Conversations with Big Rich

Big Willy Jeep Builder, Burner, and Flat Fender enthusiast, Ian Liljeblad on Episode 51

March 25, 2021 Guest Ian Liljeblad Season 1 Episode 51
Conversations with Big Rich
Big Willy Jeep Builder, Burner, and Flat Fender enthusiast, Ian Liljeblad on Episode 51
Conversations with Big Rich
Big Willy Jeep Builder, Burner, and Flat Fender enthusiast, Ian Liljeblad on Episode 51
Mar 25, 2021 Season 1 Episode 51
Guest Ian Liljeblad

Big Willy Jeep builder, Burner, and flatfender enthusiast Ian Liljeblad shares life in Arizona and how one gets started building a 2:1 rig. Caution: serious fab skills are involved! From a history of learning from the best, Ian has built some cool rigs.

4:12 – early influences  

7:54 – the Impala from beginning to end

14:34– really happy I’m a Jeep guy, not a Scout guy

17:31 –met these guys in Phoenix in this Jeep Think Tank

19:01 – started at FST, Fly-N-Hi’s fab shop,  with Ellis and Geiser

24:08 – first chassis for myself, 2x4 tube CJ7

26:52 – inspired by the Big Rig Jig

28:25 – Burning Man changed my life 

31:28 – building a mutant vehicle/art car

36:34 – falling in love with flatfenders

37:25 – the influence of Walter Productions

39:25 – I built Big Willy in seven months

47:48 – The Burning Man DMV accepted it as is

53:22 – the Go Devil run

1:02:10 – Big Willy Jeep, replacement parts for flat fenders


We want to thank our sponsors Maxxis Tires and 4Low Magazine. 

Be sure to listen on your favorite podcast app.

Support the show (

Show Notes Transcript

Big Willy Jeep builder, Burner, and flatfender enthusiast Ian Liljeblad shares life in Arizona and how one gets started building a 2:1 rig. Caution: serious fab skills are involved! From a history of learning from the best, Ian has built some cool rigs.

4:12 – early influences  

7:54 – the Impala from beginning to end

14:34– really happy I’m a Jeep guy, not a Scout guy

17:31 –met these guys in Phoenix in this Jeep Think Tank

19:01 – started at FST, Fly-N-Hi’s fab shop,  with Ellis and Geiser

24:08 – first chassis for myself, 2x4 tube CJ7

26:52 – inspired by the Big Rig Jig

28:25 – Burning Man changed my life 

31:28 – building a mutant vehicle/art car

36:34 – falling in love with flatfenders

37:25 – the influence of Walter Productions

39:25 – I built Big Willy in seven months

47:48 – The Burning Man DMV accepted it as is

53:22 – the Go Devil run

1:02:10 – Big Willy Jeep, replacement parts for flat fenders


We want to thank our sponsors Maxxis Tires and 4Low Magazine. 

Be sure to listen on your favorite podcast app.

Support the show (


Welcome to the Big Rich show, this podcast will focus on conversations with friends and acquaintances within the four wheel drive industry. Many of the people that I will be interviewing, you may know the name, you may know some of the history, but let's get in depth with these people and find out what truly makes them a four wheel drive enthusiast. So now's the time to sit back, grab a cold one and enjoy our conversation. Whether you're crawling  the Red Rocks of MOAB or hauling your toys to the trail Maxxis has the tires, you can trust for performance and durability.



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[00:01:20.370] - Big Rich Klein

On today's episode of Conversations with Big Rich, we have Ian Liljeblad and I f***ed that up. All right, go ahead. And Ian, thank you for coming on board. Thanks. Not having started that one off right away. Bad. Go ahead and pronounce your name again.



For all the listeners, it's Liljeblad, Liljeblad. OK, yeah, I know I've said it right a number of times before I went to do the intro, but I knew as soon as I started the intro I was going to screw it up. But anyway, thank you for coming on board. And you know, we want to talk to you today about about your history and off road. And I guess the best place to start is, you know, where did where did you grow up?


[00:02:08.640] - Ian Liljeblad

Well, I was born in Flint, Michigan, moved to Arizona Phoenix when with my mom when I was about four, so basically grew up my whole life in Phoenix, shortly shortly after moving to Phoenix, my mom met my stepdad and we moved into Scottsdale. So I spent basically my whole childhood in Scottsdale, Arizona.


[00:02:41.380] - Big Rich Klein

Scottsdale is a nice place, it's over the years, it's grown quite a bit. I remember when there were no loop highways to get anywhere.



You had to go down Bell or Thunderbird.


[00:02:54.310] - Ian Liljeblad

Yeah. So you've spent some time in Arizona then, huh?


[00:02:56.710] - Big Rich Klein

Yeah. My sister moved there in the 80s and still lives in the house that they bought back or had built back then. And yeah, my my nephew niece grew up there but we, we used to go visit when I lived in Cedar City. We we'd go down there for Christmas because it was nice and warm and Cedar City was not right.


[00:03:20.830] - Ian Liljeblad

Yeah. It's beautiful in the winter here, that's for sure.


[00:03:22.900] - Big Rich Klein

So growing up in Arizona off road was probably pretty common for you, was that correct? Even if it was bicycles or whatever. I mean, you probably lived right on the edge of the desert.


[00:03:35.260] - Ian Liljeblad

Yeah, we did. We lived in kind of a little rural spot of of Scottsdale. Like I said, my mom married. His name is David Ellis, and his family was one of the first to settle in in Scottsdale. So, yeah, we lived on two and a half acres and I had a couple of stepbrothers. And, you know, it was always. BMX bikes and go carts and motorcycles and that kind of stuff, my my stepdad was he's not around anymore.



He died in a plane crash, actually, but he was a big influence on my my mechanical skills and fabrication. He was a builder of many things, built fiberglass, flat bottom boats for a while, built the first ever fiberglass water slide. Wow. Yeah. And was a later in life, was a general contractor and built homes in the late 60s. He was on the pit crew for Mario Andretti and built the winning body for Andretti in the nineteen sixty nine Indianapolis 500.


[00:05:03.590] - Big Rich Klein

Wow. There's a that's a piece of history right there.


[00:05:08.330] - Ian Liljeblad

Yeah it's pretty cool. He he came up with the first ever. Attempt at the front wing on the Indy car. Wow. So at that time, it was just too little, too little kind of scoops on the side of the nose that, you know, pushed the front end of the car down just a little bit. And that was enough traction for Andretti to go just a little bit faster than everybody else.



David told me at one time that the next race, I don't I don't recall which race that was. But he said the next race, every car in the in the lineup had those little wings on the side.


[00:05:52.920] - Big Rich Klein

There's there's no better flattery than being copied.



Right? Right. Well, it wasn't.



That's awesome. And you were born in what I read. Seventy five somewhere around there. Seventy three. Seventy three. OK.



Yeah. Yeah. So then how did when you were in high school, did you play any organized sports. I know many of us did a little bit but not it wasn't like a big focus. What was your focus in in school.


[00:06:30.450] - Ian Liljeblad

No, I didn't play any any organized sports really at all. I was on a Little League team, you know, and I don't know, fourth or fifth grade. But other than that, no, I. I know for whatever reason, I just never had an interest in it. My my dad was quite an athlete when he was a kid, but I don't know, for whatever reason I just didn't have interest in it.



That's cool.


[00:07:00.990] - Big Rich Klein

Did you, did you do scouting or anything like that or was it just hanging out in the in the desert.


[00:07:08.550] - Ian Liljeblad

Yeah I did. Boy Scouts too.



Not for very long, but it was more like, you know, riding BMX bikes and building forts and exploring the canal, you know, empty your empty the SRP canal. And we'd go down in there and catch crawdads and and stuff like that.



It was more more like exploring kind of stuff. Awesome.


[00:07:38.490] - Big Rich Klein

So that that kind of gets us to where some of the things that you're doing now make sense. The what was the first vehicle that you that you drove besides a go Go-Kart.


[00:07:54.760] - Ian Liljeblad

So my mom, when she drove out to Arizona, moved, moved to Arizona with with me, her parents gave her 78 Impala green, 78 Impala, a beautiful green too beautiful green and not a beautiful car to start with either.



And then, you know, she held onto that car all those years and that became my first car and a chick magnet. Yeah, it was a lot of fun, to tell you the truth. I was I got held back in first grade, so I was a year older than all my friends in high school. And so I was the first to drive and we would all pile in that thing. And and whenever it rained, we'd go hit the the slick parking lots and do donuts.



And we had a lot of fun in that car.


[00:09:02.980] - Big Rich Klein

I can tell you, the impala's when I was growing up, my best friend's dad had a 63 Impala and it was a two door and we would take it up to the high school parking lot and do the same thing and do burnouts and everything. And I could remember dropping the rear end in the parking lot of the high school at like 11 o'clock at night, just blowing the rear end up in it. And it was like, oh, shit, now what do we do?



You know, we knew we were in trouble. Right? There was there was there was burnout marks all through the parking lot, not all of them were ours. But by the time the cops showed up and we were stuck there with the rear end all over the, all over the parking lot. And we we caught a lot of flack for that one. Hilarious. That's what's cool about talking with different with these interviews is that it brings back memories for things that happened to me that I've completely forgotten about.



You know, it just triggers that. Oh, yeah, this happened. Right. I got it. I got to thank everybody that we've interviewed so far. I don't know. I'm up to almost 50 now, so lot more. Yeah. So thank you for bringing back that. Memory was a good memory for sure.



So with that chick magnet and I know you could pack a lot of people into it. Oh sure. Tell us some of the shenanigans you got into. Besides burnouts on the slick parking lots, anything else?


[00:10:37.970] - Ian Liljeblad

Like I said, we were yeah, we were in this like this rural kind of area of Scottsdale and and right, butting up next to Paradise Valley, which is Paradise Valley's minimum one acre lots. So I had friends that lived in those neighborhoods and.



We had some we call them tracks. So we have some tracks around the neighborhood that, you know, we would hit at, you know, 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. and we call the Impala the bucket, the bucket.



And, you know, these tracks are going through. Kind of alleys and backyards of other people's houses, so it was like. You run through it one time and you call it a night because you're not going to go through twice and get caught. Yeah, and eventually we. I you know, I got some other vehicles after that, and then that Impala sat for a couple of years and eventually we cut it all up and.



Cut the roof off of it and took to the trunk lid off and put a seat back there and drove it out into North Scottsdale where where there's plenty of houses now. But back then there was nothing and. We ended up jumping it into an in and out of a big wash, and then once it wouldn't run any more, lit it on fire.


[00:12:21.010] - Big Rich Klein

So if there's any Scottsdale officers listening to that old Impala that you found, that was not the one, right? Yeah, right.


[00:12:31.120] - Ian Liljeblad

I can't believe that it never came back on me. Like, it's unbelievable, really. You did a good job of burning it down then, I guess.



And when we left the car there and we were driving out and driving south I'm sorry, west back on on Shea Blvd toward Scottsdale. And there were fire trucks, you know, coming up, Shea going towards it. And, you know, we knew where they were going and. I don't know, nothing ever came of it, though, surprisingly, yeah, that is surprisingly, I would imagine for a week or two you were sweating it.



Yeah, yeah, a little bit, and we got it all on video, too, and it uploaded on the YouTube now actually.


[00:13:15.170] - Big Rich Klein

That's great. That's great. At least it didn't turn out like those guys that had that. That Baja bug, that class five car that they. Oh, yeah, that they burned all around down there in San Diego or wherever it was at, and and ended up with all sorts of lawsuits and troubles over that thing. Yeah, it's pretty cool to do shit like that, but so. Yeah. So let's let's move forward a little bit. And where, where did the off roading really get started.



What'd you get started in. What was your first four wheel drive.


[00:13:53.450] - Ian Liljeblad

It was a 74 CJ five. And really how I got into that C.J. five was I? Well, after the Impala, I had a. I think it was an. Ninety one or ninety two Nissan hardbody, OK, that was a two-wheeldrive truck, but I lifted it and put a little bigger tire on it and. Had a big stereo on it and stuff ended up selling that, and then a friend of mine was into, into street bikes and he had a CBR six hundred.



So I got a, I sold that Nissan truck and got a CBR six hundred and crashed that. I think it must have been just weeks after I got it. That's pretty typical. That's why they kept selling so many of those rice rockets, right?



So, yeah, I crashed. Crashed on the freeway. Like 80 miles an hour, I grab too much in front brake and it just washed out and. So I I broke my hand at that point and had a bunch of road rash. I got the bike back together and was riding it a couple of weeks later with a broken hand and wasn't looking where I was going and rear ended a van. And flew over that van. I'm lucky to be alive, truthful in both of those occasions.



It sounds like it, yeah, broke my ankle somehow flying over that van. And then then I got some threats from my parents about getting back on a motorcycle and, you know, I think I was over 18 at that point, but, you know, I think it clicked with me and I realized that I needed something with a roll cage. Some of us learned earlier than others. Yeah, I'm sure. So then, you know, I got some insurance money from the from the bike that was totaled and I almost bought a scout.



I don't know. I don't really even know scouts that well, they even tell you what model it was, but it was one of the smaller ones that was fully convertible. But anyway, that sale didn't go through, and I remember being so disappointed about it. But now, looking back, I found a seventy four CJ5 and really happy I'm a Jeep guy, not a Scout guy.


[00:16:44.380] - Big Rich Klein

Yeah, you'd have been ruined for life, right? Scout guys are worse than Toyota guys. See, I could say all this because I am not brand specific, right? I mean, yeah, I own a Toyota. I've owned every kind of pickup truck you could think of, including an International. And, you know, it's just it it's it doesn't matter to me as long as I can get it where it can get me where I want to go.






Yeah. No, I agree with what trucks as well.



Not brand specific at all, although I am enjoying my Ford Raptor. Oh, nice. Yeah, so what would you do to the five? Was it all stock when you got it? It was pretty much stock.


[00:17:31.240] - Ian Liljeblad

I mean, it had a little bit of a lift on it. I think maybe like a two and a half inch kit and some 31's or something, maybe. Then I just started. Tinkering with it in the garage. And started reading magazines. And, you know, learning about. All these these guys in Phoenix, in this Jeep think tank. And eventually met Randy Ellis at the Arizona State Association of four wheel drive clubs run, which is was and I think it was in March or April.



Right. It's not around anymore, obviously, but. Anyway, I saw Randy in magazines and recognized him at the event and approached him, and by this time I had already done. Spring over in the front with some YJ springs and a reverse shackle. I introduced myself to him and. Showed him what I'd been doing to the Jeep and we just kind of seemed to hit it off and he. Started inviting me out to go Wheelin with him and Shannon and Mike Flores and you know all those guys, right.



And then I guess Randy was impressed enough with my work, even though it was amateurish at that point. Or maybe it was my drive. I don't know. But he Randy was working at FST at that point, which was Fly-N-Hi's fab shop. Right. And offered me a job over there. I think I was working at Discount Tire at that point. So, you know, for that opportunity, I immediately quit Discount and went over there and worked with him and Jeff Geiser.



Worked it at FST at that point. Wow, all the movers and shakers, yeah, yeah, uh, Jeff was a big influence on my fabrication very early on, as well as Randy, obviously. Interesting. Yeah.



So how long did you you work there? I think I was at FST for. Year and a half or two years maybe. OK. And then Randy got hired by Four Wheelers Supply, and so he he left FST. Told me that he would hire me at. At Four Wheelers, he got hired to run or to start, I guess they had a fab shop already, but it was mostly just their Class A kind of prep shop it wasn't really open for.



Customer custom work or whatever. So they hired Randy to open that side of it, to do the custom work for customers. And anyway, he told me, you know, as soon as I. You get busy enough or have the room for you over there, I'll bring you over. So I think I stayed at FST for another six months or something, and then he hired me over there and I worked at Wheelers for I think about seven or eight years.



Oh, wow. OK. Yeah, I kind of went on and off with. Well, I left four wheelers and worked for another little just little welding shop in Scottsdale is a friend of mine called DCS welding. And worked with him for a while, a couple of years, and then I went back to four wheelers for another year, or something like that, when Rob Bonney was running the shop at that point. I kind of missed my opportunity to to run the fab shop at four wheelers.



As I left, Randy was still running the shop and then. Randy left to go out on his own while I was at DCS welding. And Rob was working and Rob got hired after I left. So. I guess it's neither here nor there, but I've thought about it occasionally over the years, like if I had stayed, I would have been running probably I would have been running the shop at four wheelers. But it is what it is.



And I guess I'm not unhappy with the way everything's turned out crosses my mind.


[00:22:19.480] - Big Rich Klein

We all have those What-If moments when you look back and say, wow, if if that would have worked out differently, what would have happened? And then I would back on then I look at where my life has taken me and I'm like it. It didn't need to happen the way it could have. It needed to happen the way it did.



So, yeah, I'm absolutely true. I feel the same way. Yeah. No regrets, you know. Yeah. And so then.



I know that there's a couple of things that that are more in your in your life that have happened recently that I want to delve into, but I think those need to be. I think we need to set up how those things happened and it's the the big willies and then the go devil. So those those those came later. But it was just fab skills that you learned along the way with Randy. And then, you know, and then at four wheelers and that kind of stuff.



So what where did you go from there that ended up getting you to influencing you to to create a two to one?


[00:23:35.100] - Ian Liljeblad

Well, so after. After four wheelers, I started my own business, I went out on my own and started R.P.M. Fab or R.P.M. fabrication. And the way I did that was I was. I would build a jeep for myself. Starting out at four wheelers, obviously, they they were nice enough, Brian Christiansen ran four wheelers at that point and he was nice enough to let me build.



I built a two by four rectangle tube chassis, CJ7 there. Which was my first chassis for myself anyway. OK. And you know, that thing was. Like I said, custom chassis C.J7 ZZ4 Turbo 400, Model 20 transfer case, semi-float Dana 60 rear, forty four in the front, thirty five inch boggers, this was like boggers.



Yeah, yeah. this was like ninety six or ninety seven I believe. So. Anyway, getting back to the my business, I so I started building jeeps like that and I would sell them and then take that cash and build another one and. You know, after a while, I had some capital. Built up and saved up and figured I had enough to buy an ironworker and a few other things and. Went out on my own, so I owned that business.



For about 10 years from 03 to 2013, OK? It went really well, I mean, I made a living, but. I mean, I don't really think that there's a whole lot of money in fabrication unless. I guess some guys know how to do it really well and have made it quite a profitable business out of it, but I think I'm a better fabricator than than a businessman.


[00:25:46.590] - Big Rich Klein

As most of our industry is, yeah, sure, there's guys that are that are creating incredible works of art or products that, you know, are.



Are well advanced, advancing the sport. Mm hmm. But. Very few of them are able to turn that into a business that is well-run and profitable. Yeah, it's more like a hobby shop that just barely pays for itself or they end up with it a part time job somewhere along the way. So, you know, I understand that.


[00:26:27.670] - Ian Liljeblad

Yeah, that's basically how it was. You know, I just barely squeaked by. And there were many times where I thought, I'm just going to have to close the shop and and, you know, do something else. But I was always able to make it work and make it survive. And then. So in 2011, I went to Burning Man for the first time, I had seen images on the Internet specifically of this sculpture called the big rig JiG.



Which is basically two semi trucks, tanker trucks that are put together in this kind of s shape, like standing upright. So there's basically like. A semi truck, cab and chassis with a with a a tanker trailer all twisted up and like floating in the air. Now it was an art installation at Burning Man I think in two thousand eight. But if anybody Google searches big rig jig, it'll come right up. Or Big Rig Jig Burning Man. OK, that was the image that that I saw and was like, I have to go to this place.



And it was what really inspired me. So at that point, that was probably in 08 or nine or 10 or something. And I was talking to my friends. Trying to get them convinced that they need to go, so I have somebody to go with and none of my friends were really interested in it for some reason. And I had a girlfriend at the time of eight years and she was interested in it. And but we put it off for a few years for whatever reason.



And then she surprised me in 2011 and just bought tickets. At that time, you could you could just buy tickets, it burnt. 2011 was the first year that Burning Man sold out, so she was able to buy tickets before it sold out without an issue and surprised me with those. And we went and we didn't know anybody that was going, you know, anybody that had ever been.



And Burning Man changed my life.


[00:28:59.210] - Big Rich Klein

Yeah, I read I read that in a post that you did somewhere.


[00:29:03.730] - Ian Liljeblad

Yeah. That's interesting that you it. Yeah, it's. I can't explain what it's like I could we could talk about it every day for a year and you could watch every YouTube video about it. And if you went with me this year, halfway through the week, you'd turn to me and say, why didn't you tell me it was like this?



It's, you know, it's indescribable. I would suggest that anybody who has any interest in it at all should go. And just once, you know, it's not for you after that. And I totally get it.



That's interesting. I've heard that from a couple of others that have that have gone or that go now. All that continue to go. Anybody in the off road world or, you know, now not you're the only one in the off road world that I know that that has that has continued to go. I can't remember who it was, but there was somebody that had gone and they were out of the Reno area, I think, and they had gone.



And they said that it was a wild party. And that's about all they could remember from it. They were they were they they went there with the idea of just just getting totally plowed.



Right. I was going to say, was that Harry Wagner? But that doesn't sound like Harry.



It's not Harry Harry's. Harry is gone. And I guess he didn't camp with me that year, but spent a lot of time with me. I think that was in twenty eighteen. OK, but anyway, I once I went to Burning Man, I kind of lost interest in the four wheel drive thing. I ended up building an art car or a mutant vehicle as Burner's call them for 2012. So I was when I was there in 2011, of fire or at the event I was ah I still am a big reggae fan, which is something that Eric Filar introduced me to.



So and I thought, you know, this is a a festival or an event that originated in San Francisco on the beach. And, you know, Northern California has a pretty big reggae scene. So I thought, you know, oh, there's got to be reggae music at Burning Man, even though it's not a music festival. I figured there would be a camp or, you know, a live music camp that might have a reggae band or something.



But I couldn't find anything. So I decided, you know, while I was there that first year that I'm going to build an art car and reggae music is going to be my gift.



Cool. So I built this double decker kind of party bus, all reggae theme. So red, red, green and yellow and it has a big lionhead on the front, a lionhead made out of metal. Right.



Not painted. I mean not a painted head but a fabbed head. Yeah, yeah.



It's made this wire quarter inch wire frame and then I sheeted it with, with some perforated that I cut out on the plasma table. I cut out these Burning Man logo's. Out of I think I use five or six foot four by 10 sheets. Wow. And these logos are only two inches tall or something. So it's thousands. And then so I then I use those the logos that dropped out as gifts to put on lanyards or necklaces to hand out.



And then I use the leftover sheet or the negative of that as the the perforated for the the skin of the lionhead sweet. So like I said, so then I reggae was was my gift and. Yeah. So then I brought that in 2012 and it was a it was a huge hit. I mean people were were flocking to it to get away from the common music that's there, which is like EDM or house music. So they would come to find us to get away in the afternoon and have more of a chill kind of vibe and listen to reggae and whatever.



Have fun. So anyway, then that's what I did. For Burning Man for the next eight years or so. Wow. OK, so, yeah, that car has been to Burning Man now nine times now. Eight times. Sorry. And then let's see. And then I thought, well, Eric Filar had a stock flat fender for quite a few years and got it during this period where I was going to Burning Man and I had sold all my Off-Road stuff. I'll back up a little bit.



I, I sold my business in twenty thirteen. I owned two houses. At that point I had a rental and then my primary residence, I sold both of those. And sold all my offroad. Toys, so so I could have capital to flip houses. OK. And. Flipped for a few years, maybe three. Wasn't entirely too successful with it. I mean, I made some money, but for the time and effort that I put in just wasn't.



Wasn't something I wanted to do anymore. I got my real estate license in 2013. Um, basically, so I could just save on commissions and then. So then I started concentrating more on just being an agent. And like I said, during this time, Eric Filar had gotten his stocker flat fender, and I didn't really get it early on when he first got it, I thought it was cool, but. You know, it didn't really click with me at that point, right, and then I ended up buying one.



Oh. Like, twenty sixteen, OK? I got a forty eight CJ2a for whatever reason, I got inspired and bought one. And it needed. Basically, everything gone through, motor, tranny, transfer case did all that and then started going wheelin with Eric. And just fell in love with these flatlanders. I never had more fun in a jeep than and a stocker like that, not just wheeling them, but also repairing them and keeping them going. Yeah, for sure.



So. But, you know, through that time, I was still going to Burning Man and. There's there's a group here in Phoenix or Scottsdale, actually, it's called Walter Productions. Which is they started out with Walter the the bus. Which is a giant VW bus, I'm not sure if you've ever seen it or run across it. No, I have not. OK. Well, it's a it's a it's a VW bus built on a airport crash truck chassis, OK?



So they basically just took the whole body off and fabricated a VW bus. A replica, but I don't know what the scale of theirs is, I imagine it's about one and a half or one and three quarter to one. OK. But it's huge, I mean, it's 14 feet tall. And. That, again, if anybody Googles Walter the bus, it'll it'll come right up. So anyway, I was I camped I had camped with them a few years and they built a beetle.



A couple of years later, after and after the bus, and that that one's called Big Red. And so I was kind of inspired by this. Building something in scale. Or in a larger scale. By Walter, and there their leader or. The brainchild behind Walter is a guy named Kirk Straughn. So he's become a good friend over the years and. And I just thought, well, why not apply this concept to flatfender.



And build another. art car for Burning Man. And, you know, I talked about it for a couple of years, talked a lot about it with Eric. And then the. And they just decided I'm going to do it and. Put together a proposal, a nine page or 10 page proposal. To try and appeal to some of the Off-Road parts companies that might be interested. To get some some help with some sponsorship and. I built Big Willy in seven months.



Wow, that's pretty good. It was a crazy seven months. I didn't I never took a day off, except it took about three or four days and went to Moab for Jeep Safari. Just to try and hit up some of the vendors there. With my proposal and I built the grill, that point stamped my own grill. So I was walking around with the grill at the arena that were trying to use it as a prop to get some attention and and talk to some of these guys.



Which ended up working, I got a few sponsors on that trip. Well, if they saw the the workmanship that you put into the grille, that would make sense. I mean, there's there's no better way to present something than actually, you know, showing part of it. Yeah, yeah, exactly, it was yeah, it was a good trip. I ended up talking with Steve at Off-Road Design and he helped me out with a Magnum box.



And twin stick for a further two or five and. Really help me out a lot. Great guy, great product. And so he's really involved or started full size invasion, too, didn't he? Yeah, yeah, he did, because that flat Fender's no longer I mean, it's it's definitely considered full size. Yeah.



The original plan was for me to do the full size. Run in Moab with him, but it just turned out later that. It just wasn't practical to really wheel Big Willy that hard, right? I think I would have just blown up axle Shaft's doing that kind of stuff. It gets wheeled lightly. But not really like any kind of. Heavy duty, rock crawling or anything like that, right?


[00:42:21.120] - Big Rich Klein

So what let's talk about the process of building.



Building Big Willie and how how you went around building a two to one car, a replica that, you know, I mean, it's it's amazing when I look at it at first I was like when I first time I saw it, it was like I was I looked at them, to be honest. I was like, why? Just to be plain and simple, I was like, why and then over the course of a couple of years where I've seen it different places and watching people look at it and the the amazement that everybody has on it, I get it.



You know, I'm not a fabricator, so there's no way I could have done it, and that's probably why I said why, but I should have looked at it more from a marketing standpoint and and then I would have understood it better to begin with.


[00:43:20.630] - Ian Liljeblad

Sure, yeah, I mean, that's a that's a common response, especially especially on the Internet, right?



You get those guys that just want to. Everything. Yeah, yeah, talk bad about it or bash it or whatever. Yeah, and usually I just try and. Kill those guys with kindness. There you go. But so. Yeah, when I first started building it. I didn't really I didn't really know how I was going to. Build the body or that I guess I didn't know the technique that I was going to use, but I thought that I could figure it out along the way.



It's kind of how I work, really. You know, I don't know how many. Cars I built from scratch over the years, but I've never like, you know, use SolidWorks or. You cat or anything like that to draw anything up prior, it's just like usually it's a hand drawn sketch with a wheelbase that I'm that I know I'm going to start with and a general kind of sketch of the look that I want. So like I said, I didn't know how I was going to do it, but I thought I would be able to figure it out.



And luckily, I have a friend that is really. Talented with SolidWorks. And was willing to help me, so. He came to the shop. And we took measurements off of my CJ2a and he basically drew the whole body in SolidWorks and then you lay those parts out flat in SolidWorks and comvert them to dfx. And I cut them all out on the on the plasma table. And put it all together like a big puzzle. So is it what's what what material to use, just a sheet metal.



Yeah, 18 gauge for the body panels. And then there's like there's a framework. Of the body out of like a quarter inch strap, basically, that was all, but it was all cut on the plasma cable as well and then form. With a roller for the corners and that sort of thing. And I personally, I was amazed at how. Well, everything went together using solid works and and just cutting those parts out on the plasma table, it was like.



I mean, within a sixteenth of an inch tolerances all the way around, things fit together just perfect. Wow. That's that's pretty damn good, I can't even do that with anything. I know I was sincerely amazed. It went together quite nicely. And the chassis is three by six rectangle tube 120 wall. Which was cut on the plasma table as well. Like, cut pie, pie shapes out and just bent the tube together and welded it.



Well, OK. I was able to do that on the plasma table myself. Instead of sending it to a. A laser tube cutter and I don't know where else you want to go.



Seven, seven months. That's. Yeah, seven months, I mean, the goal was to get it done, I started in late February or I'm sorry, late January, early February, and the goal was to get it done for Burning Man. That year, which is late August, early September. So I think I put it on the trailer like August 20th or twenty second or something like that. And, you know, just like any other build working on it to the very last second before it goes on the trailer.



Right. But I got it there, it didn't have paint or powder coat or anything. I ran out of time to do all that, but it was running and driving and Burning Man. The Burning Man DMV accepted it as a. As a mutant vehicle licensed on playa, so. The whole goal worked in the end. That's amazing that you say the Burning Man DMV, so every one of the vehicles has to be approved.



Yeah, and and there's a preapproval process. So you have to, uh, fill out a. An application, it's an online application, you submit either pictures or renderings or drawings if you don't have it built yet. And then you get. If they approve it or if they like the idea anyway, then they send you an invitation, so but that's just an invitation to bring it. It doesn't it's not a guarantee that you will get a license.



OK. So then once you get it, there you go. To the DMV, usually it's prior to the event, they give me early entry. Because I have the other car movement of people, and so they usually give art car guys and and, you know, we got people who do art installations, they'll give them early entry so you can get there and get things set up and ready to go.



So you're not trying to do that during the masses while the masses are there? Right, exactly. So anyway, then usually you try and get in line at the DMV prior to the event on Saturday or Sunday, and there's an inspection process. And but what's surprising about the inspection process is that there's no like they're not really looking at safety stuff. They're not it's not like they have a clipboard and they're looking for fire extinguishers and first aid kits. All they're looking at is if it's art.



OK. So any part of the donor vehicle like Big Willy doesn't have a donor vehicle, but any part of my other car, which was a class C motor home, seventy eight. Class C. At one point, I think it was the first year, actually, I didn't have the front. The front fenders covered, so they wanted something to cover those, so it didn't look like it came from a motorhome.



Yeah, exactly. Like any of that original sheet metal that was really the only original sheet metal is left on it. But they wanted me to cover it, whether it was just some fabric or something. So, you know, we figured something out, improvised and covered it. But the so I was concerned that Big Willy wasn't that they weren't going to approve it because. It's not I mean, I guess it's art in some way, but it's not really artistic.



It's just a replica of a large scale replica. But I had the whole Walter Productions their history at Burning Man on my side. So if they were going to dispute it in any way, I had an argument that, well, you have this VW bus and this VW bug that are essentially the same thing, just a different vehicle. But anyway, they didn't they didn't give me a hard time about it. And it was licensed and so Big Willy has been the Burning Man twice now.



Excellent. Now, so let's let's get into into the go devil. Oh, yeah. And the rest of the your history with the. With Flatlanders, thanks to Eric Filar, yeah, yeah, and then I think Eric Filar could thank Drew Barber for getting him into it. I'm sure, you know, Drew is and the whole thing avalanche and whatever. So anyway, I you know, I just. Really started getting into this whole flatlander thing with Eric and we go, we all and we went and ran to the Rubicon a couple of years in a row.



Just he and I one year and then the next year was and I and another friend of mine. They had a stocker and. I don't know, we just I just really enjoyed wheeling those things and, you know, driving into into the springs there and have some guy driving a JK and. You know, look over at us and say, how did you get that here? I mean, that's literally happened, you know, five, six times where people just can't believe that you drove it there.



And so, you know, that's part of the inspiration. You know, taking something stock like that and. Making people think, you know. So. Then the whole Go Devil thing. I don't know, I just thought about doing that sort of event for maybe a year or so and just kicking around the idea, then I just decided, well, I'm just going to. I'm going to do it, I just made a Facebook group, you know, to kick around ideas with with Eric about where we should go or what we should do.



And we ended up with twenty one flatlanders. For the first year, it was. May 1st. Of twenty, twenty, twenty one, yeah. And I was truthfully, I was expecting about five cars to show up. And I mean, I would have been happy with five. But we got twenty one to show up and. One came all the way from Florida, trailered, trailered, yeah, you got a pretty long drive.



Yeah, that would have been a long drive in a flat fender, but yeah, I mean, he drove twenty two hundred miles and anyway, we. Our route was the back way up to Crown King. You know, from Lake Pleasant to Crown King. We ended up camping. In one spot for the whole weekend, so we we went up Friday morning. Got a camp spot near near Crown King. Saturday, we spent just kind of playing around in the area of Crown King and.



A horse thief basin. Just exploring around there, it's kind of a milder day from Friday because Friday was. Long day, we did we did about 30 miles. Some pretty some pretty rough stuff, I mean, for a flat fender anyway. Exactly. It was warm. It was about 10 degrees above normal. It was in the 90s. So we had a lot of vapor lock. Issues, a lot of melted ice. Yeah, yeah, a lot of melted ice for sure, but that, you know, that in turn makes for a lot of beer stops.



Barley pops. Yes. Yeah. So I mean that's really the. The part that I look forward to the most in those kind of. Events is, you know, the stop and hang out socializing. And that's what I liked about about the idea of the go devil run as opposed to some of the other. Flat fender or original Willis type runs? Is that. You guys are doing it more off road and not making long travel plans like, you know, eleven hundred miles or a thousand miles across pavement and dirt roads where it's more I don't know, it's it's more like.



The event is about getting their. Then it is about the trip. They're right. I don't know if that makes sense. Yeah, no, it does. Yeah, the whole idea I mean we did last year.



We do I think one hundred and sixty one hundred and sixty five miles in the dirt and the whole idea really. Guess I should have said this first, but the whole idea of the go devil run. Is that, for one, you should have a go devil motor, which is the L 134 the flathead that they came with. And. The second thing is that. They should look like they should look like they came out of the 1940s and 1950s.



Like those old videos you see on the Rubicon Trail right now. So no White spoke Jackman wheels or right? Yes. So part of the rules is that it must be a bias ply tire, no bigger than than 30 and a half tall, no modern wheels. And it's just basically like if you took a picture at any point on the run and in black and white, you may not be able to tell if it's modern day or if it's, you know, nineteen forties.



So we try and dress the part. You know, try and find vintage clothing. And. You know, make it as authentic as possible, paying tribute to to those guys that came before us, know a lot of a lot of veterans that came back from the war from World War Two and bought flat fenders because they drove them in the war and loved them, used them on ranches and that sort of thing. So it's a tribute to them.






And I thought I thought you guys did really well with that. Ryan Miller. Put together, Ryan and Kaleigh put together a an article for 4Low magazine for us. Yeah. On it. And the pictures were all in black and white and the settings. And it was it really did look like except that the photography was so much cleaner and clearer than the images from back then. Right. Know, if it had been in the 50s that, you know, that was the only way to tell is, you know, the resolution was a lot better.



But yeah. But it was it was awesome. I mean, I love that that aspect of it.



I think I'm on the cover, aren't I? I think you are.



I never got a copy of that, actually. OK, if I don't know if you have any laying around or if they're still able to purchase, but let me know.



All right, I'll do that. So are the plans to do it again this year? Yeah, so, yeah, we're all scheduled for. The same weekend, the first first weekend in May is what we're shooting for every year. And this year, we're up to about thirty one or thirty two, I believe.



Wow. Yeah, the goal was to stick it 30. But, uh. I think we're going to be thirty one or thirty two. Maybe it's really hard to tell people no because everybody wants to work toward it to make it their vehicle. To do it, first of all, and it's not like you're just going to take one that you find sitting in some guy's barn and go drive it one hundred and sixty eight miles, you know, it's just more realistically, it just ain't going to work that way.



So, you know, you know, the people are putting the effort into it. It's one of the things that when we quit, when we eventually quit doing events and I have some time and have a shop I want to build, I used to have a fifty three. M38a1, the original military five. And yeah, I love that vehicle, except that it wasn't all original, it had a it had some four sixty five in it, an odd fire V six.



But otherwise it was, you wouldn't have known it still had the manual steering thirty one inch tires and it was I loved that jeep and I want to do the same thing but with a flat fender that I owned a 48 CJ2a but it had a the v8, the little Buick V8 the three to fifteen three point eight or whatever it is that they sold to Rover, it had one of those in it. So it's, it scooted really well in the sand dunes, but it was all night.



It was crazy doing sixty five miles an hour in the sand dunes with a. With just a b pillar bar and no windshield, yeah, but I guess I should have died.



I know I shouldn't be here even now.



So what are the what are the plans for the future? Well, I've got I started a. A little business centered around these flat fendors just in the past. I guess it hasn't even really been a year yet, it kind of. Took off when covid started. I started making parts for stocker flatfender crowd so I make some rock sliders and u-bolt skid plates and. So quite a bit of upholstery stuff, so replacement seatcovers and cushions.



Wow. And it also go ahead. So what's it called? The website is Big Willy Jeep. OK, so I basically just I took my the big Willy website and just put a shop page on it and I just call it it's the business name is Big Willy Jeep parts. So, yeah, that's been going really well. It just started as the the the upholstery stuff. And then I was I had already made some rock sliders before, so I put those on on the store and I've just been trying to add products.



Trying to add one once a month at least, and. Grow that business, but, you know, there's no storefront. I don't have a I don't really even have a shop. I share a shop with a friend of mine that lives out in Queen Creek. When R.P.M. went out of business. I bought back most of my equipment from them and put that at this friend of mine shop in Queen Creek in but most of my metal parts I have.



Laser cut and formed. And then I just go pick those up and weld them together if they need welding or just box them up, if they're a do it yourself kit and ship them out so I can keep it trying to keep it real simple. I don't have any employees. This is the one man show. So I guess the plan is to grow that business, hopefully not grow it so big where I need employees, but. We'll see how that goes, right?



And I still have my real estate license. So but I don't really market myself as a realtor, I just kind of do a referral and friends and family. And but the long term goal is to. I won't trying to buy and hold residential real estate at this point, so trying to acquire rental properties. Right. It's not a bad that's not a bad idea. Yeah, you know, it's something that I kicked around for. Twenty years now, and I you know, I got into the flipping thing and I at that point I should have just started.



I should have kept the two houses that I had and turn them into rentals and gone that direction, but I had a friend who was flipping, it was doing really well. I got inspired by him. But, you know, that's one of those could have, would have, should have things we were talking about earlier or what ifs. So it is what it is. Right. And we flipped a couple and then. We've got three rentals, plus we own a small boutique hotel in Mason, Texas, where there's off road parks, and so it works out really well for us.



That's great. Yeah, I don't know if I want to do too many more. Fixer uppers, you might say, that's why Shelley, yeah, yeah, exactly, Shelley just looked at me like, what, she's over she's over here working on the magazine, doing some editing and putting things together for the next issue. And when I said that, I saw her look over at me like, what? Yeah, that's one of her things.



We'll be driving down the road and I'll look at something. There'll be no windows in it. It's obviously not been. Lived in in like 40 or 50 years, you know, it's slightly leaning to one side and I'll look at her and go, hey, there's a fixer upper for you, right?



Yeah, it's it's just it's hard to find deals now on Flip's, everybody's doing it. Yeah, everybody's doing it. And it's, you know, it's six to eight weeks of really tough labor. And if you don't buy it. Right. You're not going to make money, correct? It's tough and all, I think it's not all the good stuff, but a lot of the good stuff in that in the right neighborhoods, at the right price.



Everybody realizes what they've got now. Oh, yeah. You know, it's like, don't lowball me. You know, that that old saying, don't lowball me. I know what I got out, you know, unless you can find them in auction, you know, on repos or something like that. And then we did that one time and we've done that a couple of times, and one time we got into the house, when I finally got there to look at it, it was in North Carolina and there was no copper in the house.



Oh, no. I mean, they'd taken people had gone in there and broken windows and ripped out all the all the appliances that had been left. And it was like, all right, let's. This one's going to be a tough one, and then we had a real estate agent come in and offer to buy it at a. At a profit for us without even having to do a thing, so. Oh, those are the deals. So we said, yeah, we'll take that.



Yeah, totally.



Those are the best deals ever. Yes. We bought an apartment one time. It was part of an apartment complex. And it was like a.. It was a total of 16 units. And we bought one of eight on one side. And there was somebody that owned like eight across on the on the other eight on the other side of the of the complex. And then somebody had bought two or three that in the same building as us. And they looked at us and they they, they were like, well what are you going to do with yours?



I said, we're going to rent it out. And they were like, Oh, really? OK, because they wanted to do, you know, they had this whole condo type thing in their mind. And all we had done was clean it and painted it. We hadn't done flooring yet. We hadn't done appliances or anything. And we sold that one. I mean, we only owned it for like maybe three weeks and we. Yeah, and we turned that one over for a profit.



So it was like, yes, yeah. But that doesn't happen very often. No it doesn't. But when it does, it's nice.



Yeah. Well, cool. Is there anything that that you've got? That you want to share that we haven't talked about. You want to tell some Eric stories that he doesn't want told? If I could come up with one.



Now, we don't need to get him in trouble. I can't think of anything off of my head, but he probably would share it anyhow.



Yeah, I'm sure. I'm sure. Anyway, I want to say thank you, Ian, for coming on board and and sharing your history and what you've done in offroad and. Yeah, you know, the the interesting things that you've done, I hope you success with with the Go Devil Run and Big Willys Jeep and putting together the stuff for flat fenders. I think that's a that's a great idea. And market, especially right now with the interest everybody has.



And in doing the resto mods I guess you'd call it, I mean, just bringing them back to life, but, you know, not tearing them up. So, yeah, I agree.



Thank you. I appreciate it. Thanks for having me. Yeah.



And I'll let you know when we're going to air this. And again, thank you very much for coming on board and spending the time. OK, I've got one question for you. Sure. Flour or corn tortilla? Oh, corn tortilla. All right, how about cilantro or lettuce?



Cilantro. Perfect. You're wonderful because I we did it just to let you know, we did a a taco tour while we were down and in Mexico for four thousand. Oh, no. What we tried to do, it's in a three day period. We ate 17 different types of tacos are awesome. And there was only one. They said it was Stingray. And I don't know what it really was, but it was it was the nastiest stuff I have ever tried to eat.



And wow. And it was I don't think it was Stingray unless it was the innards out of the stingray, but that was the only one I couldn't eat. The rest of them were just delicious. So that's great. That's great. All right. Well well, thank you so much. I appreciate it. OK, and thank you. Talk to you later.



Good bye. If you enjoy these podcasts, please give us a rating, share some feedback with us via Facebook or Instagram and share our link among your friends who might be like minded. Well, that brings this episode to an end. OK, you enjoyed it. We'll catch you next week with conversations with Big Rich. Thank you very much.