As car transporters go, Welderup’s ’96 Peterbilt 379 is truckin’ crazy!
There’s something that feels kinda wrong about the car world going nuts over what’s essentially a workhorse designed to pick up scrap and move motors from one exhibition to another. Back in November this all American monster rolled into SEMA and far from dropping it’s rather expensive consignment and being relegated to the enormous loading bay out back with all the other massive ‘haulers’, it took centre stage at the show and people simply lost their minds.
On the face of it, that’s a bit like Cheryl Cole rocking up, bollock naked, in a London taxi and everyone immediately thinking ‘that black cab is a bit of alright’. But from its appearance it’s pretty obvious that this Peterbilt transporter is something just as special as the amazing custom creation that just happens to be sitting on its back.
Admittedly we’d normally be much more interested in the bonkers diesel rat rod on the trailer, in this case a channelled and chopped dually called the ‘Train Car’. But perhaps that’s something to look at another time because Swamp Ass, the huge rig pulling it, is a monument to both American trucking and rat rodding culture as a whole – and that turns the focus completely on it’s head.
Now, most of us know Steve Darnell and his team of mentalist fabricators from the Discovery reality show Sin City Motors. His company Welder Up has become a huge name in the rat rod community over the past few years and quite possibly even more famous for their controversial affection for rolling coal over the use of the more conventional Mopar V8s. Their whole concept is to take unusable scrap yard junk and transform it into unique custom vehicles so, the fact that they were looking for a huge turbo-diesel transporter to pick up the base cars and get all their crazy 1000-bhp creations around the country, made this big rig build almost inevitable.
As with everything they do though, appearances can be deceptive. This well-patina’d, 80s-style beast may look like it’s spent the last 30-years in a ditch, and to all intents and purposes that’s the whole point, but it just makes it all the more amazing that this 600 horsepower hauler isn’t seen as an out and out showpiece at all. It gets used and abused just like any other piece of equipment with a job to do.
There’s a good few reasons a Peterbilt 379 was the perfect choice of shop truck for Steve and his team of vintage rat rod fanatics. The first being that, even as standard, this particular model generally looks far older than it is. Launched in 1987 even now you still see plenty of these on the roads in the USA, and that’s mostly because the design was so good, they didn’t bother to change it for the next 20 years. What’s important is that you can pick up a late 2007 model and it’ll appear pretty much identical to the one from the 1980s. And that’s why this 1996 example not only fits in with Welderup’s ‘recycled rat rod junker’ ethos, but it’s still usable enough to do it’s job of hauling their precious cargo cross-country without too many reliability problems.
Another reason is that the Peterbilt 379 semi was already something of an American icon. The signature ‘long-nose’ profile of these Californian ‘semis’ is an instantly recognisable piece of Americana and has left a legacy in a trucking tradition unique to the United States. With our relatively small European ‘cab-over-engine’ HGVs the sheer size and road presence of one of these is something that’s hard to comprehend. That is of course until one overtakes you on the freeway in your tiny Hyundai Accent hire car – then, trust me, you know all about it!
Fitted with some of the most powerful high-torque turbo diesel engines ever produced, these are also perceived as the Corvette of the trucking world so it’s easy to see how they became part of US folklore and, together with the subsequent Peterbilt models, are the workhorse that continues keep the country moving. Think of it as the American Transit van – only, as you’d expect with anything from the land of apple pie, much, much bigger.
The flagship 379 model here though, is perhaps the most recognisable incarnation of the famous marque, it’s certainly the longest running Peterbilt heavy-duty hauler. It was also the first (and only) choice to play Optimus Prime in the Transformers movies, so that’s plenty good enough for us.
Anyway, the Peterbilt pedigree was obviously good enough for Welderup Crew too but, in true Sin City Motors fashion, there had to be a couple of custom touches to stand out from the crowd. Quite obviously these touches soon turned into one of the mental, one-off builds that made them world famous via the medium of satellite telly.
Like many of the Welder Up projects this one is deeply rooted in madness. It’s almost as if the brief was to make it as scary as possible, a thing of nightmares, like the only known Peterbilt put together by the devil himself. In any case I’d imagine that even Mad Max would shit his Aussie underclangers seeing this rocking up in his rear view mirror. It’s a badass semi from hell designed to get you the fuck out of the way, simple as.
As the guys make their living from, erm, welding up stuff, much of the craziness is in the custom fabrication. It’s one of those builds where there’s something new every time you look, from the big stuff like the enormous custom exhaust stacks and saw blade sun visor, right down to smaller touches like the hand tooled leather interior and vintage hammer steering wheel spinner. Trying to explain them all individually would be pointless (and take forever) but the important thing is they all add up to a style – the balls-to-wall Welder Up rat style.
The custom paint is probably the most obvious addition. Most people think it’s a vinyl wrap but in reality hours and hours of airbrushing has gone into turning a relatively mint 1996 truck into a genuinely disturbing swamp monster. The base colour is actually derived from the famous John Deere tractor green with some added yellow to make more of a signature Welder Up toxic green.
Even the huge 13-litre turbocharged Caterpillar engine hasn’t escaped the spray gun and, although you don’t usually get to see a power plant of this size without lifting the cab, equipped with a turbo, injectors and a whole load of other goodies from Industrial Injection, this one is bursting out from under the bonnet, quite literally.
The best thing about the whole deal though, is the reaction that it gets on the road – this one couldn’t clear a street faster if it was fitted with a gigantic snow plough. Dare I say it? It even gives the more famous Welder Up rat rods a run for their money in the attention stakes. Considering it’s job is merely to get them where they need to be in the first place, I can’t help thinking that’s a pretty special achievement.
Tech Spec: 1995 Peterbilt 379 Semi Rat Rod
Custom bumpers, smoke stacks, grille, mudflap, fenders, cab mounts, hood cutouts and sawblade sunvisor, modified Lincon electric industrial welder, air horns 10-stud chrome Peterbilt wheels with 385/65xR22 Cooper Roadmaster tyres, painted rear wheels, custom airbrushed paint patina.
Airbrushed Caterpillar C13 engine with, Industrial Injection turbo, fuelling and injectors, K&N cone filter.
Custom Frankenstein and duster shifter, hammer steering wheel spinner, cowhide interior with hand tooled leather details, 12 Gauge Customs stainless steel floor.
Words Midge Photos Slim Jules