An interview with

Randy Grubb,

Semi-Truck Chopper
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One day Randy Grubb stopped by West Coast Choppers and showed Jesse a picture of the car he'd built and subsequently sold to Jay Leno: a 22.5-foot-long, 8,500-pound, open-wheeled roadster called the Blastolene Special.

Who would have guessed that Monster Garage would have a Peterbilt build in mind at the time? But it was only months later that Randy was flying out to Long Beach to shoot Semi-Truck Chopper.

Now he tells us about the experience.

Q: How did you get on Monster Garage?

A: I built a very large car, the Blastolene Special, which created quite a stir because of its scale and uniqueness, including its 1,800-cubic-inch engine. When I happened to come down to West Coast Choppers, I showed Jesse a poster of the car and introduced myself. At that point, he said that they were thinking of doing a Peterbilt build, and that I'd be perfect for it.

A few months later the phone rang with a producer asking me if I'd like to participate in a Monster Garage episode. And that's when I basically proposed the whole Blastolene Brothers build team. Because the brotherhood is about creativity and having fun.

Q: What have you thought of past Monster challenges?

A: They've ranged from what's appeared to be technically very challenging to what's appeared to be pretty silly.

For example, the Cop Car/Doughnut Shop was definitely good for a laugh, but that wasn't really something I would have been interested in building myself. I like the Zamboni I didn't know how they were going to pull off that Zamboni. It really made me think when I heard the introduction to that show, and I liked that.

Q: What was your initial reaction when you heard about this challenge?

A: I was really excited, and I guess it was a little unusual because I was on both the design team and the build team. Most of the time a build-team member doesn't know what he's building until he shows up. But I knew in advance.

After my very first conversation with the producers about the show, the wheels really started turning in my head about what we could build and how we could build it. This was both an advantage and a disadvantage, because I expended a lot of mental energy toward designs that we didn't execute.

It was very interesting and the challenge was obvious. And it was a unique challenge, which is what I love.

Q: Did you know any of your teammates before the show?

A: Yes, two. I got Michael Leeds, the other Blastolene Brother, involved. And I had met Bernard, who is Jay Leno's mechanic, when I sold the Blastolene Special to Jay. I was amazed at Bernard's broad knowledge of mechanics and his willingness to apply them. Jay obviously has a lot of unique vehicles, and Bernard's the one who handles all that. So when Bernard was confirmed for the show, I breathed a sigh of relief because I knew the project would go well.

I had also requested a diesel mechanic and machinist for the team, and recommended two people. The producers didn't want a group who had done too much together before, though, so they supplied them. Both were great guys. Bob brought a great Texas flavor to him, and Danno, a machinist from Hollywood, definitely earned his keep. We kept him busy.

Q: What was the biggest technical challenge during the transition? Were you ever worried your team would fail its mission?

A: The front end the steering and mounting of the front wheel. There were a lot of design changes and a lot of thoughts about the design. A lot of mental effort was expended on that front end. And the final solution was great because it really utilized the truck parts, including a piece of the front axle and the steering box.

Failure is an impossibility to a Blastolene Brother. It was merely what design would be executed that was the only challenge. We had three or four different options for the front end; we just had to choose one.

Q: Anything else remarkable about the shoot?

A: Just how fun it was and how smoothly it went. The team was a cohesive team; we had no dissension among the troops. Everyone got along very well and worked effectively together, which is generally not the case in a Monster Garage build from what I've seen. Generally there seems to be conflict or someone not pulling their weight, which puts a strain on the group as a whole.

For us, on Monday we had a big mountain to climb. But by Friday it seemed like we were over the top pretty easily.

Q: What was your biggest frustration during the build?

A: The biggest frustration was getting parts from Alex and dealing with some of the supply issues. If it hadn't been for Michael stepping up and taking the reins as far as supply goes, we would have been in trouble. Michael got on the phone and got the wheels and tires, the most exciting crucial elements.

Alex was little to no help. Sorry, Alex.

Q: What was your biggest triumph during the build?

A: I would say the biggest triumph was probably getting Jesse on the same page that it had to be a three-wheeler. He was originally wanting a two-wheeler, and the weight of the motor and transmission really made that an impracticality.

Q: Did you drive the monster?

A: Yeah, Jesse let me drive it! It was a lot funner than I ever thought. In fact, the Blastolene Brothers were deeply influenced by this whole experience diesel trucks are in the workshop as we speak.

Q: What are the Blastolene Brothers?

A: Michael and I, the Blastolene Brothers, are individual artists who historically have worked with glass and more recently have applied our art to the automobile. The result are V-12-powered monster hot rods featuring 1,000-cubic-inch-plus V-12 motors and semi-truck parts as drive train. The Blastolene Special and Michael's Big Bertha have created a new category of hot rods.

Basically we're both dyed-in-the-wool motorheads. For example, my dad brought home a Model A when I was 8, and taught me to weld when I was 10. I started building my own car when I was 12.

And so I've built many hot rods in the past. What I'm doing now is building super hot rods, with bodies that are totally coach-built. We're not chopping anything up we take a blank piece of paper, design what we want, then build it from scratch. We take an artistic approach to creative car design.

What's unique is that Michael and I are both artists, so we bring an artist's sensitivity to hot-rod building. What we build we view as rolling sculpture pieces of art. And that's what we tried to do for Jesse: create a rolling sculpture.

Q: Tell us about the Blastolene Special.

A: It's a 22.5-foot-long, 8,500-pound, open-wheeled roadster, very reminiscent of the Bonneville cars that ran the dry lakes in the mid-1930s. It features a 1,800-cubic-inch, gas-burning V-12 out of an M-47 Patton tank. It rides on a 190-inch wheel base and features a hand-formed aluminum body.

I designed and virtually hand-built the Blastolene Special in 365 days. Blastolene II is currently under construction, and I have aspirations to build about 10 very unique cars over the next 20 years.

I did sell the car to Jay Leno. He had come knocking on my door nothing like it had ever been built or seen before. Jay likes really powerful cars, and this has one of the most powerful engines (7 feet, 2,500 pounds) ever in a car. The idea of putting it in an automobile seemed to most people to be totally absurd.

Actually, the Blastolene Special won the Chip Foose excellence-in-design award at the 2003 Grand National Roadster Show. I thank Michael Leeds for helping with the great design.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: In my free time I ride motorcycles through the hills of Oregon. I like to water-ski, and I'm an avid hot rodder. I have a beautiful '49 Cadillac sedanette (a two-door fastback) that has seen many cross-country trips with hot-rod caravans like Ameri-Cruise. And I have a beautifully supportive wife, Jeannette, who really supports my creative lifestyle.

Q: What do you drive?

A: I have the '49 Cadillac and a flat-fendered Willy's Pickup with a 671 blown small-block Chevy approximately 500 horsepower sticking through the hood. My new car is a '72 two-wheel-drive Blazer.

And then I have a semi truck for hauling my hot rods, because Blastolene hot rods are big and heavy.

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