Racing a Groovy ’70s Van in the Gambler 500

On this Dirt Every Day, we’re taking a ’78 monster van to the hills of Oregon for the Gambler 500. (motors rev, rock and roll plays) Woooo! – So we bought this 1978 van. It’s a Dodge Tradesman 200, and it’s four-wheel drive because we’re going to Oregon for the Gambler 500. The Gambler 500 is a vehicle race that’s based around cheap vehicles, and every year we do our Cheap Truck Challenge.

This year, we decided rather than do our own Cheap Truck Challenge, we were going to go to the fast payout casino, and compete in something we could take off-road and go four-wheeling. The idea there is that it should be a 500 dollar car. But it’s kind of grown into a 500 mile race with a bunch of really wacky machines, and we were running out of time, so rather than spend 500 bucks, we spent a lot more and got this really awesome van.

Dave is already in love with it. You see he doesn’t even want to get out of the thing. – [Dave] It’s got shag carpet.

It’s got diamond tuck headliner. It’s got tin foil rack and toilet paper. – [Fred] It’s got a fridge! It’s got a fridge inside!

– [Dave] It’s got a bed. – This is like straight out of the ’70s. This is probably where your mom and dad met you.

We’re almost out of budget because we spent so much buying the thing, so we’re going to take this thing down to the shop. We got to put bigger tires and wheels on it. We got to go underneath the thing and see what’s loose and what’s broken because we got a 500 mile race, and we’re going to dominate in this thing. – Wheeew! – [Fred] As you know, I am a huge fan of four-wheel drive vans, and I love the look of the old Dodge vans. This one is kind of strange ’cause it seems like it was a four-wheel drive conversion at one point and then the whole front end was re-done at another point.

Kind of a radius arm three-link with a track bar. Has coil springs. It has these aluminum steering drag link and tie rod, so it’s actually pretty well built. The front axle’s a Dana 44.

We don’t know if it has any sort of locking differential in it or not. And under the hood is a Dodge 360. – From there it’s got a TorqueFlite 727 transmission and a 203 transfer case. And the back, it looks like it’s got a Chrysler eight and a quarter rear end.

It’s got lifted leaf springs. It’s got lift blocks. It’s got air bags. It’s got shocks. And it’s got traction bars, so there’s pretty much nothin’ that can go wrong with the back of this. – So this is this crazy adapter that we got.

This part bolts to the axle. – [Dave] Please clear that hub. – Hopefully, hopefully, hopefully, hopefully. Perfect.

And then, this part will bolt to that, and we’ll get an eight lug pattern. Optimally, I would always say if you want to go to eight lug, you should put an eight lug axle in. You could get an eight lug hub for Dana 44, so that would be another inexpensive route. – That would be a big undertaking because this thing’s unibearing and no hubs and all that stuff.

– And we’re goin’ four-wheelin’ in like four days. And this is pretty quick. We called the guys at Tire Rack. Got us some brand new General Grabbers, X-3’s, on some American Racing Gold rims because we’re going to be catching the gold trophy when we win this rally race in our van.

See that? That’s the van that will be stealin’ all the girlfriends of all the losers of this race. (slow rock and roll) – Fred says we haven’t, but we’ve had problems with wheel adapters in the past, and usually they revolve around the lug nut going all the way up to the stud. Just to play it safe, so if we actually have to change a tire on the trail, put a little anti-seize on there.

So that, hopefully, if we need to take a wheel back off, this stud doesn’t end up spinning in the adapter and causing new problems. We got to stop it with new problems and just fix our old problems. – We’re kind of goin’ a little bit rogue on this project ’cause we’re not getting too in depth on the build. We’re just going to take this thing to Oregon and dominate in the woods. This Gambler 500 might be 500 miles. We’re not really even sure about that.

It’s not even a 500 dollar project, so basically, we’re breaking all the rules once again. – [Dave] The guy said it was good to go, so it’s good to go. – It’s good to go.

I’m going to check all the fluids, make sure the thing will run and drive. (rock and roll) – [Dave] Why did you put that on backwards, Fred? – I put it on backwards because when they film the show, they actually film everything in reverse, and they run it all through a mirror program that flips it over.

That’s why you look so much better on camera, and in real life you’re not so good lookin’. – I think he did it ’cause it’s supposed to look like an ambulance, and when we’re comin’ up on your six, you better get out of the way ’cause Dirt Every Day’s drivin’ through. – [Fred] Yeah! – Yeah.

– Better get out of the way ’cause Dirt Every Day’s drivin’ through. I like that idea. – Choo choo.

That’s a good one. (motor revs) – [Dave] Let’s go! Wooo! – Okay, so we put big tires on the van. Now, it’s time to go get some sweet graphics. Next stop, Oregon.

For the Gambler 500. Ready Dave? – Let’s roll. – [Dave] Drives way better now. – [Fred] Oh, yeah, Transmission seems to shift better now. – [Dave] Are you puttin’ your foot in it?

– [Fred] No. I put bigger tires on it. Wooo. The brakes are. – [Dave] Really good? – [Fred] They work-ish.

– [Dave] This thing doesn’t seem to be too big of a pile. – [Fred] No dude. This thing’s going to be rad. – [Dave] Does it do burn-outs? I’m gettin’ ripped, Fred.

– Here’s your tire, Dave. – Thanks. – So for this Tire Rack Minute, I want to talk to you guys about big tires. I know a lot of you think that big tires are just for exercise and Cross Fittin’ and gettin’ strong, but that’s not true.

There’s a reason we run big tires on off-road vehicles. Because big tires do a lot of things for your four-by-four. It gives you ground clearance.

By raising the axle up to the middle of the tire, you have more clearance underneath the axle when you’re rock crawlin’ or goin’ through deep mud. Also, it has a larger rolling radius. This larger rolling radius lets you crawl over things. It fills big holes with all tire. Plus another thing we really like about big tires is these large tread voids. These General Grabber X-3s allow you to have a bigger gap here so you can grab onto mud and rocks and give you more traction off-road.

Basically, big tires are great all around. Sure that you get big and strong and buffed if you work out with these things all day long, but that’s not really what big tires are for. Big tires give you better performance off-road. Keep it up, Dave!

Let’s go, man! (rock and roll) – Good morning. It’s Saturday morning about seven AM. We’re at the Gambler 500. This is the start of this epic off-road adventure rally, race, contraption disaster that they have up here in Portland, Oregon.

Dave is in the van with our producer. He’s trying to figure out the GPS system. The camera guys are over here nerdin’ up with their camera gear, puttin’ propellors on their airplanes and checkin’ f-stops and whatever those guys do. So let’s go look around a little bit.

I’ll kind of show you some of the crazy stuff they have here. These guys already have a rod knock on this car over here. This guy’s lookin’ rad. – Dirt Every Day. – Good mornin’, guys.

– Hey, big fan of the show, man. – Thank you. – Love what you do. – What are you guys racin’ in?

– Well, we did have the ’95 Ford Escort that we turned into a pick-up. Then we got a rod knockin’ on the way down here. – So you’re going to run it though, right? – She’s done. – What? Nah.

– She’s done. – It’ll be fine. There’s lots of Subarus, tons of Miatas, all types of road warrior Mad Max type stuff, and we are packed back in the corner, and the starting gate is way over there, so somehow we have to sneak our way through all of this, or stand in line. This is a approximately 500 mile race in vehicles ranging from $500 up to who-knows-what. There’s all variety of kind of clapped-out cool race cars here.

Cadillacs. Limousines. Hearses. And tons and tons of cool vans. Our van is here lookin’ really nice. It’s right over there.

It’s got a beautiful mural of Dave painted as a wizard on one side, and me as Conan. They gave us a list of coordinates. We’ll be running’ some easy courses part of the day, and then later on, we’ll get in the harder stuff. A lot of the people have recovery vehicles with them, like their buddies following them along.

We don’t really have that. We have camera crew. So hopefully, we won’t have to drag them out of anything and they won’t have to drag us out of anything. The van looks awesome. We got the bigger tires on it.

Dave backed it off the trailer today, and the power steering pump was leaking, and something about a radiator hose maybe goin’ out. I know there’s some people here really tryin’ to win the race. But I think the idea of the Gambler 500 is go out, have a bunch of fun with a bunch of other people in wacky machines all over the town, and find your way to camp tonight, and, hopefully, be in one piece at the end of the day.

– I’ve been lookin’ forward to this for like all year long. Comin’ back up to Portland. I was born in Portland, raised up here in Pacific Northwest, and what better way to see the country and go through all these scenic places and go off-roadin’. What better way than in this van with all these crazy people? (rock and roll) – [Fred] Wooo! Here we go!

– All right! Come on, little van. Don’t let us down. We have a lot to learn today. Most of it involves following this contraption. We have no idea what we’re doin’, but we punched in a couple coordinates.

We’re going to try and find some awesome stuff. – Dave is a world class rally navigator. – We were given this, which gives our waypoints. We’ve got a hard line, and easy line, and a medium line.

We’re going to try to take the hard lines everywhere ’cause that’s what we do. (rock and roll) Are you havin’ fun yet? – I’m havin’ a blast. – Yeah.

– I have absolutely no idea where we are. – I know you don’t. – But I’ve learned to just follow my nose.

– No, you haven’t. We’re followin’ this thing. – [Fred] I’ve learned to follow the thing that knows. (rock and roll) – [Dave] There’s some guys in the Toyota SR5. Wagon. Tercel.

That thing’s rad. Whoa, gosh. (laughter) That guy is serious.

I can’t wait to punch in the next coordinates and see where it takes us. – So do you have to reach the coordinates that we’re headed to in order to go to the next one? – Yeah, we got to finish this route. The we go back to our log and we punch in the next one. It looks like we’ve got an LTD limousine broke down on the left. – [Fred] Oh, oh.

Oh, oh. – Got it. – These guys in their four-door JK’s might be onto something. Is this our spot?

This is our turnaround? We’re in the middle of the woods. – What’s goin’ on Dave?

– We got to the end of that checkpoint, and there’s this huge pile-up of cars. There’s broke down stuff over there. – [Fred] What’s up, guys? – [Dave] These guys are comin’ in hot in the Suzuki Swift. – [Fred] So we got to this point ’cause this is what the GPS said to go to?