A long time ago (well, not really) in a galaxy far far away (well, Earth actually), Darth Vadar, Chewbacca, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker left the Empire and cruised into Southern California and made a stop at Dumont dunes in their Land Speeder during the Halloween weekend. With three jet engines, the trip was pretty quick and there was plenty of legroom in the large Speeder. As they cruised over to Comp hill and visited with the hundreds of Star Wars fans, they gave out candy and light sabers to the kids they met. Everyone was awestruck by the Land Speeder. It was big, lit up with muticolor lights, and the jet engines were blowing smoke through the glowing red exhaust. Star Wars music was emanating from its Imperial sound system. Dune aficionados loved it and the Land Speeder’s progress through Comp valley was slowed to a crawl as everyone swarmed to get a better look.
The details on this Speeder are amazing. The Speeder was replicated based on a photo of the original Speeder used in the first Star Wars movie, right down to the damage on its nose. If you look really close, you will find the platform this build was set on is a Polaris RZR XP 1000. And, this isn’t the RZR’s first time being used as a base for this group’s Halloween theme builds.
Trish Ketchell (aka Luke Skywalker), Howard Bieber (aka Darth Vader), Laura Rapp (aka Princess Leia), and Walter Rapp (aka Chewbacca), along with help from Curtis Ensminger and Garrett Rahenkamp, are famous for their past Halloween showings of custom vehicles in the Dumont sand dunes. Their first build with a RZR was the Kia car, which stayed true to the infamous commercials with the Kia Hamsters. Then, last year they showed up with the Flinstones car that was replicated from the movie. It was a big hit and very well received not just by the kids, but their parents who grew up remembering the TV show. Afterwards, they wanted to go bigger and better and perhaps “over the top”.
Walter sent us an email detailing the story of the Land Speeder and he describes it best. From Walter:
“Three years ago, we started a trend than none of us thought would have brought us to where we are today. Not sure how many will remember the “Kia Car and the 4 Hamsters”?, and last year was the Flinstones. All of those ideas, the center of our motivation, as well as dedication came from the inspiration of Howard’s wife, Trish. She is the one that got this ball rolling and has helped guide us to where we are today. “
He continued by saying, “After building something that we thought was pretty cool and fun last year, we ended up changing how we saw Halloween. The Flintstones car was a huge hit and became the motivation behind doing something bigger and better. Except, this year it evolved into something much greater than we all imagined. Halloween of last year we already knew what we were going to do this year. After the shear excitement and overwhelming attention the Flintstone’s got last Halloween, the experience was humbling, to say the least. It was honestly beyond our expectations. As I type this, I can still remember the laughs, smiles, hugs and appreciation from everyone at Comp Hill/Dumont. The next night around the campfire was spent reliving all the fun we had the night before. Howard, Trish, Laura and myself committed then to do our best to exceed 2015!
Disassembly started August 19th with the base of the build being a 2015 XP 1000 4 seater. The car was stripped down of the cage, all rear plastic, doors, rocker panels and anything else that got in the way. The overall majority of this build had taken place over 5 weekends and roughly 165 hours. Total time in the build is just shy of 200 hours! That time doesn’t even include research time online looking for specialty items, LED lights, costumes or even running around town shopping parts or items needed throughout the build. Not much time was spent “planning” as it was a mad rush to get started on it. We really didn’t have any issues that set us back or having to start all over. We knew what we had to do and we did it. The refreshing part was that Howard and I work well together and we feed off each other’s ideas. We will interrupt each other a million times while elbow deep in god knows what, yet never get butt hurt when our ideas clash. If anything it makes us second guess our own ideas, and between the two of us we somehow find a better way to skin the proverbial cat. We each have our specialties and yet that still doesn’t change how we work with each other’s ideas. Hell, sometimes sitting on the couch we will come up with an idea that gets turned down by the other and yet still comes back into play the deeper we got into the build. Yes, this was a project that we fell asleep thinking about and woke up to the next morning. (if we slept at all that night thinking of the build)
Little things that we never even thought of in the beginning became super important to the build. We wanted to build our own fog machine and came up with LOTS of ideas that just didn’t work at all or work like we wanted. A quick trip to a Halloween store and a cheap-o fog machine gave us a glimmer of hope. After trying to modify the machine (and making it inoperable), Howard decided we weren’t going to screw around any longer and $300 later we have a commercial grade DJ 1300 watt fog machine! So, now we have another issue. How in the hell are we going to power it?!?! A 1500W 12v inverter couldn’t even come close to supporting this massive fog machine. Well another trip to Home Depot for a small and quiet 1800w generator! Have you realized yet that we’ve gone overboard? Nope? Well keep reading!
I know I jumped ahead, but it will all make sense in the end…. maybe. We had at least 2 full weekends of just metal fab and sheet metal work. Like I said earlier, we really didn’t change a lot during the build and when we did, it was for the best and mostly it was little changes that really set the bar above our original expectations. Remember how I stated that Howard and I work well together?? There were so many little things that we would do that either one of us didn’t have a clue how we were going to fab up, but between the two of us, we weren’t stumped for long. I still sit in awe that (a) we actually accomplished it and (b) we got it done well ahead of schedule! I still have a hard time believing it came out as good as it did!
Ok, on with the build. Remember me saying that this wasn’t going to be an easy build? It hovered off the ground, had smoke, Jet engines and a complete futuristic cockpit! So in all the research we did, we found MANY different versions of the Land Speeder… I was even able to find original photos from Lucas Film when they built the first one… They made fiberglass molds, built on a 3 wheel, one-off chassis. We didn’t have the time to go that crazy… so we improvised! The stock wheel base of the Polaris RZR XP 4 1000 is roughly 12′ long and 5′ wide. This thing now sits at 16′ 6″ long and 12′ 6″ wide!
By the end of September, the majority of our custom Speeder had been built, but there were a ton of little things that still needed attention. Remember that fog machine? That had to get plumbed to 3 jet engines. We also added a c02 tank for the jet propulsion! (We know we went overboard) It’s now the beginning of October and time is running out. We have LED lights coming from China, we run out of the LED lighting that we already had and had to order more. There is paint on the car, fog flowing from the jets and c02 shooting from the back… but Sooo much more to do! With the body built the way it was the seats had to be raised 12″ just so you could see to the end of the car and for it to look right. Ever move your seat away from the pedals by a foot? So we had to raise the floor in the front as well as extend the gas & brake pedals so we could drive the car safely. Let’s not forget, Luke Skywalker wasn’t driving the Land Speeder X-34 with a Polaris steering wheel!
Every weekend that we worked on this project, it was the same thing – 5am Howard and I are texting each other with a game plan for the day. It was a short two weeks before Halloween and we finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel… The Land Speeder was 90% finished. Just little things had to be finished, like mounting the flag, checking the lighting at night to make sure everything was right, and just tying up loose ends with electrical and interior items.
That’s it, I could go into details of every aspect of this build and it still wouldn’t scratch the surface of the fun we had. We already know what we’re building next year… Care to guess?”
Walter’s story of the Land Speeder is one of the record books – we love the fact that both he and his cohorts had an amazing time building this one-off vehicle, and we can’t wait to see what’s next on their list! Since Halloween weekend of last year, word of the Land Speeder became viral. Local television stations in Las Vegas (where the group is from) did a few stories on the Speeder. But, it didn’t end there. ABC’s Good Morning America ran a piece on the Speeder. Even the Las Vegas Police Department got in on the action.
They have used the speeder for some promotional use and public service announcements. Crowds at the Boulder City Light Parade and Las Vegas Veterans Day Parade cheered the Speeder as it went by. Specific coordination’s with local charities brought the speeder to local parks where the group handed out Christmas presents. It seems like some other uses are on the horizon, but it’s evident this group built something greater than they originally planned. Walter, Laura, Howard, Trish, Curtis and Garrett built the Speeder just for the love of the adventure and to bring it to the families that go to Dumont Dunes every Halloween. In their quest to go “over the top”, they succeeded.
Initial framing of the car: Two 12’ sticks of 1”x 2” heavy wall tubing was used to build off of. We mounted it at the A and C Pillars of the factory cage points. (Windshield and rear sections) From there we had to work on proportions so that once the outer shell was installed the car would aesthetically look correct. We were limited by the overall length and height of the RZR 1000 since the original car sat very low. We lowered the car as much as possible by removing preload on the shocks, which once we were almost finished we had to add some back in due to weight. Majority of the planning was done at this stage. We used a reference photo from the original Land Speeder as a guide. We tried our best to keep it as close to that as possible. But, again, some things had to change because of the platform we were working off of. Once we had our main two rails to work off of, we went to the top skin and lower skin framework. This was all 1/2” square tubing that was bent to what we felt as the best radius. Once the framework was built it was time to put on the skin. The sides and back of the Land Speeder were pretty simple. Tack the sheet metal down, bend it over the radius and tack it again. It was the front of the car that felt as if it took forever!
Jet engines: Lights! Smoke! Jet propulsion! Forming of the jet engines was a bit more complex as the real ones were all hand formed with fiberglass. We were trying to make them as quick and easy as possible without reinventing the wheel. A simple, quick, and crude engine was built and wrapped with sheet metal. Some flair was added to make it a little more believable, but even then it needed a little more pizazz. The front of the engines were molded and shaped while in back we added slices of 1” PVC glued on for looks. CO2 tanks were next – having just about everything on hand, we used a small 20lb/1500PSI tank that we wedged in one of the side bays. From the tank we put a hand valve in and plumbed it to 1/2″ copper pipe. Since we had to make the jet engines removable for transport, we had to get creative again. So we used flex hose to the jet engines. Within the jet engines there is more copper pipe. Since there was no back pressure and the c02 was free flowing, we didn’t have to worry about special piping. A little tape, some zip ties and before we knew it, we had smoke flowing from the engines!
Paint work: Since we were still using the reference from the movie, it was difficult to pick the right colors since the photos are super old and the color looks different at every angle. So, once we picked some colors we rolled the main color with some house latex flat paint. While one of us rolled the color out, the other was dragging rags through it, hitting it with a brush while it was still wet but drying. It needed that distressed/abused look. Difficult to do with fresh paint! We left the car in the main color for about a week while we worked on just about everything. A quick mask and the second color was also rolled on. Still looking like a new car that hasn’t been traveling at light speeds by any stretch of the imagination! One weekend it just happened; a little action with a spray gun and some automotive toners, silver and black spray cans and next thing we know it looks like its been through hell and back. I could say it was magic, but it’s just one of those things that can’t really be explained. Poof! Magic happened!
List of steel used:
29 sticks of 1/2″ square tube not including surplus scraps laying around the shop= over 580LF
4 sticks of 1″X2″ rectangular steel for the main frame= 80LF
6 sticks of 1″ square tube steel =120LF
7 sheets of 4’X10′ paint lock 22 gauge sheet metal
2 sheets of 4’X10′ perforated 18 gauge 1/4″ holes metal.
16 pieces of 1/8″X 1 1/2″ flat bar steel=320LF
12 pieces of 1/8″X 2″ flat bar steel =120 LF
1 sheet of 1/4″ Plexiglas
1 sheet of 3/4″ expanded metal
5′ of 8″ flat bar
In total, 1500# lbs of steel was used, which equates to over 1300 linear feet!!! And that does not include the sheet metal or perforated sheet metal on the Land Speeder.