We're not sentimental types here at Truckin'. We see a truck like this and the first thing we notice is the incredibly detailed, hand-built engineering that makes a custom show truck do what it is supposed to do: boggle our eyeballs. But the impact that the Heroes truck had at SEMA, where members of the industry first saw it, and in Washington, D.C., where military service members experienced it, added an unexpected factor to this truck's equation: You don't look at this truck, you feel it.
Those in the know might get lost in the twists and turns of its polished tube chassis, and the mechanics of its hydraulic actuators. But people who don't know anything about customization and who never paid attention to the smoothness of a perfectly executed weld still sense the immensely human scale of the project.
Hillsboro, Ohio, resident Dale Ison applied his money and desire to the launch of this project in 1999. He had already teamed with fabricator Jon Watts and airbrush artist Mickey Harris on a well-known-and hard to miss-big rig dubbed Dragon Master, notable for the mythical beasts and damsels in distress that went from Mickey's imagination onto the trailer and cab of this 18-wheeler. Dragon Master lured a lot of admirers into its lair, a result that motivated Dale to build something more spectacular. The next project was going to be different-a vehicle called American Spirit, a patriotic tribute to its namesake.
The Most Detailed Truck EverJon Watts has worked in collision repair for 23 years. He had always dabbled in custom work on the side, an interest that exploded into full-time work for most of the five years that it took to build this truck. Dale had been a customer at the shop where Jon had worked, and they have known each other for 18 years. Since the two had already worked together on other projects, Dale had the faith in Jon to let him apply his considerable, under-rated skills to this new task. But Jon couldn't do everything on his own, so he brought in Steve Garvie, a Hillsboro paint and body man and hardcore mini-trucker, who spent 2-1/2 years working with Jon full time and without whom Jon says the truck still wouldn't be finished.
At the time Jon got involved, the perimeter of the hollow-tubed chassis and some of the housings and much of the unique suspension system had already been built by a fellow named Bill Lemon. The air ride scheme on this vehicle triggered a lot of head scratching and confusion-and that was just to find the right words to describe it. Imagine trying to build it.
The four-link suspension has a rare setup, but it works. Four compressed air tanks (two in the bed, two in the lower chassis) force 2,000 pounds of pressure into four Firestone rolling sleeve airbags mounted horizontally in the upper chassis beneath the bed. These 'bags mount directly to four 18-inch cc hydraulic cylinders. When the 'bags expand, they push the cylinders, which in turn push hydraulic fluid to the four hydraulic cylinders at the axles. This system lifts the suspension.
As for the body-lifting mechanism, the two Optima YellowTops dedicated to it push 24 volts to a hydraulic pump that runs a Vickers four-way valve located in the bed that controls the two dual-action cylinders that push and pull the body up and down. Jon praises Steve's expertise with the suspension and body-lift systems, areas where Jon's experience was limited.
Weld Racing 16.5x12-inch wheels are wrapped in huge Super Swamper 19.5/44-16.5LT tires. The 12 King shocks don't actually do anything. Steering is a big issue, and not just because of those big tires-just getting it to work was a problem. A Flaming River column designed for marine applications measures 11-1/2 inches in length, and has a charlin valve at the bottom of it for the hydraulic steering setup. The hydraulics are powered by a power steering pump, which also serves as the booster for the brake system that came from a '96 F-350. The steering wheel came from Billet Specialties.
Other components on the chassis include a Dynatrac differential, a Dana 70 in the rear and 60 up front, 40-spline Dynatrac axles, Posi-Lok front and back.
All the wiring and hydraulic lines were snaked through the hollow tubing that comprises the frames in order to keep the overall presentation tidy, but this also made it very difficult to accomplish and to later troubleshoot these hidden elements. Teams of polishers brought the chassis to a high shine: J&M Polishing in Covington, Kentucky, and the folks at Super Fine Shine in Chillicothe, Ohio.
Fast Racing in Colombus, Ohio, transformed a 502ci block bought from GM into a 540ci powerplant. Stacked like a polished atomic pile, it generates more than 1,000 hp or .000000032 the energy of a nuclear explosion. Leading the mushroom cloud assault is a 871 BDS blower, followed by a grip of other high-performance components: a Super Chiller intercooler, an MSD BTM6 ignition, an MSD distributor, full-metal-jacket spark plug wires, a BDS fuel injection with 16 injectors, Brodix aluminum heads, two 200-amp alternators built by Street Performance (from Mena, Arkansas), and an Edelbrock reverse-flow water pump. Jon designed the aluminum radiator, and Be Cool built it to include two 16-inch electric fans. Be Cool also built the trans cooler, which is a mini replica of the radiator but uses 5-inch fans. The truck has six YellowTop batteries, two in the lower chassis and four under the amplifier rack in the bed. Two are for the engine, two are for the audio/video system, and the last two are for the telescoping air cylinders. Street Performance also chromed the engine. The engine is completely computerized by BigStuff3, which, among other things, allows the engine to be tuned remotely via Internet.
The exhaust is fully custom from the heads to the pipes, built by Classic Autoworks in Cleveland, Ohio. The setup looks like straight pipes, but it has internal mufflers to keep the neighbors at bay. Heck, the engine sounds powerful enough as it is. A three-speed 400 Turbo tranny was already built into the chassis when Jon got it, as was a 1-ton 205 Saginaw transfer case, already chromed and beefed up. The front driveshaft was built by Custom Arizona Driveline Solutions, in Phoenix. Called the Big Boy model, it has a compressed length of 26 inches and a slip yoke that extends approximately 10 inches when the vehicle is lifted. Two rear driveshafts were built by Power Train in Cleveland.