For most people, the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City ended with the closing ceremonies, but for owners of Sportsmobile's 4x4 camper vans, the games went on into the summer. Just outside Park City, Utah, not far from the Olympic Village, Sportsmobile West continued its annual tradition with its sixth annual Sportsmobile Rally in the slickrock town of Moab. Because many owners are new to off-roading or are moving up from smaller 4x4s and SUVs, participants in past rallies have asked for real-world training so they can take full advantage of their vans' off-road capability. In response, this year's rally focused on driver training, exploring the van's limits, solutions to common off-road problems, and seminars by Quigley Motor Company (maker of the van's 4x4 system) and Warn on winching--all a part of Sportsmobile's version of the Olympics.
A close look at a Sportsmobile explains a lot about its owners. This custom aspect attracts buyers who want their Sportsmobiles to fit the specific demands of their varied interests. At any Sportsmobile gathering--whether around a Baja surf spot, ski resort, fly-fishing area, dirt-bike trailhead, or the annual rally--you'll find extreme-sports types, retirees, bankers, adventurous singles, car-campers moving up or Class-A RV-ers moving down, family vacationers, or backcountry explorers, all comparing notes on the custom features of their vans and the most interesting places they've explored.
The vans can be found across America, with a few in Europe, Africa, Australia, and Japan. One customized model was even spotted in Russia. Wherever they travel in the world, one thing owners agree on is that a quick stop isn't possible anywhere there are people. Inevitably, owners returning to a ski-area parking lot or emerging from the local market will find a small crowd wanting to know more about the vehicle.
The Olympic-style format put the 90 vans and over 200 participants into 15 teams competing in four major events over three days, ending with a final night party and awards ceremony for the Gold, Silver, and Bronze winners. Sportsmobile and its sponsors, including Ford Motor Company, Quigley Motor Company, BFGoodrich, ARB, and Aluminess Bumpers, provided five vans for the games. This was a big relief for the entrants who got their first look at Competition Island, the intimidating technical driving venue created a week earlier under the watchful (some would say devious) eyes of Alan and Liz Feld, owners of Sportsmobile West, and their rally committee. The format required that all team members participate in each event, but to keep the competition strong, only the top scores counted for the entire team's performance.
The technical events began with four driving stages on the 4x4 course: a "Slow Drag" over an obstacle course, where the slowest time won and drivers were penalized for using brakes or letting wheels stop; maneuvering a van up onto a parallel log track with a spotter who could only use hand signals (a real communication challenge for some married couples); backing an off-road trailer through a changing radius course into a simulated garage; and a creek run, which had the vehicles drive in, out, and through running water and mud, ending with the van on a 20-degree sidehill along one edge of the creek.
Teams then moved to the Worst Case Scenario course where Sportsmobile used its 40 years of van-building to reproduce some of its customers' most common problems. Working against the clock, the teams had to fix or recover disabled vans with simple tools and were given only a few hints about the situation that caused the problem. Vans were set up with various malfunctions, including a tripped fuel-cutoff switch, a punctured tire, a disabled fuel pump, a rolled tire, a failed starter safety interlock, and a flat tire with a broken air compressor. The biggest challenge in this course was using a winch to recover a van stuck in the creek. Although the former were all run against the clock for fastest times, safety was the focus of the winch recovery with lots of useful--and potentially lifesaving--instruction in the proper use of a winch.
The road rally had teams head out in their own vans past many of the area's lakes and rivers, the towns of Kamas and Midway, Cascade Springs State Park, and on to Robert Redford's Sundance ski area and back. The final event, a scavenger hunt, required the teams to explore everything from the 2002 Olympic facilities to a local brewery.
The final afternoon was devoted to seminars by Warn and Mike Quigley. As the rally came to an end, there was a last round of volleyball and, for the kids, a rubber-duck race down the creek, a Sportsmobile pinata, and one last chance to play in the inflatable Bounce House. That night's party included a great dinner, live music by the Sportsmobile Band, and the awards ceremony.
The next day, vans headed in all directions, some to nearby Park City for a parade and fireworks, off-roaders to wilderness camping in Central Utah, some families north to explore Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, and others home, with journeys that would take them to places ranging from Seattle to New York. With their newfound skills, many owners were already talking about returning to Moab for the next rally, in May 2004.
For the Serious Adventurer
Sportsmobile West used this year's rally to introduce its prototype upgraded 4x4 system that'll be an available option on 2004 models. This system, designed for the rockcrawler crowd, uses a Dynatrac Pro Rock 60 front axle and a super-low-geared 3.8:1 Advance Adapter Atlas transfer case. The T-case is all gear-driven (no chain) and uses a two-stick system: One stick engages and selects gearing for the front, and the other controls the rear axle. With a busted rear, you don't have to drive home with the driveshaft tied up out of the way--just shift the rear to Neutral and head home on the front. The installation uses a reverse-shackle front suspension and a quick-release anti-roll bar. Once disconnected, the front end has an incredible 21 inches of travel. With the addition of lockers, you could see Sportsmobiles camped at the ends of the toughest trails. The limiting factor will become size, not capability. This may be one time size does matter.
P.O. Box 178004
San Diego, CA 92117
ARB 4x4 Accessories
20 South Spokane St.
Seattle, WA 98134
P.O. Box 19001
Greenville, SC 29602-9001
Ford Motor Company
P.O. Box 6248
Dearborn, MI 48126
Quigley Motor Company
100 Sunset Dr.
Manchester, PA 17345
3631 S. Bagley Ave.
Fresno, CA 93725
12900 S.E. Capps Road
Clackamas, OR 97015