For most, just getting their truck featured once is a dream come true, but for others, it's their goal. In Dec. '96 issue, we featured a pickup called "Out for Blood". The owner, a graphics artist named Charles Armstrong who lived in Oklahoma City, had just put the finishing touches on his ride. After the truck was published, Charles continued to paint, making his talents known throughout the United States and beyond. In 1998, Charles dismantled his truck and started a frame-off build up in hopes of building a cover-worthy truck. It took him about five years to get the truck to this point. Even though he wanted to quit many times, he finally put together what can only be considered the premier mini-truck in the nation's custom mini-truck scene today. To prove his point, he's been all over the United States since he finished the truck, and the outcome is always the same: Best of Show, Best Graphics, and so on. To get a closer look at the most incredible ride in mini-truckin' today, sit back and enjoy the following pages. We caution you, though: This is the truck by which all others will be judged for years to come.
MT: Good morning, Charles! I say that because we've been working on tech and showing how to paint since midnight. It's now almost 3 a.m. Are you tired yet? I'm beat.Charles: Yeah, but I'm pumped. It's all good.
MT: To catch up, we're in Arizona with you and your truck for three days getting all of this ready to go for MT. What did you think of Miki, your cover model?Charles: I refuse to answer on the grounds that it might get me divorced, but she was great.
MT: Glad to be of service. I'd better stop watching VH-1 long enough to interview you. Who's this guy hugging everyone in this Dave Matthews video? Charles: I'm waiting for the "Where Are they Now" Video Vixens to come back on. Let's get this rolling; I have been waiting for this for years now.
MT: Thinking back to when I met you, did you ever think you'd be where you are now? You've become one hell of a graphics artist. You've done so much high-profile work, and you're busier than ever!Charles: My goal has always been to do my best at graphics, murals, and custom painting, but I never really thought things would go as far as they have in the past six years. I've been painting now for 14 years, but I couldn't have seen this coming.
MT: Concerning your recent move from Oklahoma City to Prescott, Arizona, did you think this would break your string of successes in painting?Charles: I didn't know, honestly. I took a gamble to move back here. I figured that I'd be able to paint anywhere.
MT: I never knew you were such a tree-hugger, bro!Charles: (Laughs) I just like living in the mountains. The pine trees, fishing, and all of the natural beauty gives me a lot of inspiration. It helps me to get away from my work.
MT: So, what was the most difficult part of rebuilding the Toyota?Charles: Getting it finished, actually. I lose interest in things when they slow down, and I find it hard to get back on track. It took a real shot in the arm to get back on it the longer I procrastinated.
MT: Sounds a lot like a certain truck I own, so I totally understand. A whole lot of people have been asking why your truck hasn't been featured yet.Charles: Yeah, my friends are the ones who have kept me going on the truck: Brad Houk, Chris Brankel, and a certain magazine editor. I want to take care of the people who helped me; the best way to help them was to finally finish the truck.
MT: Well, I'd say you're definitely taking care of everyone. The truck has been making waves like crazy. The last few things you've done to the truck really helped it stand out.Charles: That was really the hardest part of doing the truck. The little stuff that was passable as it was, but I went back through to increase the caliber of the truck. It was like doing everything three or four times, just to make it good enough.
MT: I imagine things like that must make you fed up with it, but I'm glad you stuck it out and finished the details, such as getting the graphics on the inside of the bed, inner fenders, under the hood, and on the firewall. It really does make a big difference.Charles: My whole intention of building this truck was to compete against street rodders. You don't have to own a '32 Ford Coupe to have a full-blown show vehicle. Rodders don't take mini-truckers seriously enough. They'll pay attention when they get beat by a mini, though.
MT: I've always said mini-truckers are the rodders of the future.Charles: Don't get me wrong, I respect street rodders completely. They give us all a ton of ideas, and we wouldn't be where we are as a group (mini-truckers) without them. It's just time they recognize and show some of that respect back to us.
MT: Preach it, brother! Tell me, what's your favorite part of your truck?Charles: That's hard to answer; I've spent a lot of time planning and working on my truck. I'd have to say the semaphores and the artwork on the tonneau cover are my favorite parts of the truck. I love my stained glass back window, too.
MT: Good thing it's your truck, huh? Think you'd ever sell it? Or will they bury you in it?Charles: I don't plan on selling unless someone comes with an ungodly sum to buy it.
MT: (Laughs) Tell us about your show season this year. You've been all over the place with the Toyota and your tow pig on 37-inch tires.Charles: Man, it's been an experience. I have racked up more than 30,000 miles on my Expo' towing the Toyota all over. But it's been fun and I've put a lot of faces with names of people that I've met online or read about in the magazine. I am glad show season is over; I really need the rest.
MT: That's awesome. Most guys would love to to take their rides on the road like you've done. What shows did you go to in 2002?Charles: Yeah, I feel very fortunate. Everyone I've met has been real cool. I have been to Showfest in Greenville, Mississippi, Texas Heat Wave, Indy Truck Bash, California Summer Truck Jamboree in Irvine, California, a Las Vegas Lowrider Supershow, Goodguys in Phoenix, other shows here in Arizona, and a few places I'm probably too tired to remember right now.
MT: So, how did you do at those shows?Charles: I've won Best of Show, Best Paint, Best Engine, Best Engineered, Best Multicolor, and Best Graphics. I even won $1,500 at the Lowrider show I went to! I was pretty pumped because I was competing against trucks on turntables, full of chrome, gold, all engraved - some real crazy trucks. I placed at every single show and took home Best Ofs every time.
MT: With all of that traveling, do you plan to do it all again next season? What do you plan to do with the Toyota now?Charles: I'm going to show it for another season and then put it away. I'll bring it back out when it's a classic and laugh at it 'cuz those 20s will be so old and that paintjob will be so outdated. Man, what was I thinking? You know I'll feel the same way guys who built vans in the '70s feel now.
MT: Thanks for letting us get your ride in MT before it goes anywhere in print. It means a lot in our competitive marketplace, grandpa.Charles: I wouldn't have it any other way. Thanks for the ink, bro.
The LowdownWheels/Tires One-off "Boneyard" billet wheels designed by Charles Armstrong and built by Billet Accessories Direct in Tulsa, Oklahoma, were installed to make this truck different from any truck in history. Up front, 18x7s with 225/35ZR18 Nitto NT555s keep the truck in a straight line. In the rear, 20x8.5-inch billet wheels with 255/35ZR20 Nittos put the hopped up power from a modified 22R engine to the pavement. Thanks to Mike at Merle's Frame & Alignment for help with stretching the Nitto rubber onto Charles' B.A.D. wheels.
Chassis Completely detailed front-to-back with hieroglyphics in a sandstone background. All suspension components have either been chromed, powdercoated, or painted to complement the overall attention to detail for an ultimate show truck. To get the best possible lowered stance, the truck was body dropped 2-1/2 inches by Brad Houk, and Moser narrowed the Toyota rearend by 4-1/2 inches overall. Another interesting touch was the installation of a Downey Off Road rear disc brake conversion on the truck's Toyota rearend.
Suspension Perfection Truck Equipment in OKC supplied all of Charles' parts to get things rolling. Brad Houk in Prescott, Arizona, installed an Elite Street Rods chrome parallel four-link suspension in the rear. The rear suspension is adjustable via a pair of Firestone 225C air springs in the rear, kept in position with a handmade spinal crossmember made to resemble a dinosaur's backbone. Up front, beside a pair of Belltech 2-inch dropped spindles, the upper and lower control arms are either forced apart or allowed to collapse together at-will with a pair of 224C Firestone 'bags. Air supply for the truck's suspension system comes from a pair of Viair 450C compressors and a pair of 5-gallon tanks. Airflow to the air bags is made possible with 3/8-inch Sarai electric valves from Suspension Dimension in Grand Terrace, California, and a panel of switches on the dash. Road damping is made simple using HAL billet street rod shocks at each corner.
Engine Originally delivered as a 22RE fuel-injected four-cylinder, the engine was converted to carburetion in order to maximize the available headroom in the engine compartment - post body drop and to clean up the engine compartment. The dual Webber carburetor setup from Bethany Imports in OKC makes for far fewer vacuum lines. Extra power is made possible by a Flex-A-Lite electric fan, a Downey Off Road header, a 2-1/2-inch HPC-coated exhaust system by Bill Keeling at Arizona Exhaust that uses a polished stainless steel MagnaFlow muffler, an MSD 6A ignition system, an MSD Blaster spark coil, and a mild camshaft from LC Engineering in Lake Havasu, Arizona. To make the engine compartment even cleaner, a Painless Wiring kit was used, while Jim at Jim's Integrity Automotive & Racing in Prescott Valley, Arizona, routed and installed all of the stainless brake, clutch, and fuel lines and the stainless braided lines at the radiator and for fuel. All wiring and engine tuning was performed by Justin Burns at Car Care by Bob in Prescott, Arizona.
Body Mods Shaved: door handles, antenna hole, taillights, turn signals, corner lamps, underhood ribs, gas filler door, rock guards, smoothed bed floor, smoothed cab wall/bulkhead, hidden brake lights in the graphics in the roll pan, an Alter Images tailgate skin, an Alter Images roll pan, '63 Volkswagen European semaphore turn signals, 4x4 front fenders, a modified 4x4 valance, Trenz phantom billet grille, and a Trenz billet valance insert. Brad Houk from Oklahoma City performed all the bodywork.
Paint PPG paint was used exclusively on the truck, and though it looks as if Charles used hundreds of colors to give the Toyota visual impact, a total of 24 colors were used, and various shades of each were created. Chris Brankel and Shane Hill sprayed the truck's basecoat and clearcoat. The tonneau cover was sandblasted to give it three-dimensionality and shaded to accent that depth. The paintjob on the Toyota is the result of more than 700 hours of work, not including bodywork.
Interior Upholstered by Josh Handman at Leather Trim Limited in Arlington, Texas, using purple suede and beige tanned leather over a pair of BMW 325i bucket seats. The door panels were wrapped in the same beige leather and accented with custom speaker pods and polished billet cranks. Between the BMW bucket seats, a center console was built that encases a lighting generator. A Billet Accessories Direct Toxic steering wheel, complete with a polished billet skull, was installed for stylish direction changes. The truck's dash, center console, and handmade speaker enclosure behind the seats were smoothed and painted using the same Hot Licks Lavender that serves as the truck's base color. In the dash, Auto Meter gauges were used in the dash. Finally, the interior was opened up more with a power sunroof installed by Vinyl Top Specialists in Oklahoma City.
Stereo Features a Kenwood Excelon KDC-X959 head unit mounted in-dash, with Diamond Audio mids and highs mounted in custom-built speaker pods in the doors and kick panels. A pair of Diamond Audio amplifiers boosts the power that enables the system to crank out plenty of bass from their location in the bed of the truck atop a chipped ice acrylic platform by Eaton Quaid Plastics in Oklahoma City. Paul Wheeler at Audio Plus in Prescott performed all stereo installation. Stinger Electronics provided the one-farad capacitor, dual batteries and all of the additional installation components that truly set the electronics inside the Toyota apart.
Special Thanks Brad Houk, Chris Brankel, Shane Hill, Justin Burns, Charles' Dad Jim Armstrong, his wife Susan Armstrong (including Megan and Regan Armstrong), Chuck at Performance Coatings, Ramos Chrome Plating, Bill Keeling at Arizona Exhaust, Todd Ryden at MSD Ignition, Bernie at Vincent Radiators, Kevin Nichols at Car Care by Bob, and to the members of SubCulture World Wyd for their help supporting the Toyota by cleaning and getting the truck ready at shows while Charles was recovering from a life-changing motorcycle accident.