The votes are in and we have a winner in Sport Truck magazine's 2003 Low-Buck Challenge. For those of you who tuned in late, we threw down the gauntlet to our readers to build a cool custom for less than $5,500, save the cost of the truck. The challenge was aimed directly at our readers who use mail-order parts and are the do-it-yourself types. The one stipulation was that the starting truck had to initially cost less than $10,000, using both the Kelly Blue Book value along with the fair market value.

At first, things looked rather bleak. We launched the contest in our June '03 issue and also placed the entry form online at www.sporttruck.com. Initial response was slow since we didn't offer cash and prizes, only recognition of the entrants' efforts and a feature for the winner. But as the December deadline approached, the entries started pouring in. We netted a total of 15 bona fide trucks, with an additional five deemed incomplete for missing the deadline.

Like any other contest with rules, we anticipated there would be those who would seek to push the limits, so we tried to head this off at the beginning. Shop-installed parts were to be charged at fair labor rates - no 300 hours of work for $300. Junkyard parts were also to be listed at cost; there would be no selling the stock parts that came off the truck to offset the $5,500 limit. To be considered a finalist, each entrant had to submit a list of modifications, photos, and invoices for the truck. And for the most part, the entrants followed the rules, as far as we can tell.

So what was the point of this whole exercise? To give first-time, entry-level builders the credit they deserve, and to show the rest of the world you can build a cool custom on a budget. The pages of this magazine are filled with plenty of advertisers who offer products for builders on a budget, and we thought the Low-Buck Challenge would be a natural to connect these companies with their customers.

Not surprisingly, a majority of the entries were S-10s, which falls in line with the fact that our S-10 issue in September was one of the best-selling issues of the year. It's the entry-level truck of choice, since they're easy to find, cheap to buy, and cheap to build.

Ironically, as we get older, we tend to forget that at one time, we were young and were dumping money into our first vehicle. There was a pride of ownership involved and the vehicle represented a freedom to go where we pleased. And, of course, we had to look good getting there.

In reality, things haven't changed that much over the years. While today's styles are different - the kids nowadays wear their hats backwards - the interest in modifying one's first vehicle is still alive and well. My hat is off to all our Low-Buck Challenge contestants for their hard work and for taking the time and effort to show us what they've done.

Now the big question: Is Sport Truck doing a Low-Buck Challenge next year? You bet. And we promise the 2004 version will be bigger and better than ever. Stay tuned.