Ultimate Diesel Builder's Guide - - Contents - Text/pho­tog­ra­phy: Steve Tem­ple

How a Matchbox de­sign grew into a full-size truck

Just about ev­ery pickup owner started out play­ing with toy trucks. Af­ter all, what kid hasn’t pushed them around in a sand­box or watched them tum­ble down a mound of dirt? Of course, we all even­tu­ally have to grow up at some point, and so do our toys.

That’s kind of what hap­pened with the Matchbox Superlift Brush Truck. For those not fa­mil­iar with wilder­ness fire­fight­ers and smoke jumpers, brush trucks are rugged off-road rigs out­fit­ted with all sorts of heavy-duty equip­ment for putting out wild­fires. Since firetrucks are one of the most pop­u­lar Matchbox scale mod­els, Mat­tel’s in-house de­sign­ers de­cided to heat up the con­cept with a rad­i­cal ren­der­ing for a new toy truck.

Superlift’s Joey Ar­bo­gast then took it to the next level, hav­ing al­ready done joint pro­mos with a num­ber of well-known brands like Hoot­ers restau­rant chain, the TV show “Ga­tor 911,” NASCAR’S Kerry Earn­hardt and Mat­tel’s Hot Wheels and Matchbox mod­els. This “ex­po­sure through as­so­ci­a­tion” has helped make Superlift a house­hold name. Eas­ier said than done, though, as the Mat­tel pro­mo­tions re­quired years of ef­fort. They were well worth it, as Ar­bo­gast es­ti­mates some 33 mil­lion toys as­so­ci­ated with the Superlift logo have been pro­duced over the years.

The lat­est in­volved trans­form­ing a 2011 Ford Su­per Duty into the Matchbox Superlift Brush Truck.

Af­ter Mat­tel’s toy de­sign­ers had drawn up a rough idea for the con­cept, Ar­bo­gast sub­mit­ted a pro­posal to Ford to build a full-size, fully func­tional show truck.

“That was the easy part,” Ar­bo­gast says. “I worked with Alec Tam at Mat­tel and took cues from the de­sign team at Ford, headed up by Sherry Kol­lien, and we were able to put on pa­per a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort that we knew would be an iconic build.”

Once ap­proved by Ford’s de­sign de­part­ment, a Su­per Duty was de­liv­ered to Superlift’s shop, where work be­gan on the in­no­va­tive ex­oskele­ton ex­tend­ing over the en­tire body. This and other mods re­quired the com­bined ef­forts of Deezee, FIG De­signs, Mick’s Rod Shop and Marzula Fab­ri­ca­tion. Superlift’s R&D Team de­signed the tubu­lar ex­oskele­ton to not only pro­tect the rig in a wilder­ness firestorm from fall­ing trees and other fire haz­ards but also to cre­ate an eye-catch­ing “cool fac­tor.”

Deezee both sup­plied and bent the tubu­lar su­per­struc­ture, along with pro­vid­ing the di­a­mond plate for the bed and boxes. This cus­tom frame­work vis­ually ties the side steps, light bar/roof rack and bumpers to­gether, go­ing from alu­minum to steel and then back to alu­minum by us­ing some in­no­va­tive con­nec­tors.

One tech­ni­cally chal­leng­ing as­pect in­volved the mount­ing points so the tub­ing could be re­moved later on with­out leav­ing any “foot­prints” (mount­ing holes in the body). Fab­ri­cated out of both alu­minum and steel tub­ing at Superlift’s R&D fa­cil­i­ties, this frame floats over the en­tire body, at­tach­ing only at an­chors on the front bumper and side steps.

Fab Fours fab­ri­cated the cus­tom bumper. Based on that com­pany’s af­ter­mar­ket bumper but built to Superlift’s specs, it was cus­tom­ized so it could be grafted with a tube guard in­te­grated into the ex­oskele­ton. The R&D team also de­signed the mounts for the Task Force Tips wa­ter can­non mounted on the front bumper, which can be re­motely con­trolled from in­side the cabin.

Who are key play­ers han­dling this ex­treme build? Pole­cat Workz (Superlift’s nick­name for its R&D team) con­sists of Mike Martin, Jeff Marzula, Ja­son Crain and An­drew Joiner. Mike is a master fab­ri­ca­tor and lead de­sign en­gi­neer whose roots are in hot rod­ding. He’s well known for sev­eral rods such as “The Cal­i­for­nia Kid’s Older Brother.” (Pete Chapouris, the man who built the orig­i­nal ’34 Cal­i­for­nia Kid, said that Mike’s ‘33 Ford was as good a hot rod as he had ever seen built, and was the clos­est thing to be­ing the ac­tual Kid that he had ever seen.) Ar­bo­gast adds, “Mike is one of the pre­mier de­sign­ers of off-road lift sus­pen­sions in the world.”

Jeff Marzula, also a master fab­ri­ca­tor and me­chanic, worked with Mike to fit all of the pieces of the puz­zle to­gether. Ja­son Crain, the R&D man­ager, worked closely with Ar­bo­gast to get the job com­pleted. An­drew Joiner, a de­greed ar­chi­tect, played an es­sen­tial role in aid­ing Jeff and Mike in hus­tling to com­plete the build.

The foun­da­tion of the Brush Truck show­cases Superlift’s sus­pen­sion lift sys­tem, ris­ing a full 10 inches. Up front are new lift coil springs, an ad­justable four-link setup, Su­peride SSR shocks and steer­ing sta­bi­liz­ers. Out back are lift leaves and blocks with Su­peride SSR shocks. Matching front and rear Superlift ex­treme ring diff cover pro­tec­tors with a pol­ished zinc coat­ing fin­ish off the look of the un­der­body. All these com­po­nents came di­rectly from the com­pany’s parts cat­a­log. This level of el­e­va­tion makes plenty of room for a set of 42-inch In­terco IROK tires fit­ted on 20inch BMF S.E.R.E. rims in a Stealth fin­ish with orange-painted rings, mak­ing for a truly ag­gres­sive stance.

Round­ing out the Brush Truck’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties is a util­ity bed fit­ted with hand tools for wilder­ness fire­fight­ing: a pair of long-han­dled fire spades, straight-finger fire rakes, flat­head fire axe and In­dian tanks for fire re­tar­dant. The hose reels and wa­ter can­non are fed by the 450-gal­lon tank mounted atop the rear frame rails. Ar­bo­gast praises GFE (Gen­eral Fire Equip­ment) for play­ing a ma­jor role: “They were the in­spi­ra­tion for the build, and built the fire box/bed that went on the back of the truck. It was a cus­tom build be­cause we used a crew-cab short bed, and they nor­mally use sin­gle-cab long beds.”

No or­di­nary paint job would do for a project this ex­treme. Ar­bo­gast notes, “When we first started putting this build on pa­per, we talked with the guys at Mat­tel and they agreed the brush truck needed a fiery hue that would help it stand out among other res­cue rigs.”

No easy task, but it turns out that safety orange and Matchbox orange are real close to the same color, and PPG “Oh So Orange” was the ideal choice. Even though brush trucks in gen­eral are more about func­tion than style, they took a very metic­u­lous ap­proach and were to­tally com­mit­ted to giv­ing it a spec­tac­u­lar “louder than a firetruck” treat­ment with a con­trast­ing satin-black pow­der­coated ac­cent, plus a road-haz­ard graphic on the front bumper.

If that doesn’t get enough at­ten­tion, you can’t miss the Code 3 emer­gency lights and sirens, along with KC Hilites and the rum­ble of a Mag­naflow ex­haust sys­tem for the 6.7L Power Stroke. Off­set­ting the im­pos­ing haz­ardous-duty ex­te­rior is one con­ces­sion to crea­ture com­forts— glove-soft Katzkin Bar­racuda leather up­hol­stery and raised lo­gos stitched on the head­rests and seat backs. Oth­er­wise, it’s all busi­ness in­side the cabin, which is armed with Code 3 Se­cu­rity LED 2100 X strobe po­lice light­ing, Code 3 com­mand mod­ule and Wig-wag pack, Code 3 P/A and siren sys­tem, Au­diovox wire­less com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tem and Mag­el­lan hand-held GPS units.

All told, the vis­ual im­pact is star­tling, so no sur­prise that the Matchbox Superlift Brush Truck

earned Ford’s Award for De­sign Ex­cel­lence and Out­stand­ing Achieve­ment in De­sign. In ad­di­tion to be­ing a huge hit at Ford’s SEMA show booth, some 4,600 spe­cial edi­tions of the scale model were given away.

En­hanc­ing the pro­gram even fur­ther, in ad­di­tion to 1:64 scale Matchbox mod­els of the Brush Truck be­ing mer­chan­dised at toy stores na­tion­wide, the full-size ver­sion made a cross-coun­try tour at shows, pa­rades and fund-rais­ing events, where it grabbed as much at­ten­tion as a three­alarm fire. All that’s miss­ing is a spot­ted Dal­ma­tion rid­ing with a crew of fire­men.

The fu­ture of the Brush Truck is as hazy as the smoke from a for­est fire, as plans call for it to be dismantled and turned into a new, as-yet-un­named project. But it will live for­ever as a per­ma­nent cast­ing in the Matchbox line of col­lectible mod­els for kids of all ages to en­joy. UDBG

Out back are lift leaves and blocks and Su­peride SSR shocks. Matching front and rear Superlift ex­treme ring diff cover pro­tec­tors are also mounted on each axle and fea­ture a pol­ished zinc coat­ing.

The SEMA Show stun­ner fea­tures a Superlift off-the-shelf 10-inch Su­per Duty lift kit that uti­lizes new lift coil springs, Su­peride SSR shocks and dual steer­ing sta­bi­liz­ers.

Gen­eral Fire Equip­ment (GFE) built the cus­tom util­ity-style fire box/bed that went on the back of the truck, which also houses a 450-gal­lon tank. The pol­ished alu­minum In­dian tanks on the out­side con­tain fire re­tar­dant. Also vis­i­ble is your typ­i­cal...

The in­te­rior fea­tures Katzkin leather seat­ing, which also car­ries the Superlift logo in­side a tra­di­tional fire de­part­ment em­blem.

With 10 inches of lift, there’s plenty of room for a set of 42-inch In­terco Su­per Swamper IROK tires fit­ted on 20-inch BMF S.E.R.E. rims in a Stealth fin­ish with orange-painted rings.

One of the coolest items on the rig is a re­mote-con­trolled fire noz­zle that is fed by the on-board 450-gal­lon tank.

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