Just like any off-road enthusiast I am impressed with big tyres, clever suspension and novel things that make a 4×4 go places normal car drivers could never even imagine, but this… when I first saw it, this beast almost took my breath away. It wasn’t powering through thick mud or winching up a sheer rock face though… it was actually parked on a carpet… on the Optima Batteries stand at the SEMA show in Las Vegas to be exact, but still my mind reeled, trying vainly to comprehend exactly what was before my eyes,.
Perhaps an outrageous prop for an upcoming sci-fi film… or a wacky prototype of what some 4×4 company thought would be the far distant future of off-roading… but when I gently prodded the giant tyre to make sure it was real the raised pattern on the side wall it clearly said Mickey Thompson Baja Claw… I’d already forgotten about my childhood dream car, the General Lee from the Dukes of Hazzard, that was on the opposite site of the same stand…
The chassis that the axleless wheels were mounted to, was a single rail that curved up like a scorpion’s tail either end and attached via huge double-wishbone suspension arms that ended in the huge 54inch MT tyres where wheels with bright yellow hydraulic motors on the inside of each hub. The body consisted of a stainless steel cage separated from the chassis by air suspension. Even from the first look it was evident that this was a very special creation indeed.
I met the designer and creator Jason Friezen and when we’d been pushed back by people wanting to take photos I asked him what it felt like to be standing next to his creation in SEMA, the world’s biggest after-market car show, next to the General Lee.
“Very cool,” he smiled. Evidently he was a man of few words…
I’ve never seen anything like it! Where did you get the idea from?
“Well the idea started when as part of a project when I was in CalPoly University and we built a ¼ scale 4×4… but I wanted to develop my own ideas. I never liked conventional axles with diffs and halfshafts and going out and breaking things and having to get towed back, so I went hydraulic which is quite fool-proof as the system has relief valves that relieve pressure so nothing breaks. It’s certainly not a genius idea or anything though, you’ll find it used widely in industrial applications and tractors and forklifts.
So how did you build it? It certainly doesn’t look like you hammered it together in a garden shed.
No. It took 6 years from the first idea to get here, but that’s all spare time of course. And there was no real trial and error involved either as the first two years were spent designing it on a computer program called CAD, figuring out it’s capabilities and where the stress points were. It took such a long because there is really nothing else to base it on, it’s quite original. Then, to keep the costs down as much as possible, it is made almost entirely with surplus parts that were sometimes quite hard to find. To go out and just get everything from a catalogue would have cost a lot, lot more. Everything I could fabricate I made myself, from the chassis to the suspension… it’s all hand-made, but all the hydraulic components I had to buy. The good thing though is that they are all from industrial processes, not performance parts so the whole system cost only $6000 (£3770). But now I am waiting to be able to afford a Variable Displacement Motor which will act like a second gear and will double the top speed.”
And so another special thing about this truck is that even though it’s displayed in a hall with pricelessly restored classic muscle cars, NASCARs, Monster Tajima’s Pike’s Peak Suzuki and is next to the General Lee, it was made on a strict budget. Even though it looks like a millionaire’s project, Jason is waiting on a £1000 part to double it’s performance.
It’s a huge engine in the back. Do you really need such power?
“It’s a 4.8 GM LS V8 that runs on Propane, which are what the two gas tanks on the front are for but the hydraulic pump can draw 300bhp, so yes, it needs a big engine. It doesn’t go so fast though as 15mph is it’s top speed at the moment.”
And something else quite unique about this vehicle. It’s not made for competition. “I don’t have any interest in speed and beating people to get a better position. I built this just for the love of off-roading and to have something that will last forever as I also don’t like the idea of dragging something back to the garage every weekend to rebuild it.