Industry Insider: Brian Ellinger of Front Range Off-Road Fabrication Short Cuts

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Interview by: Harry Wagner- 12/2002

Editor's Note: Our latest feature focusing on the talented people who run shops specializing in Toyota 4x4 components involves Brian Ellinger of Front Range Off-Road Fabrication. 4x4Wire's Harry Wagner had a chance to speak with Brian at length during Christmas time.

Brian Ellinger, owner of Front Range Off-Road.

4x4Wire- How did you get involved in four wheeling?

Ellinger- I think that four wheeling is just a natural progression from my past hobbies. I have always enjoyed the outdoors, and as I ventured further and further to more remote backpacking, mountain biking, and snowboarding locations I needed a four wheel drive vehicle to get me there.

4x4Wire- How long ago did you make that realization?

Ellinger- It was around seven years ago. I knew that Toyotas had a great reputation for reliability and that appealed to me, so I did some research and determined that I wanted to purchase an 1985 truck with a solid front axle.

4x4Wire- Is that the same red truck that you have now?! That was your first truck?

The big Swampers work as well in snow as they do in the rocks.

Ellinger- Yeah, basically. It has changed a lot since I first got it though.

4x4Wire- What sort of background do you have?

Ellinger- I got my CNC certification and tool and die degree six years ago and have also taken several ASE classes. I worked at a Land Cruiser shop for about a year, but I was doing more wrenching than machining so I went into the medical field. The tolerances there are VERY tight! I found myself lured back into automobiles though and worked as a machinist at a couple of different shops before starting Front Range Off-Road Fabrication.

4x4Wire- What prompted you to make the transition from enthusiast to businessman?

Ellinger- After taking some classes I knew that I wanted to go into business for myself. At this same time I was wheeling with a group of friends who knew that I was a machinist and were always approaching me with product ideas. They saw the things that I had made for my truck too and soon wanted the parts for their trucks. It just kind of took off from there.

Brian in the Little Sluice on the Rubicon.
My full floater kit is a result of a friend who had a wheel come off of his truck on a cut road on the side of a mountain. I never wanted that happening to me! It was also a good excuse to get rid of the awful drum brakes.

4x4Wire- So how long has Front Range Off-Road Fabrication been in business?

Ellinger- Officially for three years now, but I have been making Toyota parts for six years now.

4x4Wire- How many people work for you? In what capacity?

Ellinger- Front Range is mainly just my wife and myself. My wife handles the business and accounting end of operations and I fabricate parts and fulfill all of the orders. I try to answer the phones too and answer people's questions. I know that my customers have worked hard for the money they are giving to me and I respect that. I remember what it was like to spend $1000 at a shop and still get poor service and it isn't a very pleasant experience.

4x4Wire- Do you do fabrication and/or installation work in addition to selling products?

Brian product testing on Indepedence Trail.
On the Rubicon Trail for Drew's Bash 2000.

Ellinger- Well, I do that kind of work on occasion. It depends on how custom they want though, and if we can agree on the price. I've done some custom work in the past that has lead to product pieces, so I don't like to rule it out.

When consumers do some of the leg work too it makes things a lot easier. I have a customer interested in a full floater kit for a Land Cruiser axle and already found part numbers and dimensions for what he needs. Now we can machine the components to his specifications.

4x4Wire- Do you carry other product lines beyond Front Range Off-Road Fabrication products?

Ellinger- I'm just carrying my own products now. There just isn't enough profit margin for me to compete with the bigger shops on parts that everyone else carries, so I try to offer unique products that fill a void in the market.

4x4Wire- Any new products/ideas you would like to share with us?

Ellinger- Front Range Off-Road just came out with square nerf bars for the 84-88 trucks. The are tough and tuck up close to the body so they don't take up too much ground clearance. We are offering bumpers now too for practically any conifiguration from IFS to solid axle and any size body lift. These are two items that I have on my truck that people are constantly asking about. We offer a full floater kit for the wider Tacoma and late model 4Runner rear axle now too.

4x4Wire- Where do you see the sport heading?

The 22RE can still spin the Swampers.

Ellinger- In terms of parts or trails?

4x4Wire- OK, lets start with parts.

Ellinger- I think that you will see more “tuned” suspensions, like what is available in the desert race scene. Complete suspensions that offer a low ride height and gobs of articulation by carefully redesigning the entire suspension. I think that it is inevitable for there to be more advances in IFS technology too. Solid axles are getting more expensive and harder to come by and not everyone wants to go through all of the fabrication work to run tough trails.

4x4Wire- And as for those trails, you think that they are going to get tougher?

Ellinger- I do. I think that we are going to see more short, nasty trails that are on private property like the Avalanche Ranch and Paragon Off-Road Adventure Park.

4x4Wire- How do you think rockcrawling competitions have affected four wheeling?

Ellinger- I think that we are getting to the point now where the courses weed out the throttle jockeys and the intelligent, technical wheelers excel. I'm happy to see safety equipment like helmets become more common too. I was down in Farmingon, New Mexico for the Supercrawl and you could not tell where the competitors had ran after the cones were removed from the courses. I think that makes a strong statement about the low level of environmental impact that is made.

Brian playing around on the Supercrawl courses in Farmington.

4x4Wire- Any interest in competing?

Ellinger- I have thought about it. The red truck isn't really set up to be competitive though, and I just did a lot of body work on it that I would like to last a while. Perhaps in a new rig in the future.

Testing the new 39" Swampers at the Marlin Crawler Roundup 2001.

4x4Wire- Tell us more about your personal ride.

Ellinger- It is really a sleeper. Most of the other guys that I wheel with get a lot more attention than me. It has a 22RE turning 39” Swampers on Toyota axles. The lift was kept low with severely cut fenders and hybrid springs based off of Wrangler springs in the front and Mazda springs in the rear. The body is an Xtra Cab on a short wheelbase frame with a double bobbed bed. The truck is a test bed and has most of our products on it, such as our twin stick, crossmember, traction bar, bumpers, wide and vented kit, and full floater kit. It also has dual transfer cases, a Detroit in the rear, and an Air Locker in the front.

4x4Wire- How often do you take it wheeling?

Ellinger- About twice a month. Usually one of those runs is just solo, checking things out, and playing around on something local. And the other run I try to run something "decent". Ie, big rocks, or deep snow.

4x4Wire- Do you really drive it to and from the trails on 39" Swampers?

Ellinger- Want a pic of tire wear? Or maybe I'll take a video driving down I-25 going to Indy? You want a to check the odometer when I leave and when I get to the trailhead? I mean I know its not the norm, but give me a little credit.

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