I didn’t have much of an automotive background until I came to the United States from the Philippines when I was still a child. We were not fortunate enough to have that luxury. I did grow up around dirt bikes and anything that had two wheels. The off-road scene always has me very intrigued, but never really ventured into it much due to financial responsibilities and just “adulting” in general.
My current vehicle, which is a ‘98 Mitsubishi Montero Gen 2.5, is the first off-road vehicle I’ve built. I got it from my good friend Robert Akiyama at M&S Recycling, and purchased it as a tow vehicle for my 18-foot offshore center-console fishing vessel.
The thing that got me really excited about this platform is that it was never a popular vehicle here in the States. Mitsubishi overbuilt this SUV. For example, it has a 9.5” rear pumpkin with rear lockers. But my favorite part of this build is that it’s unique – sort of like a unicorn. I say that because you don’t see too many of them being built in the States. They are popular everywhere else in the world. I didn’t pick the Montero… the Montero picked me. I am such a huge fan, with its blister fender “widebody.” I love the lines and contours of this particular year. I’ve always been a fan, although not a purist. I owned several Dodge Raiders when I was in my mid-20s, and I also currently own a 100 Series Land Cruiser.
My motto is: “If I don’t have it? They don’t make it.” Aftermarket parts…? What’s that? Unfortunately, it’s rare to find good aftermarket parts for the Montero. You have to dive into a haystack and find that needle. I was very particular and meticulous with certain bolt-on items, such as the suspension. At the time, OME/ARB were the only option. I ran with it for a whole off-roading season until I discovered and ventured more and more into harder trails that created a need to get a better suspension setup for the Montero.
I’ve always been a firm believer of doing things right the first time and buy nice, buy once. Currently, I cannot think of anything that is a (bolt on) on the truck. Since, aftermarket parts are so rare for the Montero, I started looking into fabrication shops to make parts for me. One piece of advice…please, please, please do your research. Get everything on paper, ask questions and more questions. Stand firm with what you want as the final outcome. Cheap isn’t quality, and quality isn’t cheap.
For major maintenance, I trust one person with my vehicle and he’s my best friend – Max Polischuck with CAtuned Off-road. As much as I love wrenching on my own vehicle, I just don’t have time to do it. I have a full-time career that takes me from Sacramento to South San Francisco on Mondays through Fridays. So, the last thing I want to do on my weekends is wrench. I find it easier and more realistic to keep the Montero in good working condition to have Max work on my rig.
Almost everything in the rig is custom fabricated. The front and rear bumpers, rock sliders, and roof rack are all unique and one-offs for my rig, and each serves a purpose. Form, fit, and function; not just aesthetics. I’m not a big fan of mass produced bumpers and bolt-on parts for the Montero. So, I decided to contract the build to a local shop, who I won’t name, to come up with something to my specifications and more my style.
My skid plates that protect the Montero’s underbelly were custom-designed by Joshua Mead of Adventure Driven Designs in Arizona. It’s constructed from 3.5mm stainless steel. The rear suspension sports a pair of Dobinson 2.6” body monotube remote reservoir (MRR) shocks that are meant for a Toyota 100 Series Land Cruiser. The rear shock towers had to be custom-designed and fabricated. This bespoke rear suspension setup was made possible by a very good friend, Ivan Pukhan. Ivan designed and fabricated the new shock towers, to accommodate the longer rear shocks. The front suspension setup uses a pair of Fox 2.0 shocks with adjustable reservoir that was custom valved and tuned by AccuTune Off-Road and mated to custom-designed extended shock towers. The one-off front shock mounts were fabricated by Killer Off-Road Fabrication in Simi Valley, California. Final installation and fabrication was completed by Max Polischuk with CAtuned Off-Road.
With the vehicle sitting a bit higher than factory specs. I needed to have longer brake lines to compensate for suspension travel, flex, and articulation. I reached out to the people at Safebrake in Melbourne, Australia, for the performance braided brake lines I needed.
The Black Rhino Primm beadlock wheels I have also had to be modified a bit. I am very meticulous when it comes to wheel brands. The problem is that the wheels I wanted for my vehicle sometimes are not a direct fit. So, again, this particular set of wheels had to be modified to fit. I needed the centerbore to be increased to 108mm to go on the Montero’s wheel hub. Mission accomplished with the help of a local machine shop in Sacramento, CA.
I had custom drawers made by BOSS Strong Box in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, so I can haul, organize and keep out of sight important items I bring with me on trips. I also needed an easier way to access my Dometic Dual Zone 75 in the trunk, so I had a custom slide and tilt fridge mount made by DFG Offroad. The fridge mount is bolted securely to the BOSS Strong Box.
Path To Zen
I grew up without a father. He was stabbed and murdered by his own brother when I was only a year old. I must have found my father when he died because my grandfather discovered me laying next to him on the kitchen floor. My grandfather thought I also was dead because I was covered in my father’s blood when he found us.
I carry a picture of my parents wedding day since it’s the only photo I have of my hero. I carry it when I trek solo because I pretend he is there with me. The higher I can get my vehicle to climb a mountain, the closer I get to my dad. I make frequent stops during my trips, especially at places I have never been before. On occasion, I’ll sit there and cry because I miss my hero. Sometimes I do feel like he is with me, inside my vehicle. But, that is the short version of how I became passionate with this lifestyle. It makes me smile, to hide the pain just for a little while. Find your adventure because, if not now, then when?
I looked at Tepui after deciding I wanted a roof top tent. I did some research and found out that Tepui was based near Santa Cruz, California, which wasn’t too far from where I live. I went and visited their facility to check out in person what they had to help me pick out which tent I wanted for me and my daughter. I chose the Ruggedized Kukenam 4 because of the material used and its rugged construction. My daughter and I love our sleeping real estate and comfort.
The Dometic Fridge is another one of my favorites because I no longer have to find a place to store a cooler that requires ice cubes to keep our food cold and fresh. Besides, they make killer fridges that suit our California and Canada excursions.
The custom drawer system in the trunk is one of those necessary things for me because I like to keep the truck pretty organized. I like things where they belong. Imagine your kitchen without drawers or cupboards and everything is in hard plastic totes? It’s the same exact idea here.
Upfitting the Montero is a never ending process. Just when I think I’m happy with everything, I keep finding things that can be improved, modified, etc. The truck is currently at Dissent Off-Road to have custom fabrication done on the interior and exterior. I’m not at liberty to discuss that at the moment. I hope that I will make it to Overland Expo West with one of my biggest sponsors – Agency6 – and reveal the new change.
Like Father, Like Daughter
I’m not a perfectionist in many areas of my life by any means. But, I really am when it comes to being a father to my baby girl. It’s my card. It’s my signature. My baby girl and I love the outdoors very much, and I wanted to continue building memories with her. Memories that she will never forget and pass on to her own children someday since we’re only here just for a little while, and there are no promises that we’ll live the following day. So, I live life like it’s my last day on earth. My daughter and I enjoy life outdoors, whether it be hiking throughout California or parts of Canada, to fishing the California delta and local lakes, or camping up and down the Sierra Nevada or anywhere along the California coastline.
Every single trip that I’ve done with my daughter has been memorable. Our most recent one was last year for her 18th birthday and graduation. My daughter is not a materialistic kid. When I called and asked her what she wanted for her birthday and graduation gift, she said, “Daddy, let’s go on an Eastern Sierra expedition.” I said, “Sweetheart, if that’s what you want, we’re going.”
I packed the truck for a 3-night trip to the Eastern Sierras. Departed our home base in Sacramento at four in the morning, and we were bound for Bridgeport. I had a couple of surprises for her on this trip. From the time she started learning about ghost towns in elementary school, she has always wanted to visit one. So, our first stop was the historical jail in Bridgeport, CA. We then went to Bodie Ghost Town. She had no idea where we were until she recognized the place from pictures. She said, “Daddy, we’re really here. This is so cool dad!” We spent five hours there exploring and learning about the town’s history before we headed back to the truck, had a quick lunch and drove to our next destination. Those are the moments that I will always cherish.
We continued to push south on Highway 395 and stopped at every single lake we were passing through. The second surprise was Alabama Hills, which was about three hours from Bodie. She’s only seen photos of my trips at this gorgeous location. We got off the paved road and as we entered Movie Road, the jagged peaks of the Sierra Nevada contrasting the rounded contours of Alabama Hills desert floor welcomed us. My baby girl’s eyes lit up like a Christmas tree, the smile and excitement on her face melted my heart. As I caught a quick glance of Mt. Whitney, I whispered, “Dad, I wish you were here with us. Please look after us and keep us safe through this expedition. Tomorrow is your granddaughter’s 18th birthday, dad.”
We then settled into camp and I cooked my daughter’s favorite camp dinner, garlic fried rice and corned beef, which is a typical Filipino dish. After dinner, we hiked around with headlamps on, looking at rock formations, and my baby girl was in her element being in the outdoors.
The following morning, the sun’s summer rays greeted us early at six in the morning and it was already 89 degrees. She packed up everything from the roof top tent, while I quickly took care of everything on the ground. Knowing my kid, she loves her breakfast and said, “Dad, what about my breakfast?” I said, “Sweetheart, let’s get out of here and I’ll gladly get us breakfast at an awesome restaurant in town.” Fifteen minutes later, and we were back on the trail.
We arrived in Lone Pine and walked into Mt. Whitney Restaurant. We were greeted by some of the friendliest people who sat us in a booth next to an old piano. My daughter, being a pianist, asked our server if she could play while waiting for our food. She played for a good 10 minutes and everyone in the restaurant gave her a round of applause. We finished up our breakfast and made our way back north on Highway 395 to finish the trip.
I live in Northern California, and I’m surrounded by awesome trails within a two hour drive. I do love the Gold Country. The drive to and from there is always such a pleasure for me. Camping can be difficult at times because the area is a popular spot for deer and bear hunters and hikers along the Pacific Crest Trail.
What is difficult to me may completely be the opposite to others. My Montero’s suspension has limited articulation due its torsion bars, among other things, which inherently limits me to where I can take my rig. My hardest challenge to this date would have to be Slick Rock Road Trail in the Stanislaus National Forest here in California. It’s one of the more difficult 4X4 trails in Northern California and, now looking back to the experience, my rig probably had no business being there. My daughter was with me on this trip, and I’m always very cautious when she is on-board. The vehicle did suffer some battle scars from that trip. A dented gas tank and I completely thrashed the factory skid plates that day. I don’t do very many technical trails, only because I am aware of my vehicle’s capability limitations and my lack of skills on rocks.
I’m the worst person to even plan a trip, to be quite honest. I like winging my trips and end up somewhere completely unexpected. To me, those are the best ones. Because, you’ll never be disappointed.
As far as preparation, I spread out my gear cases inside my kitchen to ensure everything is where they belong. I start loading a day before the trip and have the fridge plugged into the house outlet, and unplug it right before we leave. I’ve left it plugged in and drove away once. Pre-cooling the Dometic DualZone Fridge before the trip has helped me keep all our food cold and fresh. By doing so, the fridge will only kick on to maintain your temperature set-point.
I check everything on the vehicle. All the fluids topped off, if need be. A thorough inspection of things that may have come loose and tighten them if needed. I remove the air filter each trip, perform a thorough cleaning of the rig, and ensure that anything that needs lubricated is well lubricated.
Here is a pro tip though when going to a new location – please do your research. You also cannot ever be overprepared. It’s better to have it and not need it, then needing it and not having it. Learn how all your equipment functions – winch, GPS, comms, etc. Tell your family or friends where your destination is and check in with them once you get there if there is cell service. Get to and from your destination safely and have a blast. Please leave no trace.
1998 Mitsubishi Montero
Owner: Carlo Ramos
Armor, Bumpers, Sliders
- Custom-built stainless steel front, mid and gas tank skid plates by Adventure Driven Design
- Custom-designed and fabricated front bumper
- Custom-designed and fabricated rear bumper with swing out spare tire carrier and dual 5-gallon NATO fuel cans
- Custom-fabricated Dobinsons MRR with external reservoir
- Heavy-duty Sway-A-Way Torsion Bar
- Heavy-duty Kings Australia Springs
Lighting and Mounts
- BajaDesigns Squadron Ambers (fogs) inside front bumper
- BajaDesigns Squadron Ambers (ditch lights)
- BajaDesigns 50” OnX6, dual control Amber/White LED light bar, integrated onto the roof rack
- BajaDesigns Squadron Ambers (rear roof, chase lights)
- BajaDesigns Squadron Ambers flush mount (reverse lights)
- SuperWinch Tiger Shark 9500
- XBull Tracks (4)
- Dual 10lbs PowerTank Co2 air system
- Agency6 1.5” fairlead hawse
- Agency6 Monolithic line loop (prototype)
- Agency6 MegaMount with mini shovel
- Hi-Lift jack
Gear Storage and Organization
- Custom-designed and fabricated full-length roof rack
- BOSS StrongBox custom drawer system
- YETI LoadOut Go Boxes
- 4.90 Gears installed by CAtuned Off Road
- ARB front air locker with ARB pump
- OEM rear axle
- OEM eLocker
Tires and Wheels
Electronics, Communication, and Mounts
- GoalZero YETI 400 and YETI 150
- Pioneer W8400NEX head unit
- Apple iPad for GPS mapping
- Midland USA MXT400 2-Way Radio and X-Talker
- Tepui Kukenam 4 Ruggedized roof top tent with Annex
- Alu-Cab 270
- Goal Zero Lightings
- KampRite UFO Light
- KampRite table, chairs and sleeping bags
- Kovea Cupid heater
Camp Kitchen Gear
- KampRite foldable table
- Kovea dual slim stove
- Bialetti Italian espresso coffee maker
- SnowPeak titanium ware
- YETI drinkware
- Dometic DZW75 special edition fridge
- DFG OffRoad tire table
- DFG OffRoad fridge tilt and slide