Buttera, Boyd, and Two Guys Named Johnson
It's a strange task to write a feature on a custom truck that has such a high profile. Yet when you talk to some of the key players on this particular vehicle, it is revealed that the exact whats and whens of the buildup are pretty much forgotten. You see, this truck was almost 20 years in the making and, to the best of our knowledge, is now on its fourth owner. Alan Johnson, the owner of Johnson's Hot Rod Shop in Gadsden, Alabama, is responsible for completing this masterpiece (which actually began life as a '70 GMC Jimmy), and he was kind enough to give us a recount of its history before we get into the specifics of the vehicle.
"My understanding is that this truck was started in the mid '80s by (racing and street rod legend) Lil' John Buttera. I don't know everything he did, but I do know he started with a GMC Jimmy and added the chopped truck roof and doors. John also built the chassis from scratch and performed much of the metalwork. At some point, he sold the truck to Boyd Coddington, where the truck was continued at Hot Rods by Boyd, but only as a back-burner project. The floor and the dash were built there, and so were several more body mods. Around 1995, Bob Johnson purchased the truck from Boyd. Bob is in the business of buying and selling special interest vehicles (Contemporary & Investment Autos of Gainsville, Georgia). At this time, the truck was painted and stuck together. In 2000, the truck was delivered to my shop. By then it had some body damage and the paint and bodywork were giving up. Jeff Pierce and Barry Alford completely stripped the truck and redid all of the bodywork before I painted it. I should also mention that all of the wiring and the plumbing was handled by Charlie Burnett. Until then, the truck had never been completed to that point."
The Buttera chassis was scratch built from handformed 2x4-inch as well as tube steel. Most of the suspension components both front and rear were borrowed from a mid '80s Corvette (remember, when Lil' John was building the truck, this stuff was just hitting the dealership). The front features billet control arms and a billet sway bar, while the rear was fitted with billet torque arms and trac arms. Carrera coilover shocks reside on all four corners, as do Corvette disc brakes. The Copper Mountain is the wheel choice for the truck, and they are outfitted with Toyo Proxes rubber. The fronts measure 18x8 inches inside P225/45ZR18 tires, while the rears are 20x10 inches wrapped in P295/40ZR20 tires.
Motivation for the unibodied GMC comes from a 502ci big-block crate motor from GM Performance. Additions to the engine include a Demon 850 carb, a complete pulley and bracket setup from March Performance, Taylor wires, and a custom-built air cleaner from Johnson's. Sanderson headers were treated by Performance Coatings and mated to 2-1/2-inch stainless exhaust tubing and Flowmaster mufflers. Smooth shifts are handled by a B&M-prepped Turbo 400 transmission sending power to the 3:90 Corvette rearend.
The body of this truck is indeed a masterpiece, and while some of the details are a bit foggy, we have put together a pretty good laundry list of the modifications. What started life as a '70 GMC Jimmy was stripped down to a firewall and bed sides, and from there, the torches flew on and off for many years. A chopped pickup roof and doors were welded into place. The driprails and the window frames were shaved and smoothed out, as was the front cowl. The stock door handles and mirrors are long gone, a power-operated rear glass is built into the rear cab wall, and one-off custom mirrors hang on each door. All of the front end sheetmetal comes from a '67 pickup. The hood is pie-cut, and the molded-in front pan features flush-mounted clear LED turn signals. Out back, the tailgate is filled, as are the taillights, and two more strips of LED lights are flushed into the molded roll pan.
Things get a bit tricky down the truck's sides. The shaving of the markers is straightforward enough, but how about the shaved pinch welds and rolled side rockers? The real mystery, however, is the wheel openings. Three times now we've seen them cited as being grafted-in units from a mid to late-'70s Chevy pickup. Anyone with at least one good eye can see that these openings are quite round, while '70s GM trucks are squared off. They kind of resemble those of an El Camino from that era, but no one we talked to could be certain. Whatever they are, they look right at home now. As mentioned before, all of the finish work was redone at Johnson's before Alan shot the PPG Black and Champagne two-tone paint. The paint break is filled with Tangerine Pearl, with a lighter or darker shade of orange at each edge.
The amazing paintwork also found its way to the Boyd's-built dash, which is filled with six gauges from Classic Instruments and a well hidden Vintage Air A/C system. Steering is handled by an ididit column and a Colorado Custom steering wheel. As with the rest of the vehicle, the upholstery is a one-off masterpiece, stitched up in black leather with black wool carpet by Paul Atkins of Cullman, Alabama. The console houses an Eclipse head unit and amp that powers the Eclipse separates located in each door. Behind the cabwall, where the rest of the interior used to reside, is a bed floor made from white oak and stainless strips that have been color-matched to the truck.
After 20 years, three owners, and four builders, a vehicle can sometimes come out with less than favorable results. As you can see and we can attest to, that's definitely not the case here. But wait. Better make that four owners. It seems that after we shot the unibodied wonder, it was spotted by Vic Branstetter, owner of the Houston's restaurant chain, who eventually struck a deal with Bob for what most of us would consider a large sum of money. Kind of makes you want to go out to the garage and slice into your truck, doesn't it?