So this is a great question Chase. I’ve been into motorized vehicles since I was old enough to draw dirt bikes on my elementary school notebooks. Nothing better than seeing the high fenders and beefy lug tires on the pages of my spiral notebook. As I got into Jr. High(8th grade) my older brother and dad were working on a 65 Chevy pickup they bought as Kevin’s first vehicle. There was a 74 Super Beetle laying around that was to be my car when I turned 15. Since I could not (legally) drive it, I would spend most of my time trying to figure out how to customize/improve it for my benefit. My dad was an Air force pilot and we lived in an area of Austin that was a melting pot (1980) of wealthy, middle- and lower-class families. I inherited my father’s interest in reverse engineering and building/restoring vehicles. Living in Westlake Hills, many of my friends were getting brand new Z28’s, Trans Am’s etc…while I was totally stoked about putting 60 series tires on slot mag’s, and cutting/flaring the fenders on my super beetle. Always knew one day I’d have a Trans Am, Corvette or Z28 when I had a few spare nickels in my pocket. Fast Forward…my father passed away around this time due to an accident in his F-4, my mother remarried a physician in the Air force a few years later and he had a 77 Corvette. He recognized my love of cars and made a promise to me. He told me when I was 16 that if I could pay my way through college, he would give me the Corvette when I graduated. 1990 (5 years of college) I graduated, and he handed me the keys. At that time, I had his car and a 1980 PaceCar Trans Am (my first motor swap from a turbo 301 to a Pontiac 400). Jumped into my first professional job, married a great lady from NC and I picked up my second Corvette (1968 one owner convertible). Started a frame-off restoration in my garage.
Took 6 years as my first son (McGuire) was born and had other responsibilities. McGuire is a direct knock off of me and the best way to get time shop time was letting him play in the garage while I did my work. At this point I realized I wanted to restore/build cars the rest of my years on this earth. I started buying projectCorvettes in the late 90’s. After a few years I had a 65 & 66 Corvette plus the 68 in my 3-car garage in the suburbs of Houston. With two car payments sitting in the driveway, I convinced my wife to buy the land inCentral TX because it had an old hay barn (which is now my shop/barn) so I could store them. A few years later we decided it would be good for the family to leave the burbs and build a house on the place in the Hill Country. Moved out there when the boys were 5 & 10 (Addison & McGuire) and built the houseI still live in as well as slowly turn the old 1940’s hay barn into a shop. Added electricity, concrete floor, lift and a 10’ roll up door plus several other improvements. I promise I’m getting to the point of how I got into cruisers 😊. Around this time my father in law (2006) gave me his 87 FJ60 that he owned for several years in NC. This was his second vehicle that we used every summer and Christmas when we would travel east to visit family and take vacations to the outer banks. The objective was to DD it for a few years then hand it over to McGuire when he turned 16. I used it as a daily for 3years then McGuire and I rebuilt the 2F and put a H55 in it when he was 15. Here it is when he turned 16.
During this time I’m still collecting muscle cars (71 LT1, 79 4-speed one owner Z28 and my current step-father’s 30K mile 814-speed Corvette. Now that McGuire is 16he want’s 35’s and a huge lift so he convinces me to buy a parts truck (out ofAZ) that had all this plus Dave Gore’s sliders and shackle reversal kit. We harvested all the goodies and put them on his red 60. Now what remains of the donor is sitting in the back 40 and then a rolled 87 (with a good title) turns up on MUD (2011). I’m low tech so it was2011 before I ever found MUD. McGuire highjacked my handle (McGuirejohnson) when he was 15 so I eventually went with CentxFJ60 so I could have my own identity. Here’s a pick of our family 60 + the first two parts trucks we bought which I eventually combined into the truck I drive today. Here’s a link to my build https://forum.ih8mud.com/threads/60-frankenstein-build.801303/
The addiction has started, and McGuire keeps fueling the purchases of 60’s vs. muscle car projects. I’m cheaper than cheap, so all the trucks we were buying were those that families just wanted out of their yard. I’m fortunate enough to have some land and able to store trucks out of site. Then around 2012ish I met Jeff Monroy who’s more than a Toyota fanatic. He also works for Gulf States (one of theToyota distributors) and travels his territory doing his thing with dealer customers. Being in the field and well networked good cruiser deals would fall in his lap and he would tell me about them. Before you knew it, I had more than any normal person should have. In 2016 McGuire, Addison and I joined Monroy and his son at the FJ Summit in Ouray. Being the minority with Jeff’s 80 and McGuire’s 12HT powered 60, we could not understand the litany of questions about what kind of truck MJ was driving. This is where the idea for the Solid Axle Summit came up during one of our campfire discussions at the 4-J’s. The rest is history and a few years later I concluded that Cruisers were my passion, so I slowly sold the muscle car projects. Kept the 79 Z28 and the 81 Corvette that my late stepfather gave me. Becoming recently single I realized I now have a garage that I can keep a few vehicles in.
Hopefully this answers your first question 😊.
40ish would be a good guess. I’ve reduced and cut up more than a handful and there’s roughly 30ish laying around at this time. Maybe a few north of that as I recently picked up a sweet 100 series and the 61 fromCanada. I’ve had many favorite builds and assisted or done work on other folk’s cruisers that have been rewarding. The problem with doing side jobs on other people’s cruisers is I become good friends with them and can no longer charge for working on their trucks. This is a good problem as I prefer to build my circle of cruiser friends as it's such a great community. This is how the “what the hell’s going on in Jimmy’s barn” thread got started. Ryan Cavazos is extremely creative and launched it https://forum.ih8mud.com/threads/what-the-hell-is-goin-on-in-jimmys-barn.972935/
As for my favorite build that would be my personal truck which the link is provided above (Frankenstein build). Between these two threads you can get a good idea of the evolution of my cruiser addiction/hobby.
I’ve only sold two over the years. One 60 went to McGuires best friend from high school (84 60 we picked up in Grand Junction) which I later bought back from him. The only other cruiser I’ve sold was a 62 that I went to my brother (Kevin) which we have built up nicely. This is his main cruiser he drives and takes to SAS every year. Both my brothers are now into cruisers and have a few of their own. Here’s a pick of the three Johnson brothers post the SAS3 raffle:
Some will understand what that means 😊.
Have I missed out on getting any??? The answer is yes. Being the guy that does not pay market price,I’ve either passed or missed on several. But understanding my model this does not weigh on me. As mentioned above, I’m the guy that either jumps on the deal as fast as possible when it’s put on the market at a price that makes sense, or I take the truck that never hit’s the market where the family just needs it out of their yard. I stopped looking for trucks/parts years ago, but unfortunately many of my close cruiser friends like to spend my money sending stuff they find online or through their networks 😊.
Tough question to answer. My ADD kicks in and I get a bit overwhelmed when I try to map this out. The bottom line is I’ve collected more than I will ever get to. Knowing my oldest son loves cruisers as much or more than I do, he will be the caretaker for most of these trucks. The reality is when he’s at an age and has a few spare nickels in his pocket, these trucks won’t be as abundant or affordable. Projecting this, my hope is he will have enough projects to play with for the remainder of his time on this great earth as I will. At this point, I can say my upcoming projects are:
1. Finish restoring the 85 60 for the mother of my children
2. Motor swap on a 100 series project my brother and I have
3. Start the restoration on McGuire’s 60 that used to be mine and his grandfathers
4. Get one of the locked 80’s in the barn for a restoration
From there I’d like to work on one of the 61’s and start the resto-mod build on my 45. This will get a 12HT and an H55.
So my love for painting started in High School. Being a military brat, I had access to what was called the “hobby shop” on base. The first car I painted was the 74 super beetle around 11th grade. Learned how to do body work/prep in my garage and then I’d drive the car to the Fort Sam (San Antonio) military base and shoot in a full-blown paint booth. I can tell you I had to paint that car twice to get it somewhat right. Painted a 64 AMC Rambler and then another VW kit car that belonged to one of my friends while in High School. Also worked in an independent body shop one summer during college. Did not get to touch the guns but learned a bit on demoing wrecked vehicles and sanding. Then college, marriage and professional career and it was probably around 2011 whenI decided to shoot paint again. McGuire and I got into stand-up jet ski’s (I had several in the 80’s) and the one I had was ugly. Decided to blow it apart and shoot it and have advanced from there over the years to doing a few cruisers. As for learning, I’m a huge advocate of asking a lot of questions and heavily leverage the internet. Trial and error are a huge part of my painting evolution as well as good equipment. This does make a difference in painting a vehicle. The most important part is prep work. The better the base the better the outcome. Here’s some Ski action:
Here’s some pics from shooting my 60:
I use this truck. Not worried about pin strips or any damage as I would fix it if it gets bad enough. Here’s a fun build McGuire did putting an HJ81 locked drivetrain into a domestic 80. I did the paint and bodywork for him.
I’ve done some spot jobs for friends and as you mentioned, doing a full spray job on a copper 60 as we speak. Not having a booth and shooting in an open barn,I typically shoot rigs in sections. Maybe one day I’ll add onto my barn and build in capabilities allowing me to shoot a whole truck at one time.
Most tips I can think of are listed above. One thing I can share is you have to be committed and truly have an interest in learning the process. If you’re doing it just to save money, there’s a high percentage chance you’ll lose interest before the job is completed if the commitment/interest is not there. Also, you can go two ways on equipment…cheapHarbor Freight guns/tools will get the job done, but if you want a professional finish, you’ll spend more time wet sanding/buffing with the lower grade spray gun. Only an experienced painter can maximize the outcome of a low-end gun (not me). Unlike golf, the arrow does help the Indian when it comes to shooting paint. An example…when I shot the blue tub on my 60,I used a cheap gun, and it took 4-5 coats of color to cover the primer and there was enough orange peel that I had to start the wet sanding process around800-1000 grit. You typically stop wet sanding at 1500ish and then go into the 3-stage buffing process. With a high-quality gun (and air supply) I either don’t need to wet sand or I start at 1000-1200 grit and end at 1500. Also, takes 2-3 coats of color to cover the primer. Lots of variations/opinions on this, but this is what works best for me.
So the 12HT was McGuires idea. He spent his senior year following Roma’s thread on his 12HT conversion and then his excursion towards the Canadian border from his home in Alabama. Great read and truly an epic journey. As always, I’m an easy sell when it comes to MJ pushing a new idea on me. He was a freshman in college and started telling me about this 61 Steve Jackson was parting out in MO. We made the trip to Springfield and picked up the motor. I was still reluctant but went along. After watching MJ do the conversion and taking my first drive in his 60, I was sold. A few months later I see a guy out ofAmarillo parting out an 83 60 on Craigs List. I ping the guy via text and ask, “do you have a crack free dash”. Not knowing this guy from Adam, he responds with “no crack free dash, but I have a 90K mile 60 and a zero-mile 12HT”. In 2013ish, not a lot of 60 folks even know what a 12HT is let alone heard of a new old stock one being available. I called the guy immediately and made a deal that was fair to both of us for the motor, an H55, the low mileage 60 as well as the parts truck he had on CL. This motor is now in my blue Frankenstein build with 21K on the odometer. So, after two clone 61 builds in the family,I’ve slowly collected a few 61’s. The first being an original paint/striped 88 out of Vancouver Island from RADDCruisers in 2017. Roma went with me on that trip, and we had an awesome time. This is where I met Dave and Klaus. We had grand plans of driving that truck home but unfortunately blew a head gasket crossing into the US. Left the truck at Klaus’s, flew home, and had the truck shipped. Love this truck as it only has 118K on the drivetrain, suspension seats,H55 & factory locked axles. Here’s a pic the day we got to RADD Cruiser’s shop:
Then a few years later, I caved and did two 12HT conversions for customers of Yota Imports (Duke). I had bought a 12HT driveline from him in previous years and he was in need of getting these two jobs done. He kept hounding me and finally said I’d doit if he’d ship me (ahead of the work) a set of cable locked axles and then “X”number of dollars in payment for the labor. So, he ships me a Canadian HJ60 (belonged to a customer in LA) and an FJ55 (belonged to a customer in Raleigh). Then came a roller 61 from Japan with locked axles and a running drivetrain. Finished both jobs and after 6months I had not released one of the trucks as he did not send me “X” number of dollars for payment. The other option was he could send me a stripped down running 61 as payment. This was the option he preferred which I did as well. After 6 months he called and explained he was having trouble sourcing one rusted enough to part out. So, his solution was to give me one from his next container coming out of Japan. True to his word, he shipped me a white 88 model from the port of Tacoma the next month. I had to pay the shipping fromOregon as well as the fees for transferring it into my name. Here’s a pick of this one.
This one is a great runner and keep it plated along with my blue truck. Then a Euro low roofLHD one came up in FL. Low mileage great runner but rotten tub. Picked it up for the cost of buying a 12HT and had the pleasure of road tripping with Ryan Cavazos (Captclose on MUD) to Orlando to pick it up. Had a blown t-case but dropped in one tied to a 4-speed sitting on my floor and she runs awesome. This one will get a tub swap from one of the parts 62’s we have in the back 40. Then you know about the recent 87 model I picked up in Canada. I swear I’m done buying and may look to move the JDM one I got from Duke. But man, Ido love these trucks 😊.
The community means everything to me. A Simple parallel would be to compare it to the Corvette community. I was involved in NCRS (National Corvette Restorers Society) since 1994 which is their version of MUD but much more formal. By %’s the folks in that hobby/business are much more pretentious and stuffier. Still have some of my best friends from that world but I’m talking %’s. When I transitioned to the cruiser world it was quickly obvious that 95+ % of the folks were my kind of people vs. the other way around in the muscle car world. Not knocking that world at all as I’m a big believer in “to each their own”. The key is to do what you love. Hard to say what I love most about it as everything about it is great.
The Stripper Party was awesome. Brandon and his team are unique in the vendor world as they are one of the top go-to vendors for parts, service and restorations, but yet very accessible. ClassicCruisers has been a supporter of SAS since year two and not only support us but have integrated in via participation as well as developed relationships with everyone they meet. And the opportunity to spend several days working with Eric, Jesse and Nate is something I’ll never forget. These guys on Brandon’s team are happy to be there and it shows. The overall trip was incredible. Some may say driving through the Oklahoma panhandle, Western Kansas, Nebraska etc. heading to Saskatchewan would be boring. From my perspective it was about hitting highways I’ve never been on and seeing things that I’ve never seen before was the draw. The trip south was through Montana, WY, and CO. Does not get any cooler than that. Plus, the adrenalin rush of meeting a new cruiser is ultra-exciting to me. Would absolutely do it again.
SAS is by far my favorite. Not only is it a beautiful place but it’s become like a family reunion. The only other event’s I’ve been to would be the FJ Summit in 16 and then I attend the Lone Star Roundup most every year. Then there’s regional events in San Antonio and Austin. All are wonderful. Oh…and I attended the 2nd annual Stripper event. This is an invite only and I’ll be back every year as long as I’m invited 😊.
That’s another tough question. It seems I meet my goal every year going toCO with my son’s, brothers, and close friends to SAS. I love the wheeling, camaraderie, scenery, and everything else about it. I know some that want to do the trip down through central/south America and other over-landing type runs. I’m open to that but have not slowed down enough to give it much thought or planning. For me, I’d like to do something where I take 3 months and roam the US and visit as many national parks as I can. Or at least touch states and HWY’s that I’ve not been to before. Not going to happen at this point in my life so again, have not given it much thought.
Wow…no easy questions here. There’s way too many so I’ll make it simple. My number one mentor is my son McGuire Johnson. He’s the reason I am where I’m at in the cruiser world. When he was 15 years old, we rebuilt his grandfather’s 60 and he was handing me tools/beers etc. and paying close attention to what was going on. By the time he was a senior in HS doing a SOA conversion on this same 60, I was handing him tools while I was learning new skills. To this day he’s the one I go to first for ideas and suggestions. I know my son very well and he’d be great for a spotlight, but you’d have to catch him first. Here he is doing the SOA conversion.
When I look outside of this relationship, there’s a much wider circle of great mentors. The two I go to first would be Casey Archer and Steve Cooper. Very close friends and these guys are as committed as anyone and bring a wealth of knowledge to the hobby. There are so many more but these two are on speed dial right there with MJ.
Thank you and it was a pleasure sharing my cruiser evolution/adventures with you all.
Episode 14 of our fun and informative interview series! Cruiser World!
An interview series with fellow cruiserheads. This post we spotlight Jia Jie Tai , aka @Tai392!