Former special operations Airman Jon Huertas went from working on advanced weapons systems to playing a soldier on HBO's "Generation Kill" and he's now a crime-solving cop on ABC's "Castle."
As NYPD Det. Javier Esposito, he relies on the classic police cruiser, the Ford Crown Victoria. In real life, his automotive loyalty lies with his classic, almost-perfect 1960 Ford F100.
The F100 is his dream car. And this resto-mod has personality, eliciting smiles from passerby. "I always wanted a classic truck. Since I was a little kid, that's all I wanted. When I finally got it, I thought, I wanted this all my life, I'm not going to waste it by not driving it," Huertas laughs. "When I drive it around, people would go, 'I can't believe you drive that truck around all the time!' Hey, 'I love it, hopefully you do too!'"
Since Huertas bought it in 2003, he's restored most of it himself. It's a continuing labor of love and served as his daily driver for six years. Even though it's become more of a Sunday car, Huertas is still passionate about that era of Ford trucks.
"The '57 through '60 are years that not a lot of classic truck enthusiasts paid attention to, most of the trucks people redo are '56 and below," he says, adding the body of these trucks are from the transitional period from the bulbous to the square hood.
Huertas was lucky, his F100 only had one previous owner. Although he hired someone to help him put in an independent front suspension, he replaced the engine himself, taking out the straight six and putting in a 289 and C4 tranny, turning it into an automatic, instead of the original three on the tree.
"For driving in L.A. it's much more practical with a truck and for an engine that size to have an automatic," he explains. "Also, the linkage for the three on the tree, it's hard to keep it working as smooth as possible and getting the parts for the original linkage is difficult."
It was sea foam green and white, but he gave it a custom paint job, keeping it close to the original two-tone pattern. "I just made it more of an apple green and white," he says. "The sea foam was not quite as masculine as I wanted it to be. The lines of the truck are really masculine."
It's almost perfect. He's installing an Edelbrock carburetor system, brand new intake manifold, new pulleys, an electric fan, aluminum radiator and air conditioning.
When asked what rating he'd give his F100, Huertas laughs, "That's a 10 right there, that's my speed! That's my modern day horse. We're like best friends, me and my truck. I usually get it out on the weekends and my girl and I will get in, drive up to our favorite seafood restaurant Malibu Seafood. People always look at it and really admire it and give me some kudos."
Huertas finding his F100 might have been destiny. "I had been fantasizing about getting a truck. I just didn't know how to go about getting one, because I didn't know a lot about the classic car and truck world," he says.
"It was such a fluke, I started looking through all the traders and all over the country; I decided I was just going to get one and fix it myself," he says. "I've always been good with my hands, but I'd never done any engine work or anything like that until I got my truck."
One day Huertas was cruising down Lincoln Blvd. in Venice Beach in his customized 1994 Ford Mustang GT and noticed the F100 in the back of a small mom-and-pop car lot. "I slammed the brakes, overshot the place, drove around the block and walked around this truck going, 'This is perfect, this is exactly what I want!'"
Huertas didn't have room for two cars, so he asked if he could trade in his Mustang for the F100. They didn't want to at first.
"I said, 'Some kid will buy this car before they buy this truck," he says. "You've been sitting on this truck for a year, you'll sit on this car for probably six weeks.' It took 10 minutes for him to process that and he said, 'Ok.' I took the truck, he put the car on his lot. In a month someone bought that car."
Recently, Huertas wanted for a more fuel-efficient car and his daily driver is now a 2009 Volkswagen CC. "I live in Venice Beach, so driving to Hollywood everyday was taking its toll on the truck. It's a V8 and eats a lot of gas and the CC has amazing gas mileage for a turbocharged V6 engine."
His heart was set on a Volvo C30, but when he and his girlfriend went to Vegas for Christmas, there was a CC in the parking garage. Huertas was quite taken with it.
"We didn't even know what it was, they don't put the moniker on the car," he says. "We just saw this car and loved the lines. The styling is impeccable. I looked at the interiors. It was beautiful. As soon as I got back to my hotel room, I went online and was doing research to find out what car this was and bought it the week I got back. It was a no-brainer."
He gives it a 9 rating because he says he gets 26 mpg in the city. "It's not even the TDI. The numbers for the TDI are even better," he says. "It makes me wish they made a CC with a TDI engine, or it makes me want to go out and buy a Jetta. Although the CC is a much more luxurious vehicle than the Jetta. That's what I love about it, I get complimented on the design of the car all the time."
One of his Hollywood friends, an art director who's worked on George Lucas films, couldn't stop studying the CC when he saw it. "He just walked around, looking at the lines," Huertas says. "He said as a designer, this car is designed so well. I think that's where Volkswagen is going with their new vehicles. They're definitely leaning towards an upscale design sensibility to compete with Mercedes and BMW. They make really solid, strong, reliable cars now."
Car he learned to drive in
Huertas was born in Virginia and grew up in the Bronx until high school, when he moved back to Virginia, outside Washington D.C. That's where he learned to drive his grandmother's 1969 Volkswagen Beetle.
"The clutch was probably so off on that Volkswagen that I ground almost every gear, no suspension, it wasn't the easiest car to learn how to drive," he says. "But I'm glad I learned in that car. It made me a better driver."
She got rid of the Beetle and he finished learning on her Ford Fiesta. Huertas had a learner's permit at 15 and a half and the day he turned 16, he got his driver's license. While in high school, he bought his first car, a new 1987 Volkswagen Jetta, with money he made from selling tools at Sears.
"You know in high school you have the rich kids, but they're rich because their parents are rich? I was somewhat of a rich kid because I made my own money. If I sold a lawn tractor, my commission was awesome," he says, proudly. "I had plenty of money to put down on a brand new car, make my payments, pay my insurance."
He finds it ironic that he's rotated back to the Volkswagen marque. "It's funny, everything has come around full circle -- my first car was a Volkswagen Jetta and I hadn't even looked at a Volkswagen since that car," Huertas says.
In the Air Force, Huertas worked various jobs in nuclear weapons and advanced weapons systems, travelling the world, although his favorite job was when he was in the clandestine Special Ops unit. With an eye on becoming an actor, Huertas finished his college degree in theater while in the Air Force.
He always wanted to live in Los Angeles, so the drive from his last duty station in Louisiana to Hollywood in 1995 was a poignant road trip. "I knew it was the city for me, that's where TV and film lived," Huertas says.
Huertas rented a 24-foot U-Haul truck and a car trailer for his canary yellow 1994 Mustang GT. "I loved that Ford Mustang," he laughs. "It was an obnoxious color but I didn't care."
While the scenery was great and Huertas was accompanied by his trusty dog, this one-way road trip held deeper meaning. "The road trip was the catalyst to me chasing my dream. That was the dream I had since I was a little kid -- to commit to becoming an actor and moving to Los Angeles."
HBO's "Generation Kill" and ABC's "Castle"
After arriving in Hollywood, Huertas got steady work on shows such as "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" where he played a high school student, even though he was 31.
"When I moved out here at 25, I was still playing kids who were 16, I had a really young face," he says. "I wanted to play late 20s at least. Those are the interesting roles, the ones you can sink you're teeth and do something with it."
He did get a choice role, playing Sgt. Antonio "Poke" Espera in HBO's "Generation Kill" and it also gave him more recognition as a serious actor. "It was the first thing where I was playing just under 30 and I was 39. It took me that long to play 30," he chuckles.
Huertas currently plays NYPD homicide detective Javier Esposito in ABC's primetime show "Castle." He says this season storylines will open up to delve into each character's personal lives, which will be more interesting for viewers.
"Nathan Fillion's character Richard Castle has been an outsider all through Season 1," Huertas says. "I think we're all going to become close friends and start intertwining our lives a little bit more."
Season 2 of "Castle" premieres Sept. 21 on ABC.
Huertas gets sad when he thinks of what's happened to the U.S. auto industry.
"I find the auto industry really romantic, I always have. I love the stories of how some of these companies came to be," he says. "To lose Pontiac, which is such an iconic brand, it's sad. I don't feel it's the responsibility of the United States government to bail them out. They made their bed, they have to lay in it. But I still find it sad. It's not just the fault of GM or Chrysler, consumers are to blame as well."
And while Huertas owns the F100 and a Buell Lightning motorcycle, he doesn't feel he needs to buy American. "Our own government buys good and parts, especially for our military, we buy stuff from Germany all the time," he says. "Germany has some of the best engineering in the world. We want other countries to buy our stuff. It's only fair we all trade with each other. Instead of seeing our country united, I'd rather see the world united."