A truck can be many things – a tool, a statement, a monument. Some folks are happy to simply keep it running over the years. Other folks take a special pride in it. And then there are guys like Chuck Otwell, who really go the extra mile with it.
To see Chuck’s truck is to want to know everything about it – that’s how we felt after spotting the rig on Instagram. Brilliant, bold, and blue as the sea, it was as intriguing as it was tall. We reached out to Chuck as soon as possible to find out more about his rig.
After doing a build in 2011, Chuck was inspired to do the Guardian. “I knew I wanted to build a truck in memory of my brother,” he said. “It had to be something different, something that had never been done before.”
As it turned out, there was a special story behind its creation. The interview with Chuck was very revealing, as it laid out the origins, the progression, and the completion of this Super Duty, also known as “The Guardian.”
Background Of The Build
The beginning of the Guardian is a somber one. “I built the truck as a tribute to my brother, who was killed by a drunk driver on May 5, 1994, when he was 21 years old,” said Chuck. “It was finished on what would have been his 42nd birthday. He was the reason that we took this build to the level that we did.”
The level that Chuck is speaking about is indeed high. From the paint to the lift to the interior, this is one truck that puts the “super” in “Super Duty.” By Chuck’s estimates, it took eight months to complete the build – March to October 2015 – with 4,000 man hours and nearly $500,000 put into the project.
The truck, built in honor of Chuck’s brother, is named “The Guardian.” As Chuck explained, “I’ve lived a pretty dangerous life since my brother died. People always told me I needed a guardian, so that’s how the truck got its name.”
All of the effort that went into the build was recognized, too. “We won the Mother’s Choice Award for Fit and Finish at the 2015 SEMA Show,” said Chuck. “I think we were the first off-road vehicle to win that award.”
Crafting The Perfect Guardian
Given the direction he wanted to go with the Super Duty, Chuck was in need of help. He found it at Innovative Auto Works in Wexford, Pennsylvania.
“I met and talked to the owners, TJ Gifford and Brent Habig,” said Chuck. “I knew we were going to build a big truck – lots of lift, triangulation, articulation, hand-built stuff. We brought in Mike Ryder from On Rails Engineering, and he works with track cars, building suspension kits for them.”
Ryder had never worked on an off-road vehicle before, but that didn’t stop him from helping out Chuck with his vision. “Mike designed all of the suspension, so that we could put the truck through anything we wanted to,” said Chuck. The project called for state-of-the-art methods, including using a FARO arm – a device that allows a user to scan three-dimensional objects for use in a CAD program.
So it went that the frame and suspension became the centerpiece of the build. “It’s all welded together with quarter-inch plate steel, twin I-beams, and everything is inlaid, back-beveled, and flushed,” commented Chuck. “Every weld had a root, a bead, and a hot pass. We capped it, then it was ground flush, and then body-worked out. It looks completely clean – no weld seams, no wiring zip-tied up, it’s just clean.”
The only thing that couldn’t be covered up or routed through a trailing arm was the hydraulic steering. For that, Innovative Auto simply made pins and brackets that made it look neat instead. In the end, the undercarriage came out as perfectly as it could have; as Chuck referred to it, it was “world-class.”
The workmanship on the undercarriage isn’t the only highlight of the Guardian, of course. There’s also the interior. Here, Chuck once again had to have his dose of perfection, and Innovative Auto Works made it a reality.
The interior has top-quality leather and suede, furnished by Roadwire Leather.
Roadwire Leather supplied all of the essentials for the build, from the high-quality leather for the seats to the suede for the headliner. Sound was done by Casey Brammer of CT Sounds, and make no mistake – the Guardian can make waves! And as if that wasn’t enough, Chuck can also engage Horn Blasters train and tugboat horns.
Just a few of the many CT Sounds speakers residing in the Guardian. All door panels have CT Sounds 6.5 speakers (three in each of the front doors, two per each back door, for a total of 10), and the ARE sleeper bedcap houses ten 15-inch speakers, too.
Chuck and Innovative Auto Works tackled the Guardian in stages, taking care of the interior design first. “Casey Brammer at CT Sounds heard what I was doing and he immediately contacted me to proved 100-percent of the audio,” said Chuck. “We sat down and did the entire interior first. Then we turned to the suspension, because we wanted the biggest truck at SEMA. After that, we looked at color.”
The undercarriage and the interior on the Guardian are immaculate, and the body had to match it, too. The front end was redone with a custom-made grille from Gravel Empire, new Fusion bumpers (cut slightly to remove visible weld seams), and F-450 wheel wells and fender flares, which hid the trimming of the fender wells to accommodate 54-inch tires.
I knew I wanted to build a truck in memory of my brother. It had to be something different, something that had never been done before. – Chuck Otwell
“I wanted to be able to turn those massive tires full-lock from side to side, as well as flex the suspension, without the tires hitting the fender wells,” explained Chuck. Lighting consists of EcoTint headlights, with Offroad LED Bars 5.5-inch light bars inlaid into them in a free-floating appearance.
For refueling, a 25-gallon fuel cell was mounted in the rear, while the filler door was shaved off. The filler neck is now where the tow hitch used to be.
And what about that luscious blue-purple skin? The paint was a PPG waterborne paint, custom blended by Innovative Auto’s Brent Habig. It’s actually a recreation of a purple made by Yamaha for its Banshee ATVs back in the 1990s. It took lots of trial and error to reproduce, but the boys made it happen.
The beadpanning and bellyrolling on the truck’s underside was an incredible feat. It gives the Guardian a totally clean appearance, and took about 10 miles of welding wire to complete. “There isn’t a single visible weld seam on the entire truck,” commented Chuck.
Chuck even has exclusivity on the paint color. “I asked Brent to keep the paint codes in-house,” he said. “If I ever need something repainted, I’ll send it to Innovative Auto.”
This brings us finally to the wheels and tires – American Force 20×14 Special Forces with 54-inch Interco Super Swamper TSL Boggers. The sheer size of these things is fascinating, but Chuck had his own take on driving around on them.
“They can get spongy,” he commented. “I’ll turn with the steering wheel, and the wheels will turn, but the tires will be heading straight before catching up. The delay from input to actual turning is noticeable.”
For the time being, Chuck is happy with where the Guardian is at. He doesn’t have much in the way of modifications planned for the future. Rather, he would like to acknowledge the companies and people that helped with the project.
“The guys at Innovative Auto pushed me to make this build as big as possible, and I’m grateful for that,” said Chuck. “We really made something great for my brother. Also, none of this would have been possible without the support of the sponsors – American Force Wheels, CT Sounds, PPG, Roadwire Leather, Interco, everyone involved – I want to thank them very much.”
So goes the story of the Guardian. What did you think of this epic truck? Let us know in the comments below.