If you're the type to look out at Armageddon and cheerily say, "no thanks, I've brought my own," we've found your next set of wheels: the Local Motors Rally Fighter. Imagine a Mustang that soaked up a sandrail and you get the jist. It's a sports car so overstuffed with muscle and suspension that it looks you in the eye.
The wickedest weapon in the wide open, when the Rally Fighter turns heads it's not because of glitz, precision or polish. Even at a distance, it looks like a rough customer—$100,000 of steel tube and engine, 18-inches of suspension travel, and a few creature comforts, all wrapped in matte black vinyl. It's not pretty so much as it is handsomely tough. This one has 30,000 miles of desert under its wheels, and it is tough.
Vegas is only a starting point. Local Motors has a showroom in town, so I pick up the Rally Fighter there, and then rumble out into a world of traffic laws, broad boulevards and pedestrian crossings. I expected a little attention driving down The Strip, but not this much.
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The watchers on the street, squinting up from boozy slurpees, don't know that there's about as much travel in the brake pedal as there is in the suspension. They don't know that the steering wheel points a little crooked, or that there's a dead spot at the top that keeps me sawing frantically to keep the Rally Fighter from annihilating the traffic around it. The watchers just see tough and mean and expensive and they give the rumbling black car a wide berth. Respect. In the city, as in the desert, the Rally Fighter is King Shit.
I get the appeal.
But the city isn't for me. I part the seas of rented Lamborghinis and aim for the Moapa Valley. I am, ostensibly, going to visit a piece of sculpture. It's art worthy of the Rally Fighter, a brutal trench carved into a brutal place, and every guide I've found online has warned me to bring an off-road capable vehicle. It's a warning that seems especially prescient, as thunderstorms north of Las Vegas have just cleansed the desert of its roads.
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Flash floods wreaked havoc on Interstate 15, and the closure stops my progress at Crystal, Nevada. It's a little nothing of a place right on the southern edge of the Moapa Reservation where I'd only ever stopped to gassed up.
Years back, we photographed a GT500 in the hills nearby and had to stop for gas in Crystal so many times it triggered fraud alerts on one credit card—and then another. Which is to say, it's a place you haul ass through. Before I had to find Crystal on a map I didn't even know it had a name.
There are a couple of pumps, a big convenience store, and a scorched black tarmac pad littered with the husks of discarded fireworks. Refugee freeway traffic streams past while the Rally Fighter ticks and pings in the sun and I make a new plan out of a fresh-bought map. I'm in the sun, too. Big seat bolsters, the tall dash from a Cessna, and the broad transmission tunnel of a Humvee all make using an old-fashioned folding map an outdoor activity.
I head east where it's easy. Paved roads, RV traffic, and tourist stops through the spectacular red rocks of Valley of Fire State Park make it slow going. On a straight section of road, steel tubing and the A-pillar conspire to disappear a mile of traffic. The stereo works. One podcast later I hit Overton, and turn into the hills for my first taste of the dirt.
I'm prepared. I'm stoked. I'm cautious. I'm being a pansy.
I'm in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of summer, in the middle of a rip-snorting thing with a zillion desert miles and almost as many 30-foot demonstration jumps at the Local Motors factory. It creaks and rattles like any good plaything should. It makes me hyper-aware that the Rally Fighter was hand-built. I've got no backup, no buddy. The Mormon Mesa, where I am, creeps me out. My new map indicates huge outlines of off-road friendly BLM land between Overton and Las Vegas. I'll see the sculpture and get my photos while the Rally Fighter is passably clean and in perfect running condition. I'm trying hard to be patient and keep it that way.
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Double Negative, the huge earthworks sculpture carved out of the mesa, is special. I pose the Rally Fighter close to a precipice, a little worried about the recently sodden earth under it, and then leave it alone for an hour. If anything is going to survive a landslide, it's this thing. By the time I've walked the distance of Double Negative and shot every imaginable photo, heatstroke becomes a concern and I'm in serious need of the Rally Fighter's air conditioning. I crank it up, click into the five-point harness, and drive off the Mesa—all throttle, long slides and wide-eyed lucidity.
Consciousness, sweet consciousness.
I'll cop to being only average off-road. That's fine by the Rally Fighter. The car screams, "Don't improve, this is hysterical," and, "I've got it handled." It REALLY does. Those big tires, all that suspension travel—it comes together and floats evenly and smoothly over ruts, rocks, and whatever else you point it at. Silt and sand stack up in huge vortices of roost. It is glorious. I aim at heaves and bumps that should toss the Rally Fighter skyward, dying to jump the thing, as advertised. They don't. The suspension just soaks them up.
What was something of a handful through town gets better the harder you wail on it. So I do. I weave the transmission down through a maze of gears and hold it in second. The Rally Fighter is delighted to step out, and delighted to stay out. My confidence increases. My speed goes up.
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Rocks, hucked at incredible velocity, play the undercarriage like a glockenspiel. The fusillade of smaller rocks against the fiberglass body sounds like gravel poured over a bass drum. Clanks denote contact between a pebble and the massive suspension a-arms. The rear wheels unearth larger stones that ring the steel tube chassis like a bell.
There are a million ways to go fast, another million ways to test your luck. The Rally Fighter proves both, and the valet doesn't wrinkle his nose at it. I've never driven anything like it because there isn't anything else like it. I don't want to own one, though. The familiarity would break my heart. It'd be like owning a distillery when all I want is a good taste of bourbon.
The pavement connects with stretches of dirt two-track, powerline roads, and inexplicable old desert trails that end in great piles of tires and washing machines. Getting the knack of the thing means longer, meatier, full-throttle riots through the creosote and silt, and I get on and off the throttle to slalom my way through the debris. It should be this good, for $100,000 dollars. I'm glad it is.
The big Recaro buckets keep me from banging around and the air conditioning blows ice cold. A chorus of creaking and the throaty LS V8 keep the going riotous. Someday, the rain will catch the columns of talcum-soft silt thrown aloft by the furrowing rear tires and return it to Earth. It might be over Arizona, it might be over Utah. But it won't be today.
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The roar and riot burn through all my daylight hours. I find the interstate again down a stretch of powerline road. It's yellow, dusty and warm under a tobacco-smelling haze of distant wildfire smoke. It's a wild kind of desert that can flood and burn in quick succession. I mat it on the I-15, hoping to make Vegas before sunset. Driving west, I look at the desert in a very different way. I carve lines through it with my eyes.
Apex road is the kinda place where mattresses are discarded and reused. It's on the crest of a hill, dry and lifeless. There's no lonelier view of the shimmering neon-lit life happening below. F-15's take off from Nellis Air Force Base and tear at the air. Dust from old gypsum mines paints black things white. It's the place where Vegas loses its already tenuous grasp on civilization. The remains of campfires, bottles, other people's left behind good times are everywhere.
I've been alone for a day, speaking no words but a few curses and exclamations at my ego and left-behind rubbish. I've laughed a lot though, and for nobody but myself. I'm feeling the solitude, and I won't miss Las Vegas a bit when I turn my headlights back to the mountains.