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Nine years ago, Brian “BJ” Holthaus would’ve never guessed he’d be here today holding the keys to a best-of-show- winning mini-truck. The path leading to this point wasn’t exactly easy, but it’s been interesting. With all of the normal setbacks aside (lack of funding, lack of time, lack of motivation), the build has stood as somewhat of a sharpening stone for BJ. A machinist by trade, he possessed the fabrication skills to start customizing his Isuzu to the extreme from the very start, but that was never his intention. By slowly taking on what his budget and knowledge would allow, BJ improved on the truck in increments, honing his existing skillset and sometimes running into uncharted learning experiences. Lots of things happen during a decade, and even more stuff changes, but BJ always had a constant with his truck nearby. The Isuzu evolved and matured right along with its owner, but like everything else, there’s always a beginning, and sometimes these new times are the strangest of all.

Back when BJ was in the market looking for a truck, he happened to meet an older gent who had one for sale. The day he arrived to take a look at the Isuzu, BJ found that the truck was in surprisingly immaculate condition. The owner had bought it brand new from the dealer back in 1993, and he kept it safe from the weather and even held on to every single service record and receipt since the day he bought it. BJ naturally liked what he saw, and asked if he could take it for a spin around the block to see if the truck ran as good as it looked. “This was when things started to get a little weird,” BJ recalls. “The guy said I could take the truck out if my dad stayed at the house while I left for the test drive. It wasn’t the best of neighborhoods so I understood why he was hesitant. The truck drove awesome, so when I got back I told him that I was ready to make an offer. He then asked us to go into his house to finish the business. My dad and I just looked at each other but he had what I wanted so inside we went.”

When the two walked through the door, they were a taken aback by their surroundings. “There was an older lady laying on the couch. She was hooked up to an oxygen machine or something. She didn’t look too good. We sat down at the kitchen table, which looked to have a 2-inch film of nicotine residue on the top. While we were there, the guy must’ve chain-smoked a whole pack of cigarettes, lighting the next one from the tip of the one in his mouth that was just burning out. The guy wanted $2,500 for the truck, and I countered back with $1,500. I now know this was a lowball offer because my dad immediately kicked my leg underneath the table after I made it. We settled at $2,000 because he said it would be just enough to cover the cost of his wife’s casket. I don’t think I ever felt so bad in my life. I felt like giving him his asking price immediately after he said that, but my dad and I were at a loss for words at that moment. I did end up driving the truck home the next day though.”

After that somewhat daunting experience, BJ finally had a killer little machine that he planned to use as a reliable means of everyday transportation. He did lower it and was content with that for a while since the Isuzu was clocking in every single day. But once BJ became a homeowner and had a garage to store the truck in, the urge to rip the thing apart became almost unbearable. “When I bought my house, I also purchased a new truck that I planned to drive everyday. The Isuzu was stored in the one-car detached garage, and since it wasn’t my only vehicle anymore, I started playing around.”

BJ isn’t the kind of guy who is willing to seek outside assistance for things he can already do or feels he can successfully learn how to do. It was in this small workspace where he completed a good 85% of the truck’s modifications. He had a decent collection of tools to begin with, but as the work on his project got deeper, he went out and invested in new gadgets that would allow him to learn and accomplish more. Naturally, BJ became a better welder during the process of building his truck, his sheet metal skills greatly improved, and he even dabbled in fiberglass work and wiring for the first time. “Everything except the paint, some of the bodywork and the sewing of the seats, I was able to knock out with the help and guidance of some close friends who would come over to the garage that I ended up having to extend, to be able to house the many ongoing experiments related to the truck.”

ENKEI 18- AND 20-INCH LM CHROME WHEELS AND TOYO PROXES RUBBER MAKE UP THE ISUZU’S ROLLING GEAR.

The help that BJ did seek came from a select number of skilled minds and hands who have contributed to the insanely sleek feel the Isuzu has developed throughout the years. Joe Henke of Diverse Concepts helped smooth out and streamline the truck’s skin. Joe also painted the truck a black so deep, you can almost get lost in it. When it was time to work on the interior, BJ realized something refreshingly different when it came to customizing a vehicle. “Ross Johns and Bill Bird of Specialized Stitch Co. impressed the hell out of me with the work they did inside the cab. They had initially sketched up a concept that I fell in love with. When they were done, the seats and everything looked exactly how they drew it. It was pretty amazing to see them work their magic.”

A MODIFIED 1956 FORD F-100 DASH HAS BEEN TUCKED AWAY IN THE CAB TO ADD A DASH OF CLASSIC STYLE.

BJ’s dad has also played a big role in seeing the truck through to completion. “He taught me a lot over the years. We used to go to a lot of car shows, we still do actually, and we would analyze what we saw and would constantly bounce ideas off of each other. He is really one of my closest friends, and I definitely owe him a great deal of gratitude for where I’m at in my life.” From start to finish, BJ has never chased the flashy stuff when it came to piecing his truck together. Simple, timeless styling is at the forefront of the build, which will keep it fresh and relevant for nine more years and far beyond.

THE 1993 ISUZU 4ZD1 2.3L ENGINE HAS BEEN PROPERLY SPIT SHINED AND SURROUNDED WITH CUSTOM SHEET METAL AND PAINT WORK.

The truck has been named Leona as a tribute to BJ’s grandmother who was a homemaker all of her life, but it was her artistic expression through painting that inspired her namesake. BJ had the signature from one of her paintings scanned and made into a billet badge that now adorns the inside of the engine bay. “Every vehicle I build from here on out will be named after one of my grandparents. It’s just my way of paying respect to those who shaped who I am and carrying out the family lineage in my own personal way,” BJ said. A humble build from a humble guy; it’d be tough to find a more grounded source of inspiration.

TRUCK SPECS
Brian “BJ” Holthaus
1993 Isuzu Pickup
Piqua, OH
Negative Camber

ENGINE

  • • 1993 Isuzu 4ZD1 2.3L
  • • Calmini camshaft
  • • Chrome GM one-wire alternator
  • • Spal electric fan
  • • K&N air intake
  • • Weber carburetor
  • • Calmini ceramiccoated header
  • • Ceramic-coated exhaust and MagnaFlow muffler
  • • Centerforce clutch
  • • All engine accessories have been relocated on custom engine brackets
  • • Engine-driven air compressor with custom hard lines
  • • Custom-built distributor starting from an MSD pro billet distributor for a Ford 2.3L
  • • Factory manual transmission
  • • 1966 Mustang gas tank

SUSPENSION

  • • Chassis Tech drop spindles
  • • Firestone 2500 airbags (front)/2600 (rear)
  • • Air Lift Auto Pilot V2 digital pressurebased air controller
  • • Air Lift valve manifold
  • • Relocated front radius arms
  • • Chrome Pete and Jake’s triangulated 4-link
  • • Step notch
  • • Tubular shock cross member
  • • Monroe Gas-Matic shocks all around
  • • Wilwood Dynalite calipers
  • • Custom-machined Ford Explorer rotors

WHEELS & TIRES

  • • 18×7 and 20-inch Enkei LM1 chrome wheels
  • • 215/35R18 and 245/30R20 Toyo Proxes

BODY & PAINT

  • • Shop: Owner/Diverse Concepts
  • • 2 .-inch body drop
  • • Shaved hood squirters, gas filler
  • • Isuzu Rodeo grille
  • • Custom one-piece front bumper with reworked Honda Passport lower valence with billet insert
  • • Sir Michael’s roll pan
  • • Isuzu Amigo fenders
  • • Stock bed floor raised, radiused front corners, flared bottoms, widened wheel lips
  • • Custom steel radiator shroud
  • • Storage compartment behind tailgate
  • • Custom front wheel tubs
  • • Custom headlight buckets
  • • Custom wiper motor cover
  • • Stainless mesh on cowl cover
  • • Custom side mirrors
  • • Line-X-covered engine compartment
  • • Valspar Black and GM Pewter

INTERIOR

  • • Shop: Specialized Stitch Co.
  • • Leather upholstery on heavily reworked Isuzu Rodeo bucket seats
  • • Daytona weave carpet
  • • Headliner reworked in leather and wool
  • • 1956 Ford F-100 dash sliced to fit
  • • Bonspeed Roulette gauges
  • • Billet Specialties Rival billet steering wheel
  • • Lokar door pulls
  • • Phipps door handles
  • • Billet Specialties window cranks
  • • Vintage Air AC
  • • Custom rearview mirror, shifter and trim ring
  • • Fiberglass amp racks, sub enclosure and kick panels
  • • Sony MEX-GS610BT head unit
  • • JL Audio C5-525 speakers
  • • JL Audio 8-inch sub
  • • Clif Designs CD30.1LX amp
  • • Dynamat sound deadener

SPECIAL THANKS FROM THE OWNER: “Thank you to my dad Denis Holthaus for being one of my best friends, Dorothy Elliot for always putting up with me through good and bad times, Joe Henke for always pushing me to the next level, Ross Johns and Bill Bird for bringing the sketch and concept to life and to Dusty Stone and Jeni Ell for the help when needed. Also thanks to Jake Burton, Mike Barr and all the Negative Camber guys who have helped along the way.”

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