Owner: Michael Phillips Ride:...
Owner: Michael Phillips
Ride: '96 Chevrolet Blazer
Location: Killen, Alabama
Club: Relaxed Atmosphere
Our Under Construction issue is monumental for so many reasons. We give some of the best "almost finished" rides the inspiration to get back into the garage and come out of hibernation completed. To pay special tribute to the ones that really make our scene what it is today, we decided to do something a little different for this Under Construction special cover truck. We thought it would be cool to hear the story from the ones who truly lived it. So, rather than putting our own little twist on how hard it is to build one of the baddest rides around, no matter how long it takes - yeah, you know I've been there. Ha ha. - we're going to let Eric Saliba from Little Shop tell the story on how this Blazer came to be.
Would you believe that Mikey Phillips brought this thing to me in November of 2003 for a basic body drop, and our biggest decision was whether to run 18s or 19s? Why are we now staring at a truck with 22s, a V-8, a sheetmetal floor and interior, and a bodyline that's MIA? Couldn't tell ya, but I guess if there's one thing I've learned from this here jalopy, it's knowing when to stop. Sure, we could chop the top, try to cram 24s in the rear, and make all the doors open in different directions, but, folks, there comes a time when ya got to quit adding stuff to your project and simply finish the dern thing. After all, what's a truck in the shop, except not a truck at all? - Right, Alexander? - You're looking at a truck in a state of construction, where all the major components are squared up and the downhill slide toward something finished is at hand. This is the E! True Hollywood Story on Michael Phillips' Blazer.
Mikey had a nice-looking '96 Blazer in 2002. A clean set of Colorado Custom 18s, a two-tone paint scheme and flames from Billy Reid, and a 'bag job from Wicked Kustoms were some of the major perks. Why would anyone in their right mind cut up a truck like this? Well, you guessed it. Our good bud Mike is definitely not in his right mind. In the fall of the next year, a rough sketch was laid to body-drop his truck at the Little Shop of Horrors, which was at the time no more than a two-car garage in a deep corner of Tennessee. Not looking forward to patching up the stock floorboard after a body drop, I told Mike we should simply "cut the whole dang thing out." For some reason, he agreed and the plasma torch made waste of the stock floor in no time flat. Moving up to the engine bay, we both couldn't help but figure a small-block motor would save a world of time from having to rewire his 4.3. So, we jerked that V-6 out and sold it. Looking at the frame now, somebody had the gem of an idea to cut everything from the firewall back and use only the front frame clip in the build. By this time, the Little Shop had outgrown its home and moved into the back bay of a construction company's building, and on that concrete floor we were looking at nothing more than a body hull and a front frame clip. Now, this was around the first of February 2004. I told Mikey I'd surely have her buttoned up by Showfest that May. (Ha ha...yeah, right!) It took nearly 600 hours of work to have a rolling chassis at the All Chevy/GMC Nats, and then another two weeks' worth to show up with a smoothed and painted engine/tranny combo at Showfest that year. This was the first of many appearances at shows for the next two years, making sure to add something new each time.
From there, we took a couple of months and built the framework for the floor out of 3/4x3/4-inch square tubing and 3/8-inch rod. By the 2004 Mini-Nats in Nashville, we had the body mounted and started to get a little attention for the truck, now laying rocker on 20s and still wearing its original flame job. That fall at the first Relaxed Atmosphere All-Star Event, we wrapped some 16-gauge sheetmetal around some spare wheels to make a smooth and curvy firewall, which got welded in shortly before leaving for Millington, Tennessee.
Hundreds of hours went into...
Hundreds of hours went into shaping the all-steel floor and interior of the Little Shop Special.
The dash of a '64 Falcon adds...
The dash of a '64 Falcon adds to the custom sheetmetal interior, along with a retro BAD billet steering wheel.
Obviously, the doors and jambs...
Obviously, the doors and jambs had to be completely rebuilt to clear the massive 22x9-1/2-inch Detata Siphons.
A small-block and tranny combo...
A small-block and tranny combo were completely smoothed, deburred, and painted to match the smooth lines on the rest of the Blazer.
An '02 Toyota Tacoma front...
An '02 Toyota Tacoma front end was used to help clear the 22s, since the Taco fenders were mated to the factory S-10 bottoms. A fullsize GMC Sierra bumper was chopped down and reshaped to match the fender arches to give the front end the same smooth flow that the rest of the truck has taken on.
At some point that winter, Mikey and I both decided that the 20s just weren't as big as they once seemed and bought up a set of 22s. As luck would have it, they wouldn't fit under our new floor? That's the fun with these here mini-trucks, you see. We raised the floor just enough to clear the axle and spent the winter hammering and welding the sheetmetal floor around the rearend, wheels, and driveshaft. With the welds still warm to the touch, we loaded our metal sculpture onto a trailer and set our sights south to Live Oak, Florida, and the annual BloodDrag show in February 2005. Two questions seemed to be the topic of the show from the passersby. "How are ya gonna keep those wheels under the hood?" they asked about our ride yet to have front sheetmetal; and "Where you gonna run the exhaust?" was the next big question. We had an answer to the first one three months later at that year's Greenville show, while the exhaust would have to wait awhile. An '02 Tacoma front end was enlisted to fix the problem of cramming 22s into the front of the S-Dime Blazer. Extra clearance was made just where it needed to be when the tops of the Taco fenders were mated to the factory S-10 bottoms. A fullsize GMC Sierra bumper was chopped down and reshaped to match the fender arches, then, along with the hood, tacked onto the truck, with the truck already on the trailer ready for the show. Just barely in time, as usual.
That summer saw a couple of time-consuming modifications to the truck finished out. Using five tubes of an overpriced plastic epoxy, the grille was remade to stretch down into the bumper by the time of Scrapin' the Coast in June, and a core support made of 1-1/4-inch tubing, complete with suicide hood hinges, was fabricated just before the second annual All-Star Event in Millington. That winter, the bright idea to completely re-skin the Blazer without the bodyline came from somewhere and the cold months were spent butt-welding sheetmetal panels that stretch from the window seals to the rocker. Folks, I won't lie to you here. Don't try this at home. In fact, don't try it anywhere. It's just way too much work. This catches us up to the year of 2006. Although we knew about the shoot well in advance, people just seem to get busy, I guess. Mikey has a real job, and I have trucks in the shop to 'bag that actually bring in money. Most of the finished work that you now see on the Little Shop Special was done the last month, just before HAVOC and our big date with Mike Alexander's camera. We completed the metalwork for the first half, and then the agonizing task of bodywork for the next. The two weeks before HAVOC are pretty much a blur, but I'll do my best job to tell you what I remember.
I called up this guy Frank "The Mudman" at home in New Jersey. I said, "Frank, man, I need you to come to Tennessee to do some bodywork." He said, "That should probably be fine." Three days later, I was picking him up at the airport in between returning Farva's Blazerado and dropping by the Trucks TV set to return a walkie-talkie. Back in the boonies, we commenced immediately on what became two straight weeks of nothing but 20-hour workdays with little to no sleep and lots of coffee and energy drinks. There was a lot of sanding to do. It's a little painful to stroll back into the shop feeling like you never left it, but Frank was a trooper and work went on. In the middle of the "mudwork," my metal guy, Chris, fabbed up the exhaust pipes and pulled the chassis out from under the body to begin cleaning up two years' worth of oxidation and shop grime, while Frank and I just kept on sanding. Thanks to the lackeys that pitched in and did some serious rubbing, a day later the chassis was back together in the metal shop looking like a million bucks. Meanwhile, Frank and I - yup, still sanding. And finally, with a pile of dust on the floor large enough to make castles and get a tan on, we primed the truck with Sherwin-Williams paints around midnight the Thursday before the show. For the first time in two weeks, we got almost seven hours of sleep. Finally, we woke up, came back to the shop a couple hours later and put Humpty Dumpty back together again, complete with glass, seals, and a freshly detailed chassis. Four hundred miles later, we were in Louisville, Kentucky, at exactly 4:30 a.m. Saturday. We proceeded to the front desk to check in and the clerk laughed out loud when I asked for a wake-up call at 5:30 a.m. (a very short nap). Up once more, and we pushed the Blazer into the show. After we got the right sunlight, the camera finally came out, the shots were made, and I went to sleep. This time, for more than 16 hours!
Was it worth it? Hell yeah! Just quit asking us when it's going to be done. Soon, OK? Mikey may need a little time to recover. Not only did we chop down the money tree; we burnt the roots and filled in the hole. So, here it is laid out before you in an unfinished state. And maybe someday not too far away - Lord, help us - this little daydream will be complete. When it's done, look for it here in the pages of MT first!
Props go to Eric and Chris at the Little Shop of Horrors (and their ladies for putting up with all this), and all the shop lackeys who lent a hand. My girlfriend Elizabeth, Becky, Seth, Stains, David Collier, and Jon Leach. Frank "Red Cheetah" for the help on bodywork. Brandon at Detata, Eric at BAD, and Wacey for the Sherwin-Williams supplies. Don Schrieber, everyone at SportTruck.com, and all my family and friends. Rick's BBQ, WD-40, and Listerhill Credit Union. And, of course, my Relaxed Atmosphere family!
The amount of work that went...
The amount of work that went into the suspension and chassis is just as extensive as the body.
The exhaust was a major issue...
The exhaust was a major issue with the handmade floor being so low. It didn't leave much room for exhaust, but that didn't stop Eric from getting creative. He flipped the headers around and ran the exhaust forward. Each end runs underneath the custom core support and then dumps into custom vents built into the front fenders and bumper. Absolutely amazing!
The life of an "under construction"...
The life of an "under construction" truck owner. Someday, Mikey will actually be able to sit in the driver seat, while the Little Shop Special cruises down the road under its own power. Someday!