A Trip Back To The 80s
Think back to your first truck. It might not have been the best one you’ve ever owned in terms of quality, but it was probably the most fun to cut up and drive—or not drive. When we’re young, we tend to focus on quantity, and not so much on quality, so the odds of things going terribly wrong are usually pretty good.
Joseph Cantu can relate to this, as he was only 16 years old when his parents handed him the keys to his first pickup—a ’94 Ford Ranger. Joseph’s brother-in-law had previously owned the truck as well, so it had been passed around a bit within the family. This was back in 2003, and back then Joseph had an eye for lifted trucks. He knew he wanted to customize the Ranger, but he just wasn’t sure just what the hell he was going to do with it.
“I did know one thing for sure though,” Joseph admits. “There was no way I was going to lift a Ranger.”
Most of Joseph’s high school buddies were into lowered mini trucks. They’d break out their truck mags in English class when they probably should’ve been reading a Shakespeare play or something less intriguing.
WITH A SOLID GOAL ON THE TABLE, KEITH COULD NOW FOLLOW THE DETAILED RENDERING AND BUILD A ONE-OFF SUSPENSION SYSTEM THAT WOULD NOT ONLY BE AMAZINGLY RELIABLE, BUT WOULD ALSO SIT AS LOW AS JOSEPH HAD ALWAYS WANTED IT TO.”
“I got hooked on those little lowered trucks,” he says. “I started buying lowering parts for the Ranger, and one of my friends actually talked his shop teacher into letting his class drop the truck during school hours.”
Wow. That was always the dream, to ditch class only to mess around with your truck instead—but to have one of the teachers actually overseeing the work? Man, now that’s a whole other level of crazy.
The next couple of years of high school were spent spending more time and more money on the truck—not much in the form of big dollars, but as much a young man of that age could afford to spend. The time finally came for Joseph to head out to college, which meant the Ranger would be left behind at his parents house, while he drove off into the sunset in some other, “more dependable” truck they had just bought for him. Joseph started his new classes and began working a part time job, but he didn’t forget about his first truck. Actually, he was scraping up every dollar he could to save up for air suspension parts for the Ranger. He was a kid on a mission, that’s for sure.
‘The truck turned out to be a nightmare”, says Joseph. “I was so low on funds, and I had some ‘buddies’ ‘bag the truck for me, which meant that it ended up not being completed. On top of that, the truck wasn’t even running.”
Now aside from customized trucks, Joseph’s other interests are focused on old school 80s BMX bicycles—he’s crazy about them. His favorite Redline model bike served as the inspiration for the paint scheme and graphics that are now some of the truck’s biggest assets.”
The Ranger ended up being an eyesore for his parents who had to see it parked in the driveway beaten down and defeated. It was looking so bad, city officials even warned his parents they had a week to get it out of public sight. So instead of having to scrap the truck completely, Joseph’s parents suggested he come down from school to clean out enough room in the garage to store it indefinitely. He didn’t know how long it would end up being locked away in there or what his next move was, but at least his truck wasn’t going to end up in a junkyard somewhere.
As Joseph kept chipping away on his college credits, he always thought about what he would need in order to get his trusty truck back in drivable condition. The answer, unfortunately, was always the same—money. It was something that he was lacking during those days as a student, but once he finished school, moved back home and landed a big boy job, things were starting to look a lot less depressing.
“I’m glad my parents didn’t force me to give up on this truck,” Joseph says. “I finally had some cash in my hands, and had some idea on who I could call to possibly save it from rotting away.”
Not far from where Joseph’s parents lived in Round Rock, Texas, is a guy named Keith Sawyer of Nfamus Air Suspension. Joseph knew all about him and his work from all the coverage he had received in all the custom truck magazines. Now, it wasn’t as easy as calling up Keith, dropping off the truck and handing him a bag of money only for the truck to be finished a week later. Nope, that isn’t how true quality works. Instead, Joseph patiently stood by on a wait list until there was an opening in the shop for the Ranger. He didn’t mind at all, he was relieved actually. Finally there was a plan in place and a fabricator on board who could bring the truck back from the dead and shape it to fit Joseph’s dream image of what it could look and drive like.
The Ranger is a physical representation of what makes him tick, along with what he was willing to sacrifice in order to see his first truck through to the finish line.”
Now aside from customized trucks, Joseph’s other interests are focused on old school 80s BMX bicycles—he’s crazy about them. His favorite Redline model bike served as the inspiration for the paint scheme and graphics that are now some of the truck’s biggest assets.
“I grew up with BMX bikes and the movie ‘RAD,’ which is all about them,” Joseph says. “Daniel Reyna had mocked up a rendering of the truck for me, and he pulled from the colors and decals from the pictures of my bike to give the Ranger the same vibe. He really understood where I wanted to go with this project.”
With a solid goal on the table, Keith could now follow the detailed rendering and build a one-off suspension system that would not only be amazingly reliable, but would also sit as low as Joseph had always wanted it to. While the truck was at the Nfamus compound, Keith was able to connect Joseph with a painter by the name of Gabriel Noriega who was excited to get to work painting the 80s BMX theme.
“A total of four years went by after I first dropped off the truck until I got it back in the condition it is now,” Joseph says. “It was tough to stay patient at times, but I figured I had already waited years for this to happen, and the results were worth the wait.”
Joseph is not too far along into his 30s, and he has a good job, a family—and his very first vehicle that has seen him through his high school and college years. The Ranger is a physical representation of what makes him tick, along with what he was willing to sacrifice in order to see his first truck through to the finish line.
“Unlike a lot of other ‘show trucks,’ I can hop in my truck and drive it anywhere I want because the quality of work that Keith at Nfamus has done is so ‘RAD’—even Cru Jones would approve,” Joseph says.
Special Thanks From the Owner: “Thank you to my wife Cassie for listening to me talk about this truck 24/7 since 2005, and for giving me input on the paint. Thanks for also being supportive of my hobby even though you gave me sh*t every time I had to spend more money on the build. Ketchup and mustard for life! Thanks to my 9-month-old daughter Jensen who had nothing to do with the build, and my mom and dad for giving the truck to me and letting me store it in the garage for so many years. Thanks to my brother-in-law Henry for basically giving the truck to them so they could give it to me (you still can’t have it back). Daniel Reyna for the rendering that brought my ideas to life, Jason Couch at Central Texas BMX and Travis County Parks for giving me access to the track for the shoot. Chris Brull for taking time to photograph the truck, the Jungle Boyz, and last but not least, my boy Keith Sawyer and the crew at Nfamus for exceeding my expectations on the entire build.”
1994 Ford Ranger
Round Rock, TX
- Factory ’94 4-cylinder engine and transmission
- Custom exhaust by Taylor Muffler, Taylor, TX
Chassis & Suspension
- Shop: Nfamus Air Suspension, Cleburne, TX
- Full-custom chassis front to back
- Hand-built upper and lower control arms
- Mustang II spindles
- Rear wishbone 3-link, ‘bags on lower bar links
- Monroe shocks at all corners
- Front Wilwood brakes, rear factory brakes
- Custom fuel cell
Wheels & Tires
- 20×10 Bonspeed Laguna wheels
- 245/35/20 Falken Azenis
Body & Paint
- Shop: Paint by Gabriel Noriega, Fort Worth, TX
- Volkswagen Silver, Teal, Yellow and Radberry paint colors
- Redline BMX decal
- Billet grille
- Tubbed wheel wells
- Shaved doors, full skin combo, custom sheetmetal bed
- Built-in bicycle rack in bed
Interior & Stereo
- Shop: Rags 2 Riches, Round Top, TX
- Chopped stock Ford Ranger bucket seats
- Grey and teal colored vinyl and tweed upholstery
- Bonspeed Laguna steering wheel
- Pioneer head unit