SUVs

How I prepped the Rolls-Royce Cullinan for 7 days of off-road competition

When it comes to making sure a $400,000 car can finish the Rebelle Rally, a number of tweaks are in order.

The Rolls-Royce Cullinan is ready for off-road action.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

There comes a time in every off-road competitor's life when they just want to have a little fun. You know, surprise everyone with a vehicle choice that seems so whack-a-doo, only the brave (or stupid) would even attempt it. This is exactly why I'm about to run the 2019 Rolls Royce Cullinan in the seven-day, off-road navigational challenge known as the Rebelle Rally.

The Rolls-Royce has an off-road mode that gives it about nine inches of ground clearance, which isn't bad for an all-wheel-drive crossover. But to tackle something like the Rebelle, it's going to need some more help. Rocks can be big and sharp, so Rolls-Royce added a full skid plate underneath the Cullinan. It's made up of three pieces, so if it needs to come off during the rally for whatever reason, it's easier to manage. We have tiny little skid plates on the height sensors, as well, and a sturdy jacking point on either side of the car.

If we need to get yanked out of a jam, the Cullinan has a large eye bolt that screws into the front or back of the frame. However, the attachment points are just on one side of the car, which could make recovery tricky if we get stuffed in a bad situation. (I'll have to be on my toes to pick the best line). Self-recovery is always an option, and for that, I'm bringing two DMOS Delta shovels and four Maxtrax traction boards.

Are these the cutest little skid plates or what?

Rolls Royce

I happened to already have a light bar that fit perfectly under the Cullinan's grille, so I had that installed, as well. There shouldn't be any night driving, but you never know. Inside, Rolls-Royce added a super cool tire-mounting system that holds two spares, with room in the middle for a jack, tow rope and small tool bag. 

Tires, as it turns out, are the most important upgrade. Ask anyone who's tackled trails before -- tires can mean the difference between stuck and unstuck, and here's where it gets tricky with the Cullinan. This ultra-luxury SUV comes with 22-inch wheels wrapped in 285/40 rubber in the rear, but 255/45 in the front, to clear the shock mount. Since I can only carry two spares, having staggered tires means I would only have one for the front and one for the rear, or I could run the smaller tires on the rear as well.

Thankfully, Rolls-Royce offers 21-inch wheels for the optional winter tires, and they're the same size all the way around: 255/50. With the clearance issue in the front, the total wheel and tire package can not exceed 31.5 inches. And while I'd normally fit even smaller wheels, 21s are actually the littlest ones that will still clear the Cullinan's giant brakes.

Two spare tires fit neatly into the Cullinan's hatch.

Rolls Royce

Finding off-road tires with these limitations is downright impossible, so I'll be running the Rebelle Rally with the Rolls-Royce's Continental ContiWinterContact winter tires. I'll carry a plug kit, air compressor and everything I need to change a tire, but those small, 5-inch or so sidewalls and the decidedly unaggressive tread have been keeping me up at night, to say the least. This will definitely be interesting.

Having said all that, my recent testing sessions in Pismo Beach and Glamis, California, have been perfect. At Pismo, I aired the tires down to 20 psi and had no issues at all. In Glamis, I decided to try a higher psi to protect the sidewalls, as the area still has some surrounding rocky areas to the west that I'll encounter on the rally. Even at that higher pressure, the Rolls went way further into the dunes than I thought it would, keeping up with the four-wheel-drive, modified Toyotas I had for support in case of an emergency during practicing. I did get it stuck once at the end of the day when the sand was at its softest, but some shoveling and Maxtrax got me out in about 10 minutes. 

My navigator Rebecca Donaghe and I are ready to rally.

Dirt Cinema

My navigator Rebecca Donaghe and I go out into the desert for an unscored Day 0 on Oct. 11, with competition officially starting the next day. The Rebelle Rally is a completely tech-free competition, with all navigation done with a compass and a map. No phones. No laptop. No nothing.

Roadshow will be following along, posting photos to its social media accounts, and you can follow my progress in real time on the Rebelle Rally's website. I'll be the one in the most expensive car, having the most fun.