota Land Cruiser, but had little to no success.

Nevertheless, Daystar set out to remind everyone of what these Jeeps could be when built to their full potential. To that end, Daystar merged the CJ-10A’s body to a 2008 Wrangler JK. The end result is something that has the looks of a classic, but with the guts of a young buck, ready to take on anything.

This lightweight custom bed from Aqualu is intended for a Land Cruiser, but was modified to fit the CJ-10A body and JK frame. It gets ride of the space for the spare tire underneath to permit storage space for tools and supplies. It also offers access to the filler neck on the driver’s side wheel well.

Daystar’s Don McMillan was on hand to fill us in on all the sweet details. “We bought the CJ-10A from March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California,” he said. “But everything on the running gear and floorboard is from a JK. The bed is from Aqualu, and we modified it to fit storage spaces underneath for tools and supplies.”

G2 CORE 44 axles, 4.10:1 gears, and ARB air lockers provide the traction to keep this Jeep moving no matter the circumstances. Ground clearance was bolstered with an exhaust system that routes as high as possible, and exits through the rear bumper. For wheel travel, the Metalcloak fenders were altered to allow for more flex.

A JK interior and supercharged 3.8-liter V6 round out the awesome upgrades done to the CJ-10A. The paint and wrap are custom and evoke the feel of AMC-era Jeeps with graphics packages.

2. RJ Fabrications’ Jeep Frankenstein

Another curious Jeep we noticed was this build from RJ Fabrications in Hesperia, California. It merged a CJ body with a TJ frame, and has enough strength to support its Cummins 3.3-liter diesel power plant.

“The owner wanted it built to do the Ultra4 King of the Hammers Everyman Challenge,” explained RJ Fabrications’ Jonathan Nolen. “But by the time we had it ready, the rig was almost too nice to get beat on, and the competition had more or less left this kind of design in the dust.”

Much of the build was provided by the owner before the project began, including the engine, transmission, transfer case, and so on.

Still, it is a remarkable 4×4 to happen upon. As Jonathan told us, it has dual fuel tanks which keep a constant supply of fuel to the motor in almost any situation. Cooling is from a Mini Cooper radiator and air-to-water intercooler. “It was definitely an undertaking to get everything to fit on here perfectly, but now that it’s wrapped up, it’s a very strong, very good vehicle,” commented Jonathan.

At 5,600 pounds, the Jeep is a massive beast. Keeping the weight of that stable was a challenge unto itself, but Jonathan and his team managed to make it happen. “Doing a coilover conversion was a must,” he said. “We did Fox 2.5-inch-diameter DSC coilovers all the way around, and Atlas leaf springs in the rear.”

This CJ was meant to take on the Everyman Challenge at King of the Hammers. However, it's is content to wow showgoers and challenge the way of thinking when it comes to building classic Jeeps.

1. Chris Begley’s 1990 Dodge Ram Power Ram, a.k.a. “Lobster Wagon”

Chris Begley is a name we’re familiar with, ever since we crossed paths with him in 2014 during the Nitto Auto Enthusiast Day. Back then, it was a 1998 F-150 body on a 1967 F-250 frame that caught our eyes. This time around, Chris has dialed his project back while still giving it that custom flavor.

In keeping with the theme of other builds on this list, Chris took a 1990 Cummins platform and gave it a new body – one from a 1984 crew cab Dodge Ram W250. Formerly his father’s truck, Chris took the truck and saw the potential it had despite its high-mileage status.

Chris chose a 2011 Power Wagon's front axle to replace the 1990 Cummins factory axle. The rear is still OEM, but is going to be swapped to a Power Wagon unit soon. The 6BT Cummins, meanwhile, is chugging along just fine at over 360,000 miles.

Chris needed a vehicle that could take the kids to school, and came close to hunting down a Ramcharger for this reason. But a 1984 crew cab body came through in the end. “It’s as close to factory as I can get with having a Cummins powertrain and frame, but with a crew cab body,” said Chris.

With some help from BDS Suspension, Chris fitted a long-arm kit (complete with coilovers) to the front of the truck to help out its ride quality. The front axle was swapped for one from a 2011 Power Wagon, and comes with 4.56:1 gears and an Eaton E-Locker; the rear is still a 1990 Cummins rearend, but is in the process of being swapped to the Power Wagon replacement.

The paint color is called Rock Lobster and came on 2013-15 model years of the Jeep Wrangler. It really makes the truck pop, especially with the black contrast on many of its parts.

So there you have it, our top five vehicles from the 2018 Off Road Expo. Did you find a favorite of your own here? Let us know in the comments below!

About the author

David Chick

David Chick comes to us ready for adventure. With passions that span clean and fast Corvettes all the way to down and dirty off-road vehicles (just ask him about his dream Jurassic Park Explorer), David's eclectic tastes lend well to his multiple automotive writing passions.
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