Tyler Turton’s crew at the Zombie Body Shop built a unique vehicle by piecing together parts from a motorhome and several trucks.
For Tyler Turton of St. Andrews, it’s all about pushing the envelope and building jaw-dropping vehicles that not only look cool but are also totally functional.
“Right from the start, I knew this is what I wanted to do,” Turton says.
At his Zombie Body Shop, “bringing the dead back to life” isn’t just the shop motto. It applies to all restorations and custom fabrications and Turton is a one-man show. Aside from friends who drop over to lend an occasional hand, he’s the owner-operator and last man standing.
To sharpen his fabrication skills, he travelled to a Speed Equipment Manufacturing Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas in 2016 to take a Bailey Industrial metal-shaping seminar.
It proved to be more of a tutorial than a hands-on learning experience, so he left early, but not before meeting noted car builder and painter, Ron Coan.
“Standing around watching someone wasn’t what I signed on for, but meeting Ron was great,” Turton says.
The meeting proved to be a powerful calling card, as Turton was contacted several months later by Patrick Wilson. Wilson was tasked with producing the 2018 RATical Rod Build Off/Drive Off, a competition pitting several of the top shops from around the world as they produce the most RATical build for the SEMA show last November.
The competition has several rules, including a 270-day time frame for the shop to complete the build and transport the vehicle to Lincoln, Neb., then drive the vehicle under its own power to the competition in Las Vegas.
“Wilson’s call was direct. The original Team Canada from Ontario had bailed out,” Turton says. “He asked, ‘Do you want to take a stab at it?’”
Even with other projects in the shop, Turton accepted the challenge.
“I had the vehicles I needed and had a vision of what I wanted to build, because it was something I was going to build anyway.”
Turton started with a 1977 Dodge motorhome. Stripping off the body allowed him access to the front suspension and powertrain. As a unibody vehicle, it was necessary for him to build a ladder-style boxed frame as a platform for the build.
In back, he installed a 2006 Dodge truck differential with a Ride Tech supplied four-link suspension system. Ride Tech Shock Wave air bags and a compressor system gave the vehicle the combination of a lowered stance and driveable ride height at the flick of a switch.
Power-assisted four-wheel disc brakes were installed at each corner for superior stopping power. Rolling stock is a set of Lionheart radial tires on 10-bolt polished aluminum wheels with custom fabricated spacers.
Piston Ring Service rebuilt the 440-cubic inch V-8 engine, which was topped off with a Holley Sniper EFI self-tuning electronic fuel injection kit. The TorqueFlite 727 three-speed automatic transmission was rebuilt by Seven Oaks Transmissions with an added shift kit and Boss Hog torque converter to handle the big-block V-8s new power. Exhaust is a custom dual system with exits through the side panels above the running boards. With the platform for the truck completed, it was time to move on to the body construction.
Dubbed the “Big Bandit,” it is a combination of three Ford trucks. “There was really no inspiration from the Smokey and the Bandit movie at the onset, but the name just worked for the truck,” Turton says.
Starting with the front end, it features a 1951 Ford F5 cab over engine truck.
Grafted to that is a Ford F47 panel truck that was stretched three feet. The roof was chopped three inches and it uses extensively modified doors from an F4 truck.
Fenders are all custom-built, widened and lengthened from their original Ford configuration.
“There’s many hours of welding in this truck and Wade Ireland at Welder’s Supply really helped me out with all of my welding needs,” Turton says.
The inside features a custom floor, roll cage and bead-rolled interior panels by Colin Funk, with distressed leather seats upholstered by Sew Fine Interiors.
“I also have to thank Oakwood Industries and General Signs in Selkirk for their contributions to the build,” Turton says.
The immense roof has been coated with Rhino Liner by Rhino Linings of Winnipeg. Paint is a combination Onyx Black and Maple Orange base coat, with a clear coat paint finish. Ian Kroeker applied several gold-leaf accents to the truck and the side murals are the work of Andrea Olsen at AndreaDagger Art.
The side murals are a depiction of a stage coach robbery very similar to the art on the semi trailer in the Smokey and the Bandit movie. Working under time constraints, the murals were no small task for Olsen, requiring 83 hours to complete over an eight-day period. Olsen also crafted the Trans Am phoenix logos and murals on the interior door panels.
Grote Industries supplied the complete wiring and lighting package for the truck, everything from headlamps to tail lights and LED strip lighting and connectors. Team member Rick Gagnon performed the electrical installation and restored and converted the original Ford gauge panel to 12 volts.
It’s one thing to take on a challenge, but to scratch build a vehicle from just an idea is a major feat.
“The 270-day build time seems like a long time, but working evenings and weekends weren’t cutting it,” Turton says. “The deadline was real, and I had to step it up and work full time the last 50 days.”
With the truck completed, Turton and his team pulled out of his driveway to a crowd of well wishers and started their trek south.
Instead of trailering Big Bandit the 1,116 kilometres to Lincoln, Neb., and driving it on to Las Vegas, the vehicle would make the entire 3,100 km under its own power.
The seven-day trip saw many refuelling stops and several impromptu meetings with enthusiasts just wanting to have a look at the truck. During the evenings at the hotel stops, the team wet-sanded the paint.
The trip to Lincoln for Team Zombie was uneventful, as Big Bandit was reliable all the way, except for its thirst for fuel.
Meeting the other competitors in Lincoln were two teams from the U.S. and teams from Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Mexico and Belgium. Travelling the final leg of the journey with the other competitors proved trying for the Zombie team.
“It seemed we had to stop for gas, vehicle repairs, food or washroom breaks about every 50 miles, making for slow progress,” Turton says.
Finally arriving in Las Vegas one day before the show, the next 24 hours were a major thrash for Team Zombie. “We continued to repair the road rash damage from the trip and wet sand and surface preparation for the final clearcoat application,” Turton says. The clearcoat finally hit the truck at a rented shop just before dawn and the Big Bandit was on its way to the show. Featured outside of the convention centre with the other RATical Rod entrants, Big Bandit was clearly stealing the show.
“The four days at SEMA is like being in Disneyland — there’s everything automotive you could ever think of, product demonstrations and meeting new people, it just gets to be a blur,” Turton says. “On the Friday, there were so many people around the truck asking for information, I barely heard RATical show chairman Steve Mank when he announced Team Canada won the RATical Rod Build Off/Drive Off.”
Hours of handshakes and accolades later, apart from the title, a trophy and bragging rights, reality set in and it was time to head home.
Aside from donations of goods and services, Turton funded the build that he and the team spent the better part of a year putting together. With no customer at the end to sign the big cheque, it meant Big Bandit was up for sale.
Two weeks later, Turton returned to Las Vegas and handed the keys for Big Bandit over to its new owner. When asked if he wanted to return in 2019 to defend his RATical Rod Build Off/Drive Off title, Turton graciously bowed out.
“After this, I need the year off to get things back to normal.”
It might be difficult to think of what’s normal after winning one of the most prestigious awards a fabricator can obtain, but that isn’t a problem for Turton. His shop is humming with two restoration projects and several new builds on deck.
The Team Canada crew from Zombie Body Shop is: Tyler Turton, Dempster Turton, Tony Kratzner, Dwayne Wiltshire, Dave Yates, Darren Ralke, Rick Gagnon and Collin Funk.
The ‘Big Bandit’ was drew plenty of attention on its road trip to Las Vegas.