Mini Trucks: Air Design USA and Belltech Support a Revived Street Truck Revolution

It seems like only yesterday that mini trucks were all the rage. Sure, they’re still roaming around the southern United States and West Coast in limited numbers, but the scene just isn’t what it used to be. “I remember the rivalry between the Chevy 454 SS and Ford F150 Lightning in the early 2000s—the only production street performance trucks on the market,” commented Billy Longfellow, VP of Design and Engineering at Air Design USA and a longtime admirer of the mini-truck platform.

But let’s call a spade a spade—sometimes it’s hard not to look back at the height of the movement and laugh out loud a bit at the crazy hot rod concoctions. After all, what would possess anyone to take a perfectly fine pickup truck and chop it, drop it, and paint it with an outlandish paint scheme? The square-pegs-in-the-round-holes of the world who see it as a blank canvas, that’s who. And mini trucks, well, they represent the most important aspect of the automotive world—having fun.

On the surface, these trucks resemble many other pickups that have been lowered to the ground, but take a closer look at the suspension to appreciate the serious amount of work that gets them there. Mini trucking is for those who not only dare to think outside the box, but also crave elevating the engineering capabilities to new levels, all for the sake of showin’ off and having some fun.

Now, don’t dismiss them as a gearhead’s playground—they deserve serious street cred when done right. It’s just that, traditionally, mini truckers have been less concerned with serious performance or mastering crazy obstacles, thus not always receiving the respect they deserve. The scene is more about pushing the limits simply because you can, and then having a social platform available to display such an accomplishment. Wild paint schemes or funky interiors are a public declaration of the mini-truck following at large. Yearning to be unique and stand out in a crowd hasn’t changed, but the means by which we do so absolutely has.

Mini Trucks, 21st Century Street Truck Performance

Gearheads have been building performance trucks for as long as they’ve been crafting performance cars. If you were to take an American muscle classic and the same brand pickup truck from the exact same year, you’d probably notice a few similarities in the drivetrain. You’re not going to snag a D100 with a 426 Hemi jammed under the hood from the factory, but there’s no reason a true hot rodder couldn’t reengineer one to fit at will.

Remember in 1978 when Dodge debuted the 360 powered Lil’ Red Express, which Car and Driver dubbed the fastest American production vehicle in their 0-100 test? It’s that kind of mentality that’s helped bring the street truck back to life, returning to the scene with a vengeance and something to prove. Modern mini trucking has its roots firmly planted in the ’90s, but now it’s poised to stand up to the competition across various categories of performance.

“The technology has come so far. To be able to take a truck and dial it down with coilovers like Steeda would a Mustang…Man, it’s just going to blow people away,” added Longfellow. “You can really create the ultimate street performance truck with today’s technology, suspension, superchargers, turbos, rims, and tires,” he added.

Rutledge Wood Mellow Yellow FUNdra

Case in point, Rutledge Wood designed a mini truck that, once complete, had him sitting front and center at the revived scene. In 2007, Toyota put together a TRD Tundra to showcase at the 2008 SEMA show. Its first debut showcased TRD performance in the midst of the rising 4×4 trend that would take the market by storm. After Wood got his hands on it, he turned it into a street machine for the 2016 Hot Rod Power Tour. He lowered it, fitted it with a wide body kit, and painted it a shade of yellow so sweet that you could almost taste it. Wood brought his evil-twin Camaros along for the ride. During the VLOG, everyone walked right past the Camaros to talk about the Tundra that Wood dubbed FUNdra.

Roadkill’s Muscle Truck

Similarly, Roadkill’s David Freiburger’s Muscle Truck has caught a lot of attention since its first appearance back in 2009. Originally put together for a road trip, it was a low-buck build in its fullest glory. As time would tell, though, it would return in a 2013 Roadkill episode. Right around the same time, Freiburger shared in Hot Rod Magazine, “Remember when we road-tripped our LS6-powered 1974 Chevy Stepside in the June ’09 issue? The beater pickup proved hugely popular, and now we’ve got it back on the road and the dragstrip.” After this, the truck continued to grow in popularity and in 2017, the Motor Trend YouTube channel released a video where David Freiburger mentioned that the Muscle Truck is still the most asked about vehicle they’ve featured on the Roadkill web series.

Copeland’s Datsun 620 DRIFT TRUCK

Yet another example of mini trucking at its finest, Chad Copelands Datsun 620 drift pickup. This build began with a 1973 Datsun 620, was then paired with a SR20DET Nissan engine, and saw numerous modifications to the suspension, body, and chassis (including parts from a wheel barrow)—all in the name of building a performance drift machine.

Hooniverse recognized just how intense this project was and stated, “Chad Copeland’s Datsun 620 is the perfect vehicle to take the title of Hooniversal Car of the Year 2010 because it’s so unexpected. This is a truck that has been totally rebuilt with a new suspension and a stonking engine, to compete on the track with other Nissans, Toyotas, and the odd BMW. The amount of backyard engineering to create this monster is nothing short of amazing…”

And that kind of ingenuity is exactly where the modern movement is heading….

Classic Roots with an Updated Look

Fast forward to the 2017 SEMA Show, where Longfellow of Air Design USA was commissioned by Ford to orchestrate a silver bullet duo that would wow a record-breaking attendance like never before. Months later, the award-winning 2018 Ford Mustang and 2018 Ford F-150 were major successes at the LA and Detroit Auto Shows and gracing magazines everywhere. But there’s another subtle accomplishment that has admirers whispering. Longfellow used these high-profile builds to launch the company’s Street Series design…on a full-size pickup. A 2018 F-150 4×2 Lariat SuperCrew with a 3.5L V6 EcoBoost® engine and 10-speed automatic transmission, to be exact:

  • Ford Performance cat-back exhaust
  • Maxtrac Suspension 2/4 drop lowering kit with Bilstein shocks
  • Wilwood Big Brake kit with six-piston calipers and 15.5” rotors
  • Forgiato Fratello ECL wheels
  • Pirelli Scorpion Zero Asimmetrico tires
  • Ford Licensed Accessories bedliner by Bedrug
  • Ford Licensed Accessories new Street Series lowering kit by Air Design
    Front air dam with splitter
    Side skirts
    Rear lower skirt with dual exhaust
    Fender vents
    Hood scoop
    Rear tailgate applique
  • EGR cab spoiler
  • Leer tonneau cover
  • Rostra Ford SYNC® 3 blindspot front-mount camera
  • Penda rear wheel liners
  • Putco ABS black window molding
  • Sherwin Williams paint
  • Rapid Hitch
  • Ford Licensed Accessories vehicle safe by Console Vault
  • Recaro leather seats
  • Focal speakers
  • Astell & Kearn Kann high-resolution digital music player

“When everyone goes right, we go left. Air Design USA is starting a Street Truck Revolution. And when everyone goes up, we go down. If you design and build it right, the market will follow,” said Longfellow. “Manufacturers have invested in both mid-size and full-size trucks. So, when next year’s Ford Ranger comes out, the market will only get more excited—the time is right for Air Design USA to launch its new Street Series kit,” he added.

You see, the vehicle platforms, individual tastes, brands, and products may have evolved, but our thirst to be different is stronger than ever in a sea of sameness. Arguably, contemporary truck styling hasn’t veered too far left of center since the mini-truck era. It’s time for a modern street-truck revolution that pays homage to the fine lines of dropping low. Companies like Air Design USA are bringing street performance styling back to the pavement, and well-respected brands like Belltech are using 30 years of suspension experience to refine a modern mini-truck movement.

Think mini trucking is dead? Think again. If, by chance, you’re itching for a hootin’ good time, then pop back over in a couple weeks for our two-part series called “The Wildest, Wackiest, and (Depending on Your Perspective) WORST Mini-Trucks” that we could dig up. 

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