If you take a stroll through any local custom truck show, it is evident that the high-riding enthusiasts of today have raised the bar up more than a few notches from the lifted Toyota 4x4 days. From the late '80s to the late '90s, lowered trucks were all the rage. The lowered craze seemed like it had no end as boat ramps across California, Arizona, and Nevada were lined with fast water missiles being towed by none other than -- you guessed it -- pavement-grinding '88-'98 Chevy and GMC pickups.
Whether they were standard cabs or more luxurious extended cabs, these trucks were everywhere, featuring the mandatory 4/6 drop, fiberglass roll pan, smooth front bumper cover, billet grille, Boyd Coddington wheels, and color-matched-everything custom recipe. During this time, a few lifted trucks were sprinkled among the custom crowd, but most of them were just tired old show trucks trying to keep a once-popular trend alive.
Today, the looks and function of lifted trucks have made their popularity jump from nonexistent to abundant. These days, traveling down Southern California highways can yield half a dozen lifted truck sightings within a 5- to 10-mile radius, and their popularity at the river and the dunes is unreal. Enthusiasts are tired of going slow over speed bumps and having to take driveways at weird angles. A lifted truck offers a custom look that maintains easy driveability.
Shawn Gibson of Gibson Performance Exhaust Systems in Corona, California, decided that when the new Chevy Heavy Duty pickups came out, it was time to show the custom truck community how cool he could make one. Before we give you the skinny on this mile-high hauler, the fact that Shawn started with an '01 Chevy 3500 HD two-wheel-drive dualie will tell you how much work has gone into Hell Fire. After driving his brand-new pickup off the lot, Shawn headed straight to Off Road Unlimited in Burbank, California, to pick up much of the product needed to put this bad boy in the air.
The custom 16-inch lift was donated by National Spring to put Hell Fire up high in the sky. Custom straight-axle-conversion hangers and shackles and cross-over hydraulic assist steering from Off Road Unlimited aid in modifying the truck's steering system and bringing together the necessary links of the suspension.
A set of custom-built shock hoops equipped with 2.5x16-inch Sway-A-Way Race Runner shocks featuring remote reservoirs fills the front fenderwells. Not only were these shocks awesome in their factory finish, but for the ultimate looks and performance, Shawn machined them down and had them chrome-plated by Foss Plating to complement the rest of the truck's powdercoated and chromed underpinnings. After picking up the updated steering, the 16-inch National Spring lift and the custom hangers and shackles, it was off to Feurst Engineering in Ramona, California, where Hell Fire would receive a Dana 60 front axle filled with 4:10 gears and all the chassis custom fabrication would be executed.
The factory rearend was treated to a 4:10 gear conversion in order to turn the massive 44-inch Super Swamper tires supplied by Interco Tires mounted on 16.5x12-inch Weld Stone Crusher wheels. A 205 Diverse transfer case was picked up from Scotty's Jeep & Salvage in Rancho Cucamonga, California, to apply the massive amount of torque to the front axle. Feurst Engineering in Ramona, California, performed all of the custom fabrication work -- from the custom-built shock hoops to the handmade link bars -- and all the chassis work that required welding and relocating.
Once the suspension was complete and all the necessary grinding and smoothing was done on the chassis, the rolling ensemble was delivered to Professional Auto Works in Murrieta, California, where the truck was stripped down to the bare frame to prepare for powdercoating the 'rails and assorted suspension pieces.
Electro Tech Powder Coating in San Marcos, California, completed all of the gleaming powdercoat work underneath. The frame was painted silver for even more contrast. While the rest of the undercarriage was treated to miles of Fire Engine Red paint to match the body's base color, several suspension pieces were delivered to Foss Plating Company in Santa Fe Springs, California, for a brilliant chrome finish to complement the bright-red undercarriage backdrop. As for the body of Hell Fire, Shawn had an outrageous paint scheme planned that would go perfect with the extreme lifted looks.
After all the factory molding and trim was deleted from the exterior equation and the tailgate handle was shaved and relocated, New Image Auto Body in Temecula, California, sprayed the truck from roof to rocker and nose to tail in an attractive Fire Engine Red hue. While the truck looked amazing covered in its bright-red base color, Shawn felt that to get the attention he was going for, a wicked set of flames were desperately needed. To add the wicked hot licks he desired, Shawn turned to Steve Vandemon of Absolutely Custom Paint in Anaheim, California, to lay down the custom House of Kolor Pearl Orange and Yellow tribal flames highlighted by Silver Metallic pinstripes which singe the hood and run down both sides of the truck almost to the taillights.
To give the nose an aggressive in-your-face appearance, Shawn relied on professional metal-master Mike Filion at Pro-Design to build a custom lower valance to accommodate the '00 Chevy headlights. Custom-made billet grille inserts from Stull Industries lend an additional custom touch to the nose. Making it possible to enter and exit the beast is a set of Kodiak Side Winder motorized drop-down steps, which have been extended 12 inches to match the outrageous height and chromed for the show-truck touch. Now that the exterior was complete and shining like a fine diamond, Shawn dropped the truck off at Line-X Spray-On Truck Bedliners in Santa Ana, California, for the inner bed surfaces, the fenderwells, and the underside of the bed to be coated in Line-X's extra-tough protective bedliner coating. The liner would make Hell Fire fit for hauling duty and cut down on road noise from the massive 44-inch TSL Super Swampers.
Having worked in a family business for several years, Shawn felt that aftermarket performance upgrades could not be left out of the equation. Therefore, the Gibson crew teamed up with D.P.S. (Diesel Power Systems) in Fontana, California, to obtain one of its BD Power Chips, which once installed in Hell Fire, increased torque from the 6.6L Duramax Turbo Diesel by 150 lb-ft and added an additional 100 hp.
This project would definitely not be complete without the mandatory Gibson touch, which came in the form of a Gibson Performance stainless steel after-cat exhaust system to unleash the diesel's full throttle-stomping potential. Finishing off the Gibson system in style is a set of polished stainless steel flamed exhaust tips. Upon completion of the power upgrades, the last stop on the customizing tour was to focus on updating the factory threads and audio sounds.
To match the inside aftermarket quality and craftsmanship to the exterior's high-caliber appearance, Hell Fire was delivered to Mike Cox at Professional Auto Sound in West Lake Village, California, to receive a complete charcoal leather interior equipped with custom-stitched red tribal flames. The door panels and headliner were wrapped in graphite tweed complete with tribal flames to continue the blazing theme. After Professional Auto Sound finished the mild threadwork, the stereo was the next area of concern, so Shawn could rock out on the way to a weekend of fun and sun on the Colorado River.
For audio work, Shawn turned to Goins Automotive Group in Phoenix, Arizona, to install the ear-piercing stereo sounds. A Blaupunkt head unit was slipped into the dash and backed up by four Bazooka triangle subwoofers with mids and highs scattered throughout the cab. A custom-built box made by Goins Automotive Group covered in red and graphite tweed houses the subwoofers, while a custom-made amplifier surround panel hides all the wiring for the amplifiers.
For the safety of other drivers on the road, Shawn obtained a collection of Santeca monitors and cameras which have been positioned throughout the truck in order to keep a watchful eye on surroundings.
After Shawn got Hell Fire back from its customizing tour around Southern California, the truck started showing up at several West Coast events and has been making quite a splash with spectators and truck show owners alike. In fact, Hell Fire is so visually impressive that when the folks at Eliminator Boats got a look at it, they agreed to build an '03 36-foot Eliminator Daytona gelcoated to match the exterior. The whole rig is scheduled to appear at the SEMA Show this year in the new Performance Marine Pavilion as well as at all local offshore races and local truck shows. Check out Hell Fire at a custom truck event or offshore boat race near you, and try not to get burned.