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Dual Duty Denali: GMC 2016 2500HD

The Perfect Mixture of Business and Pleasure

Believe it or not; this mean, clean GMC 2500HD Denali pickup is a working farm truck. Yeah, we weren’t quite sold on believing that as fact right away—not until we heard from its owner, Jake Carlson. He told us all about the hard hours his GMC puts in daily, and we were able to confirm that his story checks out 100%. Not all utility vehicles have to look and feel like a utility vehicle. Jake wanted a truck that could serve a purpose around his family-run farm while still making it a rig that he could beef up and keep clean just like he would with a pickup suited strictly for leisure.

“The No. 1 goal I had for the truck was to build it into something that could be daily driven,” Jake says. “My second goal was to be able to make it quick on the street, followed by making it look custom enough to be able to win at show and shine events YET still be able to report for farm duty.”

It was a tall order to ask, but very much doable. To start, the first modifications that were added to the 2500HD were a Wehrli Custom Fab high flow bundle kit, an AirDog lift pump, and a set of 22-inch American Force wheels. To make it more reliable, Jake let the system breathe better by adding filtration for the failure-prone factory CP4 injection pump. From this point forward, things really started to snowball for the build.

“Within the next year, I had started an Instagram page for my GMC project (@illusion_nali),” Jake adds. “The account was more of a hobby for me to post and follow other build pages so I could ask questions of those I drew inspiration from, as well as answer questions directed toward me whenever they came in about what I was doing with my truck.”

It was during this period that another set of American Force wheels (this time 24s) was swapped in. Traction bars were also added. Since Jake couldn’t afford to pay shops anything at this beginning stage, he did what he could on his own. He bought himself a paint gun so he could start color-matching his own parts, but not having a secondary vehicle to drive while the GMC was blown apart or a climate-controlled shop to work in comfortably during hot days, every project he started had to be completed overnight and be ready to reassemble before the following day of work. Jake would be the first to admit that he is no professional by any stretch, but the results of his efforts turned out pretty good—enough to win an award at his first show during the 2021 Scheid Diesel Extravaganza.

There were a lot of other cosmetic upgrades Jake wanted to proceed with, but he was just too worried for them to get ruined while working around the cornfields. The inevitable rock chips and predictable harsh winter conditions always seemed to pose too big a threat to add any more custom paint or powdercoat work. Instead, Jake adjusted his sights toward keeping his truck as clean as possible for the time being while he worked on increasing his GMC’s horsepower output. He was soon able to pull the trigger on a WC Fab Exergy 10mm CP3 conversion that would make room for bigger injectors down the road.

“After talking with some guys on Instagram, I decided to go for a S400 swap while everything was out, which was done mostly for sound,” Jake admits. “I was also afraid to do compounds on a stock bottom end that I drive daily for work. A TCM tune from PPEI held me over since I couldn’t afford a new transmission at the time, but it did extend the life of the transmission until I am ready to make a move on a new one.”

After many wheel swaps later, a splurge on a round of professional paint and powdercoating from Knockout Kustoms in Jamestown, Indiana, as well as some custom interior work from Distinctive Trim Solutions in Lafayette, Indiana, Jake was well on his way to building quite a large IG following with just over 15K followers.

“It was never my goal to build my truck for likes, but it has been cool seeing people enjoy what I have done with the truck so far,” Jake says about his GMC’s newfound fanbase. “Once harvest time the following year rolled around, I came to the realization that I was no longer accomplishing one of my major goals of upkeeping a reliable truck. My 2500HD had gotten more unique and had a lot more power than when I started but a few things just had to go—starting with the stretched tires on the 14-inch-wide wheels.”

The spring of 2023 brought even more changes to the GMC such as powdercoated leaf springs, sway bars and torsion bars, a retrofitted 2020+ GM LED grille emblem onto the truck’s older style grille, as well as a set of 22×12 Weld Cheyenne wheels from 2005 that saw a ton of work before they could be bolted on.

“This was enough to help me win my second award—the Best Lowered GM at Ultimate Callout Challenge in Indianapolis,” Jake announces proudly. “It was great encouragement that I was going in the right direction after nearly three years of playing around with different ideas.”

Jake’s GMC now has about 120,000 clocked on the odometer, has grown to nearly 30K followers on IG, and is STILL being driven daily. Not a day goes by when the truck doesn’t travel through muddy spring fields or down gravel roads in snow, salt, and ice. Ninety percent of everything that has been done to it has taken place in Jake’s shop with the help of a dedicated group of friends. When it does get taken to a show, it takes half of a day to clean and polish it up properly for the event where it is usually hooked up to a dyno the day of the event to document its power output. The very next day, it is hooked back onto a seed tender to finish planting beans.

“I thoroughly enjoy that this truck has become an all-around everything truck, and that I have accomplished and still hold onto the goals I originally set for it,” Jake comments. “I am nowhere near finished with the truck, as there are many improvements still on my mind. I know I will get there one day thanks to the network of great people I have met throughout this whole experience. That truly has been the best part, and I would do it all over again from the beginning in a heartbeat.”

2016 GMC 2500HD


Jake Carlson


  • Duramax LML 6.6L
  • 744 hp / 1,296 lb-ft torque
  • Exergy 10mm CP3 injection pump w/ Wehrli Custom Fab race conversion and John C Garage low pressure line
  • Borg Warner S467.7/83 .90 turbocharger
  • Wehrli Custom Fab S400 turbo install kit, coolant reservoir, brake cylinder cover, upper radiator pipe, hot and cold side intercooler piping
  • Jamo 5-inch full exhaust
  • John C Garage EGT probe relocation to manifold kit
  • R1 Industries drilled and slotted rotors
  • PPE differential cover
  • BT DieselWorks auto sync torque convertor lockup controller
  • AirDog 4G 165 lift pump plumbed straight to the CP3 (fuel filter delete)


  • Reverse leveled John C Garage 1.4-inch drop shackles
  • Custom ¾-inch bumper spacer
  • Kryptonite upper and lower control arms, Death Grip tie rods, billet center link, pitman and idler arms w/ brace
  • Longhorn Fab Shop Professional Series full 72-inch traction bars
  • Full King 2.5-inch remote reservoir w/ adjustable dampeners
  • 3.5-inch Fabtech spindles


  • 22×12 Original Weld Cheyenne wheels
  • 2-inch Bora hub-centric 8×180-8×6.5 adapters
  • 305/40R22 Nitto NT420S tires
  • Flush-mount valve stems


  • Full color matched exterior by Knockout Kustomz, Jamestown, IN
  • Prismatic Powders Illusion Purple powdercoat on hitch receiver, traction and torsion bars, control arms, sway bar, diff cover, leaf springs, B&W turnover ball hitch and spindles by Knockout Coatings, Jamestown, IN
  • Retrofitted 1500 GMC Sierra Denali taillights
  • OEM headlights w/ Diode Dynamics Switchback LED bulbs and turn signal deletes
  • Recon third brake light and cab lights
  • Morimoto Switchback strips in mirrors, XB LED fog lights
  • 14-piece rock lights
  • Custom fiberglass cowl hood
  • BAKFlip MX4 tonneau cover
  • 2018 Denali grille
  • 2020+ GM LED grille emblem retrofitted
  • AMP PowerSteps for Sierra 1500


  • Black suede headliner w/ 850-piece starlight kit
  • Grab handles and all interior plastics dyed black
  • AZA Auto Wheel custom suede-wrapped steering wheel w/ RPM and redline screen
  • Custom 2-gauge pod switch panel w/ Auto Meter C2 boost and fuel pressure gauges


The Art of Vintage Truck Indulgence

The customization story of a 52 GMC pickup

Growing up as a kid was tough because I came from the wrong side of the tracks,” Chris Burgess, owner of this slick ’52 GMC pickup, told us. “I basically had nothing, and I learned at an early age that to get anywhere in life, you have to work hard. So I did.” This isn’t some kind of lead up to a story about a guy who has had the same vision of the same truck stuck in his head since childhood.

Chris has never owned a custom anything until this point in his life (he’s 43 as of the year 2017), but he’s always appreciated the look of older customized pickups.

After being discharged from the military, Chris drove a truck for a living. He wasn’t a stranger to putting in a full day’s work, and he has since done very well for himself riding the roads between coasts. The idea of buying or building a truck hadn’t been in the stars for him in the past because he was away from home a lot. He never really had a burning desire to chase a build until the day arrived that ended up taking his life in a different direction.

“I was hauling a load through Kansas, and I spotted a Model A two-door sedan with faded ugly brown paint and black wheels and fenders. I instantly fell in love with the vision of this look on  an old pickup. I’d never owned a custom vehicle before, but at that point, I was able to imagine myself driving a truck that could look like that.”

52 GMC pickup

Interiors of the GMC

After that first encounter, Chris went about his daily routine. Quick flashes of rolling around in a cool truck would surface in his thoughts, and then scurry to the back of his mind. More and more, though, he found himself daydreaming about what was becoming an obsession, and since he had a few informal connections on social media who could clue him in to how full-blown projects work, he figured he’d hit them up when he had some free time.

“I was following this guy Jeff Davy from Devious Customs on Facebook and Instagram who was always posting photos of all the crazy cars and vintage trucks he was piecing together. His shop was near my home in Riverside, so I messaged him one day and asked him a few questions about his operation.”

The two chatted for an hour and started bouncing ideas off each other about timelines and ideas relating to starting a project—if and when Chris actually locked down a truck. “At this point, I was all talk I guess since I didn’t even own a vintage truck for them to work on, but I was convinced that Jeff and his team would be able to build the vintage truck I had described.

We hit it off, shared similar tastes in cars and had a good hour-long conversation that first time we talked. The very next day, I went to Devious Customs and put down a $1,000 deposit to get on to Jeff’s schedule calendar. I may have been jumping the gun a bit, but I did have a lead on a pickup that I was sure I could grab.”

More and more, though, he found himself daydreaming about what was becoming an obsession.”


Just like that, Chris was on the board at the shop. He told Jeff all about the truck he spotted for sale not too far away. The next day, the two headed out with a trailer to see what was what. “Jeff picked me up in the morning the next day, and mind you, we had only known each other for two days at this point, but he was excited about my excitement …”

The two traveled through the winding back roads of the Temecula, California, wine groves to where the truck was stored. The previous owner was there to show the ’52 GMC to potential buyers. “There had been a substantial amount of work done to the truck already and a lot of parts that would come with it too,” Chris says of that first day looking at his future project vintage truck. There was some back and forth between the two parties, but Chris was ready to close the deal and take the truck back to the shop so Jeff and crew could get to work on it. The guys cooked up a plan of action on the way back to Devious HQ, and the vintage truck was left at the shop for the duration of the rehab process.

The idea of buying or building a truck hadn’t been in the stars for him in the past because he was away from home a lot. He never really had a burning desire to chase a build until the day arrived that ended up taking his life in a different direction.”

Jeff has years of experience in the one-off design and build game, and in that time he has created some memorable rides, which is why Chris was so eager to involve Jeff in his first custom project. “Like always, we try to make each of our custom truck builds unique …” Jeff says. “… We do our best to do something different to give us an edge in the sea of custom trucks out there in the show scene.” To give Chris’ GMC the advantage it would need to do that, Jeff wanted to run with the initial ideas inspired in Chris when he saw that Model A on the road months back. To push the truck past a lot of its competition right off the bat, the crew planned for a complete frame-off build. Jeff adds, “We wanted to powder coat the chassis, paint as many components as possible and make sure that the truck not only looked great but that it could be driven daily as well.” The Devious Customs crew spent a total of one year whipping the truck into shape. Once the guys had a rendering of the truck mocked-up, they had some of the best aftermarket manufacturers in the business champing at the bit to join the build as sponsors. Edelbrock played a huge part in hopping up the brand-new Chevy 383 stroker engine, Rocket Racing was looking forward to seeing its Booster series wheels worked into the build, and House of Kolor just knew its hues would give Chris the exact colors he’d want to see his truck wearing. “Some of my personal favorite parts of the build were the modified 1965 C/10 front bumper and dash work,” Jeff notes about the finished product. “Most people might not notice it, but we shortened the glove box to install AC vents that are equally spaced on the dash. Of course, the gold ice pearl over the brown paint really makes this truck what it is with all of the black accessories.”

Chris may not have realized just how amazing it would be to own a fully customized truck like the one he has now but he’s loving every aspect of it.”

As for Chris, he really couldn’t be happier with the outcome. He’s even gone so far as to incorporate his favorite movie into his first custom build, which further personalizes it.

“I’ve named the truck Sexual Chocolate after my favorite movie, ‘Coming to America,’ not just because it’s the same color as chocolate. I’m a huge Eddie Murphy fan, and if you don’t already know, he plays 10 or 11 different characters in that movie. One was named Randy Watson, and he sings with the band called Sexual Chocolate. My license plate also reads ‘RWATSON.’ I don’t know if anyone else would’ve put that together, but there it is.” Chris may not have realized just how amazing it would be to own a fully customized truck like the one he has now, but he’s loving every aspect of it. “I can take this truck anywhere and it’s a huge crowd-pleaser and a great conversation piece. I love the attention it gets, not only from truck people, but the everyday Joes as well. Hope to see you all at the next big show!”

Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the May 2017 print issue of the Drive Magazine.