The need for exploring off-road is a notion that we feel we can find across the entire United States. That’s the drive behind our new column, Stateside Shop Tour. Come with us as we tour the nation looking at shops that build capable off-road machines of all shapes and sizes.
Previously, we got a taste of the Idaho off-road scene courtesy of Buck’s 4×4 in the state capital of Boise. We now journey east to the Big Sky Country – Montana – to talk to Mike Jongeling of Mike’s Off Road, based in lovely, picturesque Bozeman.
Started in 1996 out of Mike’s backyard, the shop has grown from a 2,400 square-foot plot to a 4,500 square-foot establishment along Gallatin Road. Raised from a mechanic father and inclined toward tinkering at a young age, Mike built his skill set over many years and continues to hone them to this day. With his six employees and multitude of tools at his disposal, Mike can make a multitude of 4x4s roll out looking and performing like beasts.
Evidence of this can be found in the shop’s fun vehicle, a 1974 Bronco called “Rusty.” “I’m a fan of the early Broncos,” said Mike. “I own five of them and Rusty has been mine since 1996. I started working on it right after I bought it, turning it into a mud bogger.”
With close to eight inches of lift on the Bronco and massive 49-inch TSL IROK tires and custom-made steel wheels, Rusty has capability out the wazoo. The drivetrain starts with a five-liter Ford V8 and a 150 shot of nitrous oxide, good for about 400 horsepower. It’s connected to a four-speed manual transmission and Atlas transfer case, with 1979 one-ton pickup Dana 60 axles front and rear, and a rear-steering setup to boot.
For suspension, the Bronco has a four-link rear with two-inch Sway-A-Way coilovers and a three-link front with stock coil springs and shocks. “I did this setup to make the Bronco more stable and good for all-around use,” explained Mike. “It keeps the truck versatile.”
Rusty has been to several Montana-based mud bog and challenge events, and journeyed down to Moab too. The joy and thrill it’s able to generate while off-roading also comes with the cost of accidents, however. The worst, Mike stated, was a timed event where he tore the front suspension out. It also had its front driveshaft and oil pan destroyed when Mike’s son shifted gears during a mud drag.
Taking the ups with the downs is just a part of the off-road lifestyle, though. And Mike and his crew have the know-how and passion to keep 4x4s going, no matter their state or shape. In the meantime, we’ll keep running around the country as our Stateside Shop Tour trucks along. Our next stop – North Dakota!