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To Hellwig and Gone

Trailers? Where We’re Going We Don’t Need Trailers

Photos by RECOIL Staff and Courtesy Hellwig Products

It’s easy to wander around automotive events like SEMA seeing products that are really nothing more than booth bling and will probably never actually get much practical application. But like marrying a Playboy Bunny and getting separate beds, you can’t really resist asking yourself what the point is if it’s solely for appearances. When we saw the Hellwig Operator for the first time, we couldn’t help but be impressed. It looked like an overlanding version of a 747 with the space shuttle mounted on top. From stem to stern, to say it’s meant for off-roading wouldn’t do it justice. After all, how many other trucks can you think of that successfully piggybacked a 1,200-pound Textron Wildcat onto the back?

First, a little bit about Hellwig Products. The company’s heritage actually dates back to post World War II when founder Rudy Hellwig noticed vehicles consistently sagging in the rear when hauling heavy loads. Necessity being the mother of all invention led Rudy to create the Hellwig Helper Spring. He sold the product door to door in Southern California upon seeing cars or trucks suffering from this affliction and made the repair right there in the driveway for $7. Hellwig’s been a fixture in the automotive industry ever since, known especially for its 4140 hot-form-forged chromoly steel sway bars and other load-support and sway-control equipment.

Fast-forward to 2017 and this imposing 4×4 known as the Operator was conceived. The Hellwig Operator was a Ford Project Vehicle Program — a program Ford set up to give aftermarket manufacturers a chance to modify a Blue Oval vehicle and then buy it for a nominal amount. A Ford F-350 longbed crew-cab was chosen because of its versatility and the sheer amount of accessories it can hold. Hellwig submitted a very thorough proposal, detailing the build concept, what gear would be installed and, most importantly, the Hellwig products being developed for this new project.

Hellwig wanted a platform to show the capabilities of their products and needed a unique vehicle to do so. Being an avid supporter of our military, the die was cast on the overall theme. Since the company’s also known for its side-by-side gear, the question then became how to integrate everything into one package. Then, the ball was rolling to get other companies involved who shared their vision. The end result is nothing short of a truck guy’s shopping spree of dream parts.

So, how’d they get that UTV mounted? It’s a rather interesting piece of engineering. Sherptek pitched in with a custom-made Dragon Bak Dek designed to hold a SxS, rooftop tent, or anything else that could fit. Interestingly enough this deck also has amenities for bed mounted fuel tanks for both the SxS or the F-350 and uses “infinite” tie-down/attachment points on the deck and sides for securing gear, allowing an awning, Hi-Lift jack, shovel, and Daystar liquid cans to be mounted. All loaded up, it weighs about 2,300 pounds over factory GVWR and stands 11 feet, 9 inches tall.

The deck itself is built on skids, so it doesn’t ride on or touch the bedrails of the truck. It actually has its own stands that match the bed's profile, and sandwich the bed to the frame. The weight of the UTV and rack is supported by Hellwig’s Big Wig air springs, while the high center of gravity is kept in check by the addition of front and rear sway bars, a Viair compressor, and a 4.5-inch Icon Vehicle Dynamics suspension system with dual front reservoirs.


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Theresa Contreras and her team at LGE-CTS Motorsports laid on the hand-painted digi-cam exterior, often mistaken for a vinyl wrap. They also reengineered the Fab Fours bumpers in the front to accommodate a Warn winch. The powerplant is a stock 6.7L diesel V-8 with the six-speed trans, upgraded with MagnaFlow Pro DPF performance exhaust. Since it already makes about 1,000 lb-ft of torque, it’s got plenty of lead in its pencil, but a Pedal Commander module was added to make the throttle a bit more responsive. The exterior is also decked out with Bushwacker fender flares, an ARB rooftop tent and awning, McLean Metalworks hitch hammock, and Rigid Industries lightbars, all operated by a Whelen controller, just to scratch the surface.

The interior was redone with 5.11 Tactical pants material as well as MOLLE webbing installed on the underside and backs of the seats to hold various packs for first-aid, communications, and recovery gear. Rugged Radios headsets and Whelen PA system and lightbar also adorn the interior, while 17-inch Method Race Wheels beadlocks and 37-inch Falken Wild Peak M/Ts round out the rolling stock.

The RECOIL team had a chance to get behind the wheel of the Operator on a trip up steep mountain mining roads from Phoenix on into Prescott, Arizona, through low-hanging brush, dried-out desert washes, and slushy snow-covered mountains. In some areas the trails were barely wider than the truck. Although the Empire didn’t have Wookiees in mind when they designed these roads back in the 1800s for horses and buggies, for such a large vehicle we admired how well it performed and had a blast driving it.

By the numbers, this truck probably has around $180,000 in it. Check out the sidebar for the full litany of products. Unlike some that are all show and no go, we can attest it was built with one purpose in mind, an all-in-one way of getting out in the dirt and having fun … without having to tow your toys behind it.


Company Name and Product
Icon Vehicle Dynamics: 4.5” Suspension System Stage 5
MagnaFlow: PRO DPF Performance Exhaust
Method: 17” NV HD Set of 5
Falken: 37” Wild Peak M/T Off Road Tires (Set of 5)
AMP Research: XL Retracting Side Steps and Bed Step
AVS: Aeroskin II, Window Trim, Headlight Covers
T-Rex Grilles: X-Metal Grille
Daystar Liquid Cans (4)
Mag-Hytec: Diff Covers and Transmission Pan
Fab Fours: Vengeance Front and Rear Bumpers
Warn Industries: 16.5TI-S Winch
Warn Industries: Hub Ford 05SD Blk
Warn Industries: Pro Vantage 2500 (Deck Winch to Pull SxS)
Bolt: Receiver Lock and Misc. Locks
Rigid Industries: Lights (Adapt, 2×2″ Corner Lights 4 of Them, 2- 6×1″ Reverse Lights, Rock Lights Set of 4)
Wilco: Pre Runner Tail Gate
Bushwacker: Pocket Style Fender Flares and Trail Armor Rocker/Sill Covers
Viair: Compressor and Air Tank
Sherptek: Dragon Bak Toy Dek
Hellwig Products: Front Sway Bar
Hellwig Products: Rear Sway Bar
Hellwig Products: Big Wig Air Springs
Hellwig Products: Auto Leveling Air System
Hi Lift Jack: Jack, Mounts and Accessories
Krazy Beaver: Shovel
Optima Batteries: Batteries
5.11 Tactical: Material for Interior, Including Numerous Bags
Whelen: Light Bar and PA System
Billet Badges: Custom Hellwig Side Vents
Mac's Custom Tie Downs: Wheel Straps and Motorcycle Tie-Downs
Rugged Radios: Radio in Truck, Radio and Headsets in SXS, 2 Handheld Radios
R-M : Paint
Textron: Wild Cat X
SSV Works: Head Unit and Speakers for SXS
Trigger: Wireless Switch Solution (SXS)
Buggy Whips: Whips for Truck and SXS (1-2 ft., 1-6 ft.)
Assault: Detachable Steering Wheel/Side Mirrors
Expeditions Essentials: Stove/Kitchen
ARB: Roof Top Tent and Awning
McLean Metalworks : Hitch Hammock


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