MATS 'Build-Off': Kenworth K100 cabover restomod

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For the first time in more than a decade, the Mid-America Trucking Show brought back the "Big Rig Build-Off" as part of the 2024 PKY Truck Beauty Championship. In its first year back, four custom truck shops were invited to compete in the “special ‘elite builders only’ class” -- Johnson Hill Customs, Dickerson Custom Trucks, Davis Brothers Designs, and Massey Motor Freight.

Unfortunately, Massey Motor Freight and owner Troy Massey hit a snag during their build and their truck was not completed in time for the March show, leaving three shops left to compete for top honors in the special category. Results from the Big Rig Build-Off and other top categories from MATS can be seen here

In the video above, catch the custom build from Adam Johnson and his team at Spring Valley, Wisconsin-based Johnson Hill Customs -- a 1980 Kenworth K100 cabover restomod. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for videos detailing the other two builds from the Build-Off.

Johnson, also the owner of the K&D Transport small fleet, started Johnson Hill Customs as a shop to maintain his own fleet of trucks as well as build custom trucks. The 1980 K100 shows an outside-the-box approach to rebuilding a classic truck. "Basically this is kind of our twist on a restomod," he said.

Adam Johnson's 1980 Kenworth K100The truck, custom-built from the ground up, sits on a 248-inch wheelbase. Parts used on the rig are a mix of custom-made pieces in the Johnson Hill Customs shop and pieces from Lincoln Chrome, SH Tube, Hogebuilt and more.Video and photos by Lawson Rudisill

Johnson said the K100 was basically "a barn find" with no motor or transmission when he found it. 

Cummins N14 in Adam Johnson's 1980 Kenworth K100The shop put in a Cummins N14 Celect, adding some modern amenities the original motor wouldn't have had, such as cruise control. The motor pushes power through a 10-speed transmission and 3.55 rears.

To give the truck a cleaner look, Johnson partnered with Brunner Industries to have a custom headache rack built. 

Headache rack on Adam Johnson's 1980 Kenworth K100The center panel of the headache rack stores the truck's batteries, power steering and more. The rig also has a custom lift pump motor housed in the headache rack for lifting and lowering the cab to access the engine.

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To really set the truck off, the interior is solid red throughout, giving it what Johnson calls a "wow factor." EAG Custom Upholstery/Embroidery out of Medford, Wisconsin, did the button-tuck work on the panels. Johnson said he had some old Bostrom seats lying around that he had reupholstered to match the rest of the red interior. 

Interior of Adam Johnson's 1980 Kenworth K100The entire interior is either red or chrome, with the toggle switches being a sparkly silver. Johnson said the idea for the bright interior came from the 1970s Cadillacs that would have red interior.

Doghouse window in Adam Johnson's 1980 Kenworth K100Johnson also had a window panel added to the doghouse inside the truck to give a view of the engine.

With the Big Rig Build-Off in the rear-view, Johnson is now looking to potentially sell the truck if he get the price he wants for it. Otherwise, "we'll plate it and put it in the [K&D Transport] fleet" as a backup truck. Johnson said he's asking $258,000 for the truck, which "seems like a lot of money to a lot of people until you build one of these. It's actually cheaper than what it would cost to build." Anyone interested in buying the truck can get in touch with Johnson Hill Customs via any of its social media platforms.

In the meantime, the truck will continue making the rounds at upcoming truck shows. It was at the 75 Chrome Shop Truck Show in Wildwood, Florida, at the end of April, and will be at the Large Cars & Guitars show in Kodak, Tennessee, next weekend, May 9-11, among others.

[Related: From 'Career Gambler' to 'Triple Seven': Familiar 389 remade to fit new owner's style]

Find plenty more views of the rig in the video up top, and for more videos and custom-equipment features delivered to your email inbox, subscribe to Overdrive's weekly Custom Rigs newsletter via this link.


Adam Johnson: It's kind of a barn find, no motor, no tranny when we got it, and we had some parts laying around, and we got invited to be part of this build-off here. So this is what we came up with. My name's Adam Johnson from Spring Valley, Wisconsin. I'm owner of Johnson Hill Customs. We build custom trucks, maintain our fleet trucks for K&D Transport. It's kind of how it started.

So basically they brought the build-off back to the Mid-America truck show here, the PKY. And things were getting pretty wild and it kind of just went away there for a while, for a few years, and they decided to bring it back for a bunch of the builders to express and show their custom side instead of the everyday work truck that's customized. These are a little more heavily modified, a little more detailed. I'm not saying that it's better than any other truck here at all. It's just a certain class that they're trying to bring back.

Behind me here is a 1980 K100 Kenworth cabover. We had a N14 Celect that we rebuilt. Put an electronic motor in it so you get your cruise control and a nice 10-speed transmission we rebuilt behind it. 3.55 rear-ends and it's a 248 wheelbase. And basically this is our twist on a restomod for a semi. So we partnered with a lot of our vendors and they helped us out here. Lincoln Chrome, they hooked us up with the bumper. SH Tube here, hooked us up with the grille. They got us a shifter. They did all the air-to-air piping on the motor, but coming back, Lincoln ended up doing a full exhaust for us.

A lot of one-off parts on here that we built in-house right down to the filler panels here. Just modifying steps. Hogebuilt hooked us up with the fenders. We partnered with Brunner Fabrication on the headache rack, and that's a specific size that we wanted. The center compartment holds our batteries, our power steering, our lift pump motor for lifting and lowering the cab. We've kind of hidden everything in the center compartment so you have no battery boxes, nothing hanging outside.

Show you the custom engine, all the piping from SH Tube. All the exhausts are from Lincoln Chrome, PDI manifold, BorgWarner turbo. It's a full air-ride cab, full air-ride front axle, so it actually rides a lot like a city bus. If you ever rode on a city bus, how it kind of floats. The ride's really smooth. That's what it feels like driving it. Just a lot of clean panels. Even the filler panels here. These are all custom-made straps in-house. All the panels underneath here are all made in-house with the light panels over there to smooth it all out.

Custom fuel tanks, all the filler panels. Everything was built in-house at our shop. The fuel tank brackets actually are laid on the ground so it cannot be any lower than what it is right now. Right down we have our show board to show things a little different with the mirrors. The panels underneath the truck and solar lights and enclosed everything off. RoadWorks donated all the lights for all the underglows on the truck. Back rear custom panels, smoothed out the frame for the bolts. There's no bolts on the open area. This is our custom fifth wheel risers that we have in-house. Custom machine cut wheels from Hovde Enterprises. Just coming around, we tapered the back of the frame and built in the rear light bar to the frame. It's all one piece and it matches the radius of the fenders.

We had the interior done by EAG out of Wisconsin. They did the panels for us. We just did some red shag carpet on the inside, some old Bostrom seats we had recovered laying around and we just painted everything red. So basically it's just red and chrome or a sparkly silver is all we wanted on the inside. We wanted to keep it very retro, kind of a '70s vibe. Like how you used to get a black Cadillac with red interior, something similar to that. That's kind of what we were going for here. So it shocks people. When the doors are closed, you open them up and it's all red. It's completely different than the outside. A little wow factor. Lee Forney, good friend of ours, ended up cutting some clear Lexan windows in. So you can see the actual engine inside the doghouse there. It's pretty cool when you're driving it. You can actually literally see the ground and you can see the engine, you can see the fan, you can kind of see everything working. It's neat.

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