John Mata Jr. October 09, 2023 Chevrolet
One great thing about the custom truck scene is the culmination of stories of everyone involved in it. Every journey and path is different, with some being more relatable than others—especially to those who have experienced humble beginnings along with the inevitable bumps in the road.
While interviewing James Smith of Milledgeville, Georgia, about his story of how he ended up here, the memories he shared sounded all too familiar.
…I finally felt the time was right to pick up where I left off in my goal of having a full custom truck.
“I remember going to the bookstore with my grandma during the summer of ’85 when I was only 14 years old,” he recalls. “I was drawn to magazines, but there was one in particular that was very different from the others. When I was thumbing through the copy of ‘Lowrider’ that I found on the shelf, I first thought the Impalas and other cars were cool and all but it was an Isuzu Space Cab P’Up that stood out the most to me. The candy paint, the SnugTop bed cover, the 14-inch gold Daytons all ‘frogged’ out and low—that’s the stuff that remained stuck in my head, as I got a little older. Years later I found ‘Truckin’’ magazine, which catered to more of the stuff that caught my eye years earlier.”
James started slow with all the usual bolt-on upgrades, but it wasn’t until he met Robert Robinson at Auto Extremes when things really got interesting.
Throughout his high school years and the time afterward as a young adult, James finally had enough money saved up to buy an ’82 Mazda Sundowner, and then later a Chevy 454SS that his grandfather helped him purchase. He eventually sold that truck to acquire other vehicles, which included a 2000 Silverado that he bought from an elderly gentleman’s front yard. It was with this truck that James really started dabbling with more extensive mods. Shortly after buying the Chevy, however, he began building a life with a special lady, so it had to go as well to help fund their new lifestyle together.
I pulled the truck into the garage, and with help from a good group of friends, tore the truck right down to the frame.
“I felt like I was sidelined at that point as I still paid attention to the custom truck scene, but it was just a little more than I could afford at that time with having new family duties,” James admits.
James spent 20 years or so without a truck but gained a stronger footing in life during this period.
“My wife stuck with me by my side, we now had two boys, and with my career developing into something more solid, I finally felt the time was right to pick up where I left off in my goal of having a full custom truck,” he says. “I found a 1990 Chevy Sport truck sitting at a local ‘buy here, pay here’ car lot, which I just had to bring home.”
James started slow with all the usual bolt-on upgrades, but it wasn’t until he met Robert Robinson at Auto Extremes when things really got interesting. Fitting a set of 22s then turned into dropping the truck off for a while to get ‘bagged, but most importantly, James developed a lasting friendship with Robert that sprang from these interactions.
It was up to James and his talented cast of buddies to take the truck to higher levels of customization in order to reach the new goal he had set for it.
James began showing his truck alongside the project vehicles Robert was taking out to display at local events. Although James’ truck was cool enough for what it was back then, it just wasn’t getting the attention he hoped for.
“Robert was a member of Negative Camber, and I noticed that the guys in the club all had trucks that were stunning to look at.” James says. “I asked what it would take for my truck to be considered for the club, and with some great feedback and a better direction of where I’d need to go, I pulled the truck into the garage. With help from a good group of friends, tore the truck right down to the frame.”
We were able to find a nice set of full-power seats from a 2012 Camaro SS, and from there, James [Hayden] recovered them as well as the newer model door panels, headliner and custom center console in Torch Red colored leather.
The Auto Extremes crew already had the chassis dialed in with the NFamous front upper and lower control arms, the rear 3-link setup and the Air Lift 3P air-management system and new staggered set of 22/24-inch Billet Specialties wheels. It was up to James and his talented cast of buddies to take the truck to higher levels of customization to reach the new goal he had set for it.
“Joe (Shorty) Tillman was my biggest influence, and he stopped at nothing, even when I felt I wanted to quit due to frustration,” James says. “One of my best friends, the late Scott Wilson, was also there to push me into the right direction and help with the bodywork. Justin Steed showed me how to properly sand and massage the body to a straight-as-an-arrow finish to make Evan Hite’s job of spraying the Summit White paint and red accents under the hood much easier.”
With the shell of the truck looking clean and smooth as all hell, James handed the interior work off to James Hayden who pulled off an absolute work of art inside the cab.
“We were able to find a nice set of full-power seats from a 2012 Camaro SS, and from there, James recovered them as well as the newer-model door panels, headliner, and custom center console in Torch Red colored leather,” James says. “Everything that wasn’t stitched and wrapped was painted to match in-house with a spray gun. This is when Randy McDaniel and Mark Shannon joined the party by wiring the entire audio system, which really was the conclusion of the project.”
Thankfully, the suspension and fabrication work completed by Auto Extremes has given me the confidence to be able to drive this truck anywhere, anytime, with no hesitation.
The transition of drooling over truck magazines to one day building one that was custom enough to be featured in print wasn’t exactly quick for James but he’d be the first to admit that he wouldn’t change a thing about his route to this moment.
“When we rolled the truck out of the garage we knew we had something special, and I felt extremely proud to have done the upgrades in my garage alongside a great group of friends,” he states. “Thankfully, the suspension and fabrication work completed by Auto Extremes has given me the confidence to be able to drive this truck anywhere, anytime, with no hesitation. It’s great to now be a part of a club that also inspired me to work harder to get to this point. I can’t forget to thank my wife and partner of 20 years Katy for putting up with me during my journey with this truck—it’s been a great experience.”
1990 Chevy C1500 Sport
WHEELS, TIRES & BRAKES
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