Auto-Biography: The xBox Gets An Off-Roading Make-Over – Prepping It For The Nevada Backcountry Discovery Route – Who Needs 4WD Anyway?

(note: this is not an April Fool’s post like the Voltswagen)    This is almost exactly how my xB will look soon. Son Ted and his GF have been doing various Backcountry Discovery Routes each summer in a group, and this year the destination is the Nevada Backcountry Discovery Route (“NVBDR”). And this year I’m going to join them. But instead of buying a 4WD vehicle, I’m going to push the boundaries with my trusty old FWD xB.

Why? Because that’s just how I roll. Who needs 4WD anyway?

I guess I’ll be finding out.

I’ve been taking the xB on our Forest Roads and such for years. And I’ve been meaning to rip off the stupid air dam in front, which I cracked on a tall curb the first week I owned it. Here it is 15 years later and I still hadn’t done it.

Last week we went snowshoeing, our new winter recreation avocation. It was coming down on and off the whole time we were tramping in the woods.

Upper Salt Creek Falls

When we got back to the Snow Park lot, the new snow was right up to the bottom of that front dam. I got out ok, with the snow tires, but it made me realize how stupid this was. A couple of more inches and I might well not have gotten out. The xB is not a good snowplow.

The on the way home, on a very short stretch of I-5, a woman in a CRV cut me off in the small gap between a semi truck. No big deal really, but the three of us were way too close together. Suddenly I saw a black object for a fraction of a second in front of me, and then a bang under the car, and then I saw what was probably a piece of truck tire go flying behind me. Stephanie looked at me startled. No big deal…

I didn’t think any more of it until we got on surface streets and I hear this odd scraping sound following me. I looked in my outside rear view mirror and saw that the bumper was loose and dragging and bouncing on the pavement. We needed to get a few things at the grocery store, so I sort of kicked it back into place, a flimsy thing held on by a few clips.

But that was the impetus to move on de-skirting my xB. And then I decided to google “lifted xB” and the image at the top came up, and I was instantly smitten. That’s how I want it to look! And I texted Ted and told him I was going to come on the tour this year, in my xBox.

Before I actually started on the car, I decided to check out what I was in for. Ted’s group had decided to do the northern half, starting in Tonopah and ending in Jarbidge, the last week of June. There’s a great series of detailed trail reports with fab pictures by They did this whole route, heading south last summer. Their detailed report is here. Here’s a couple of shots from that trip.

They started at the north end (Jarbidge) about the same time we’re planning to go, the last week of June. The route goes through numerous mountains, as high as 8800′. And they only barely made it; if they’d gone a week earlier, almost certainly not.

I’ll have to confirm it, but based on the poor snow pack in California this year, I’m guessing it’s going to be mostly gone by the time we get there, on our last day.

These Backcountry Discover Routes are put together primarily for adventure motorcyclists, but of course four wheelers follow these routes assembled from public “roads”. Most of the distance looks quite easy; lots of various kinds of gravel and some dirt roads. There are a few tougher sections, like this one. Some of the worst was the mud from the melting snow.

But it was this picture that almost changed my mind. Yikes! Can my lifted FWD xB make this ditch? We shall see. At least the xB has very little overhangs and therefore good angle of approach.

I was a bit anxious after seeing this, but then I decided that realistically, the odds are good I’m going to get stuck somewhere, or more than once, possibly. But I’ll be in in good company, the kind that can pull me out, including one in the group that has a winch. And I’ll have a tow strap. So I’m just going to accept that as a fairly likely scenario, and prepare for it. But 99% of the route (or more) should be manageable.

And well worth it, given the scenery.

Lots of ghost town and old mines all along the way. And just enough hamlets to get gas and a few supplies. The longest leg between gas stations 219 miles. Let’s see, my gas tank holds 12 gallons… better bring a jerry can along, even though I could probably make it. The xB is going to be the most economical rig out of all the ones in the group.

Nice places to camp. Speaking of, I’ve got a plan on how I can sleep comfortably in the xBox. More on that later.

The route follows the Pony Express route a couple of times.

This I can handle. Even the Promaster could.

This is probably pretty typical. Some of these roads will be smoother; other rougher. Where’s my Peugeot 404 wagon when I need it?

One last shot. And then back to reality.

I got home yesterday afternoon at 4:15 after renovating a rental all day. But I was eager to get going, and taking things apart is so fun and satisfying. Off comes the lower half of the rear bumper. Not even ten minutes.

Then the front air dam. That took a bit longer, like 20 or so minutes.

Then off with the side skirts! Another ten or fifteen minutes. So satisfying.

Here’s the pile of discards. Unfortunately, they don’t amount to much weight-wise. All flimsy plastic.

With the jack, I can simulate the 2″ lift kit I’m going to install. They’re just spacers that extend the tops of the shock/spring perches, essentially. Less than $100.

It looks so much better already.

The big question is going to be tires. I don’t want to get any too big, because it will really affect the gearing. The 105 hp 1.5 L mill will be working hard enough as it is. The stock size is 185/60R15. I put on slightly bigger 185/65R15s years ago. But they don’t make all-terrain tires in these small sizes. Who would want them?

The smallest all-terrain size I’ve found are Yokohama Geolandars in 205/70R15. That’s 10% bigger than stock. Will that bog me down too much? Hmm.

I found a forum where they discussed this problem, and some of them recommended using a cheap snow tire, like the Firestone Winterforce, because it has a relatively open tread pattern for a winter tire. These come in a wide variety of smaller sizes, like 186/65R15 like I have now, or 195/60R15. And they’re under $100. I’m kind of leaning to them. The tread looks chunkier than the Geolandar, and the size is like my current one.

By the way, the knobby tires on this one that inspired me are mud retreads, as he’s back East and spends quite a bit of time in mud and such. They’re 205/60R15s, a bit big, and he says they’re very noisy on the road. Something like that was my first thought, but I’m leaning to just using the all-terrain or snow tires, as I doubt these knobbies will ever make the difference between getting stuck or not.

Stay tuned…