Installing skid plates to protect a car’s vulnerable underbody parts has long been a popular modification for off-roading. But some motorsport enthusiasts take skid plating to the extreme, essentially creating unique “skid plate cars” designed for competitive abuse over the roughest terrain.
Engineering Skid Plates for Maximum Protection
The core of any skid plate car starts with fabricating robust skid plates to shield essential components from harm. Unlike simple stock overlays, these full custom plates are made from thick steel or aluminum plate, ranging from 1/4 to over 1/2 inch thick, and carefully contoured to each part needing defense. Areas like differentials, transmission cases, steering racks, suspension mounting points and more get wrapped in serious armor. Winches, ram bars and reinforced bumpers are also common for scraping over boulders or digging out when stuck. The beefed up underside and ends enable the vehicle to withstand tremendous blows that would cripple an unmodified rig.
Optimizing the Whole Vehicle for Off-Road Survival
A competitive skid plate car requires additional modifications beyond just the plating to perform in harsh environments. Significant suspension lifts combined with long-travel dampers enable axles and tires to traverse rocks and gulleys without binding up. Heavy duty axles packs with locker differentials supply grip. Custom extended control arms allow for greater droop and down travel to keep tires planted on uneven terrain. Steering setups are upgraded for smooth low-speed maneuvering. Drivetrain gearing gets tailored for patient technical driving rather than speed. Interior roll cages plus race seats and harnesses keep occupants intact when things get shocking out on the rocks. The supporting build takes full advantage of the protected underside for intense terrain.
Picking Optimal Base Vehicles
While any rugged 4×4 can be adapted into a skid plate car, builders tend to begin with vehicles already possessing some advantageous off-road attributes. Older body-on-frame SUVs like Jeep Cherokees, Toyota Land Cruisers, and Ford Broncos offer simple layouts to modify. Pickup trucks also work well as platforms thanks to payload space. The huge aftermarket support for platforms like GM K5 Blazers ensures plentiful upgrade parts too. Starting with something lightweight aids handling over bad terrain as well versus heavy passenger trucks. Cost, availability and existing capability dictate build foundations.
Pushing Limits in Challenging Competitions
While a properly equipped skid plate car can explore backcountry areas the average 4X4 can’t endure, most owners tend to build them for organized events like rock crawling competitions and rally races. Testing their extreme vehicle creations against equally prepared rivals in contests of driving talent, machine integrity, technical lines and power tactics. The King of the Hammers event is the ultimate proving ground held in Johnson Valley, CA where terrain and artificial courses shift dramatically year-to-year to challenge innovation. Clever lines picking through tough sequences, showcases of grip and articulation, trials of gear and machine strength all play out for spectators in this battle of off-road mastery.
Customizing for Personalization Too
While tailored for performance, skid plate car builders also emphasize personality details on their rigs not unlike show cars. Custom paint jobs, interior updates, lighting accessories and more help each vehicle achieve one-of-a-kind status reflecting individual personalities. The mechanically purpose-built machines become rolling canvases to showcase creative flair too. Even with intricate armor and radical mods, no two skid plate cars ever turn out exactly alike thanks to personal customization.
For the most dedicated off-road enthusiasts, crafting a specialty vehicle to withstand barrages of blows against unforgiving terrain is the peak of achievement. Skid plate cars represent the extreme limits of 4WD engineering and performance creativity.