Starting with “Real Good” Makes It Easy to Become “Best of the Best”

WHEN IT COMES TO THE CUSTOM TRUCK HOBBY, IT’S OFTEN A BALANCE BETWEEN TIME AND MONEY. When you’re young and have plenty of time, you often don’t have the money. When you’re older, you might have the money but now with family and job responsibilities, you find you don’t have the time. While most enthusiasts would enjoy the sense of satisfaction that comes from building their own truck, there’s a lot to be said for the instant gratification of finding the vehicle you like, writing a check and driving off that afternoon. In just a few visual moments, you’ll know whether you love the look and in another few moments, a short drive will usually answer the rest of your questions.

Leo Bartole from Haines City, Florida, owns a trucking company delivering Amazon products. Although his diverse hobbies included riding four wheelers and piloting hot air balloons, he decided to leave them behind in order to get involved in the custom truck world. With a business to run, building a cool custom vehicle from the ground up didn’t fi t into the itinerary. In his search for an already completed vehicle, he narrowed it down to the newer third-generation Dakota. Bridging the gap between mini and full size, especially in crew cab configuration, the truck would ensure the whole family could enjoy the ride.

When he found this 2005 Dodge Dakota advertised on the Internet, he knew it deserved a second look. Learning the history of the truck, he found that the original owner had problems with the shops involved in its initial construction. A second shop in Louisiana corrected the mistakes and turned it into an award-winning custom. Owner Roger Lomas enjoyed the truck for a few years and Leo happened to be at the right time and place when it was offered for sale. He drove 16 hours to Texas, did the deal, and then turned around and drove another 16 hours, getting thoroughly acquainted with his new ride on the way home.

In making the truck his own, the personalizing process began with a general upgrade of everything underneath, beginning with modifying the air suspension.

It uses a pair of Viair 400 compressors along with an AccuAir e-Level controller with half-inch lines, 8-gallon reserve tank and Slam Specialties bags. The C-notched frame, 4-inch stock floor body drop, three-link rear and independent A-arms up front came together to provide modern handling and ensure the rockers would rest on the deck with just a touch of a button.

Some say improving the factory look of a Dakota is a challenge but this one passes the test. For a sanitary look, the wipers were removed and replaced with chrome bullets. The massive Dodge grille looks beautiful, flanked by the stock Dodge headlights that have been treated to a new internal paint job. (“Escalade headlights are scheduled for the near future,” Leo says.) After a few styling nonessentials like the antenna and third brake light were removed, some genuine engineering went in to creating the suicide rear doors and relocating the outside door handles. One of the most distinctive elements of the truck, however, is the beautiful bed work with its raised floor that allows the truck to lay frame. The all sheet-metal bed (no fiberglass) with its custom wheel tubs, sloping sides and distinctive money-themed murals is accented with a pair of ultra-subtle “George Washington eyes.” The bed’s unique license plate holder, smooth tailgate and custom rear pan wrap up the changes. While the overall condition of the truck was amazing, there were a few minor maintenance issues. The front end suffered from a few rust spots along with normal wear and tear. Once the metal work was complete, Leo had to track down the original painter to get the paint codes so that the front end could be repainted to match. It was the distinctive paint job that attracted him to the truck in the first place, so reproducing the original was a priority. Fortunately, painter Dusty Briley had all the data on the beautiful shade of custom Envy Green with a gold under base as well as the Glasurit white. Paint details were even carried through the door jambs. The distinctive money/monster mural and Von Dutch-style pinstriping on the bed, tailgate, hood and even the roof was a classy touch, done by artist, Mark LeFerve.

Moving to the striking interior, the truck uses a set of bomber seats that look genuinely comfortable. Hand made by Jamey Jordan, the engraved sheetmetal backs feature dimple dies, rivets and engraving along with upholstered cushions for the seats. The Dakota has a beautiful painted-to-match center console that holds the air controls. Entertaining passengers and filling the cab with sound, the Kenwood stereo sports a 7.5-inch monitor and energizes 6.5-inch coaxial speakers in each of the new, painted-to-match fiberglass door panels. The engraved Billet Specialties wheel spins on a brushed tilt column while factory Dodge gauges keep track of under hood activity.

The truck is currently powered by a stock Dodge V-8 fi tted with a cold air kit, headers and a Cherry Bomb dual exhaust, although future plans on Leo’s short list call for an LS swap. Like the exterior, the engine room benefits from unique airbrushing on the inner fender panels and radiator core. Even the underside of the hood is painted and pinstriped to match the exterior. The completed truck is great fun and Leo knows that “pre-owned” helped him get to the ride of his dreams in a fraction of time.

What are the plans for the future? Now that Leo has the truck (almost) the way he wants it, it will soon be towed to shows behind his new 2018 Chevy Silverado 1500 and trailer, both of which are undergoing a similar personalizing process that’s sure to turn heads. The Chevy has plenty of room for the whole family.



Leandro Bartole
Haines City, Florida
2005 Dodge Dakota Crew Cab


  • Dodge V-8 with a cold air kit, headers and Cherry Bomb muffers


  • C-notched frame, independent A-arms, three-link rear, 4-inch stock floor body drop, air suspension with Viair 400 compressors, AccuAir e-Level controller with half-inch lines, 8-gallon reserve tank and Slam Specialties Bags.
  • SHOP: Briley’s Paint and Body, Lake Charles, Louisiana


  • Intro Exposed 5 Series rims 22X8.5 front and 22X10 rear
  • Atturo rubber, 235- 30ZR22 front and 295- 30ZR22 rear


  • Dakota Crew Cab body dropped 4 inches, shaved antenna and third brake light, painted headlights, suicide rear doors with relocated outside handles, custom bed with raised floor, sloping sides, custom wheel tubs, unique license plate holder, gas door relocated, smooth tailgate and a custom rear pan. Custom-mixed Envy Green with a gold under base along with Glasurit white, sprayed by Dusty Briley. The House of Kolor money-themed murals and Von Dutchstyle pinstriping was done by Mark LeFerve.
  • SHOP: Briley’s Paint and Body, Lake Charles, Louisiana


  • Bomber seats by Jamey Jordan, painted-tomatch center console, Kenwood stereo with 7.5-inch monitor and 6.5-inch coaxial speakers in custom fiberglass door panels. Billet Specialties wheel.
  • SHOP: Briley’s Paint and Body, Lake Charles, Louisiana

SPECIAL THANKS FROM THE OWNER: Especially to sons Alex and Dominic and daughter Alia along with Roger Lomas, Dusty Briley, Mark LeFerve, Jamey Jordan, Jesse Perez, and Keith Rock from Gulf Customs.