Editor’s note: We ran into Dustin and his wife Tara at a Starbucks in Deadwood, SD. While everyone else was in town for the Sturgis Mustang Rally, but this couple brought another Ford product to the party: their 1968 Bronco.
We bought our Bronco from the original owner with 68k miles. I’ve always been into cars since I was a kid, Tara's grandpa is also a car collector, so we both thought it would be a good idea to get an old car to start a collection prior to having children.
When we started looking, we wanted to find a convertible of some sort, and I always like the old FJs, Broncos, and early Blazers. We looked for a couple years and nothing really was available locally. In our area, most things rust apart, so I started looking down south more.
Tara loved the West Coast look of her grandpa's Ford Fairlane, so we honed in on that color, or something close to it. Then one day, I was scrolling Craigslist locally and saw this Bronco for sale for a sweet price. I showed it to her and we agreed it was the one. That was 9 years ago.
Our family has a house in the Black Hills of South Dakota, so that is one of our favorite places to ride around. It's a great road trip for us, and driving through Badlands National Park is really awesome.
We bought the truck with BFGoodrich tires on it, and they were dated 1982! We replaced them due to some weather checking, but I always liked the looks and style of the All-Terrain T/A tire. They ride nice and aren't too loud for an off-road tire.
“I was perfectly fine and normal until BFGoodrich f***ed me up and took me to Mexico. That started me on this 10- or 15-year jaunt trying to destroy my life down in Baja.”
This is most likely not the kind of endorsement the legal department at BFGoodrich Tires would approve, but make no mistake, this statement is absolutely an endorsement. We’ll explain it in a moment, but for now, it helps to know a little about who said those words: Bud Brutsman.
You’ll be forgiven if you don’t immediately recognize Brutsman’s name. While he is many things — television show creator, executive producer, CEO of Brentwood Communications International, Inc. (or BCII, an independent TV and film studio) — he is rarely in the spotlight.
And that is perhaps the biggest irony because above all else, Brutsman is profane, hilarious, and unsubtle. He is a character verging on caricature, a natural entertainer at home in Hollywood.
You don’t really get a sense for Brutsman when you pull up to BCII’s headquarters in North Hills, CA, just a dozen miles north of UCLA on the 405. It’s located on a nondescript block next to Rok n Sushi and a slightly shabby looking strip mall. The building itself barely warrants a second look: the street facing windows are blacked out, and a couple of sparse looking trees spring up through the concrete sidewalk out front.
But then you walk inside, through a black steel door next to a black garage door in the side of this black-painted building. The dramatic all-black scheme continues inside, where there’s an abundance of black painted walls and ceilings and a distinct lack of natural light. Once your eyes adjust, you can make out a few classic vehicles lurking in the shadows: a Shelby Cobra; a Pontiac Firebird; a Porsche 356 Speedster; a red Datsun Sports; a government-looking Cadillac CTS; and others. All in all, the BCII offices compare favorably with a movie villain’s lair.
This over-the-top aesthetic is matched by Brutsman, who also favors an all-black color palette. His arrival is marked by a whirlwind of piss and vinegar and every incarnation of the F-word that has ever existed. (As a result, most of the following quotes are lightly censored.)
So how does a guy like Brutsman come to be in Mexico with BFGoodrich Tires? That saga begins in the pages of Hot Rod magazine and the duPont Registry.
“I think I grew up in a time where you don’t really fall in love with cars early on. What happened was, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, you read magazines, and you started looking and fantasizing,” says Brutsman. “It was a good time to look at all these amazing cars being brought up at that time.”
Brutsman’s father and brother were also big influences on him. “My brother started working on Mustangs in auto shop class, and my dad was racing cars and he had friends who raced cars. We always kind of worked on them together. Little did I know I grew up in this car culture. You don’t even understand until later in life, that it’s been woven into this fabric.”
That early exposure didn’t directly lead Brutsman to the auto industry. Instead, he discovered a passion for entertainment. “When I broke into television, I was selling a bunch of shows and documentaries to History Channel,” he says. “We did a lot of military documentaries. But then I started gravitating towards the things I know about, and I found I knew a little more about automobiles and automobile restoration.”
Little did I know I grew up in this car culture. You don’t even understand until later in life, that it’s been woven into this fabric.
The tipping point was when Brutsman sold a series called Rides to Discovery Channel. “I started producing that show in 2000 and 2001, and it introduced me to all these superstars in the industry: Steve Moal, Roy Brizio, Chip Foose…I was bit by that bug.”
“Passion is driven by so many things and when I got into producing for television, it brought up early memories of my brother’s Mustang, my dad’s Mustang, and us working on cars together. I realized that I had a really rich car history in my family, and when I sold that show to Discovery, it really reinvented my love for cars. Then, I started racing and collecting cars.”
Things began picking up speed for Brutsman. Rides was airing, and he had created another show called Overhaulin’, and in general, was just firmly embedded within the automotive industry. And that’s when BFGoodrich came calling.
“They said, ‘Hey, we have a celebrity team for the Baja 1000, and we want you to drive.’ Like I’m some f***ing celebrity…It was 2005, and they were running a car in the Baja Challenge class prepared by Wide Open Baja,” says Brutsman. “I’d heard and fantasized about the Baja 1000, but for a kid from Wyoming, it seems so far out of reach.”
Naturally Brutsman signed on for what he says was one of the worst experiences of his life. To start, he hadn’t physically trained for it, the helmet provided to him was too large, his fire suit was too small, and one of the four drivers on his team ended up dropping out after the race started.
“I had to spend an extra 12 hours in the car driving his sections,” says Brutsman. And it didn’t end when Brutsman was done driving. He stayed in the car to co-drive when it was Chip Foose’s turn behind the wheel.
“It’s funny. Chip is one of the greatest designers and best builders on the planet. You’d think he would have a good understanding of taking care of your stuff. You’re out in the middle of the f***ing desert and no one is going to come get you,” Brutsman says. “He was like a prisoner who just got out of jail, driving a rental car. To me, it seemed like his goal was to get the car into fourth gear before the next turn. He’d slide into a turn almost to a dead stop, then drag race — first, second, third, fourth — to top speed before the next corner, jam on the brakes, and downshift. There was no way the car was going to stay together doing that.”
Motivated by self-preservation, Brutsman began yelling, swearing, and slapping at Foose. “I was getting bounced around so much in the car. My helmet was too big, and my neck started to hurt, and my air hose and audio kept getting disconnected. That’s how much I was getting slammed around the car,” he says.
In Baja, you’re getting this incredible high from scaring the sh*t out of yourself, racing against other people, overcoming the odds, staring death in the eye, sliding around corners with your wheels hanging off a cliff and all that stuff. Then you get out of the car and it’s like you’ve come off a 14-day heroin high.
It finally came to a halt when the duo blew a half-shaft going up a hill. “I was so pissed, I was going to kill him,” says Brutsman. “The goal in the Baja 1000 is always to survive it and finish. I thought I was going to get stuck in the middle of the desert or die because of how Chip was driving, and those were definitely not my goals.”
They backed the car down and called in for support. “Those are the good memories — Chip and I working on a car in the middle of the desert, pulling a half-shaft off,” Brutsman says. “Then a helicopter lands, a guy who turns out to be Rich Minga runs out with a spare half-shaft, hands it over, and takes off. Literally doesn’t say anything. I was like, ‘What the f*** is this?!’” Brutsman and Foose switched out the half-shaft, and ended up finishing the race.
As bad as Brutsman’s 2005 Baja 1000 experience was, it turned desert racing into an addiction for him. He was invited back to drive for BFGoodrich the following year, and the next. “What happens is you dip your toe into it, you finish the Thousand, and you’ve suddenly got gigantic stories and big balls. Then you get lucky and you get third place and then second place. And then you start thinking, ‘If I just had my sh*t together and we had a little luck on our side, I bet we could win it.’” Brutsman began working with Jeff Cummings and the BFGoodrich Performance Team to put together a team of all-stars. That work paid off in 2012 when the Performance Team won their class.
“To win that race is just phenomenal. And really, once you race off-road, you don’t want to race anything else. When you road race or you autocross, you spend all this money and you get your 15 or 30 minutes of race, or 25 seconds in an autocross,” Brutsman says. “But Baja…you’re in the car for twelve hours. You’re getting this incredible high from scaring the sh*t out of yourself, racing against other people, overcoming the odds, staring death in the eye, sliding around corners with your wheels hanging off a cliff and all that stuff. Then you get out of the car and it’s like you’ve come off a 14-day heroin high. You just fall down to the ground like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe it.’ And the weirdest part is that the only person who knows the 3000 things that happened to you is the guy sitting next to you.”
Brutsman is now even more involved in Baja and endurance desert racing, serving as the Executive Producer for SCORE International. But for all the insanity and adrenaline-seeking, Brutsman boils it down to this: “Cars are really a way of life, a way to tell stories, a way to enjoy life, and a way to move forward. So get out and drive.”
Editor’s note: Back in June, we met Andrew St. Pierre White at Overland Expo West in Flagstaff, Arizona. At the time, the overland travel expert was planning to take on one of his bucket list trips: the Canning Stock Route.
Originally surveyed in the early 1900s to break a cattle monopoly in Western Australia, the route is the longest stock route in the world at nearly 1,150 miles. When St. Pierre White described the route to us in June, he had this to say: “It's two weeks of deep Australian bush travel. It's the real deal. That trail is notorious for ripping shock absorbers from their mountings and tearing spare wheel carriers from the back of vehicles.”
Now, he’s back from his two-vehicle, four-person expedition. Here are some of his thoughts on the experience.
How did you prepare for this trip? Any special considerations/challenges you were aware of?
The Canning Stock Route is probably the longest remote public track in the world. When I say remote, I mean 600 miles where there isn’t a single fence, dwelling, power line, or road. Just a two-line track through the wilderness. The trail is altogether 1100 miles long, and crosses just one road, at a tiny village where until last year, there was not even a fuel depot there. So to answer your question, prep was extremely thorough. We had to carry a sat phone in case of emergency as the only quick way out would be long range helicopter. We also carried an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB).
Our truck was a new build, and we spent sleepless nights getting it perfect for the task. It was conceived a few years back and built over the four months prior to this trip. This was its first outback outing, and it performed even better than expected. It was such a thrill to be driving my brand-new truck, as well as my first Australian overland expedition, all in one.
Anything unique about this expedition that you had never encountered before?
Its sheer remoteness has to be experienced to be believed. Day after day, we covered an average of 50 miles during an eight-hour driving day. Severe washboards were quite common, and some of the worst I’ve ever encountered. They can shake the truck to pieces if the tire pressure is too high. Sometimes they feel like hammer blows to the chassis. One has to have the tires act as additional shock absorbers by letting 80 percent of the air out, which is more than one would normally like to do. We carried two spare tires, but needed none of them.
There are also over one thousand sand dunes to cross on the route, and they appear in front of the windshield one after the other, in a seemingly unending line, day after day after day. And many of them are a technical driving challenge.
What was one of your most memorable moments?
Midnight, sitting under the Milky Way Galaxy at Horse-Show Canyon listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Stars stretched from one horizon to the other.
What's it feel like crossing off this bucket list trip?
I didn’t cross it off my bucket list. It’s still there because I want to do it again, only next time, solo.
Andrew St. Pierre White documented his Canning Stock Route expedition in a series of videos. View them above, or head to his Youtube channel.
Editor’s note: Considering what’s in his driveway, Ethan Speed has a fitting last name. The 16-year-old recently restored a 1966 Ford Mustang coupe, and on top of that, scored a feature article in the June 2017 issue of Mustang Times. Here, he tells us what it’s like to have a car three times his age.
I have been interested in cars for as long as I can remember. I ended up helping my neighbor and mentor Donnie Carlisle with his car, and in return, he helped me find and restore my car.
I choose this car because I have always liked Mustangs, and this car was a great car for a beginner. I am the second owner of the car. The previous owner bought it brand new in 1966 — her uncle worked for a Ford dealer — and she put approximately 110,000 miles on it and then parked it. It sat until I found it.
During the restoration process, Donnie was an excellent teacher and mentor. I learned so much from him about these cars, and I learned that no matter how difficult the work is, if you stick through it, it will be endlessly rewarding in the end.
The most difficult part about working on my Mustang would have to be stripping all the paint off the car. It took hours upon hours of constantly sanding and chemical stripping. When we finished a section, we would repair what needed to be repaired and then prime it. I learned how to paint during this process, and this is by far one of the most invaluable skills I learned.
I love the looks of the car, and in my opinion, it is one of the meanest ‘66 Mustangs out there. It is truly unique: my friends at school think the car is awesome, and my teachers think it’s great someone as young as me is showing such an interest in old cars. I do not have a specific place I love to drive my car because every time I get behind the wheel, I can feel I am making memories I will never forget. Whether it’s down the street or into town, I get the same feeling of excitement each time.
For more on Ethan's Mustang, follow him on Instagram. Photos of Ethan by Brittany Hardin Sundie.
Editor’s note: Thebius Yu was in high school when he started paying attention to cars. The import tuner scene was picking up steam, and Yu would flip through pages of magazines, admiring the latest and greatest builds — often from Team Hybrid. Now, Yu is joining the ranks of those builds with his own 2016 Scion FR-S/Toyota 86.
During my senior year of high school in 1999, most of my friends started getting their driver licenses and showing up to school with semi-modified 1995 Honda Civics, Honda Accords, and of course the Acura Integra GSR, which was my dream car back then. At that time, modifying your car was very simple: you just lowered the car and added a decent set of wheels and tires and a few performance mods.
After school, I would study at Barnes and Noble with friends, and when I took breaks from studying, I would pick up the latest import tuner magazines. I used to collect a lot of these magazines, and Team Hybrid cars were consistently featured in articles and on covers.
My parents bought me my first car in college. It was a 1999 silver Honda Civic sedan (I turned it into a Mugen-inspired build). I remember tagging along with one of my friends to a car meet hosted by Team Hybrid, and during that meet, I became friends with a Team Hybrid member named Debbie. (She’s now a retired member.) She drove an orange 1998 Honda Prelude, fully built from top to bottom. Her car reminded me of the Signal Auto Drift car because of the Nissan Silvia headlight conversion. I ended up putting the car hobby on hold when I got accepted to the Art Institute of California-Hollywood so I could focus on fashion design.
Fast forward to 2014, I was attending an outdoor car show at the Santa Anita Park and I met up with Kevin, one of my old car buddies and a retired member of Team Hybrid. I had picked up a 2006 Acura TSX during fashion school, and I wanted to know where he had gotten the graphics done for his Hyundai Veloster. After the weekend, I stopped by Studio 7 Graphics, met Armando Rodriguez (Team Hybrid’s logistics director), and started talking about the team and its history. At that point, I decided I wanted to join the Team Hybrid family.
I got my FR-S on Halloween night in 2015. My dad was window-shopping for his future weekend car, and we stopped by a Lexus dealership where we looked at the LS F Sport sedan. We walked next door to the Toyota dealership, and I asked about the FR-S — specifically the yellow 2015 Release 1.0 car. They didn’t have it, but my dad asked if I wanted the FR-S. My TSX was about to hit 100k miles, so we decided to trade it in and order my white 2016 FR-S that night. It arrived the next morning.
I like the FR-S because I am a huge fan of Formula Drift. Ken Gushi, who is one of my favorite Formula D drivers, has a Rocket Bunny Ver.3 Toyota 86 he drives for GReddy Performance. But my build’s starting point wasn’t a drift car. I looked at the basic Japanese TRD version of the Toyota 86, but as I did more research, I learned about the Griffon 14R60 concept race car. That is ultimately what inspired my build.
Here’s a list of the current mods on my car:
TRD lip kit, TRD-style window visors, GReddy Ver.2 rear wing, Spec-D Tuning red taillights, 6000k HID kit + LED conversion kit for the headlights, and 14R60-inspired livery.
I am starting to put the Carbon Fiber Interior Trim Pieces together and switch out the dome light to LEDS.
I have the GReddy Performance air snorkel, GReddy radiator cap, AEM front strut bar, Megan Racing dual burnt tip mufflers with custom catback piping, AMSOIL, and a few Password JDM carbon fiber engine covers.
Wheels & Suspenion:
For now, I have BFGoodrich Comp 2 A/S tires on 19-inch Five Axis S5F wheels withTein S. Tech lowering springs.
My future plans involve more modifications and upgrades. I also want to show Hybrid Luv to BFGoodrich Tires for allowing me to represent their company with their amazing products; our founder/president James Lin and the Hybrid Management & Chapter Directors for their guidance; the Hybrid Family and Hybrid Hunnyz. I also want to thank our team title sponsors for supporting us and our builds especially Meguiar's, AMSOIL, NRG Innovations, Password JDM and AEM Intakes. Josh and the staff at Evasive Motorsports, Chuck at Showstoppers USA, Whiteline, and the staff at Studio7Graphics.
Editor’s note: Andrew Asencion's lifelong appreciation for all things on wheels comes from his dad, and so does his affinity for Toyotas. Asencion purchased a new Toyota Tundra in July, and since then, he’s been busy breaking it in — including a 980-mile trip from LA to Portland — and getting it to look just right.
I've always been interested in cars and trucks. I'm originally from Portland Oregon, and when I was a kid, my dad would always point out classic cars and any vehicle that just looked or sounded bad-ass. We would go to the annual car show held at the convention center, and we'd be there for hours looking and sitting in almost every vehicle possible. My love and enjoyment for all cars, trucks, SUVs, and even motorcycles comes from my dad’s passion. Even to this day, my dad will pull alongside a classic car, lifted truck, sports car — you name it — and try to talk to the driver at a stop light until the light turns green. I'm not as brave as he is, but I like seeing custom cars/bikes, trucks etc and appreciate people's take and vision on their builds.
I've been fortunate to own a few vehicles in my life already. My first one was a 1986 2-door BMW 635 CSI that my dad found from the original owner in 2002. I drove that thing like a race car, and I loved how fast the 3.5L engine and 5 speed manual transmission was. It probably wasn't the best choice — power wise — for my first car, especially being a new driver! But man, was that a fun car.
Fast forward 16 years, I bought my 2017 Toyota Tundra because I've always believed in the Toyota brand. I grew up around Toyota, as many family members have owned them and loved them. My dad has a 1990 4Runner 4x4 that he owns to this day, and it has well over 300k miles on it. It still runs like a champ.
When Toyota released the 1st gen Tundra, I knew one day I'd like to own one. With the latest generation, I really knew I wanted one. I loved the lines of the truck, the interior features, and best of all, the reliability the Toyota name carries. It was a no brainer when I was in the market for a truck. I have a family, dogs, and a motorcycle, so the convenience of a truck is worth it to me. I ended up choosing a black SR5 Tundra with the 4x4 TRD package.
I LOVE how my Tundra looks in the short amount of time I've owned it. I've deleted all of the chrome on the truck, tinted the windows, and added an aftermarket exhaust, headlights, and grille. It has Fox 2.5" coil-overs with reservoirs raised 2" in the front from stock, Total Chaos uni-ball upper control arms, rear Fox 2.0” shocks, 18" Method Con 6 wheels in bronze — and the best part of all — they’re wrapped in my first set of BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2s!
My current tires are 34x12.50x18 BFG KO2's and I absolutely LOVE them! The aggressive tread pattern and sidewall are on point and visually attractive. The noise level at highway speeds is almost nonexistent, and I've already received a few compliments on these tires, especially paired with my Method wheels. It really does complete the look and flow of my truck. I plan on eventually lifting my truck even higher on a lift kit, and when I do, I'll only be rocking BFG tires! My KO2s are my first, but definitely not my last set of BFGoodrich tires!
Brian Finch is legitimately astounded. Incredulous. He’s a stocky, bulldog of a man, and he’s normally no-nonsense and reserved, which makes this a very surprising admission: “Man, it’s been a journey. I never could’ve imagined I would end up representing and racing with one of the biggest tire manufacturers in the world. I pinch myself all the time.”
Finch has been on the BFGoodrich Performance Team for five years, and for the last decade, he’s been a fixture atop podiums on the Pro-Touring and Goodguys autocross circuit — sometimes to the chagrin of his would-be competitors.
“It’s scary — every decision I’ve made, every opportunity I’ve passed up — I could’ve landed anywhere else but here right now,” he says.
“Here” and “right now” happen to be his home garage in Hermitage, TN. On the short 20-minute drive east from Nashville, glass skyscrapers and towering construction cranes give way to green rolling hills, and congested highways trickle off into nifty backroads. Finch’s own garage and shop is a humble affair, as far as these things go. It’s modest in size — big enough to hold a few project cars — and it’s not fancy, but it’s well-equipped. There’s a lift inside and a built-in paint shop, and the floors and walls are lined with tools, parts, and memorabilia. Finch apologizes for the mess and refers to the scene as “functional chaos.”
To hear Finch tell it, there is an undeniably nice serendipity to his path onto the BFGoodrich Performance Team. “I bought my first car when I was 15 years old,” he says. “I saved up my money working in a lumber mill and bought a ’68 Mustang. It was a $550 car back in 1985, so it wasn’t much.”
"I turned my first corner in anger at 36 years old. By then, you’re already considered washed up, but I have the ability to read a course, feel what the car is doing, and get the most out of a car."
As with any car that costs so little, there were some issues to take care of — including the bald tires. “I was driving around on corded up skins. It shouldn’t have been on the road,” Finch chuckles. “At the time, the BFGoodrich Radial T/A was — and it still is — the iconic muscle car tire. So I saved my money and I bought my first set of 295/50/15 Radial T/As.” He rattles off the tire size like he just looked up the fitment. “They stuck out from the fenders, so I had to get some HiJackers air shocks to get the fenders up. It had a stinkbug look, but that was my first set of tires.”
Admittedly, Finch didn’t really know what he was buying into, but he knew there was something special there. “I was 15 years old! I didn’t know what BFGoodrich was, and it didn’t matter! But when I look back, there was something about those tires back then, some reason I decided to buy them.”
From that first Mustang and those first set of tires, Finch’s path back to BFGoodrich took a few detours. First, he enlisted in the Navy for six years as a boiler technician. After he was discharged, Finch chased his dream of becoming a mechanic. He started at an independent tire dealership in Northern California where he “busted down tires, mounted, balanced, and sold them,” and eventually landed at a Ford dealership. There, Finch realized how hungry he was to make something of himself. “I was certified ASE master automotive mechanic, heavy truck master, auto body and paint, and every Ford certification under the sun.” But Finch wanted more. “I wanted to learn, I wanted to be challenged in everything I did, and I had peaked out as a mechanic.”
So Finch left to pursue a different path. “I left Ford on a Friday, and on Monday, I was installing robotics at a chip manufacturer in Eugene, Oregon.” His entry into the tech industry opened whole worlds of potential: electrical engineering, programming, automation. Finch learned and did all he could, eventually taking the lead on enormous automation and logistics projects for tech and logistics heavyweights such as Daifuku, Dell, and CEVA.
Finch’s love for cars took a backseat while he pursued his career, but it never went away. He relates a story of youthful miscalculation while he was in the Navy. “When I enlisted, they gave me a $5000 signing bonus, and that’s a massive amount of money for a 17-year old. The first thing I did with it was buy a motor from Performance Automotive Warehouse. It was a 302 with a Holley four-barrel on it, an aluminum intake — it was probably a 400HP motor back then, which was good power back then. I threw it in a 1980 Mustang, and while I was home on leave around Christmas, I was driving a little spiritedly. I got a little sideways while avoiding a car hugging the lane, spun out into a ditch, flipped end over end, rolled onto the roof, and ended up in the back seat.”
Although the car was destroyed, Finch ended up without a scratch, and incidentally, so did the motor. “Of course, the first thing I did after was buy a ’79 Fox body to put that motor in,” Finch says, as if that is the most natural thing to do after a near-death experience.
But aside from that incident, Finch says his most memorable experiences have taken place recently. With his youth devoted to building a career and developing financial security, it’s only been in the last decade that he has been able to really devote time and energy into building and racing cars.
“I turned my first corner in anger at 36 years old,” he says. “It was later in life, and by then, you’re already considered washed up. Your reflexes are already starting to fall off, so it’s not an age where you start getting into racing.”
In fact, racing wasn’t even something that Finch was initially interested in. It was 2006, and he had just finished building his ’71 Camaro, which he had been slowly putting together as time and budget allowed. The Goodguys Nashville Nationals show was coming to town, and Finch figured he would enter his Camaro in the show’s Homebuilt Heaven category.
“It was my first ever Goodguys show, so I’m excited, and I’m hoping to win an award,” he says. “That show was the very first event Goodguys ever had an autocross, and it was a small 15- or 20-second autocross. I’m sitting there by my car on Friday, and I can see smoke coming over the trees and I can hear tires squealing. I walk over and watch, and I find out you can just come in and run for free if you have a car in the show. But I was so apprehensive and nervous, and I didn’t want to miss getting judged for Homebuilt Heaven, so I just sat on the fence and watched.”
By noon on the next day, Finch had worked up the courage to give it a shot. “I was just going to go there and try it out. But after the first lap, it was on! I was sideways, that blowoff valve was just going whuh-poosh whuh-poosh and that was all I heard. I was busy as could be just trying to keep the car on the track — it was way overpowered — but I just fell in love,” he says. “There were only 7 or 8 cars running, so I got right back in line. I probably ran 30 laps just that afternoon, and I kept getting a little quicker each time.”
"I was sideways, that blowoff valve was just going whuh-poosh whuh-poosh and that was all I heard. I was busy as could be just trying to keep the car on the track, but I just fell in love."
At the time, there was one car that seemed to be the one to beat: Bob Johnson’s 7-figure G-Force Cuda. “Every inch of it was modified. I mean, this was an over-the-top build. It was a car that was just killing everybody out there,” Finch recalls. But as the afternoon went on, Finch found himself just a half-second off from first place. About 20 minutes before the autocross ended, he made his final pass. “I come through the finish line sideways, the time comes up, I take first place, and the crowd goes wild!” Although the G-Force Cuda went on to make a couple more runs, Finch’s time held up, and he made his formal debut as a winner.
That win set the stage for Finch’s trajectory back to the company that made his first set of tires, quite literally. First prize for those autocross events was a set of tires from BFGoodrich, and as the years passed, Finch would go on to collect win after win. “I have the ability to read a course, feel what the car is doing, and get the most out of a car. I’ve had over 82 wins in 9 years, 100% on BFGoodrich tires. I swept the entire 2010 season — wherever I went with that ’71 Camaro on BFGoodrich KDWs, I won.”
Finch’s success was understandably discouraging for other competitors, and in an effort to maintain the appeal of the events, Richard Winchester and BFGoodrich stepped in. “The ability to win a set of tires was key for me to continue racing. That’s where my relationship with BFGoodrich was formed. When I’d win these tires, Richard would come over, shake my hand, and hand me the certificates for the tires,” Finch explains. After Finch’s dominating runs year after year, Winchester approached him with an offer: BFGoodrich would help him with tires if Finch would step aside and let other people have a chance to shine. A few years after that, Finch formalized his relationship with BFGoodrich when he was invited to join the Performance Team.
Finch’s initial success also paved the way for his relationships and success throughout the industry. From co-founding and co-owning American Streetcar Promotions, an event organizer specializing in road rallies, autocross, and camaraderie; to TV appearances on Power Block TV and R U Faster Than a Redneck; to his eponymous brand Finch Performance Parts; Finch’s late entry into the automotive sphere hasn’t hindered his impact.
“Sometimes I think, ‘What if I had realized I could drive when I was younger?’ But I also know I would have never been in a position to learn, so I don’t know that it would have gone anywhere,” he says. “How I did it, it all worked out. I’m just excited to see what the future holds because if I’ve gotten this far without a plan, who knows where this is going to go now that I’m able to put some focus into it.”
2017 has been a momentous year for American Expedition Vehicles (AEV). The overland and off-road vehicle specialist — founded in Montana, now-headquartered in Detroit — is in its 20th year. The two-decade milestone is itself worthy of note, and AEV is celebrating accordingly with special 20th anniversary editions vehicles.
However, 2017 also brings with it more challenges and opportunities. For one, 2017 marks the last model year of the Jeep JK, which means that AEV will be retiring the build that garnered a ton of notoriety: the Brute Double Cab, a four-door pickup based on the JK.
But even with the Brute phasing out, AEV is well-positioned. There’s a new chapter being written behind the scenes with expanding operations and offerings. The manufacturer invited us to tour their massive, 120,000 square-foot facility in Wixom, and part-owner Mike Collins and marketing manager Matt Feldermann spoke to us about where AEV has been, where it’s going, and what makes its vehicles so unique.
Dave Harriton, founder and president of AEV, started down this path in 1991 when he purchased his first Jeep, a 1991 Canyon Blue YJ. While he was in school at the University of Montana, he began modifying his Jeep, including stretching it by 22 inches. Those modifications became the basis for a business plan he created for a university-wide competition during his senior year. He won the competition, secured a loan, and formed AEV in 1997.
Since those humble origins, the company has evolved on a number of fronts. The original single-bay garage Harriton used to modify Jeeps gave way to a 2,500 square-foot facility in Missoula, Montana. By 2007, AEV had added a full lineup of aftermarket parts, suspension, HEMI engine swaps, multiple Chrysler engineers, and a handful of design excellence awards to its roster.
The expansion has been fast and furious — AEV even found a way to benefit from the 2008 recession. With a brand new facility in Detroit, the company was positioned to take advantage of an existing ecosystem of automotive vendors, tooling, and talent that were desperate for work.
“It gave us the ability to get our foot in the door,” says Feldermann. “These vendors would otherwise have turned us down, but through that recession, we continued to grow.”
In fact — although Harriton’s vision was always to develop a complete, integrated parts system — AEV couldn’t have anticipated how quickly they would grow. In 2006, as the JK was launching and AEV expanded operations into the Detroit area, Mike Collins and Mike Chetcuti came on board and brought additional financial expertise and manufacturing capabilities. “We had a plan for our growth,” says Collins. “That’s why we were willing to invest in tooling. We knew we could ramp volumes up. But if I told you I thought we’d be in our fifth building in about eight years, I’d be lying.”
From a breakout room overlooking the production area in AEV’s 120,000 square-foot space, it seems that even this newest, largest facility is approaching capacity: production vehicles and tall racks of parts, engines, and tires line the floor, while vehicle lifts, paint booths, and welding/fabricating stations dot the edges.
With the growing popularity of overland and expedition travel and the addition of Dodge trucks and the Jeep JL to AEV’s product portfolio, it’s entirely conceivable that the company will soon outgrow even this massive space.
Amidst this breakneck growth, AEV has managed to stay true to its core identity and philosophy: providing a fully integrated lineup of parts that provides enhanced capability with OEM-level quality and reliability. In practical terms, it means that every part in AEV’s catalog is engineered to work together. That means instead of scouring forums for suggestions, cobbling together parts from different manufacturers, and going down the time-consuming and patience-testing trial-and-error route, you get simplicity and peace of mind.
“We wanted to separate ourselves from the hundreds of suspension, bumper, and wheel manufactuers in the industry,” says Feldermann “You don’t have many people that do a complete vehicle system. Our suspension is meant to work with our bumper, which works with our wheels…everything’s designed to work in conjunction with each other to perform flawlessly off road or on road in terms of handling, ride quality, and clearances.”
Feldermann gets more specific: “You take our four-and-a-half-inch suspension system to start. We recommend 37-inch tires for that system. If you use our wheels with that tire, you can be assured that throughout the entire range of motion, that tire’s not going to contact the fender flares. That’s because we designed our wheel with that size in mind to have the proper backspacing to ensure that, as the suspension articulates, where that wheel and tire goes isn’t going to rub. Then you combine our bumper into that equation. You’ll notice on the backside, our bumper is actually curved to allow turning. When that tire’s fully stuffed into the wheel well, you can still turn either way without contacting the bumper.”
It’s not just the off-road aspect, either. Feldermann points out that their vehicles have to have road manners to complement their off-road prowess. “Our philosophy really embraces the expedition spirit: getting out there and seeing all the great things that the world has to offer. But when you get into overland travel, you realize it’s not 100% off road.”
To that end, AEV’s suspensions are tuned on racetracks to provide confident handling on the street. “Life happens. You will need to make evasive maneuvers. We wanted to make sure our vehicles stay composed and react appropriately,” says Feldermann. “It’s really a dual-purpose suspension. It’s very easy to make a suspension work well off road, but it takes infinitely more time to get it dialed in for both arenas.”
Furthermore, parts are designed and finished to perform in the most extreme conditions — it’s why AEV subjects their vehicles to the frozen wastes of the Arctic Circle as well as the hot and humid rainforests of Costa Rica. (Not to mention the salt-ridden, pot-holed streets of a Detroit winter.)
“It’s just a really clean and tidy way to explore,” says Feldermann. “You can have one vehicle instead of three different things in your driveway. You can get in, explore, and drive it home.”
AEV hasn’t rested on its laurels. In a way, settling down would be the antithesis of what the brand embodies and serves. And while the JK platform’s retirement and the JL’s imminent introduction means that AEV must start designing a new lineup of parts and products, the company has been innovating and expanding its portfolio for a few years.
2015 brought about the Prospector, a Dodge Ram 2500-based vehicle, as well as the larger Prospector XL (Ram 3500). “We had customers that owned our Jeeps tell us they loved our vehicles, but they wanted vehicles that could tow their snowmobiles and four-wheelers,” says Feldermann. “Now, we’re moving into Ram 1500s. They might not have the towing capability of the heavy duty trucks, but it makes up for it in agility.”
As for the next-generation Wrangler?
“Contrary to belief, we don’t know any more about the JL than anyone else does,” Feldermann laughs. “It’s going to be a huge priority for us, but we’re going to be starting from scratch.”
And for a company guided by the pioneer spirit, that’s just fine.
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