romania's ghe-o rescue
The remit for Off-Road the Planet is to cover the weird and wonderful from all around the world… and the things that make you say, “Wow!”...
The promo video went viral a little while ago but behind all the humorous zombie apocalypse comments there is a very real story behind the concept. And it starts with the name. “The Ghe-O is named in honour of my father, Gheorghe,” says creator Bogdan Oprea. “He was a great and kind man and always loved 4x4s. He always said that it’s fun to play in them but the most important thing in the world is to be able to help another person, to save a life. And you can do that in a 4x4!”
Bogdan is the boss of BGS, Romania’s largest security company, so is perhaps not the first person you would imagine leading dangerous rescue missions into little mountain villages. I asked him why he does. “Because we can!” he exclaimed. “I do a lot of off-road races in my Warrior which I built myself but if you have a lot of strong guys with good 4x4s sitting watching people dying on TV, what’s the point of that? Useless. If you can help you should. For me that’s a big part of being human, so over the years we’ve been involved in helping evacuate people from big snows storms, floods and fires. Lots of them. My father, me and now my sons.”
So when was it that Bogdan came to realise that for the rescue situations he found himself in he needed a vehicle far superior to what was then currently available? “It wasn’t a eureka moment of perfect clarity, “ he says. “I guess the idea formed from several situations. I remember a bad winter a few years ago when we were trying to get to a pregnant woman who was about to give birth. We had doctors with us in a Hummer H1 and a prepared Jeep and everything else we needed. We tried our best for about seven hours to find a way through the snow to the village but in the end we failed. She had a baby in a police station. That really wasn’t a good feeling for us.
Another time we were rescuing cars trapped in deep snow in a H1 again and a Wrangler on 38 inch tyres when we heard the sirens of a fire truck. They needed to get to a village about 10km away but the snow was 50cm deep so they were having real trouble. I was in my Warrior so I had the idea of going in front and making a track for them to follow, but the guys were shouting, “No, it’s not possible! Our truck is 12 tons!” Here I saw that it doesn’t matter how strong your car is, you can’t fight with it against the snow. The only way to go forward is on the snow, to use it as an ally. Like in life, always the best way is not to fight a battle that you can hardly hope to win.
For scale, that's a Hummer H1 in front...
Then one year there was nearly a disaster when a train got stuck in the snow for two days. There was a very bad blizzard so although they tried to get it free they were really starting to have a dangerous problem as they’d run out of fuel to heat the carriages. I took 50 of my H3s, most of the fleet of intervention units from the security company, and got about 250 people off the train. That was when I realised that high-capacity transport is important too as taking one or two people per vehicle wasn’t very efficient. What we needed a big truck that was light enough to drive on top of the snow but was capable and adaptable enough to go pretty much anywhere. And if you take that plan just a little bit further, to float on water too. So all these ideas came together until one day I met my business partner Christian Vlad and we instantly got talking about the same ideas. He had the same area of interest and wanted to design and build cars with a perfect balance between beauty and functionality… And that’s how it started.
First all I did was tell him that we need a car with these tyres, this engine etc while he took a pen and drew the sketches. A lot of sketches. I’ve competed in a lot of off-road races so I knew what I wanted in terms of driving and car control and Christian brought his personal touch and designer point of view… We’ve been walking the same path since then. The sketches got transferred into a computer program while I started collecting all the materials we needed, the parts and a team of the best mechanics, best electricians… The initial process was something like this; measure, measure again, cut, weld, not good, throw it away, buy more materials, measure, weld, drill holes, mount auxiliary stuff, mount suspension and axles, add some wheels, change those wheels, add bigger wheels… until it finally started to look like my dream. At one point we took a little break and went over to the USA to see how they do those ‘buggy’ things… Hmm… OK, Aha. Good. Homework done. Back to Romania… In the end from first design on paper to first test drive in the forest it took us just nine months. Nine very intense months, but then we had a working vehicle that was almost perfect the first time we took it out. In fact the only issue we had was finding which gear ratios worked best for us. Everything else was fine. And I have to say that that is all down to the designer Christian Vlad. He really did an amazing job. But that wasn’t a surprise actually. He’s won a design award for Peugeot, designed aeroplane cockpits and even some things for the final ceremony at the Olympic games in Athens.”
So that’s the concept, now what about the details?
Power comes from a 6 litre LS2 V8 from a Chevy Tahoe. Standard horsepower is 320 but with the Mast Motorsport ECU it produces 350. A GM TH400 gearbox sends drive to the Dana axles, a 60 the front and a 70 in the rear. Suspension components are from a standard 7 ton truck, nothing made especially for off-road, just heavy duty and durable while the shock absorbers are from a Dodge truck and it tips the scales at 3200kg. On first sight eyes are instantly drawn to the huge 50inch tyres. But even though they are so big they actually look in proportion to the rest of the vehicle… because it’s that massive! It absolutely dwarfs the H1 it’s parked next to. The bonnet has a startling V-shaped design that rides up towards the split screen window. “First, it’s like that for better visibility over the front wheels. If you’ve ever driven a Hummer with the wide, flat front you see a lot more from the cab of the Rescue. Also, there’s an element of Christan being a little flamboyant. But who wants to make an ugly box with no imagination?”
The Rescue is not designed to stick to normal tracks that other 4x4s can drive on though, so the next thing to do was to test it’s limits to see just how capable and versatile it was. “High capacity was one of our design briefs which is why it’s so big. It carries 11 inside but to add to that we made a sledge that can carry another nine people and can be pulled along like a trailer. We designed it to float so it also works as a boat. Then we found some snow that we couldn’t drive over. That wasn’t a good enough situation for us so we looked at ways to modify and improve. We decided that we needed tracks, half tracks, but the ones we found were a massive 400kg for each side. We didn’t need that, so we got some made especially for us that were just 250kg. The add-on floaters that you attach to the side of the tyres helped with the footprint on the snow and it also means that the car can float in water so now, like we wanted, we have the ability to cross deep rivers and lakes.
Another capability we designed into kit is that it can carry up to 650 litres of water. There were a lot forest fires last year and the best way of dealing with them is to get water to exactly where you need. With a conventional fire truck you’re restricted to where you can get to on the road and the length of the hose. With the Rescue you can get the water much closer to where you need it and that can make a very big difference!
So what is next for this incredible vehicle? “We are starting up the production line,” Bogdan smiles. “We’re currently discussing things with financial institutes in Romania so that we can set up a factory. That will happen in May but actually we;re not in any real rush. There are no real competitors and I need time to buy lots of engines, axles and things and get them shipped over. That will take a few months… But the future already looking good, we have big interest from search and rescue company in the Los Angeles plus guys from Dubai, as if it’s good on snow it’s good on sand, Israel, France, South Africa and Hungary, as they have some really bad floods a couple years ago. We’ll aim for 50 units in the first year but if it becomes more popular than we’ve predicted it won’t be an issue to increase production.” Apart from its design and amazing capabilities there is another reason why the rescue might sell very well… The base vehicle will only cost €79,000 and will only be €119,000 for one with all the options, the tracks, rear steering etc. For the components it uses and what it’s capable of, you have to agree, that’s a seriously good price.
Maybe the Rescue is so unique because bringing it to reality took a rare combination of a big heart, a big imagination, a big bank account… and a big love of 4x4s. but even more than that, what an absolutely amazing tribute to an off-road loving father!
I hope we’ll be seeing a lot more of this incredible truck in the near future!