When you’re out at the auto parts store do you ever try to match up the guy in the shop to one of the customized vehicles parked outside?
All obvious giveaways aside (a dude wearing a Camaro hat or someone buying one of those “pee on Chevy” window decals), there are sometimes clues that can help make the right connection. It’s just an all-too-natural thing to do when you’re standing in a checkout line that’s seven deep with customers who all need to know which new-car scented air freshener actually smells the most like a brand-new car’s interior. A guy needs something to distract himself.
One telltale sign that gives someone away is their size, more specifically, their height. One might assume that a taller gent would be stepping into the jacked-up diesel rig that just happens to be taking up two parking stalls outside, or that a shorter guy might feel more at home in something along the lines of a Fiat. Well, neither of those assumptions is too reliable, because we’ve seen guys tall enough to play center for the local junior college basketball team squeeze themselves into body-dropped mini-trucks.
For guys like Otto Vega (who just happens to stand at 6-foot 4 inches), comfort is everything, but he isn’t one to sacrifice his taste in vehicles for the sake of skating around in cars and trucks that don’t resonate with his personal taste. He has come to grips with the fact that cars (old and new) just weren’t, aren’t and never will be designed with his size in mind. His solution? We’ll get to that in a moment. It wasn’t until he met a certain group of customizers that the answer became clear as crystal.
Otto had been in contact with Dave Kindig of Kindig-It Design about checking out a ’72 Datsun 240Z they had for sale. Upon arrival, he gave the car a good once-over, and the two talked about other vehicles and projects that might also be of interest. Otto had mentioned that he had a ’54 Ford F-100 that had been sitting in his garage for a few years and that he had strong intentions of ripping into one day. His very first vehicle was a ’55 Ford pickup, so he just had to get another one that was similar to the one he owned years back.
As the visit progressed, Otto and Dave struck a deal, but not about the Datsun. They came up with a plan for the ’55 instead. Otto jumped on a spot on the shop’s waiting list, which was a solid year at that point. The truck was shipped to Kindig-It Design as soon as he got back home. Then the truck sat in the shop for a year before they began any work on it. From there, the Kindig-It crew spent 12 months custom-tailoring the Ford to Otto’s precise measurements.
Okay, maybe that last line sounded like hyperbole, but it really wasn’t. Of course, the truck’s body modifications were shaped to what Otto had in mind, but the truck’s length was actually stretched to better fit his stature.
The Ford was personalized in a way that most trucks aren’t, and it was all done to achieve a truly custom level of comfort and performance. “Otto wanted to build something he could get in and out of and sit in comfortably,” says Dave Kindig of the truck’s most understated yet huge modification. “We modified the Ford to fit his 6-foot-plus frame, and we had to do it in a way that didn’t look like we simply stretched the truck in overall length, which would have looked odd and disproportionate.
Instead, we got the extra length we needed by moving the firewall forward and stretching the wheelbase 8 inches overall: 4 inches through the doors and moving the axle forward 4 inches in the front gave us the extra room we were after.”
A comfortable fitment only made up half of the equation for creating more room, however. Otto drives his vehicles as they were intended to be driven—hard. And if he doesn’t sit comfortably and doesn’t have adequate space for quick movement, he would be unable to use every bit of his truck’s performance abilities.
“Otto is the type of guy who likes to do 120 mph on the turnpike by his home, so the idea of giving his truck the power as well as the space he needs to take advantage of its handling were both equally necessary. We wanted to make sure he could utilize both comfortably,” Dave adds.
But extra legroom is just where the impressive nature of this truck begins. The performance that Dave briefly touched on revolves around the F-100’s power plant, a supercharged 5.0L Ford Coyote engine from Roush Performance. The Bowler 4R70 performance transmission harnesses the engine’s stable of 625 horses with ease and lets Otto rip the truck down the highway at eye-watering speeds.
There isn’t one inch of this truck that hasn’t been customized in one way or another, and that is something anyone can see from clear across the street. The interior is out of control, the body mods and paint are as trick as can be, and if you’re lucky enough to catch the truck aired up, you may be able to get a glimpse of the chassis and undercarriage, which are absolutely pristine.
Otto finds his truck surrounded by gawkers at all times. These would be the people who skip right past the guessing game of matching up drivers to their potential rides and shoot straight for waiting around in the parking lot to have the opportunity to shake the owner’s hand.
We can respect this sentiment, but this is assuming that Otto would even dare consider leaving this masterpiece unattended while out mixing with the general public. Some vehicles are best kept in gear with a driver ready to jet at any given time.
“We helped build Otto’s truck to fit somewhere in the ‘farm truck meets supercar’ category,” Dave goes on to say. If you haven’t dreamed of such a fusion, here is a physical example to help get an idea of what the mash-up could look like. Not only does the truck feature highly innovative design work and execution, it also maintains that classic nostalgia from Otto’s youth that he was trying so hard to capture with this build. Purists as well as those looking to push boundaries with vintage vehicle projects are sure to fall in love with everything this truck stands for.
1954 Ford F-100
Salt Lake City, UT
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the July 2017 print issue of the Drive Magazine.
Over the years I’ve had a lot of people ask for advice on their car projects. Most often the questions are technical, but today they’re asking what they can do to save money.
The answer is always the same. If you want to save, “Don’t cut corners”! That’s right, cutting corners in the long run will be your biggest expense, and you could end up hating the project, as many do.
Building a car from scratch is a long and tedious process at best. Now I’m not saying it isn’t fun; it’s a lot of fun. But, you’ve got to have a plan, and it cannot include cutting corners.
Putting a car together or car mod is just like building a house. You can’t start until you’ve laid a proper foundation. You can’t get ahead of yourself, you know what I mean. How many of you guys have painted something premature in the project (let’s say spindles, because you got a deal, or included them with some other parts you were doing), only to find out that they have to be heated to fit. Say good bye to your shortcut.
What are the worst shortcuts? The “biggie” is not fitting up the complete car with all the sheet metal in place before going to paint. People seem to think that since the fenders, hood and deck lid came off of a car just like theirs, they must fit. Wrong—every time wrong! When you fit up a car, it has to be all the way.
I’m talking a rolling chassis with the finished wheels and tires (make sure it steers and doesn’t rub anything) and a complete engine and transmission. Go ahead, adjust the doors with no weight in the car and see what that little shortcut gets you; or better yet, try chopping a top not using a complete chassis as a foundation. It’s not a pretty sight.
When you take the time to put it all together, you win big time: you save lots of money, it’s fun, and you can deal with problems as they arise—not through costly compromises later. Be patient. I know the car looks cool with a little color or chrome on it, but it looks a lot cooler when you’ve only had to do it once.
Another major cost savings is avoiding “project burnout”. You can bet on at least three burnout points during a build, so be careful not to stumble. Watch out for the one between chassis completion and fitting the body and sheet metal. The next involves not wanting to tear your car down for paint because it’s cool having what appears to be a finished hot rod in the garage.
The last is assembly and wiring, which is fun but also frustrating. Burnout leads to shortcuts, and remember they can be expensive. Hot rods cost enough as it is, so make a plan, stay cool and don’t burn out.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the September 2016 print issue of the Drive Magazine.
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