UTV To The Extreme

Project Quads, UTV — on December 19, 2006 at 12:00 pm

In stock form, UTVs are perhaps some of the most versitile vehicles on the planet. In mod form, however, they become whatever their owners want them to be. We’ve seen these vehicles turned into race machines and heavy-duty tow vehicles, mud bog machines and farm implements. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at three side-by-side machines that were highly adapted to better fit their intended purpose.
Stan Wyatt used to love tricking up motorbikes. He spent a lot of years riding them and fixing them up. Then he moved on to ATVs, making them better, faster, stronger.
Then he stopped. “I still want to ride them but it hurts too much the next day.”
That’s when he fell in love with the Yamaha Rhino. “The Rhino is the best thing I‘ve ever ridden. It’s like jumping into a little off road buggy,” said Wyatt, the owner of Yamaha of Modesto, in Southern California.
Before we get to the part where he tells us about how he rebuilds Rhinos, let’s get a little business out of the way.rhinoproject
Wyatt said Rhinos are popular because they fill a niche. True utility buyers need a Kawasaki Mule or a John Deere Gator to help them with their work. The Rhino, however, provides a platform that can be modified to what the customer wants.
Wyatt sees the UTV market as separate from the ATV market. “It’s a whole different clientele. These customers used to ride the Gator or the Ranger but now they want them to do different things. They want a sprint car or a race car. They want to see what they can do with it.”
Is the Rhino cutting into his ATV sales? Not yet. The Rhino is still a small percentage of Yamaha of Modesto’s business. They make up about 15 percent of the dealership’s ATV sales.
But business is growing. Rhino sales at his dealership are doubling every month. “I got five Rhinos last Tuesday and in 22 hours they were all sold. In September through December, I’ve been allocated 50 Rhinos and I asked for an additional 60. I could sell that many if I had them.”
Yamaha of Modesto has made a name for itself by rebuilding Rhinos. Wyatt’s masterpiece is the Rhino Rover, a black and purple vehicle with scissors-doors that spends some time with its owner and most of the time on Wyatt’s showroom floor.
He hasn’t added any staff to do the work. “We outsource a lot of our work to current customers and Rhino lovers,” he said. Body fabrication, sound systems and paint design all go to local Rhino aficionados.
To start rebuilding the Rhino Rover, Wyatt stripped the vehicle to the frame. He modified the rear and upper suspension with chromally A-arms and then built a stick tower off the frame with Elka suspension in the four corners. He put on ITP tires and wheels. The body is molded into one continuous piece. The paint and graphics work was done by a former customer.
He added a dual exhaust system, an air filter and a jet kit on the engine. Other than that, the engine is stock. “It’s more reliable that way,” he said.
The instrumentation was completely remade. “We took all the stock instrumentation out. We added a digital display, choke, ignition switch, light switch and four-wheel drive controls. There’s a new steering wheel although the column is the same. For the pedals, we’ll either polish or paint them,” Wyatt said. Some customers add a sound system and others add a DVD recorder so they can watch their trip later.
He took off the plastic Rhino bed and filled the space with a four forward seating configuration with four-point seatbelts in the front and three-point belts in the back. The six-point roll cage, with heavier wall tubing, attached behind the rear seats where the bed used to sit. The spare tire mounts on the back. Losing the bed and adding the shocks added 8 inches of height to the rear of the machine, Wyatt said.
It’s not cheap. The Rhino Rover costs more than $30,000 and other rebuilds aren’t significantly less expensive.
But that’s what owners want. They can afford the machines, and they can afford the aches and pains that come with riding the machine on rough terrain.
“The demographics allow for this,” Wyatt said. “UTVs are sold to men who are 35 to 48 years old, and those who pay to rebuild them are in their late 30s and early 40s. The customers who are ordering these rebuilds are in pretty good shape.”

No Time Wasted
Just over one year ago, a customer brought in a Rhino to Barry Mancha’s shop, Custom Motorworks in Riverside, Calif., to be rebuilt.
Mancha had been rebuilding off-road and street trucks and had never worked on a UTV before.
“I looked around for parts and realized there wasn’t one stick of anything out there,” Mancha said. “That put us into action. We built roll cages and suspensions by robbing parts from other sources.”
Mancha, who raced the Baja 1000 on a three-wheeler, likes the Rhino because it runs like a truck, not an ATV. He has come to believe the Ranger is sportier than the Rhino.
Combined, the two machines have become 30 percent of his business. He said he’s only worked on one Arctic Cat Prowler, but that number should grow.
When he plans any rebuild, the first thing Mancha does is redo the exhaust to meet California air quality requirements.
Then it gets fun. One Rhino Mancha has in his shop has long-travel suspension with Elka shocks. He put in a supercharged engine that can hit 70 mph. There’s a two-seater chromoly roll cage, high-back seats with head rests, a pre-runner bar, fuel cell, sheet metal around the cage and an aluminum floor. The bed is removed and the roll cage takes up the space. Combined weight savings: 150 pounds.
Remember that problem finding parts? Mancha found a way around that. He buys in bulk from Yamaha and Polaris. “We keep plastic hoods in stock, roll bars in stock. We took 30 hoods from Yamaha and painted them different colors. A guy comes in and says what he wants, we can give it to him.” This pre-planning allows Mancha to turn around a specialty order in two weeks. Typical rebuilds take a month or more just to get parts, he said.
He’s working on more Rangers. “The Rhino is like a Cadillac. The Ranger is like a Ford. The Prowler is like a Dodge,” he said.
He’s getting orders for two more Rangers each week than he did a month ago. He said it’s because the Ranger has a wider wheelbase than the Rhino, and the two-cylinder fuel injection of the Ranger is better for modifications than the Rhino’s single-cylinder carburetion system.
When he works on a Ranger, he starts with electronic modifications to beef up the revs, then works on the exhaust system and the carburetion that lets the vehicle hit 50 mph. After that comes cylinder and cam modifications. Modifications to the seats, roll cage, instrumentation, lights and so on add the bling.
What does this do to a Ranger besides make it fast and fun? It changes it from a $10,000 machine to a $30,000 machine.
It’s 20 percent to 30 percent of his business, he said.
“All guys play in the dirt. Now you can put your wife and family in there too,” Manch said.

rangerprojectA Beacon of Hope
Sure, this is just a Polaris Ranger.
But it’s a Ranger that’s ready for multiple disaster scenarios.
At least, that’s the idea. The Ridgefield Fire Department received an anonymous grant in April 2005, and took possession of the 2006 Ranger in November of last year.
The town needed the vehicle, firefighter Tim Nobes said. The bedroom community to New York City sits in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains. The town of 50,000 “is rural, a few orchards and small farms. It’s an upscale community,” Nobes said.
The town has a lot of wooded trails and bridle paths. Missing person searches and injuries in remote areas are not uncommon. Police and firefighters needed a vehicle that could not only access those areas, but haul injured people out.
Enter the Polaris.
Using the $7,500 donation, Nobes hit a General Services Administration auction and found the Ranger for $9,457 that has seen time in Iraq.
The firefighters went to work making the Ranger fit their needs. They put run-flat Goodyear Mud Runner tires on the rig, a set of spotlights, a 4,000-pound winch, a 14-foot trailer, a front cargo rack that can hold up to 300 pounds of rope, a custom-made, steel-reinforced release handle and cargo bed that can extend behind the UTV to handle a stretcher, an injured person and a firefighter to tend to the injured.
The rest of the Ranger is mostly stock. They have a stock engine and suspension, although both will be changed when the town has enough money. They will change to the stock tires when they’re doing in-town duties such as riding in a parade or supervising Fourth of July fireworks. They would also like to put a radio in the vehicle, a canopy over the roll bars and metal racks behind the roll bars to store equipment.
Nobes said he looked at John Deere and Yamaha but chose Polaris because it has better towing weight and power. “We did our research and we like this one the best,” he said.
One problem: “It only came in green. Everyone wanted red, but it’s green,” Nobes said. They pasted some reflective lettering and warning lights on the Ranger, “so that makes it more effective.”

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