by Andy Lilienthal; photos by Phil Norvald of Max-Bilt
Nobody wants to break down on the trail, especially if the repair requires a lot of work to fix. However, if you did break down, this is the vehicle you'd want to see coming. This is the Max-Bilt 53M-TRV "Trail Recovery Vehicle." Based on a 1953 M-37, it could be the coolest recovery vehicle anywhere on the trail.
This rig made its debut at the 2012 Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah. When I was there, the guys from Eau Claire Wisconsin's Max-Bilt, who specialize in security consoles, off-road accessories, and turn-key builds, gave me a closer look at the vehicle, and it's an awesome one.
For starters, this is definitely not just a neat looking truck; it's a legit wheeler. A Dana 60 up front, a 14-bolt rear end (with 5.13 gears), and ARB lockers help with durability and capability. The 53M-TRV uses a 383 Chevrolet crate engine mated to a SM465 4-speed transmission and NP200 transfer case to get things underway. Rolling stock consists of Trail Ready bead locks wrapped in 40" Interco tires. WARN Premium Hubs keep the front wheels in four-wheel drive, and a WARN VR12000 winch provides pulling power in case things get dicey, or if they need to pull someone out of a situation. Other goodies include Fox Shocks, Autometer gauges, Corbeau seats, and some Holley performance goods.
While all these parts make this a very capable vehicle, it's what's behind the cab that really makes this a awesome recovery vehicle: It's essentially a mobile repair shop.
The custom box out back carries a Miller Bobcat welder/generator, a 20 gallon air compressor, a fold-out work table complete with vice, torch, and Rigid Industries LED work lights. The cabinets also house a cooler, 110V retractable power cord, 50 foot retractable air hose, shovels, straps, and a host of common replacement parts, such as u-joints, axles, fluids, etc. If you break, they'll likely be able to fix it.
Although the truck wore olive drab most of its life, the Max-Bilt team sprayed the vehicle flat black and added the stars on the doors for that vintage look and to honor its military heritage. The 53M-TRV was a standout at the Easter Jeep Safari, and likely turns heads wherever it goes. And while it looks cool, this rig can go to work on the trails, or on your broke-down 4x4.