In Louisville, Kentucky, there's a guy by the name of Mike McKinney. Never heard of him? Well, that's really no surprise. If you aren't a fan of gritty, bare bones, pre-ECU minitrucks, then you may have naturally glanced over his work.
Mike single handedly operates Dedicated Customs—a humble, no bullsh*t garage where he cranks out SFBD frames, four-links, engine swaps, and air ride systems that place function before flash. The '79 Courier, '87 Ranger, and '75 LUV on these pages are Mike's personal builds, and they get driven—a lot. From show to show, parts runs, or downtown booby bar treks, his handbuilt death traps are tried and true blue
How did you get mixed up with doing what you're doing?
Mike: It all pretty much started in the fall of '86 when my mom and dad took me with them to look at the new '87 Rangers. My dad bought one and drove it for 10 years before giving it to me. Of course, I had to lower it and plop a V-8 in it, but it wasn't low enough, so my dad and I 'bagged it and tackled a traditional bodydrop a year later. My dad has been a huge influence on what I do. He worked as a welder repairman and electrician for a GM stamping plant for over 20 years. He taught me the dying art of oxygen and acetylene “gas welding” and the general dos and don'ts that go along with it. I just like old stuff, and when you mix antiques and minitrucks, something beautiful always happens.
MT: Dedicated Customs. Tell us where it all started.
Mike: Dedicated Customs started in Belle, West Virginia, by a guy named Danny Wheeler and Taco King Brandon Perry in the late '90s/early-'00s. They were building the sickest stuff in WV, and doing things that had never been done in the local scene. They did their thing until 2006, and then parted ways, so I had to jump on it, and after a meeting with the founder; the name was given to me along with big shoes to fill. In 2009, I moved to Louisville and registered Dedicated as my legal business name. It saves me money on parts, and I need all the help I can get.
MT: Wow, awesome history there. So, whatcha working with? What does your garage space look like?
Mike: My shop is 21x24, and packed into this space is a 16-foot long, by 5-foot wide, by 2-foot tall chassis table, two trucks, a 220V welder, oxygen and acetylene torches, and a wood-burning stove.
MT: So is building trucks something you do as a personal hobby, part time business, or are you just really bored?
Mike: It's really a hobby and business combined. I try to squeeze in my friend's projects, I play with my own trucks, and I have customer work too but I can never make everyone happy.
MT: You have a lot of older minis on your resume. Any particular reason, or do you just crank on whatever you can get your hands on?
Mike: I stick to older stuff because there is no electronic B.S. to mess with (just ask my buddy Brandon). When I take my Courier on long trips, I just bring basic hand tools, a spare tire, a spare carb, and maybe even $20 for gas.
MT: Definitely sounds like the way to go. So what projects do you currently have lurking in the garage?
Mike: I've been working on a '72 Datsun 521 named Dottie that's on the rockers and is owned by a chick. She'll be breaking hearts in 2013, and she plans on driving it to a ton of shows. I'm also working on a square body Sonoma for a friend, and he wants a real sinister look, something that'll scare grannies, so we'll see what happens.
MT: You've been warned, grandma! So aside from the Courier and the Ranger, do you have any other personal trucks?
Mike: I also have a SFBD '75 LUV that's not finished yet. I'm in the process of putting an engine in it and can't decide if I should do a rowdy small block or a gutless four-banger that I can drive comfortably like the Courier. I'm having a blast with it, so I'm in no hurry.
MT: For someone looking to pick up some old metal and stating a new project, what would you recommend?
Mike: Craigslist is your friend. I've pieced together one Courier out of three and one LUV out of four. These old buckets are still out there in fields and in barns waiting to be rescued and put back on the road.
MT: Well, It's great to see someone preserving what would ultimately and unfortunately become useless scraps of metal. Please tell the good people out there how they can reach you, and if you have any shout outs, now's the time. Thanks for chatting with us.
Mike: Dedicated Customs is online at www.louisvillechopshop.com, and I'd like to thank Aaron Long for his awesome photography, Larry Flowers, Kris Castro, Kira and Daniel Ross, Brandon Perry, and all of our friends in the FAMILY.