OWNER: Brent Zuehlke RIDE: '85 Toyota standard cab LOCATION: Mesa, Arizona CLUB: SubCultu
We were at the Truckin' Nationals in Phoenix when we first laid eyes on this Toyota. People kept passing by the truck, which had tons of tubing routed all over the place and a VW in the back. We overheard all kinds of comments about the rig; some bad, but mostly good. While we weren't sure we'd ever see it finished, seeing such a novel mix of ideas put together was great and something we always like to see. We got wind a few months ago that the truck had been painted and was being reassembled, and that it was something we'd truly need to take a close look at. By the time we were able to see it close enough for our taste, we had it sitting in the middle of our Orange County, California, photo studio, having it photographed for this month's cover of Mini Truckin'.
Brent Zuehlke has been into mini-trucks since he was in high school. Back when he was barely old enough to drive, Brent was rolling an '85 Toyota standard cab, just like the one you see here. While he was happy to drive it to school every day, he wanted to make the truck into something more special. Being a teenager, though, he never had the money to make a go of it. A few years later, Brent 'bagged his Toyota and soon found himself wanting something newer. After purchasing a brand-new Nissan Frontier to drive and customize, the '85 was parked in his parents' back yard and nearly forgotten.
When Brent graduated from high school, he got married. Wanting to find his new wife Jennifer something decent to drive, the Frontier was sold, and she got behind the wheel of a newer ride. This left Brent without a truck to pimp, but at least his wife was happy, right? Unfortunately, this wasn't enough for Brent. Brent's dad noticed his son sulking about not having a killer truck to drive around town and suggested they get the old '85 Toyota out of the back yard and start to do some serious work to make it into the show truck of Brent's dreams. Over the course of the next couple of years, Brent and his dad worked side by side, changing everything about the truck. The first thing to go was the truck's frame. The team decided early on to build a complete chassis that would allow the Toyota to lay like a body-dropped truck, without sacrificing the floor-to-head room since seating in a standard cab is limited to begin with.
While Brent and his dad were working out the details of the new chassis, Brent's dad offered Brent the engine out of his VW-powered sandrail. Since they were building the truck completely anew, this posed an interesting option that Brent had not seen in a custom mini-truck anywhere. What if they built the Toyota to use a rebuilt-to-the-hilt Volkswagen motor and transmission? In doing so, they'd have weight at the rear end, more horsepower, and cheaper rebuilding costs, and the truck would easily become independently suspended at all four corners. This sounded like the best of all worlds to Brent and his dad, so they began building a chassis to die for, which would hold a Toyota cab and bed. That, however, is where the Japanese connection ends.
During the buildup process of a truck never fathomed, Team Zuehlke worked like crazy in the oftentimes blazing heat and discomfort of their Mesa, Arizona, garage. They took the transmission from a VW bus and mated it to the overbuilt Volkswagen engine (it now sits with a displacement of 2,387 cc). After the chassis was built and engine mounted, along with the new transmission for the VW motor, the truck began to look custom from the outside as Brent's demanding laundry list of custom body modifications were implemented. Having done all the typical stuff that makes a mini-truck custom, the duo went further by capping off the top of the bed and making the bed a shell that caps off the back. A tilt bed shows the business end of the truck when the bed is lifted for show.
Although the truck was basically built, it needed a ton of detail work to make the whole project come together as a strong showpiece. This meant disassembling everything that had been done. The new tubular chassis was sent out for purple powdercoating. Most of the truck's hand-built suspension parts were sent out for a show-worthy chrome dip, and everything else was painted to match and complement the body. While parts were literally flying all over the Southwest, Brent and his dad built a rotisserie for the truck's cab to be worked on top and bottom. This allowed them to take more care in the preparation of the underside, which was not only smoothed, but was also painted using the same basecoat, given matching graphics, and clearcoated.
When the chassis was ready, Brent and his dad had a huge pile of chrome parts ready as well. The Zuehlkes began the reassembly using the show-ready chrome pieces they'd been collecting like a pair of greedy raccoons. By the time they were finished, Brent realized that every dream he'd ever had of a truck was coming true in the ride he'd been driving since he was old enough to put the pedal to the metal. This being Brent's first truck and longest-owned possession has meant a lot to Brent. Building such a fine-quality ride and finally turning that vehicle into something truly extraordinary is something that people only dream about.
If we were to sit and write about every situation Brent and his dad went through on their journey to build this truck, we could fill nearly every page of this month's issue. Instead, we're going to let the phenomenal images of the truck speak for themselves. Make sure you get out a magnifying glass, though. We wouldn't want you to miss a single detail of this seemingly simple, yet obviously complex, example of exquisite fabrication and design. While you may wonder how such a truck can come out of a garage, you have to realize how committed Brent and his dad were to making the Toyota into something that would change the direction of mini-truckin'. This had been accomplished in a positive way, using elements from the inception of mini-truckin' as a pastime ( like the days of custom VW meets and cruising in the '70s). If your truck isn't up to the standard Brent's Toyota is setting for the upper echelon of custom trucks, you might want to step up your building plan a bit. Someone out there is building a truck that will eat your lunch at the next show you attend, so you'd better be prepared for some serious competition.