People often say, if you want something done right, do it yourself. That’s been the driving force for the Brenthel Brothers, Jonathan and Jordan. Few pursue their dreams quite like the Brenthel Brothers. Their hobby became their passion, then their jobs and finally their business.
They have become a true, self-made, American success story while also being part of a major modernization of the off-road vehicle manufacturing sector. They started riding motorcycles in the desert, became fans of off-road racing, then took it all the way to the top; owning their own off-road vehicle manufacturing business Brenthel Industries, based in Anaheim, California.
There are two paths to knowledge, experience and instruction. The Brenthel Brothers have used both at the same time. They worked with fabricators, constructors and designers during the day and took classes at night to fast-track their progression.
Jonathan worked at Bill Savage’s SPD products in San Diego and Jordan spent time working with Damon Jefferies (HMS), Norman Motorsports and as a designer at Millenworks.
According to Jonathan, he and Jordan both share the same skills and knowledge needed to guide Brenthel Industries.
Not many business owners have the skills to do every job in the building, but the Brenthel Brothers do. If that’s not enough to inspire their employees, their tireless work ethic is. They manufacture long travel suspension kits for production based trucks and SUVs (Baja Kits).
They also build all types of race vehicles and purpose-built prerunners, and run an ambitious race team that competes in three different series in addition to the Dakar Rally when they can; it’s hard to slow them down.
Having spent years in the desert riding and racing, the Brenthel Brothers knew there was a big market for bolt-on long travel suspension. They wanted to incorporate the same high quality design, manufacturing, and construction techniques used on their race vehicles in a bolt-on kit for the masses.
Thousands of people head off-road every weekend to pit for race teams, ride bikes or just have fun. Having a capable vehicle to get you there and back safely and comfortably is a huge benefit.
Designing a race vehicle from a blank sheet of paper is daunting. Designing an effective long travel suspension while working within the constraints of stock pivot points, firewall clearance, and steering geometry is every bit as challenging. The goal was always to make it work correctly, to be a real enhancement to the vehicle. They have accomplished that goal in their Baja Kits product line for Chevy, Ford, Jeep, Nissan, Ram, and Toyota trucks.
Most people would be content just to run a successful suspension kit company, but not the Brenthel Brothers. The Baja Kits manufacturing business is only the tip of the iceberg. Their off-road vehicle manufacturing endeavors are extensive.
They offer a full range of products and services that include concept development, design, finite element analysis (FEA), fabrication, race support, and preparation. Always on the cutting edge, Brenthel Industies has fully embraced technology since its earliest efforts.
Modern computer modeling makes conceptualizing an idea much easier. FEA, for instance, allows Brenthel to put loads and stresses on a part or assembly while still in the concept stage.
One downside to FEA is the old computer phrase “garbage in, garbage out.” FEA relies on mathematical equations that calculate how items respond to forces. The results are not an exact solution, they are an approximation. Without accurate inputs, the outputs can be misleading.
That’s why the best designers are also fabricators and builders like Jonathan and Jordan. The practical experience gained from bending, shaping, and welding components into a finished product takes them out of the conceptual world of the computer and puts them squarely into the practical world.
You can design anything, but having the knowledge of what it takes to produce the end product is invaluable to a designer. It also plays a big part in the design process. Optimization should be the goal of every designer. Getting the most strength and performance from the simplest and lightest assembly is paramount, but can be elusive.
There will always be trade-offs in any design; perfection does not exist. What Brenthel does is to engineer the failure points to facilitate easy repairs.
Occupant safety is always the top priority but if components are pushed to the point of failure (which is common in off-road racing), it is better to replace a bolt-on component in the field as opposed to repairing the chassis during a race. This level of attention to detail sets them apart from many other builders.
When you add the capabilities of computer numerically controlled laser cutting and notching, amazing assemblies can be realized. Intricate and complex shapes are possible that would be very difficult to duplicate by any other means. Brenthel designs the assemblies and the fixturing to hold them to the surface plate in the same computer model. Since everything is created to exacting standards, once a design is approved, the parts can be duplicated again and again and again.
This allows Brenthel to produce vehicles in an assembly line fashion and it also makes repair of crash damage easier.
Any crashed vehicle can be put back into the fixture where the slightest variations can be easily measured. Damaged sections can be cut off and replaced with a new assembly that fits the chassis as precisely as the original.
Anyone buying a Brenthel race vehicle benefits from the cost savings a streamlined manufacturing system provides and the consistent availability of replacement parts if needed. Every upper control arm produced will fit any chassis in the field.
Spares can be shared from team to team, an important benefit when you are racing or prerunning miles from civilization. Due to the high level of sportsmanship in off-road racing, many racers have, and will, help out a direct competitor with needed spares. They know that one day the favor will be returned.
Something that becomes obvious about Brenthel Industries is its attention to detail. Jonathan and Jordan take pride in their skills, craftsmanship, and technological acumen, and they leave no stone unturned. They have a small but vigorous racing operation to test the ultimate limits of their designs in real world conditions.
In 2014, the team took its second straight championship with their “in house” class 7200 truck. They also participated in the Dakar Rally with SCORE International Dakar Challenge winner Peter Hajas and vow to return as soon as they are able to mount another effort, possibly in 2016.
Jordan Brenthel capped off a great rookie season when he finished in third place during the final race of the 2014 Best in the Desert Series. Jordan, and the Brenthel Industries race team, took the points lead at the first race of the season and never relinquished it the entire year. Jonathan captured the SCORE series 7200 championship racing in his rookie season as well, in 2013.
“The truck was originally built as a test mule for our 7200 design,” said Jordan. “I think this proves without a doubt how reliable and competitive our trucks are. We took this truck to the SCORE Championship last year and backed it up with a second straight championship in the Best in the Desert Series this year. We’ve challenged the best 7200 racers in both series and come away with back-to-back championships.”
“Nobody pushes our vehicles as hard as I do,” said Jonathan, “I have had several crashes while racing, but I wear that as a badge of honor. To find out where that line exists between ultimate speed and loss of control, you have to go over the edge sometimes. Every time we find that limit, it makes our vehicles safer, stronger and more predictable.”
Bruised but still racing, Brenthel Industries vehicles are engineered to take the punishment of off-road racing.
Jonathan continued, “We spend a considerable amount of time doing computer analysis of our chassis and components. When actual events prove out our computer simulations, it verifies our data, and allows us even greater accuracy. We design for a worst case scenario.”
“If or when you crash, are the coolers protected? Are they mounted securely enough to withstand the forces? Will bolt on parts yield or will the pivot points on the chassis rip out? These are just some of the parameters we explore.”
“When we are designing and building our vehicles, we are focused on continuous improvement,” said Jonathan. “It’s not all work, we love to go fast too, and we love to win!”
Brenthel Industries is at the forefront of off-road race vehicle progression. They take full advantage of the latest materials, practices, and manufacturing technology to further refine the modern race platform. When you consider the advances made by tire manufacturers, shock absorber damping technology, and gains in reliable horsepower, the future of off-road racing will continue to be highly dynamic.