The Money Pit Rock Buggy Build: An Introduction

Jocelyn Fechner, Staff Writer

It’s official—the Money Pit rock buggy project has been completed and desert tested. And it is everything we wanted it to be! After a long build, the car has been out in the deserts of California verifying that all the time, effort and, yes, cash, that was put into it was well worth it.

We had a few requirements before we began building: It had to be a four-seater; it had to be quick, capable, and safe; and it had to be affordable. That’s a tall order, but we thought our goals were within reach.

The Money Pit Rock Buggy build in Johnson Valley, CA

Big, But Agile

We knew we wanted a big car, big enough to take friends along for the ride. What’s more fun than racing across the whoops with two people in the car? Easy—four people! But we also wanted to make sure that all passengers would be comfortable, so suspension seats all around! The dimensions for the rest of the car were determined by those requirements, which means the Money Pit rock buggy is BIG.

The car is built on two Rockwell front axles for rear-steer capabilities, powered by a 5.7 liter Hemi connected to a GM turbo 400 transmission built in a Reid Racing case and an Atlas transfer case, and rolls on 49” IROKs. With this combination, we were confident running at high speeds over the open desert or dropping down into low gear to conquer rocky canyons.

Some people might think that with the Rockwells and IROKs dictating an overall 98” width, and the four suspension seats requiring an overall length of 188” that the car would be just too big for tight canyons and twisty sandy washes. They’d be wrong. Nimble as a cat, this car careens around turns with ease (minimal body roll) and climbs over boulders like they aren’t even there! And with rear steer, it can even finesse its way through tight v-notches right along with the “skinnier” cars.

Safety First

OK, so the car is a ton of fun and can do some crazy stuff! But with lots of passengers, comes lots of responsibility. We needed to be certain that this car would be safe and secure for driver and riders.

First of all, the cage is fabricated out of 1 ¾” DOM tubing with diagonal bracing for superior strength. Next, equipping it with four suspension seats made it simple to provide all riders with 5-point harnesses, keeping everyone snug inside the car. Further, each passenger gets a headset for easy communication. Fire extinguishers with easy-off pins are located on each side of the car for handling any emergencies that might flare up. And finally, the fuel tank is equipped with roll-over valves on both the fill and vent along with a fuel tank vent shut-off at the driver’s feet just in case the car ends up rubber side in the air.

The Money pit buggy during the build, with nearly complete tube chassis 

Built on a Budget

Let’s be real here for a minute. Fun costs money. And sometimes it costs big. We realized up-front that this build could stretch beyond the limits of our credit card, and that we’d need to keep costs down wherever we could. So we bargain hunted!

We bought a wrecked Dodge 1500 for the 5.7L Hemi. The rest of the truck we salvaged; by the time all the parts were sold, we were actually money ahead, padding the budget with the proceeds. The Rockwells came from a US Army surplus Deuce ‘n’ half, and even though the shafts were a bit pricey, the entire assembly was still within range of what we allowed.

 Built with Rockwell axles and lots of other recycled parts

The remaining parts we had to buy retail. In order to offset that expense, we did all of the assembly ourselves. From sand blasting the rust off the Rockwell drums, to bending, cutting, and welding the chassis, to installing the gauges, and everything in-between, we did with our own hands. We even applied the wrap! It was a lot of work, and we did have to redo some things, but the finished car is as sleek as it is strong!

Working on the car only when we had both the time and the money did make for a lengthy process. But the end result is a car beyond what we ever dreamed possible!

Desert Ready

Now that the build is complete, it’s time to go out and enjoy what it can do. We’ve had it out on the most challenging trails the California desert has to offer and it handled them like a champ! It is a great feeling to imagine, design, and build a car of this quality. But it’s even more fun to blast across the desert and up the rock walls of the gnarliest canyons around in a car we know every inch of.

The Money Pit rock buggy testing the trails of Johnson Valley CA 

If you are ever out in Johnson Valley, CA, look for us in the Money Pit rock buggy. Come over and say “hi,” see what we’ve built, and let us check out your desert toy!

Learn More About the Build

Building this car was a real accomplishment for us! Even though we’ve got some skills and a little experience building stuff, there were times when we searched online and reached out to people who know more than we do about desert cars. Now it’s time to return the favor.

The Money Pit rock buggy will be on display at the Ultra4 Nitto King of the Hammers Race week in Johnson Valley in February. Come check it out! Even if you’re not planning on building your own car, this unique project is really something to see.

You can also follow a more detailed story of the build, offered in a twelve part series, at
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