While the King of the Hammers (KOH) competition has changed over the years, but organizers and most people still describe it as the world’s toughest one-day off-road race. And a Texan builder has decided to compete in the King of the Hammers 2024’s 4600 stock class using a machine like no other in the battle, namely a VW Touareg V10 TDI!
As its name implies, the KOH 4600 stock class requires participating vehicles to feature the production chassis and body, engine, and transmission, along with 35-inch DOT-approved tires, 2.5-inch diameter shocks, and mechanical steering.
But while this is the least permissive class in terms of modifications, don’t expect the competition to be anything but fierce. For one, Ford’s own Bronco 4600 took a 1-2-3 podium in 2022 and 2023, with the driver line-up including Vaughn Gittin Jr (he’s not always drifting an S650 Mustang, you know). The even meaner Bronco 4400 Unlimited class didn’t do so well, but still, these are factory-backed racers competing against independent builders.
And while many vehicles in the 4600 stock class are shop-built, the bulk of these machines is split between American metal (not just Jeeps) and Toyotas. So to see a King of the Hammers Volkswagen Touareg V10 TDI diesel preparing for the action is on another level.
The VW Atlas is no match for the mechanical coolness of the Touareg
Yes, nowadays VW of America offers the Atlas (here’s the upcoming Audi version, called the Q6), which comes with 7 seats and is, therefore, more suitable to the needs of US buyers. It also avoiding stepping on the toes of more lavish Touareg platform mates like the Audi Q8, Bentley Bentayga, Porsche Cayenne and Lamborghini Urus.
Despite having gained an Atlas Cross Sport “coupe” version, this model is nowhere near as technically interesting as the Touareg, which was sold in the US from its 2002 introduction until 2018 when the second generation was retired.
For one, while the Touareg came with a slew of top-notch engines (W12 included), which have admittedly been trimmed over the years (think: gen II), but the Atlas even lost its VR6 recently, only being offered exclusively with a 2.0L turbo-four with 269 hp and 273 lb-ft for 2024.
Builder Christopher Phares runs a shop called Pharr Motorsports in Texas and has been around off-road racers all his life, with his father introducing him to this world.
Using a VW Touareg at King of the Hammers means taking full advantage of the 4600 stock class rules
Phares didn’t simply choose the 2008 (Gen I) Touareg—the build is still being completed—because it’s different, though. He loves the fact that the platform came with all sorts of goodies in street trim. This means he can take full advantage of the 4600 stock class’ otherwise restrictive modification rules, which allow vehicles to be fitted with bits and pieces that fall in the same category as their factory features. We’re looking at you, air springs!
In stock form, the 5.0-liter V10 TDI packs 310 hp and a generous 510 lb-ft of twist. However, thanks to the said rules, he can fit an… aptly-sized 66mm turbo, which will work with a 3-inch exhaust. The Aisin 09D/TR-60SN six-speed automatic transmission is still in place, as required by the rules.
Of course, dealing with an uber-engineered German engine that packs two ECUs—one for each cylinder bank—wasn’t easy. So while the man, which handles every single aspect of the build himself, removed a lot of modules and wiring (e.g., emission control), he is using an ECUMaster PDM16 to trick the ECUs into thinking everything is there.
While many racers believe portal axles are a must, Pahres chose to design his independent front and rear suspension without them—as he explains on the irate4x4 forums, the extremely generous suspension travel you see in the image gallery and the Instagram video below will be adjusted for each event the SUV will tackle.
So those 21 inches up front will probably be limited to prevent jump damage, despite the rocker panels being replaced with clearance sliders and serious protection plates keeping the belly of the beast safe.
As expected by anybody who knows a thing or two about race trucks and such vehicles, getting the suspension right required several 3D modeling and prototyping attempts to get right—the Touareg packs progressive geometry suspension and dual spring coilovers.
The roll cage maximizes the protection offered by the unibody construction of the Volkswagen SUV, a feature not so often used in this class. Then there’s the steering rack, which was lifted off a classic Mini out of all things, albeit with the steering hardware being beefed up.
Removing the said bits, together with moves like replacing the dual factory batteries with a lightweight unit means saving some serious weight.
The VW Touareg has official racing history
The idea of a Touareg Off-Road Race “Truck” has crossed Volkswagen’s mind, though. Back in 2008, VW built a Touareg Trophy Truck for the Baja 1000, which was powered by a V12 TDI like the one that made its way from the Le Mans-winning Audi R10 TDI to the production Audi Q7 V12 TDI.
Then there was the previous decade’s VW Race Touareg, a purpose-built, carbon and kevlar-bodied machine that won the Dakar Rally three times before its maker switched over to WRC. But this private V10 TDI Touareg is in a different world, though, since it’s an actual production model, despite the said heavy mods.
King of the Hammers 2024
The King of the Hammers, which now has multiple days of racing for different types of vehicles, takes place on the Means Dry Lake at Johnson Valley, California in late January or February. And over 80,000+ spectators are there to see contestants using their machines to go from rock crawling to high-speed desert sections (100+ mph).
In fact, if you’ve been to this year’s event, you’ve probably seen Christopher Pharess’ Volkswagen Touareg V10 TDI 4600 racer (that’s the intro photo), but if you check out the King of the Hammers 2024 (January 18-February 2), you’ll see the Teutonic beast in action.