You only need to look at some of the latest design concepts being paraded about to know that the proliferation of rockcrawling competitions and the exotic creations they've spawned are already having a profound impact on the off-road world. Tube frames, huge tires, and boat-tailed rear ends are design elements that have already found their way out of the rocks and onto the designer's drawing board. As the extreme competitions gain more exposure to a wider enthusiast market, those design influences are likely to become even more pronounced.
One of the more exotic vehicles competing in the national rockcrawling circuit is Avalanche Engineering's futuristic-looking Assassin. Following the novel (and still successfully campaigned) Sniper design, the Assassin is the latest work from the fertile mind of Steve Rumore, owner and proprietor of Avalanche Engineering. "It started as a design on the back of a napkin in Moab a few years ago," Steve said. In collaboration with Drew Barber, one of Avalanche's top fabricators, Steve produced a design that is helping define the extreme edge of our sport.
The most eye-catching innovation on the Assassin is its portal axle design. "Wait," you cry. "Portal axles on 4x4s are old hat, found on 40-year-old Unimogs!" True, but do those Unimogs sport hand-fabricated High Mark axles? High Mark axles started as a concept on that same napkin and feature custom 4130 chrome-moly housings and tubes, nodular iron 9-inch third members, replaceable billet chrome-moly yokes that take 1-1/2-ton U-joints, and 40-spline 300M shafts (a full 1-3/4 inches throughout). Add the billet chrome-moly portal gearboxes that result in an extra 8 inches of ground clearance and a 1.86:1 reduction out at the axle ends and you have what could well be the most exotic axle ever bolted onto a rockcrawling rig. The portal axle's beefy, high-clearance design sets the tone for the entire rig.
Call it exotic overkill, call it cutting-edge, call it far out, but be sure to call it successful. As unusual as this vehicle appears, it immediately backed up its revolutionary appeal with upper-echelon finishes. Unveiled at last year's ARCA stop in Las Cruces with literally zero hours on the rocks, it posted an impressive Sixth Place finish. It followed that up with an even more astounding showing in Cedar City with a Second Place spot. Two first-day DNFs because of mechanical failures and a First Place finish in the inaugural Skyjacker National Rock Crawling Championship for Women rounded out its abbreviated first year.
The Assassin is a true single-seater. While there are other competition rigs with only one riding position, the Assassin sets the current bar in terms of wrapping a purpose-built, terrain-conquering machine in a small, agile, rock-avoiding package. Steve is not exactly a hulking specimen, but it is still a tight fit when he carefully slides into the aviation-style cockpit. He quite literally wears his machine. The tight confines of the seating position help provide superlative vision of the terrain on all sides and under the vehicle. The torpedo-like lines and four corner's worth of coilover shocks combine to provide uncanny stability on side hills without resorting to extreme axle widths.