The NBA Playoffs, Super Bowl, World Series--all tough tickets, but nothing compared with an invite to the Seventh Annual Sportsmobile Rally. Just owning one of these truly custom adventure vans isn't enough; it needs the optional 4x4 conversion, as this year's rally returned for the second time to explore the majestic beauty of Moab's red-rock back country.
For the next two mornings, as sunrise began to light up the Colorado's red cliffs, vans formed groups ready to head out to some of Moab's most famous, challenging, and picturesque trails. The extended bodies departed in groups of 12 for the Dolores River Overlook, Onion Creek, Gemini Bridges, and Chicken Corners, while, in smaller groups, the regular bodies took on Seven Mile Rim and Dome Plateau. Those on Saturday's Dome Plateau run were treated to an impromptu driving-skill demonstration with a detour down and back up a slickrock trail aptly named Wipe-Out Hill.
Under the watchful eyes of rally guides, all 100 vans completed both days of back-country exploration--some spending hours in first gear and 4x4 low range--without incident. The same couldn't be said for a lone Coloradan adventurer and his dog. While exploring the day before the rally, their pickup got stuck partway off a ledge, and the duo had to exit through the rear window to spend a lonely, cold night in the bed. One can only imagine his sense of amazing good fortune when, the next morning, a dozen winch-equipped, 10,000-pound, cold-beer-stocked Sportsmobiles appeared on the horizon heading his way. With Hi-Lift jacks, a winch, and lots of man- and horsepower, the truck was free in 40 minutes, with man and dog fed and on their way.
Sportsmobiles start life as Ford or Chevy vans, but most are Fords. They're crafted from regular- or extended-wheelbase RV-prepped one-ton chassis that are shipped directly from the manufacturer to Quigley Motors' Manchester, Pennsylvania, factory. The vans are then converted to four-wheel drive or sent to Sportsmobile for its own 4x4 system. Quigley uses a Dana 60 front axle geared to match the OEM rear, upgrades the coil spring suspension, installs a BorgWarner two-speed, 2.69:1, part-time transfer case, Spicer driveshafts, F-350 steering and brakes, and adds a three-inch rear and four-inch front lift. Sportsmobile uses a Dynatrac 60 front axle, Advanced Adapter Atlas gear-driven T-case, and a reverse-shackle front suspension with a quick-release anti-roll bar. The vans are then shipped to one of three regional Sportsmobile factories in Indiana, Texas, or California, where the interiors are completed according to the individual owner's requirements. Common features from a list of over 80 options include a patented pop-top sleeper, cabinets, sink, hot water and heat, stove, toilet, shower, marine flooring, gel batteries, and custom audio/video systems. Upon completion, a Sportsmobile becomes a Class-B motorhome that can cost from $45,000 to $80,000.
Sportsmobile West used its last Park City rally to show off its highest priority, the Atlas T-case-based 4x4 system. This time, the company introduced its latest interior configuration: the Transformer. Like the kid's toy of the same name, the interior of the Transformer can be quickly reconfigured to meet a variety of needs. Only the combined sink/refrigerator/electric power cabinet is fixed, while the bench seat and rear bed platform are easily removed to create a fully open interior. Equipped with an industrial rubber floor, it can be the work truck on weekdays that's easily transformed into the weekend watersport hauler or camper, ready for work Monday morning.
This year's rally featured an increased number of off-road trailers, many made by Sportsmobile. Equipped with articulating hitches, van-matching tires, and a heavy-duty suspension, they're customized almost as much as their tow vans to carry kayaks, canoes, or bikes. One was set up as a mobile communications center with a motorized Internet satellite dish, and a few were South African-made safari rigs, complete with trailer-top tents, propane ovens, freezers, and the even the obligatory English tea set.
With seven successful events to date, each in a spectacular location, the one question on everyone's mind was, "Where are we going for number eight?"