Out here on the West Coast, desert racing is one of the most addictive forms of off-roading. The combination of treacherous terrain and high-speed dicing amongst competitors equals big excitement. It's also one of the last forms of racing that clearly an enthusiast can get involved with. It's not about the money (there isn't a big purse), the fame, or the glory as much as it is about passion, desire, and addiction. While there are a few high-budget teams running in the races, it's the smaller teams that get to the checkered flag through team volunteers -- the true unsung heroes of the sport. These guys are behind the wheel of chase trucks, in the pits, and mapping out the racecourse before the race. Berrit Neisler of Garden Grove, California, fits the ladder, with his '95 Ford Ranger, the General Lee.
Almost everyone remembers the popular late-'70s CBS series, the Dukes of Hazzard. The show centered on the adventures of Southern cousins Bo, Luke, and Daisy Duke, who drove a '69 Dodge Charger nicknamed the General Lee, as they evaded the unscrupulous Boss Hogg and Sheriff Ross P. Coltrane, the corrupt local police. The Dukes, and particularly the General Lee, left a perpetual impression on most guys growing up, as it did in Berrit.
Berrit didn't have to look far for a fabrication shop to tackle building the General Lee. Long-time friend AJ Rodriguez from the Baja Shop in Orange, California, teamed up with Berrit and laid out a plan for the General Lee. The concept was to build a budget-minded prerunner that was functional, reliable, and fierce in the elements. During the next three years, the General Lee came to life. Then Berrit totaled the General Lee.
Fortunately, the Baja Shop was able to rebuild it to what you see today. Keep in mind that the concept was budget-minded. The cool thing about the Baja Shop is that it can fabricate anything, from mild to wild. The crew understands that not everyone can afford a $150,00-plus prerunner and offers options to build vehicles economically, either the whole truck or sections at a time. The foundation to any off-road-worthy truck is the chassis. The frame was cut off behind the cab, and a tubular structure (including a interior cage) was fabricated out or chrome-moly, which runs from bumper to bumper. This would ensure a stable platform to build off of.
I-beams are the best bang for your buck; you can get gobs of wheel travel out of them with minimal effort, and they're tried-and-trued performers. The Baja Shop fabricated a set of chrome-moly I-beams and radius arms equipped with ball joints and 1-1/4-inch Heim joints, giving the General Lee 20 inches of super-plush wheel travel up front. Dampening is the responsibility of set of 2-1/2-inch Sway-A-Way coilover shocks.
The rear suspension consists of a set of 2-1/2-inch Sway-A-Way coilovers and King 3-inch bypass shocks, which control 30 inches of rear wheel travel via a custom-built three-link suspension system using 1-1/4-inch Heim joints. To complement the high-quality suspension dampers, the entire system was fabricated from 4130 chrome-moly steel. The three-link design offers exceptional suspension performance compared with a leaf-spring design. The rollcage's tail section is designed to offer not only strength, but provides shock mounting points and ample clearance for compression travel, too. Designed with the right geometry, including correct instant center, the three-link will float over the nastiest of obstacles. The suspension links connect with the rear wheels via an 8.8-inch Ford Explorer rearend outfitted with a posi running 4.29 gears.
The mildly pumped-up engine has been massaged with a group of hop-ups, which include a K&N air intake, a JET Performance chip, and Flowmaster exhaust. The upgraded engine bolts to a five-speed manual transmission. Fuel is contained in a Jaz fuel cell mounted on the rear cage and pushed through a high-volume fuel pump into the intake.
The interior has stayed simple with a functional chrome-moly cage, beard seats, and Auto Meter gauges mounted in a Perry fiberglass dash. Perry's Fab 'N' Fiber was also chosen as the source for exterior body parts all the way around, including the fenders, hood, and bedsides. Perry's 'glass offers plenty of room for wheel movement and extra width for the increased front and rear track widths. The American Racing wheels fitted with AC bead locks are encircled by 35-inch BFG Baja T/As.
Out on our photo shoot, the General Lee performed like a champ, eating up anything and everything that was thrown at it. The suspension was supple, functional, and a whole lot of fun. Berrit says that the project will always get updates, but for right now, he couldn't be any happier.