As a writer always on the lookout for special vehicles. I only stop to look at the best and I only write about the ones that make me say 'Wow', and I have to say that this vehicle from Alberta, Canada is currently firmly at the top of my list of awesome 4x4s!
It's called the Warthog but looks like no animal from the natural world I've ever seen! At first sight it looks a bit too outrageous to be a serious machine as if its size and sheer aesthetic brutality are some kind of gimmick. But you don;t have to look long to see that as an off-roader the Warthog is just about as serious as it gets. For a start there's no Land Rover base in here, no Land Cruiser axles or engine, the Warthog's DNA comes from MRAPs, those huge bus-sized mine-resistant personal carriers found in Iraq! (MPAR stands for Mine Resistant - Ambush Proof).
“My friend's company was selling MRAPs, Werewolves to be exact. I thought the concept was great but wondered why there wasn't a high speed agile assault version... something able to drive through pits and trenches, up ledges and down steep rock faces to deliver a punch... and then leave fast. So a few years ago I looked at how and why they made MRAPS the way they did and implemented it into my rig. But the army wasn't interested as these days they have drones and planes for that sort of thing. But I wanted to build it anyway as I knew it would be a great test and demo platform to show what we're capable of getting out of the workshop. Over the years we've prototyped many things and got many random parts to work together in some semblance of harmony. Currently we're trying to make an automatic transmission run upside down without damaging it. We've also reached 90 mph in the desert with 9 ton planetary diffs and 54 inch tyres.”
Like I said, this is a serious vehicle!
But normal people don't just wake up in the morning, brew the coffee and then head to the workshop to make something like this, so I wanted to know what Clayton did before which led to this beast leaving it's giant tyre tracks across the earth. “As a little kid I was pretty hooked on 'wheelin'' and trucks but we got stuck once and the whole day it took to get back out again made me want nothing more than to get through stuff. Not long after my old man put a set of 36's on the truck and lifted it and said that he wanted to do the Baja together. That got stuck in my head my whole life. He used to bring home the odd Fourwheeler magazine and I'd just stare at all the pictures. Then as a teenager in the late 80's I started with a 1983 Toyota pickup and the 80's style of big tyres, lots of lights and shocks... then moved to my '49 Willys Jeep, other Toyotas and to a 404 Unimog where the idea of link suspension came into play and putting Unimog Axles under American rigs. And then the Warthog plan continued into me trying to make a rig that could do well in every type of off-road event, from monster trucks to off-road racing, mudbogging and rock crawling.”
I am not the most mechanically minded person in the world but even just walking around the Warthog the amount of work that's gone into it is easy to see. For a start the space-frame chassis looks even more intricate than some Dakar cars I've seen being built. “I made the chassis myself from scratch. I stole ideas from a trophy truck, (The Baja 1000 machines) a little from monster trucks, and the front ended up with all the crazy lines because I tried to make a crumple zone in the nose like an F1 car in case I ever smashed head-first into something. I did an end over end once and landed straight on the nose and it did absorb the impact somewhat. The rest of the chassis is built around the occupants and the drive train and the cockpit was the biggest focus. If I was going to be tumbling, jumping and pounding around I wanted my body to be safe and so the tube work was designed to disperse the energy of impacts throughout the chassis. You can follow every tube from front to back and side to side. They flow into several other tubes that all connect. Again the goal was to be able to handle extreme abuse with little damage.” It's certainly not a pretty vehicle but there is definitely beauty in the brutality. Clayton agrees. “A bit like a hot chick with really bad teeth!”
What little bodywork there is looks a little reminiscent of some kind of army truck... and that's no accident. “The metalwork around the cab is there for protection from debris entering and impaling me!” Like military vehicles, it's angled for deflection.”
Climbing up inside and I am as high off the ground as a truck cab. The interior and dash are as spartan and functionary as you'd imagine but then with flashes of the Underworld again Clayton starts the engine which is cradled in the tubular latticework behind the cab. The pipes are short and fat and the engine is big... and it's loud! “There's a few reasons I wanted the engine in the rear, better visibility, more traction at the back as well as to have less weight over the front to make it easier on the wheels, axle and suspension when I hit obstacles.”
But how the Warthog is driven is also interesting. “To get forward drive after moving the engine to the back many people flip the centre section of their diffs to reverse the drive line or use an inverted drop box. I didn't feel right about flipping the centres and running the rear drive line off of the front output of my transfer-case so that option was out and that's where a Casale V-drive comes in. The V-drive normally used in power boats to reverse the rotation of the motor to the prop on inboard speed boats but it allowed me to reverse my drive line rotation between the JW Transmissions Powerglide gearbox and the Stak 3-speed transfer-case... and it's the only component I have never broken or even had to maintain. The gear ratios are 1:1, 2.43:1 and 4:1 which give me crawl, wheely and high speed ranges. The V-drive is also the reason the Warthog is able to reach 90 miles an hour with 15:1 diffs.”
The 54' Mickey Thompson Baja Claw tyres are enough to grab your attention but what ies beteen them is also very interesting and the axles are certainly more Bulldozer than 303 or Unimog. “I started with 3 ton Meritor axles because I could pop different gear ratios in them if I wanted as for some things I wanted to do needed high speeds and others low, so being stuck with just one ratio wouldn't have been good enough... but after 2 years of running the 3 tons I had broken so many axle shafts, Eaton lockers and pinions that there were no more parts left in the local wrecking yards... so I decided to upgrade. I chose axles out of a JCB Telehandler because If I broke something the parts were available at any dealer and fairly cheap. I also like the knuckle bearings, hubs, ring gears, centre drive pinion and 4-wheel steer. The decision was also helped by the fact that a 540 JCB had recently burned in a barn fire.”
You've read this far so you know that there is nothing standard about the Warthog so it should come as no surprise that the engine isn't exactly stock either. “It started as a 454 Chevy Big Block V8 that was bored out to a 468 (that's 7.7 litres in European money). “It was chosen simply because of the amount of low end torque and availability of parts.” But it's one of the very few things on the truck that Clayton didn't do himself. “The magic was done by Barry Gurnsey. He ported the heads installed the cam and valve train and tuned it to give out 550bhp and 600lb-ft of torque.” (For those interested in the details it has Keith Black hypereutectic pistons, Manley valves and Comp Cams beehive valve springs and roller arms.) Also, as you might have noticed from the photos, there is no fuel tank and that's because unlike mortal vehicles it doesn't run on petrol. “It's propane-powered because you can run the engine upside down for as long as you like and it doesn't even stutter,” Clayton explains matter-of-factly. “It can handle all the bumps jumps and anything you throw at it, there's no fuel pump to worry about or any petrol dripping on you if you end up the wrong way up.”
As mentioned earlier the 3800kg beast is also used to demonstrate the strength and durability of the parts Clayton makes at the day job in EMF Rod Ends and Steering components. (EMF stands for Evolution Machining and Fabrication.) The extreme stresses that Warthog's parts have to endure means that they have to be the best of the best... and the list of hand-machined parts is quite long. “I machined the rod-ends, the axle mounted swaybars, the steering ball sockets, the 4140 rods in the rams, the new accumulators on the shocks, the front axle knuckles and the inner mounting flanges, the links, the inner clearance for larger gears in the V-drive, the pinion flanges, the new shock rods with larger female threaded ends so they quit pulling apart, the bump stop mounts on the shocks, the shock rod ends and some other odds and ends. In the workshop we also built the front axle housing, plated the rear one, made the wheel rims, hand cut all the mounts and body panels...” The space-frame chassis I already mentioned...”
And where would it be possible to see this amazing truck in action? “I've hosted several Canadian “Mega Truck” style events where it's all about the freestyle,” I asked him what freestyling is, as it's not something us Europeans are too familiar with. “Basically you go out into a field of cars, buses, stacks of cars, jumps, pools of mud and whatever else they can find to run over. You have 1 minute to get the biggest air, drive over everything, make you rig almost flip over and save it... and I normally end it by flipping. For more 'normal' 4x4 competitions, I tied for the win in the Fourwheelers Top Truck Challenge in 2008 and in 2009 I missed qualifying for the King of the Hammers by just a couple of seconds. Only 13 out of 75 qualified anyway, but it was still impressive considering I'd never raced in the desert or on that type of terrain before. But actually for me it's not really about the winning. I enjoy ripping it up, making people's mouths drop and their heads shake and have everyone on their feet screaming when I'm done.”
And like they end each segment on the Antiques Roadshow; what's it worth? Well, it's doubtful that it will ever be for sale but the value is hard to quantify. You could look at the £53,000 of metal and parts and think that it's cheap. But then the 1500 man hours of such a highly skilled and free-thinking engineer and machinist means that this machine is absolutely priceless.