A Custom Touch
by Jim Park
Kevin Brockman rebuilds Peterbilts as a hobby. He's built and sold 49 of them to date. Which is probably a record of some sort.
The ownership of this one, however, will likely never change. It's his pride and joy, and it should be. Brockman literally built the truck by hand. And we don't just mean he bolted it together without an impact wrench. He actually manufactured many of the parts he needed - designed, fabricated, ground, welded, drilled, riveted, sanded, painted, and polished the thing from the ground up, by hand. It's a one-of-a-kind ride and then some.
The truck, an '89 model 379, had been laid over in a wreck, but Brockman bought it in 1996 with plans to restore it and use it for hauling the wrecks he buys. In the course of getting the truck to where it is today, all but the two frame rails have been either replaced or rebuilt at various intervals.
He yanked out a 425 Cat and replaced it with a rare Cummins KTA 600. Then he replaced the 18-speed Eaton Fuller with a 15-over coupled to a 4-speed auxiliary, removed the Air-Trac rear suspension and went with Pete's Low-Air leaf suspension instead. He also changed the rears from 3.55:1 to 3.36:1. Then he switched the leaf springs from the front axle and replaced them with an old Peterbilt-designed dual air-bag front suspension. Oh yeah, he dropped the front axle too.
Naturally, he stripped the cab and the bunk and created a do-it-yourself Unibilt kit with parts from Frontier Peterbilt in Saskatoon. But first, he took the cab and sleeper down to the bare metal, just like at the factory, and installed new wiring harnesses, new bracketry, plumbing, the works. You could peel back the rubber on the door seals or the windshield and you'd swear you were looking at a virgin paint job. This guy is thorough.
There's not a part on the truck that hasn't been restored to factory specs, or replaced with new parts. And while he was at it, he added his own custom design elements as well. It's what you'd call a factory build with a custom touch.
Take his KTA 600, for example. There hasn't been an engine like this built into a truck chassis since 1982. This particular engine came out of an off-highway Kenworth. A fellow in Edmonton rebuilt it, but Brockman had to build the engine mounts, all the piping for the radiator, and the air cleaners. It's a custom-built rad as well, capable of cooling up to an 1100-hp engine, but this one is only producing a measly 720 hp now.
Brockman says he's aware of only two other KTAs still in service in Canada, one in Edmonton, the other somewhere in B.C.
Today, the truck represents four years of work, and a pile of money, although Brockman says he's never counted it all up. What makes the truck even more unique is that most of the smaller things, the stuff you don't notice right away, are all custom-made too. He cut the louvers in the hood himself, for example. He also built the bumpers, and he laid on the floor with the spray gun and painted the underside of the frame. Even his light bars were hand-bent to exactly what he wanted. The oval holes for the chicken lights were laser-cut into his light bars. You couldn't possibly call this truck anything but a fine piece of craftsmanship.
"I'm kind of proud of the truck," Brockman says, somewhat modestly. "I'm proud of it because there's so much of me in there. I did all the work myself, and that really means a lot when I stand back and look at it. It's not the trophies or the prize money that brings me out to the odd truck show. I go out with it because I'm proud of it, and I'm proud of it because I built it."
And as for the bright orange paint, it's always been his favorite color. Let's hope Brockman finds a little time to make it out to a few shows this summer. He hopes to make Performance with Pride in Saskatoon, and we're trying to talk him into coming to Truck World 2002 here in Toronto in September.