Luke Merrill Selected for SEMA Young Guns Build-Off

Click Here to Begin Slideshow You may remember our story about Luke Merrill and the ’65 C10 on which he did a $600 restoration. That was actually a few years ago. He’s come a long way since then. First there was his degree in economics and business marketing. He enjoyed himself so much doing the work on that ’65 the summer after high school that when he finished his degree, he opened a shop and started doing more, both for himself and for customers.

Luke Merrill Selected for SEMA Young Guns Build-Off

Click Here to Begin Slideshow

You may remember our story about Luke Merrill and the ’65 C10 on which he did a $600 restoration. That was actually a few years ago. He’s come a long way since then. First there was his degree in economics and business marketing. He enjoyed himself so much doing the work on that ’65 the summer after high school that when he finished his degree, he opened a shop and started doing more, both for himself and for customers.

Shop Gains in Popularity

You might remember this from the article I did about it a few years ago. This was the genesis of Luke’s love for all things automotive and fabrication.

Luke runs his shop, Tinman II Kustoms, out of his family’s backyard garage/workshop. By and large he only uses “cheap-o Harbor Freight tools, but they do the trick.” The vehicles he’s done for himself have all been rat rods, with Luke himself developing a technique to patina even new metals so they look old and rusty but aren’t. He’ll usually just apply a thick coat of POR-15 rust preventative and sealer on metal panels that haven’t rusted all the way through and lost their rigidity.

One of Merrill’s First Rat Rods

He used this truck’s paint job to start working on the formula/recipe for creating just the right patina on welded-in pieces to match the rest of the vehicle’s patina.

His work has gained so much popularity in and around his hometown of Isanti, MN that work is starting to back up and he’s considering hiring a helper. The popularity of his work at the shows where he’s taken vehicles has helped gain him sponsorships for a couple larger pieces of shop equipment and some tools and boxes from
Milwaukee.

The Steering Column is from a Dodge Spirit

Turn signals weren’t exactly a thing back in 1931.

It also got him sponsored by B&M/Hurst/Flowmaster for an outdoor display spot for the 1931 Chevy Sedan Rat Rod he calls Wild Torquey and the Rat Rod 65 Chevy C10 pickup he built not long after opening his shop.

SEMA Honors Merrill and Wild Torquey in Lead Up to Show

Every year in Las Vegas, SEMA has what they call The Battle of the Builders. Recently, they’ve added a second completion for young up-and-coming builders. Luke was selected by SEMA as one of the top 40 builders at the show overall, and also one of the top ten Young Guns at the show.

Wild Torquey before it was Wild Torquey

While he didn’t win, selection and inclusion was still a big surprise and bigger honor for him. He’s only been at it for about two and a half years, so selection and sponsorship were both big nods to how far his skills have come in that short time.

’31 Turned into a Two-Door

Luke told me his selection as one of the Top Ten Young Guns Builders and Top 40 (Overall) Builders was based in part on his build of Wild Torquey, which he chronicled in video. The rat rod is built on a 1931 Chevy Four Door Sedan, which he chopped and turned into a two door with a fifth wheel hitch behind the front seats.

Boxed/Diamond Exhaust Stack

This is one of Luke’s favorite parts of the whole build. What’s yours?

For motivation, he installed a Cummins 12V diesel plus transmission out of a 1989 Dodge pickup. He then installed two turbos, one an H1C off a 94 Cummins 12V the other a 52mm he got from a buddy at Turbo Pro, Inc. The dual turbo set feeds into an intercooler and a unique intake manifold he designed and “fabricated” himself.

Custom Air Manifold

Luke has machined this from a round aluminum billet. Cool little things like this helped the judges select Luke for the Young Guns competition.

It’s a driveshaft he cut one end off. He then upgraded the engine with a Stage 4 P7100 injection pump from Farrell Diesel Service and added water-methanol injection. The transmission was built up by Black Sky Racing LLC full manual valve body and billet goodies.

Full Custom Fuel System for Big Power

A fuel system appropriate for a diesel making big power was needed next. This started with a Titanium Series 800HP lift pump and separator from Fass Fuel Systems with a shutoff valve from LarryB's. These feed a set of Dynomite Diesel Products Stage 4 injectors. He then installed Rostra Accessories cruise control that required a number of custom brackets to be fabricated.

Big Time Frame Mods

This shot shows some of the boxing he did on the frame. It also shows the fab work he did for the rear airbags, the custom four link he built and the beginnings of the fifth wheel hitch.

Because the ‘31 wasn’t designed with the Cummins engine/transmission in mind, he spent in the neighborhood of 20 hours fabricating the engine and transmission mounts, plus the beefy crossmember.

Custom Transmission Crossmember

Fabricated for Wild Torquey.

He boxed the whole frame first, using 6X2 inch channel and 3/16 inch plates. He then installed a custom airbag system for which he fabricated all the mounts from scratch.

All the Boxing and Frame Reinforcement He Added

The rear axle on Wild Torquey is a one ton full float from a 2010 F350. He rebuilt the third member using a Yukon Grizzly locker with 3.55 gears. There’s a set of Bilstein adjustable shocks all around keeping the ride semi-comfortable. He built special bottom brackets for the AVS airbags that hug the rear axle housing.

Front Axle Sleeve

The front axle (image above) is a Magnum that he modified with a flat plate on top for the airbags and a curved lower piece to improve the look and strengthen the axle. Custom shock mounts and airbag perches completed the major mods to the front end.

The Team

What else did Luke do to Wild torquey to make it unique and special? I left a few things out to see who was paying attention. Let me know in the comments. Whoever comes up with the most wins a free RacingJunk t-shirt!

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About Mike Aguilar 218 Articles
Mike's love of cars began in the early 1970's when his father started taking him to his Chevron service station. He's done pretty much everything in the automotive aftermarket from gas station island attendant, parts counter, mechanic, and new and used sales. Mike also has experience in the amateur ranks of many of racing's sanctioning bodies.
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