Some Even Harder Core Off-Road Teslas

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In another recent article, I wrote about the growing trend of taking Model 3s and Model Ys to Moab, and not just sightseeing along Highway 128 and up the paved road to Slickrock (as much fun as that can be). They’re not taking on Helldorado or Hell’s Gate, but they are taking on some moderate trails that still would have destroyed a stock Tesla. Adding a skidplate, giving them a small lift (around 2″), and upgrading the tires seems to get that job done.

But, as I was finishing up watching those videos, the YouTube algorithm was like, “Hold my beer.”

One of the things it showed me, we’ve covered before, but the other one shows us that wild, wild Tesla off-road mods aren’t just a one-off Uncle Rich kind of thing. It’s something that the EV scene is probably going to see more and more of now that some Chinese YouTubers have made what is probably the most capable off-road Tesla yet built (not counting any Tesla prototypes, of course).

Grind Hard Plumbing’s Overlanding Run

The “Mad Max” Model 3 is something we’ve covered before, but in short, it’s a salvage titled vehicle that Rich Rebuilds and Grind Hard Plumbing company (both YouTube channels) built. The front end was severely damaged, so they got rid of most of the front end.

How did this car come to be?

They pulled back the front end of the car to its more solid sections, which allowed them to weld on metal. They built a custom front bumper out of several lengths of steel tubing and much farther back from the factory bumper’s position. This resulted in a significantly superior approach angle. The radiator and condenser were relocated to the former frunk.

In order to allow the condenser and radiator to air, they had to open up the Model 3’s hood. To do that, they cut off the top layer of metal on the hood, which exposed honeycomb pattern of the frame underneath. This already had holes in it, so all they needed to do was remove any adhesive and paint it black for a surprisingly good look.

To make the vehicle more adept at driving off-road, they added spacers to the suspension, cut away material around the front wheel wells for larger tires, and swapped in better suited off-road tires. This gave increased ground clearance, better grip on mud, and improved wheel/tire geometries overall. The old lights were replaced with new LED units, which gave a better light under different conditions. The area behind the headlights was painted black to complement the new look. A winch was also added to the custom front bumper, which ended up coming in handy later on.

As I pointed out in the other article, it proved to be surprisingly capable, even pulling the Sherp out of the mud. But the off-roading escapades apparently didn’t end last year.

In this most recent video, they take it out to Mojave Road for an even bigger overland challenge. Sand, rocks, deep water crossings, and even a boulder that the Jeep climbed with ease to pose for some shots didn’t stop the “Mad Max” 3 (with some ramps). On the deepest water, some water got inside the car and got the car’s computer angry. But, with some time to dry out with the power off, and with some incline and advice from an expert … the problem wasn’t solved. So, they had to have it towed out by their support vehicle.

Compared to what a stock Tesla can do, this was still a pretty impressive run.

Escaping The Supposedly Inescapable Desert In A Tai Bang Tesla

Some Chinese YouTubers have taken it to yet another level, though, with a custom suspension made to tackle the “go in and never come out” Taklamakan Desert.

This Tesla might not look as insane as the Grind Hard Mad Max 3 above, but it’s got some things that make it a lot more impressive. Perhaps most importantly, it has a custom suspension that gives the vehicle a proper lift (about 3″) instead of just adding spacers to lift the body above the stock suspension system. This means it gets more wheel travel, giving it much greater off-road performance.

A serious lift can destroy CV joints, especially when you are going over serious obstacles and extending the angle even further. So, they lowered the drive units to flatten out the axle angles, which will keep the vehicle from binding and destroying the CV joints. That’s how they were able to get away with a 3″ lift.

They also cut the wheel wells larger, allowing for larger all-terrain tires that won’t transmit as much of a bump to passengers, among many other benefits to larger diameter tires. They ended up choosing 32″ General MT5 tires, which is a significant increase over the stock diameter and off-road grip.

Finally, they added some protection. This included metal fender flares to protect the body, and also added brush guards for the lights. Then, they added an external roll cage, which things like a rooftop tent could be mounted to.

On paper, this is the best off-road Tesla I’ve seen, which is why I’m calling it the “tai bang Tesla” (太棒, or “too awesome” in Chinese), but they didn’t stop with giving us numbers and build information. They took it out on a shakedown cruise, and immediately started finding problems with the electronics. It turned out that a bad sensor was to blame, and this was readily fixed at a Tesla facility. So, it seems that Chinese Tesla shops are a lot more forgiving about aftermarket suspensions than their touchy American counterparts.

They then took it out and gave it some torture in Xinjiang that the the UN wouldn’t complain about. They took it across the Taklamakan Desert, which in folk etymology supposedly means “go in and don’t come out.” The car’s factory range on pavement probably could have crossed the desert, but with all of the modifications, the range was reduced to under 200 km. This meant they needed to take a generator along to complete the arduous journey.

I tried to see if they had any followup videos, but the only thing I could find was a video showing that the car’s battery went dead while they were working on other cars. Sadly, they couldn’t figure out how to get the hood open to charge or swap out the 12V battery. Hopefully they got that situation sorted out and get some more videos online soon.

Featured image: A screenshot from the Yiche Youtube Channel showing their custom off-road Model Y.


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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

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