Meet BillaVista!

By Bill "BillaVista" Ansell
Photography: Bill Ansell
Copyright 2012 - Bill Ansell
(click any pic to enlarge)

Introduction

Please allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Bill "BillaVista" Ansell and I am the owner of BillaVista.com 

BillaVista.com is the official, authorized home of the famous BillaVista Offroad Tech articles.

My goal here is to produce the most detailed, thorough, informative, and advanced tech articles of their kind available anywhere. It seems to be working - so far you readers number over 3,000,000 with a steady monthly average of over 84,000 unique visitors. Among you are 'wheelers, rock crawlers, off-roaders, four-wheel-drive & truck enthusiasts, and world class off-road motor sport competitors who come from the U.S.A., Canada, and as far away as Finland, South Africa, and Australia. 

This page is my introduction to you , the reader, and serves as a brief biography / resume of the man behind the articles.

Quick Facts

Name: Bill "BillaVista" Ansell.

Born: 1969, England, U. K.

Lived: England, Wales, Libya, Cayman Islands, Canada.

Currently Resides: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Work: Senior Officer, Air Combat Systems Officer, Royal Canadian Air Force.

Hobbies & Interests: Offroad, 4x4s, Dirtbikes, Reading, Writing, Rugby, SCUBA, Photography, Camping, American muscle-cars, European sports cars, Japanese street bikes.

Biography

I was born in England and grew-up in England, Wales, the Cayman Islands, Libya, and Canada. My life-long fascination with 4x4s and offroad driving began in the Welsh mountains in the late 70's, bouncing around in the back of Dad's 1966 Series IIA short-wheelbase Land Rover. Dad is a brilliant mechanical engineer and we spent many hours fixing and tinkering with the Land Rover. As a boy I gleefully hung around handing him wrenches, learning colorful new words, and drinking in the following advice, "Use the right tool for the job..." often followed by the equally classic, "Don't do as I do, do as I say!" Dad has a knack for fixing the unfixable and making do with whatever is at hand. I swear he can take a bolt, reduce it one size, and re-cut the threads using only a small hand file. We didn’t use the word back than, but my Dad is pure “hardcore”, and that’s how I got my start with a powerful, life-long obsession.

Since then I have owned, driven, and wrenched on many different 4x4s from a Land Rover in the Libyan desert, to a Nissan Patrol in the Cayman Islands, to Jeep knock-offs in South America. At home in Canada my collection has included over the years: a Toyota pickup truck, a full-size Ford Bronco, my much-loved Jeep Cherokee XJ, and of course my current ride - a 1 ton Rock Buggy called "The Wolf". The pinnacle of my offroad career to date was forming Joint Force Racing with Charlie Melchner and racing the 2010 Ultra-4 series, culminating in running the 2010 King of the Hammers.

The early days! BillaVista is on the left in front of the family Land Rover, somewhere in the Welsh mountains. Circa 1977.
My first serious "hardcore" offroad machine - the old '88 Jeep XJ Cherokee. Now gone but not forgotten.
The Wolf - my 1-ton rock buggy.
Racing the Rausch Creek Qualifier for the 2010 King of the Hammers race. We qualified in 5th position.

My shop is a small garage in which the Wolf barely fits. It's cramped, cluttered, and freezing cold in the winter. I love to collect and fill it with all sorts of junk I think of as treasure. I have a modest collection of tools and I'm fairly decent with the wrench, but am not a professional or talented fabricator welder, machinist, or one of those naturally gifted mechanics. If fabrication is an art, then my motto is, “The welder is my paintbrush – but the grinder is my eraser!”

About the Articles

If I have a strength, it’s in my passion for detail and accuracy, but that doesn’t mean I’ll never get it wrong (and of course, I welcome your comments or corrections).

Not every article is going to be the same. Some will be long and detailed some quick and simple. Some will have a heavy do-it-yourself approach, and some will feature the best products from the industry. Some will be more controversial than others, and none will please everybody – but my aim is to cover a broad spectrum of "hardcore" tech.

But what does it mean, this word “hardcore”? The answer, in my philosophy, is simple: it’s a state of mind.

It isn’t a particular vehicle, a type of axle, size of tires, or a particular trail. Hardcore tech means exploring not only the “what’s” and “how’s”, but also the “why’s”. I like to cover a huge range of topics – some relatively simple, some very complex – but regardless of the topic, the hardcore will be in the state of mind – the state of mind that says, “do it yourself, dig into the details, figure out why, innovate, adapt, overcome, push the envelope, strive for the best.” There’ll be something for everyone – but what there won’t be are useless shiny bolt-ons, poseur rigs and parts, or wimpy little articles devoid of details that look more like ad-copy in a different font. That’s what hardcore means to me.

My goals? Hopefully to educate, definitely to share. To share what works and why, what doesn’t and why not, and most of all what I’ve learned, especially the blunders I have made – after all, a wise man once said, “you must learn from the mistakes of others, you won’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” (A theory you might think I’m challenging if you ever saw me with a cutting torch in my hands!) I also want to provoke thought and discussion and ultimately, if I’m successful, to inspire you – inspire you to get stuck in and do it yourself, to learn as much as you can, to create the best damn 4x4 you can (whether barn-buggy or world-class rock crawling rig), and to have a hell of a lot of fun doing it!

Family

I have been married to my beautiful and amazing wife, Laurie, since 1995. We have two awesome children, Mitchell and Jessica. Mitchell named my buggy "The Wolf" after his favourite animal at the local wildlife park. The family is rounded out by our two big dogs, Chevy and Scout. As a family we can usually be found out camping, wheeling, fishing, skiing, riding our quads and dirtbikes, walking the dogs and supporting Jessie's swimming or Mitchell's football.

Chevy the "English Cream" Golden Retriever
Scout the Bernese Mountain X Golden Retriever

Why "BillaVista"?

I got the online nick-name "BillaVista" from an online friend of mine, Beezil, at the North American XJ Association forums. It was a spoof on the internet search engine "Altavista", which he tagged me with because I always seemed to have a link for anything - and particularly 4x4 related tech info. One day I boasted in fun that I could find out anything on the internet, and Beezil threw down the challenge by asking, "OK, smart guy, how many giraffes are there at the Chicago Zoo?". For a laugh, I looked up the Chicago Zoo, and lo and behold - they have a web site. It turned out that the big news on their site was the building of a new addition to the animal enclosures, and how all the animals had been temporarily moved until completion. So I posted the answer - zero giraffes currently at the Chicago Zoo - along with the link. Ever since then, the name stuck!

Resume

Education:

  • Wings Graduate – Canadian Forces School of Air Navigation
  • B.Sc. in General Science, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
  • Ontario Secondary School Grade 13 Honour Diploma, St. Andrew's College

Offroad Experience:

  • Over 25 years' experience in offroad driving and four-wheel-drive vehicles
  • Have owned, driven, and worked on many vehicles including Land Rovers, Nissan Patrols, Jeeps,  US Military Hummers, Toyotas, Ford Broncos, and custom rock buggies.
  • My wheeling experience spans four continents - the United Kingdom, the Libyan Desert, South America, and North America.

Military Employment:

  • Mission Systems Lead / Operational Requirements - Maritime Helicopter Project
  • International Arms Control Inspector, J3 Arms Control Verification, National Defence HQ
  • Flight Instructor / Standards Officer,  406 Maritime (OT) Squadron
  • Maritime Helicopter Crew Commander / Standards Officer,  423 (MH) Squadron
  • Programmer / Analyst - Operational Research, Air Command HQ

Military Commendations / Decorations:

  • Canadian Forces Decoration for 12 years' outstanding service
  • Canadian Peacekeeping Medal
  • Former Yugoslavia Service Medal
  • 1 Canadian Air Division Commander’s Commendation
  • Commander Air Command Commendation - for lifesaving rescue during national disaster
  • Sikorsky Rescue Award (twice)
  • Top Candidate Award  - Officer Basic Training
In the cockpit, racin' with Charlie.
Me and the venerable "Sea King" Anti-Submarine Warfare helicopter.
The Joint Force Racing Crew.
Rock Crawling in The Wolf.
Trail riding with Fred Williams from Peterson's 4-Wheel & Offroad magazine.
Snow wheeling in The Wolf.
Hittin' the whoops in Car69, KOH race 2010.

Acknowledgements

And the credit goes to …

Of course, I didn’t get to be BillaVista all by myself. I ask your indulgence while I give credit where credit is due.

Thanks to my father, not only my inspiration, mentor, and hero – but often my professional Mechanical Engineering consultant.

Thanks also to my mother, herself a professional author and editor, for inspiring me to write and for providing tireless support and encouragement.

The technical team that backs me up is rounded out by Lonny Handwork, whose excellent 2 and 3-D drawings will often be featured in my articles – a picture really is worth a thousand words.

And where would I be without the “crew”?

The Nova Scotia boys - Don Scoville, Rue Armstrong, Steve Wagstaff, Steve Akin.

The Quebec Boys - Eric, Patrick "Bad Toy" Audet, Olivier "Spyder" Marois, Alain Mongrain , Alexandre Dumont, and Pierre Fortin.

My American Brothers - Charlie Melchner, Doug Bigelow, Chris Macock, Matthew Boutilier, Ken Mercer, Benny Langford,

The Right Foot Crawlers (Ottawa Crew) - Adrian, Andrew, Jon, Trevor, Justin, Mike, Brad, Dirk, Terry, Tim, Matt, Dwayne, Scott, Jamie, and Marek.

Thanks also to some very special friends, most of whom I’ve never met in person. Each of these guys has more knowledge and experience in their baby toes than I’ll ever have – but more than that – they were always willing to share it. Dave Kamp, John Nutter, Ed Stevens, Paul Weitlauf – you’re the best, thanks guys.

OK, well that’s about enough of that – wipe that tear from your eye and let’s get on with it!

Props

So what are people saying about BillaVista?

Here are a few quotations gathered over the years:

I just got off the phone with one of the three corporate directors of ARB who just read your article and [he] was amazed at how good it was.  That's a pretty high up endorsement. The photography and writing is direct, clear, and to the point; everything our guys strive for when they write the installation guides.  I have already circulated it amongst the whole Air Locker design team.
 - Daniel J Bongard (MEng), Engineering Supervisor, ARB 4x4 Accessories, AUSTRALIA

I have to say that the "Dana 60 Bible" is the definitive source of answers for any and all questions I've ever had about this axle.  The conglomeration of facts is second to none.  After years of fabrication and design work, I still find myself referring to this article, as well as others from Billavista, over and over again.
- Glenn McConnell,   DesertFab Motorsports, Team 222 - W.E. ROCK

…Nice article...man do you ever do some great writing.
- Dustin Webster, Red Bull RockIt and the Red Bull ROCKhER

Very SICK info there!! Thanks for all of your hard work.
- Zach V, A to Z fabrication

Great job - very informative!
- Ron, AlloyUSA

Wow, BillaVista you rock! I always look forward to reading your stuff...no really! I love you man !!
- John “JR” Reynolds, King of the Hammers - 2007

Thanks Bill. Thanks for the insight. Whether or not people tell you, I know a lot of my friends read your stuff and live and die by it.
- Doug Bigelow, Bigelow Motorsports

Hey, you do awesome tech reviews... Thanks dude.
- Rob DuBroc, Muchado Productions

You, sir, are a big fat awesome tech writer. As always, keep up the good work. It is appreciated.
- Tom Clark, CRAWL Magazine

Once again Bill, you have some of the best tech pages I have seen on the net.
- Dave, Polyperformance.com

Best winch article I have ever seen. Wow.
- Chris Geiger, Marlin Crawler

If you are ever at the point of having books written let me know … I would have no problem promoting your work.
- Ian Johnson, Xtreme 4x4 TV

Yet another great article!! It's truly amazing … I appreciate all the effort that you put into your articles! Keep up the good work!
- Michael R. Stowe, Tinbenders, CA

Part of why I rarely post is the incredibly helpful and huge volume of information in your tech articles. If I need an answer, chances are you’ve already figured out a dozen different meticulously detailed answers to my question and several I didn’t know I needed to ask.
- Sean, OH

The Wolf

Below are the specs on  my custom rock buggy, The Wolf

Chasis: 1.75" DOM and HREW tube with a bit of chopped ½ ton Chevy truck frame and some custom sheet-metal.

Drivetrain: 525HP Turn Key LS2 V-8, TH400 with auto/manual VB, Atlas-4SP (2.72/3.8), High Angle Driveline 1350/1410 CV driveshafts.

Front Axle: Chevy Dana 60, 4.10 Dana gears, Teraflex T-locker, Superior alloy shafts, CTM U-joints, Crane knuckles, Polyperformance ChroMo drive slugs, ¾ ton disc brakes.

Rear Axle: Shaved Chevy 14-bolt, 4.10 Yukon gears, ARB, ¾ ton disc brakes.

Front Suspension: 3-link with panhard, 16” Fox coilovers, Eibach springs, Fox Air Bumps.

Rear Suspension: double triangulated 4-link with 16” Fox coil-overs, Eibach springs, Fox Air Bumps.

Wheels/Tires: 42 x 15 Pitbull Rockers on 16.5” custom Dean Read Hummer-style double beadlocks.

Dimensions: Weight - 4500 lbs, Length - 145”, Width – 81” (front axle), Height – 6’3”, Wheelbase – 103”, 20* ramp – 1250, Anti-Squat – 65%.

Details: Full hydro steering, Ramsey X3-6000 winch, 4 custom Twisted Stitch suspension seats with Crow 5-point harnesses, cutting brakes, full pneumatic locker control, 25 gallon JAZ fuel cell, Onboard ReadyWelder, Customized B&M Shifter, Vanco hydroboost brakes, Griffin cooling, Russel Performance plumbing, and cup holders!

History:  Originally built in the late 1990’s the Wolf has seen many different forms – from ¼ elliptic front and rear, to coil-sprung at all 4 corners, to Fox Airshocks, to the current 16” Fox Coil-overs on Eibach springs. Axles have grown from welded-diff stock to disc-braked, chromo shafted, air-lockered, trussed and linked custom pieces.  Originally a 2-seat buggy with junkyard seats it is now a 4-seater with custom suspension seats.

The Wolf

Total:


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