Ultra4 Racing’s annual King of the Hammers has become a “must attend” event for thousands of off-road enthusiasts. People from around North America and the world gather on Means Dry Lake to take in the scene. Most of these people come to spectate the racing action in the desert, and some others just show up to show up. Since this is “the off-road event” of the year, there are also thousands of 4x4s and OHVs roaming around.
The 2019 version of KOH Week did not disappoint gearheads, as original and outrageous vehicles were easily seen. From old iron to new iron, there was everything an off-roader could want. There were throwback rides that not only hearkened back to the glory days of off-road racing, but also a few running around that had a place in that part of American motorsports history. There were also plenty of vehicles that had stories worthy of their own feature pieces. And there were some vehicles that even though they might not have been 100-percent original, the bodies were older than most of the people in attendance.
But from all of this motorhead mayhem, I have to choose five that make the cut the as the best of the best. There are several different top-secret formulas which I use to determine which five make the list. It would be easy to expand this list to Top 10 and maybe with a little extra effort, a Top 50. However, without teleportation machines lying around on the lakebed, it would be impossible to make that happen.
So, without further ado, here is the 2019 edition of the Top 5 Vehicles of KOH. Let’s kick things off with Robert Martinez’s 1974 Chevy C10.
5. Robert Martinez’ 1974 Chevy C10
When I first laid eyes upon Robert Martinez’ beautiful black Chevrolet stepside, he was running it through some whoops off to the side of Boone Road. While the truck is no T1 Desert Truck, it was soaking up the whoops like it was built for the job. As a former Square Body owner and fan of old desert trucks, I needed to meet the truck owner in person.
Once I was able to hook up with Robert, he gave me the rundown on the truck. Robert has only owned the 1974 C10 for eight months. He is the third owner of it. The pickup has a 1980 front clip and from there, there is not a whole lot more about the Colorado-based truck that is factory. Robert told me that his street-legal ride used to race competitively. The build of the truck showed that and it still works pretty good in the desert.
The interior is all business. A full cage protects the occupants while a custom metal dash houses AutoMeter gauges. A competition transmission shifter allows the driver to choose gears. Corbeau race seats are mounted to keep everyone comfortable and safe.
Under the hood lives a 355-cubic-inch small-block Chevy powerplant. GM Performance heads and a double roller cam are part of the engine. A FiTech fuel injection system feeds the engine from the 40-gallon fuel cell located in the back. The power goes through the TH400 transmission, which has earned a solid reputation for reliability in the desert. There is one found under Robert’s truck and it sends power to a 40-spline, Ford 9-inch rearend.
Like the rest of the truck, the suspension is all race-ready. This is thanks to Sway-A-Way RaceRunner shocks bolted to all four corners. Extended rear leaf spring shackles complete the setup, and rounding out the build are 35-inch Goodyear Wrangler tires.
4. Rod Leetch’s 1942 Willys
This was another vehicle that had been spied early on in the week, but it took some days and luck before the owner was found. This eye-catcher of a classic, based in Washington, was on the lakebed turning heads all week.
The frame is a custom YJ/CJ7 that has an LS motor for the powerplant. A 4L60 transmission and a 203/300 Transfer Case takes the power and sends it to Dana 60s front and rear. The front diff houses an ARB air locker while the rear holds a Yukon Grizzly locker. Attached to the ends of the axles are 39-inch Toyo tires, while King shocks dampen the bumps. The body has been stretched nine inches while the cab was stretched five inches.
This ride is definitely a work of art.
3. Garrett Davidson’s 1977 Chevrolet El Camino
There might be some cliché with this particular vehicle. If you have seen one 4×4 El Camino, you have seen them all. Maybe, maybe not. It all depends on the story behind the vehicle, and the story behind this particular El Camino is one that makes memories.
Hailing from Reno, Nevada, the El Camino was just laying around. It had been owned by Garrett’s grandfather. The car became the subject of a challenge for Garrett. His friends bet him a cool thousand dollars that he could not, in a month’s time, make the vehicle drivable and then drive it to KOH and back to Reno. Garrett answered the challenge.
So nabbing up parts and pieces and dropping another $2900, Garrett went to work. Under the hood is a small-block Chevy beefed up with FiTech fuel injection, and it’s bolted to a 700R4 transmission. An old Toyota Land Cruiser transfer case sends power to a front, closed knuckle Dana 44 and a Posi rear end.
Bilstein shocks controlled the 31-inch BF Goodrich M/Ts. While the interior still needed work, Garrett had put in a Corbeau seat for the drive down and back up. It’s the little things that make a difference, and I’m sure having a new seat for a 1,000-mile round trip would make driving a lot more bearable!
2. Steel City Racing’s 2006 Toyota 4Runner
Now before you cry foul on this particular entry to this list, you might want to cue up Bob Wayne’s song “Everything is Legal in Alabama” and you will see where I am coming from. Why? Because this particular 4Runner has a license plate bolted to it. Only this is it might need a windshield…
This vehicle caught my eye via Instagram before KOH Week had even started. Sporting graphics that brought me back to the days of “Ironman” Ivan Stewart ripping down the Baja Peninsula, checking out this 4Runner was high on my list. This was not the only Toyota on the lakebed that was sporting the familiar white, orange and yellow motif, but it was the only one that was racing that week.
Charles Black was the owner and driver of the 4Runner. He also runs Steel City Racing. He gave me the rundown on the specifications of the 2006 ‘Runner that started as a 100,000-mile, no-rust base model.
Under the hood, a 4.7L V8 with Doug Thorley headers sends power to a Toyota A750F transmission. From there, the Atlas II transfer case is attached to a Toyota 8-inch front differential with some upgrades from Toyota guru Marlin Crawler. Out back resides a Dynatrac ProRock 60 with 4.56:1 gear ratio and ARB Air Locker.
The front suspension had the first Rock Crawler Long Travel kit from Marlin Crawler bolted up. It was just announced and tested in Johnson Valley, so be on the lookout for this product to make some noise. In the rear, a RockSolidToys four-link system was installed. Coils, shocks and bump stops on the corners are all out of the ICON Vehicle Dynamics product line. The 35-inch Cooper Discovery STT Pro tires were mounted to KMC XD222 Enduro wheels complete with beadlocks.
1. Jordan Pellegrino’s Full Independent Suspension 4400 Car
At this point, I will jump the shark with my list and include a full-blown 4400 race car. King of the Hammers started because of the desert racing vs. rock crawling debate. Before the dust settled on the first race, KOH started another argument about what was better, straight axle or IFS. That debate is still raging, but it looks like IFS is starting to stand on its own.
Jordan’s new Triton Engineering Chassis car was one of two FIS cars in KOH this year. Complete with 74Weld portal axles and some desert truck parts, Pellegrino’s new car is really starting to blur the lines.
The car weighs in at only 4,000 pounds and has a 770-horsepower, LS-based engine rocketing it through the desert. With Fox shocks mounted on the corners to control the huge 40-inch Mickey Thompson Baja Boss Tires, this car could be a sign of things to come for 4400 cars.
What do you think of the list? Which rig would you want in your garage? Deposit your two cents in the comments below.