Hot rod culture is a timeless, undeniably appealing automotive dynamic for certain individuals. The thinking and culture that brought us things like pinstripes, pinups, and powerful Chevy engines stuffed beneath Mercury bonnets have played founding father to countless other areas of automotive tuning culture. So much so, that it is often impossible to appreciate one without giving a nod of respect to the other.
Decades before guys like Ryan Tuerck were toying with the thought of stuffing Ferrari 458 engines into Toyotas, rockabilly rod builders were busy working with what they had at their fingertips, unwittingly reshaping the face of car culture in the process. These were the guys who built SEMA from scratch amidst a cloud of Chesterfield cigarette smoke and foul language, former GI guys who were hell-bent on taking their hard-earned government cheddar and everything they learned in the field and applying both to custom cars.
This Jeep's owner fondly recalls being a boy and chasing G.I. Jeeps down rutted country roads, waving to American soldiers with wild abandon alongside the rest of his friends. As the boy slowly became a man, he developed a devotion to publications like Hot Rod and any other American subscription he could get his mitts on. Commonly referred to as Mr. Heng, he's a man who has developed a taste for the extreme over the years. And while wealth and supercar speed are now at his disposal in vast amounts, there remains something undeniably appealing about this rod that draws him to it like a moth to the flame every time he sees it.
According to our sources, this build began when Mr. Heng attended a USDM car meet in Bangkok a while back, when he suddenly became hypnotized by a Jeep similar to this one. After gazing at its wild lines for a prolonged period of time, Mr. Heng encountered the vehicle's creator, a vibrant individual who is commonly referred to as Hawaii Joe, owner of a local retro speed shop called Hawaii Rod. Hawaii Joe is precisely the kind of character one might expect from someone rocking such a title, too. Everybody knows him. Sporting Hawaiian shirts every chance he gets, flower lei necklaces, flip-flops, and snazzy hats when the mood strikes him, Hawaii Joe is without question a crucial part of car life in Thailand and arguably a large part of Asia.
Just a few weeks after meeting this colorful character, a written contract was set in place and Joe went to work whipping up a custom Jeep for Mr. Heng. But contrary to common belief, not everything is inexpensive or easy to obtain in Thailand, and most cars cost close to triple that of what we pay in America. All the frame fabrication and fun military touches needed to be thought out and found, and things like the paint scheme and various other mechanical aspects of the machine needed to be solidified. Once the two men had settled on a tubular "space frame" design and a theme was agreed upon, the option of stuffing a Toyota 1UZ-FE V-8 in the vehicle came to the forefront, a notion that was quickly approved.
However, before Mr. Heng could hand over the proverbial keys to his "Iron Rat" hot rod, he had to first procure a chassis. Being that a '74 M38 military-spec Jeep holds a premium almost anywhere, and the aforementioned cost of car buying in Thailand still rings true, the build was getting incredibly expensive right out of the gate. Fortunately for Mr. Heng, finances and connections are rarely in short supply, and before long a donor Jeep was sourced and Hawaii Joe's team went to work.
Boiled down to the basics, this is a tubular frame, stretched, chopped, and reassembled Thai-spec G.I. Jeep from the '70s that's been thoroughly slathered in hot rod know-how. Hacked in half and stretched to fit what Thai petrolheads call a "space frame," the rod quickly became home to more one-off modifications than previously predicted, not just for show, but out of necessity.
Six short months later, the rod was on the final leg of the assembly process, and its owner couldn't be more excited. For Mr. Heng, a man who owns an 800-whp ETS twin-turbo Gallardo Superleggera, a 1,400-whp Alpha 16 R35 GT-R, a V12- (850i) swapped E39 BMW M5, and numerous other dream machines, changing things up a bit and driving a slammed hot rod Jeep is just good old-fashioned fun.
Obstacles and expenses aside, this Iron Rat remains one of the most cherished possessions in Mr. Heng's already overflowing garage. He doesn't give a damn that it doesn't make squat for power, either, or what sort of dyno numbers it puts down. All he wants to do is take his Jeep rod to car shows, cruise the streets of Bangkok, and make people point and stare, something that can easily be done in a machine of this stature.
If I were a shrink of some sort, I would suggest that Mr. Heng has flipped the psychological scales on its head. He's a man who has found a way in which he can own a wild rendition of a fond memory, and instead of being one of those little Thai kids chasing after a band of Army Jeeps, he is now the one behind the wheel.
It isn't just kids who go cross-eyed when they see this thing, either. People of all ages and creeds will follow the Iron Rat around when Mr. Heng takes it for a spin, snapping pictures with great gusto and screaming at him from afar. Pedestrians will literally stop and cheer when they see this beast roll down the road, which is more than most of us can say when we take our rides out for a romp, and is exactly why it was built in the first place.