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Pint-Sized Peterbilt: Downsizing a SemiTurning a Ford F-250 Into a Little Big Rig
Automotive designers often employ a number of visual techniques to make a car or truck look either bigger or faster or sleeker. But have you ever seen a Semi that's actually been made smaller, so much so that it could fit in the family garage? Well, look no further than the aptly named the Lil' Big Rig.
The crimson truck shown here wasn't left in the dryer too long. Rather, it's a Peterbilt 379 body that's been reduced and reworked to fit on a 3/4-ton Ford pickup. Amazingly enough, the "Lil' Pete" model looks so similar to the full-sized version, that some folks walk right by it before doing a double take. Only when it pulls into a truck stop, and is parked next to a real big rig, do the dimensional differences become really evident.
Bob Suffern is the big brain behind this compact trailer truck. Hailing from Melborne, Australia, he has some experience in racing rally cars and hot rodding, along with running a machine shop for auto manufacturers, which gave him the necessary fabrication skills. What possessed him to shrink a Semi?
"When I used to drive 50 miles to work each way on the freeways," he recalls, "I saw all these semis and thought they would make a great hot rod." So back in '99, Suffern started on a Kenworth design, which fits on either a GM or Dodge truck platform. After cutting his teeth on that project, he decided to develop a Peterbilt version as well. Even though he had already been down the same road before, engineering this illusion is no simple thing. "It's not simply scaling down in size," Suffern notes. "It's automotive-related sculpture."
Ford F250 Conversion
Though not just art for art's sake, though. Commercial truck drivers are quick to jump out of the cabs to see it up close and personal. They are often drawn to the fact that it has an automatic, since many have grown weary of double-clutching a 16-speed trannie.
Then again, a lot of pickup owners really admire big rigs, and would like their truck to pay tribute to the heavy haulers of the highway. We can relate here, as we've pulled into a fair number of truck stops over the years, and privately wondered what it would be like to man the wheel of a gleaming Kenworth or Peterbilt.
Can't you just hear the burble of those big vertical stacks snorting diesel exhaust, as you work your way through a dozen or so gears, and feel the lure of the open freeway stretching endlessly to the horizon? And at the end of a long day of driving, you can snooze in that sleeper cab. While a larger condo-style cab is not available on the Lil' Pete, there's clearly enough room in the back to stretch out for forty winks. After all, it's based on a 2WD Ford F250 pickup from late `80s to early '98, extended-cab model with a 7.3L Power Stroke and automatic (a manual trannie would probably work as well).
In order to install a Lil' Big Rig conversion (turnkey vehicles are not available as if this writing), the cab first needs to be removed, right down to the bare frame. Suffern says it takes a couple guys to remove the old pickup body, usually in less than one weekend. Figure on another weekend to clean up and paint the frame, about one weekend and to mount and adjust the body. A single car garage and basic hand tools are all that is required for the installation. (Or you could hire a body shop to handle the labor and finish work.)
The Lil' Pete bodywork is designed to use the original mounts on the donor vehicle, so no significant modifications are required, other than cutting off the front of the frame close to the radiator support. Suffern says the doors come pre-assembled, both fitted and gapped, but some fine-tuning and alignment of the body will be needed. Also, at the rear, an extra set of wheels is added with a tag axle, consisting of trailing arms, air bags, straight axle, and wheel hubs.
Using a complete pickup truck as a "donor" or host vehicle simplifies the buildup, since you'll need a number of its factory components, such as the radiator, air conditioner condenser, brake booster and master cylinder assembly, pedal assembly, steering column, switches, wiring harness, computers, accelerator pedal and related components.
The level of difficulty for this project is in the medium range, as it's not a beginner's bolt-on job. Figure on a few hundred hours of installation time. Note, too, that the $13K base price does not include all the chromed trim and various extras, such as rear fenders, fuel tanks, cab-entry steps, air intakes, and doors and windows for the sleeper cab.
Depending on how much flash you want, you could likely spend another $10K in dress-up parts, like those seen on this particular vehicle, which Suffern built on a `96 Ford F250. But these items are what make the truck look really authentic. That way, onlookers will think your Lil' Pete is the next big thing!
Lil Big Rig, 615-812-4101, www.lilbigrig.com
Steve Temple is a photojournalist with nearly 30 years of experience as an editor of and contributor to over 25 different automotive titles.
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