In a complete turnaround, Justin Kitahara's '99 GMC Sierra was saved from a life of destruction. In its younger days, it could be seen hopping at many events on the West Coast. While under the influence of his friends, Justin airbagged this truck to sit low and hop up high. At the time, it seemed like this was a way to get the best of both worlds. Little did he know that playing with it so much would have some severe consequences.
It all started when the truck was purchased brand-new by Justin's father. Since he is an electrician by trade and is always driving to different locations, the truck was a must-have for hauling materials and tools. A few years later, Justin graduated high school and was about to enter the workplace. Though Justin already had an '83 Chevy truck, it had some engine troubles and wasn't the most reliable form of transportation to a regular job. Seeing that Justin needed some help, Dad gave up the truck to start him out right.
Justin proceeded to leave the family nest and move into a house with a few of his good friends. They all shared interests and good times. One thing they were all into was custom trucks, and some of them even had the capabilities to fabricate adjustable suspension systems. In a joint effort, they 'bagged Justin's truck and made it a competitive hopper. Once it was ready, Justin would hop it every chance he got.
At first it seemed cool to make the truck bounce around like a Mexican jumping bean, but it quickly got old. Not only did it get boring, but it also required lots of maintenance on blown airbags and evolving leaks in the air system. Even worse, Justin's truck ended up with a bent frame and a messed-up bed from constantly being beaten against the ground.
It might have been fun at the time, but the truck suffered and the damage made it tough when it came to finishing the rest of the truck. Though Justin wanted to start out small with the bodywork, the bed had so much damage that it was cheaper to have everything shaved and fixed together. Since the body was getting worked straight by The Hot Rod Shop, Justin went ahead and had the shop finish it by laying down a new paintjob. Once it was in basecoat, the paint shop sought the help of Kool Hand Luke to make a graphic design to break up a two-tone.
When Justin got his truck back, it had the beginnings of a new life with its eye-catching paintjob. That's when he realized that the playing around was over. The truck looked amazing and was too nice to hop. One of the things holding it back was the abused stock frame, which was still bent. To address this, Justin figured that he would have a frame made to replace it. From then on it was garaged before anyone got to see the paintjob. That's where it stayed for almost three years while Justin saved money to finish it.
In the meantime, he needed to find the right shop to build a high-quality chassis. Through word of mouth, Justin heard some good stuff about Terry Elms of nearby Draggers Inc. Terry was still in the process of building up his shop and putting together Jay Martinez's GMC for its debut at SEMA. (If you don't recall this truck, you can see it on the cover of our March '07 issue or check out the feature at www.sporttruck.com.)
What Justin saw on Jay's truck is exactly what he wanted on his ride. So, after Jay's GMC was done, Justin was able to roll his truck into the shop and let Terry get started on the fabrication. The plan was to body-drop the truck and throw on a set of 24s. To do this, Terry raised the factory IFS and made a frame from the firewall back starting with 2x4-inch mandrel-bent steel tubing. This got the rocker panels down low without having to channel the cab or the bed.
Suspension was next on the list. The front required a set of BHC upper and lower control arms, McGaughy's drop spindles, and a set of Slam Specialties airbags with custom mounts on the frame. Out back, the rearend was narrowed 4 inches, and a wishbone three-link was fabricated. Terry then bent and welded in several steel tubes to strengthen the frame as well as integrating two air tanks for air supply. When all of the components were finished, the chassis was powdercoated to match the color of the body.
With the frame work and suspension done, all that was left were finishing details like the interior upholstery and coating the bed in Line-X. During these final stages, it was rushed to make it in the Air-Zenith booth at the 2007 SEMA Show. Of course, everyone drooled over it, but little did they know the history behind it. Not only was it painted years before, but it used to get torn up from being hopped. That kind of transition is rare, especially for a vehicle that turned out so clean.
Justin had to do a lot of work to get the truck to look as it does on these pages. He can always shock and entertain people by telling them that it use to hop about 2 feet in the air.
Justin "Kitty" Kitahara / Reedley, California
'99 GMC Sierra
GM 5.3L V-8 engine / Airaid cold-air intake / custom exhaust with Flowmaster mufflers / Optima YellowTop battery / factory automatic transmission / rearend narrowed 4 inches
By: Terry Elms of Draggers Inc., Fresno, California
Front & Rear: 24x10 bonspeed Tsunami
Front & Rear: 275/30ZR24 Nitto Invo
Front: BHC upper and lower control arms / McGaughy's drop spindles / Slam Specialties HE-7 airbags
Rear: Custom wishbone three-link / Slam Specialties HE-7 airbags / Monroe Sensa-Trac shocks
Two Air-Zenith compressors / 3/8-inch Parker valves (to make sure Justin doesn't hop it again) / custom aluminum 18-gallon fuel cell
Factory front clip raised up / custom body-drop-less frame from the firewall back built from 2x4-inch mandrel-bent steel tubing / custom round tubing in the rear with two air tanks
By: Terry Elms
'04 GMC grille shell with Denali headlights / shortened '99 GMC Denali front bumper / Street Scene mirrors / shaved door handles, third brake light, taillights, stake pockets on bedrails, fuel door, tailgate handle, and Sir Michaels roll pan / two Hitech LEDs in gap between roll pan and tailgate / custom wheeltubs in bed / Line-X spray-on bedliner
By: The Hot Rod Shop, Fresno, California / Line-X, Clovis, California
Corvette factory blue, DuPont Hot Hues Midori Sour, House of Kolor Blue (graphics), and House of Kolor Silver Mini Flake (graphics)
By: The Hot Rod Shop (bodywork and base colors) / Kool Hand Luke of Kool Hand Kreazionz, Fresno, California (graphics)
Factory bucket seats reshaped and covered in blue and gray suede / all other interior panels covered in suede / top half of dash smoothed and painted / '02 Escalade gauge cluster
By: Raudell Jacobo of Big Daddy Upholstery, Pixley, California / Walter Pena of Jay's Auto Body, Fowler, California
Factory head unit / 6.5-inch Focal mids and tweeters in the doors
Jay Martinez, Jeremy, Walter, Benji, Bobby, his parents, Air-Zenith, bonspeed, Discount Tire Center, Line-X, McGaughy's, Nitto Tire, Slam Specialties, and Valley Controls