The monster tires would most likely have been OK as they were - even with the aggressive tread - but I was hot to change them into slicks to suit sand running. (What...?) Yep, change them. Included in the tools and equipment supplied were eight serrated strips made from a high-tech composite. Two strips could be secured around each tire and locked into place with a patented securing device. The strips fitted into the aggressive tread pattern and instantly transformed the tire from a mud-runner to one that is ideally smooth for conquering the biggest dunes.
With heaps of power, 7-speed automatic and whopping big sand tires, the vehicle treated the soft hills with total disdain. I roared around for nearly two hours. Luckily I had filled the two100-litre tanks that morning, for the full-throttle madness chewed up a lot of diesel.
The company had arranged the necessary permit and compulsory extra insurance for driving in Mexico, so I reckoned that, as they had taken the trouble, I might as well head there. A day later I was well down the west coast of the Baja peninsula - ducking off the road every now and then to check out the scenery, burn along a deserted beach or wind my way over some disused cart track.
On the tough bits I got to try out Track-Read - a system not unlike a depth sounder. Except, in this case, a digital panel provided a 3D picture of the ground shape between all four wheels. You couldn't get a better idea of the terrain if you got out and crawled underneath. No future Project-X owner would have to rely on shouted (and often confusing) instructions from friends as to the best way to get over a rough patch. Of course, with traction control, three electronically-locking differentials, and height adjustable suspension, the chances of getting stuck anywhere seemed pretty unlikely.
Chuck Storey had a full camping outfit bolted on the top before I left - the vehicle roof frame having strong location points where a roof rack (or, in this case, a custom-designed camping module) could be securely bolted down. No flimsy, bracket-to-rain channel arrangements for me. With the tent up, dinner on the stove, 'X' grinning in the firelight and a billion stars overhead, I felt like the only person on the planet.
The next day was brilliant, cloudless and absolutely perfect for traveling. Now I was spending more time away from the graded roads and getting much gamer with the knowledge that, even if I did lose my way, the satellite navigator would always be there to tell me the way back
The vehicle never hesitated at any obstacle and I was beginning to wonder how I would re-adjust to all of those totally boring 4WDs back home. Then I crested a small dune and found something incredible. The wide panorama in front of me consisted of a bay with shimmering turquoise water gently lapping a long, curved beach that was the equal of anything I had ever seen anywhere in the world. And, out on the water, were seven float-planes anchored in close proximity.
The closer I got to the beach the more my eyes were popping. Near a pair of abandoned stone houses (haciendas), were quite a large number of people. About half of them were dressed in bright beach clothes and seemed to be busy with a lot of camera gear. Another ten or so were standing or sitting around, totally naked!
With trepidation I drove nearer. A tall, crew-cut guy wandered over, followed at a distance by a mind-boggling figure wearing nothing but a piece of string and a little triangular sea shell. Scott Freeman said "Hi", introduced himself and told me all about the scene to which my eyes were trying to adjust. Scott was part of a film crew photographing the monthly centerfolds for a skin magazine annual edition and video. Scott was also a Jeep fanatic and, as he (and Miss February from Venezuela) had a good look over Project-X, I explained how some of the advanced technology worked. Scott was impressed, and invited me to stay as long as I liked.
After introductions to crew and cast, and a smorgasbord lunch of gigantic proportions, a couple of sound technicians got to telling me about the giant blue swimmer crabs that were prolific in the bay. "You haven't seen a crab till you've seen one of these mothers," said one. Then Scott volunteered to take me out for an hour or so in the big Zodiac inflatable - just so that he could prove the guys were not exaggerating.
Two of the playthings also came along for the ride. I could tell that the girls were not very well paid. Neither of them had any clothes to wear, and it was obvious from their suntans that they couldn't even afford bikinis.
From fishing lines, we trailed some leftovers from lunch and waited for a strike. Whoosh! Within ten minutes it happened. A line pulled taut and made a deep valley across the side of the Zodiac. Out in the water I could see the thrashing blue and white movements of a huge crab. I pulled as hard as I could on the strong line and Scott backed me up. June and September craned over the side, watching in amazement as the clawed demon of the deep got closer and closer. I thought I might speed up the crab's entry by getting an oar under it and lifting it clear of the water. That didn't work: the crab grabbed the oar and held on to it with a vice-lie grip. With the crab making the oar feel like a ton weight it was becoming a serious battle. Then, in a flash, I was over the side and into the drink.
One of the nudes threw me a rope and I managed to put a clove hitch around the huge claw so that the crab couldn't escape, but then it went straight down under the boat with me hanging on, head down in a vertical position. Looking up, I could see the faces of two girls and four bobbing boobs.
One of the girls managed to grab my leg, and then she started pulling it as hard as she possibly could. But nowhere near as hard as I have been pulling yours!
By Ray Barker
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