Four Wheeler|February 2022
The definitive overview of 23 years of Four Wheeler’s legendary Top Truck Challenge
Ken Brubaker
Top Truck Challenge (known simply as TTC or Top Truck), was an epic, weeklong competition held at the Hollister Hills SVRA near Hollister, California. It ran for 23 consecutive years, from 1993 to 2015. For most years it was comprised of 4x4s selected by Four Wheeler readers from applications submitted by Four Wheeler readers. This made TTC a reader-driven competition from beginning to end. Competitors challenged a number of off-road-centric events, including the legendary Frame Twister, Obstacle Course, and Tank Trap. From its humble beginnings, the event grew in popularity and there was even a Top Truck Champions' Challenge to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of TTC where all the previous Grand Champions were invited to return for an incredible, epic throwdown. It's also worth noting that TTC inspired many things through the years, including videos, similar events, a clock, and the development of the 54-inch Mickey Thompson Baja Claw TTC tire.

TTC helped to make the competitors and their rigs household names. Folks like Heath Biggs and his Scorpion MK1, Mike Niebuhr and his Quagmire Chevy pickup, John Joling and his Rodent Exterminator '72 Ford F-100, and John Reynolds '73 Bronco, along with many others.

TTC was a big chapter in Four Wheeler history and its popularity continues today. For those of you who email us wondering if TTC will return, we say; maybe a return is inevitable.

Read on for a fascinating overview of Top Truck Challenge's 23 kick-butt years.

1993: Year One

We kinda had no idea how the first TTC was going to shake out, but competitors came anyway to battle a series of events: the Mud Pit, Frame Twister, Mini Rubicon, Stair Step, Stream Bed, Slalom Course, and Hillclimb. Competitors included Rick Pewe (who later became the editor of Jp and 4-Wheel & Off-Road magazines) and the legendary Soni Honegger. Jim Piatt owned our inaugural event with six First Place finishes.

Grand Champion: Jim Piatt; Manchester, Washington

Vehicle: '84 Jeep CJ-7

Engine: Chevy 350ci V-8, Holley Pro-Jection

Transmission: TH400

Transfer case: Dana 300 Axles (f/r): Dana 44, ARB Air Locker/AMC Model 20, ARB Air Locker

Suspension (t/t): Skyjacker 342-in-lift leaf springs, Skyjacker shocks/Skyjacker 342-in-lift leaf springs, Skyjacker shocks

Tires: 33-in BFG Mud-Terrains

1994: Debut of the Tow Test

New for 1994 was the Tow Test, which consisted of pulling Soni Honegger's War Wagon Ramcharger up a hill. Competing vehicles for the second year of TTC included an early Bronco, a 4Runner, a Scout, an M38, and a Scrambler 6x6. Anthony Fox won the on-road and engineering segments of the competition, which contributed to his win.

Grand Champion: Anthony Fox; Bremerton, Washington

Vehicle: '79 Jeep CJ-5

Engine: AMC 3040i V-8, Ford 2-bbl carburetor

Transmission: BorgWarner T-18

Transfer case: Dana 20

Axles (f/r): Dana 44, Detroit Locker/Dana 44, Detroit Locker

Suspension (t/r): Rancho 24-in-lift leaf springs, Rancho shocks/Rancho 242-in-lift leaf springs, Rancho shocks

Tires: 33-in Interco Super Swamper TSL

1995: Readers Choose the Competitors

This was the first year that Four Wheeler readers chose the competitors for TTC (prior to this they were chosen by the Four Wheeler staff), and it was the first year for the on-road Ride 'N Drive segment of the competition. This year was especially memorable because Tim Hardy (who went on to help with TTC for many years) competed while pulling a trailer with his Suzuki Samurai and took Second Place. Randy Ellis took First Place in his Jeep CJ, and it was the first TTC rig to sport a multilink (three-link) suspension. Randy maxed out the RTI ramp and won the Engineering portion of the competition.

Grand Champion: Randy Ellis; Gilbert, Arizona

Vehicle: '80 Jeep CJ-5 Engine: Chevy 377ci V-8, Holley Pro-Jection

Transmission: TH350

Transfer case: Dana 300

Axles (f/r): Dana 44, ARB Air Locker/Dana 60, ARB Air Locker

Suspension (f/r): Spring-over-axle, Rancho shocks/ spring-over-axle, custom three-link, Rancho shocks

Tires: 35-in Interco Super Swamper TSL Bogger

1996: Well, Hello Obstacle Course

The Slalom Course was too easy, so we replaced it with the more challenging Obstacle Course. Some guy named Shannon Campbell won the Tank Trap and bagged three Second Place finishes to win it all. Since then, he has gone on to make a bit of a name for himself, including at King of the Hammers.

Grand Champion: Shannon Campbell; Gilbert, Arizona

Vehicle: '47 Willys CJ-2A replica

Engine: Chevy 400ci V-8, Holley Pro-Jection

Transmission: TH350

Transfer case: Dana 300

Axles (f/r): GM 10-bolt, ARB Air Locker/Dana 60, spool

Suspension (f/r): Wrangler leaf springs, Doetsch Tech shocks/custom four-link

Tires: 35-in Interco Super Swamper TSL Bogger

1997: Lights, Camera, Action

For the first time, TTC was videotaped for Four Wheeler TV. This would mark the beginning of TTC's video legacy, which would continue for the rest of its history. The event was won by Geby Wager and folks had never seen anything as extreme as his big-block-powered, 2%-ton-shod, independent suspension-equipped CJ. Geby only won one event (Acceleration), but he was consistent in all the others, finishing in the top four in each.

Grand Champion: Geby Wager; Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada

Vehicle: '86 Jeep CJ-7

Engine: Cadillac 502ci V-8, Holley 800 cfm carburetor

Transmission: Ford T-19

Transfer case: NP205

Axles (t/r): Modified 2 1/2-ton Gama Goat, Powr-Lok/modified 24/2-ton Gama Goat, Powr-Lok

Suspension (f/r): Custom independent, air springs, Fox shocks/custom independent, air springs, Fox shocks

Tires: 44-in Interco Super Swamper TSL Bogger

1998: The Year of the Tube Chassis

Notice something similar about the previous TTC Grand Champion vehicles? Yep, they were all Jeep-based rigs. But the Jeep domination ended in 1998 when Heath Biggs showed up and kicked butt in his Scorpion MK1. He took three First Place finishes and three Second Place finishes to earn Grand Champion. Heath's Scorpion MK1 was the first tube-chassis rig to compete in TTC and it was a sign of trends to come, we all just didn't know it yet.

Grand Champion: Heath Biggs; Fayetteville, Arkansas

Vehicle: Scorpion MK1

Engine: Chevy 350ci TBI V-8

Transmission: 700-R4

Transfer case: Atlas II, 3.8:1

Axles (t/r): Dana 44, Detroit Locker/Dana 60, ARB Air Locker

Suspension (f/r): AES multilink, Firestone airbags, Bilstein remote-reservoir shocks/AES multilink, Firestone airbags, Bilstein remote-reservoir shocks

Tires: 35-in Interco Super Swamper TSL Bogger

1999: So Long Rattlesnake-Infested Tire Pit

The weird Tire Pit event actually generated some good photos and video during its life, but it was time for the rattlesnake-infested thing to go away. The collection of vehicles in 1999 was epic and included a Viper-powered TJ, a minivan, and a Chevy K10 with a 557ci marine engine. But Grady McLeod earned Grand Champion in his Willys by winning five events. And he won the Driving Elegant award to boot.

Grand Champion: Grady McLeod; Sacramento, California

Vehicle: '48 Willys CJ-2A

Engine: Chevy 350ci V-8, modified Quadrajet carburetor

Transmission: TH350

Transfer case: Toyota w/Marlin Crawler 4.7:1 gears

Axles (f/r): Dana 44, ARB Air Locker/Toyota V-6, ARB Air Locker

Suspension (f/t): Spring-over-axle Jeep Wagoneer springs, Rancho shocks/custom quarter-elliptic springs, four-link, Rancho shocks

Tires: 38.5-in Interco Super Swamper SX

2000: Winning by Sheer Determination

One of the most memorable moments in Tank Trap history is of Sam Patton straddling his Chevy V-8, spraying Chemtool into the intake so his waterlogged engine would fire long enough to get him and co-driver Mike Cox (who was piloting the rig while peering around the open hood) the last few feet to the finish line. Sam barely edged out Steve Rumore’s Sniper buggy in points to claim Grand Champion.

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