Like fashion, car trends and home decor, show truck trends haven’t stopped evolving since truck customizing began its rise in the late 1980s and early ’90s.
Back then, buildup options were limited, says Suzanne Stempinski, a current Pride & Polish show organizer but a longtime owner-operator and Pride & Polish competitor.
Custom and chrome were hard to find, and the trucks on the circuit in many ways paled in comparison to the mega-custom rigs competing in today’s Pride & Polish shows.
Stempinski and a few of the early Pride & Polish competitors even had a parts sharing program, loaning custom parts to one another for competitions while the other would send his or her parts away to be chromed. “It was like a rotating supply,” she says. “It was nuts.”
Bryan Martin, head of 4 States Trucks in Joplin, Mo., has seen nearly all of the show truck trends unfold in the last quarter-century. “In the mid ’80s, people were just bolting on what was available,” Martin says. “If you had a cab and sleeper panels, a drop visor, an air cleaner and a few lights, you had a custom rig.”
Overdrive’s Pride & Polish – which not only provided the opportunity for custom truck builders to show off their work, but also served as a forum for custom ideas to breed – played a big role in driving the evolution of custom truck builds from simple bolt-ons to today’s modern show-stoppers.
The premier show truck beauty competition celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
The first Pride & Polish show took place in 1990 in Louisville, Ky. Murals were popular then and through the early ’90s, Martin says. “Like ‘Smokey and the Bandit,’ ” he says. “A lot of desert and Western themes, patriotic airbrushing, things like that.”
On its heels came one of the more prominent and longer-lasting trends: Lots of chrome and stainless. “People started going for the air horns and the big 6-inch stacks,” Martin says.
Darrian Stephens, who picked up more Best of Shows in that decade than any other Pride & Polish competitor, remembers the chrome generation well. He hung plenty of chrome on his 1995 Freightliner Classic XL, taking cues from the show cars of the day.
“I was always a chrome person,” Stephens says. “I like what [the cars] did, but I think we ended up getting to that level and surpassing it,” he says.
In the mid to late ’90s, lights also exploded, Martin says. Custom truck owners hung lights wherever they could, with trailer lights being a go-to for both show and working truck owners.
Also popular in the mid- to late ’90s were striped paint jobs, Martin says, like those that came stock on Peterbilt and Kenworth models in the ’70s.
At the turn of the century, the game changed again, with lights and stainless losing their luster. Painted components, stretched frames and low front ends took their place.
“People always want to see what they can do to take the crown,” says Stephens. “We were always trying to design and come up with stuff to try to do things different. Somebody would come in with something different – the right touch – and somebody else would say ‘I like that. That’s what I need to do to compete.’ We all get inspired from shows, and that’s how it evolved.”
Martin marks this era as the one that accelerated both the interest and the innovation of custom truck design. “Around 2000, the bar just got raised,” he says. “People started looking at these trucks as a canvas and started really thinking outside the box. I keep thinking that when it comes to custom trucks, everything’s been done. But then there’s something new that comes along.”
Today, retro – looks from the ’70s and ’80s – seems to be making a comeback, says both Martin and Stephens. Smaller visors, striped paint patterns and stainless once again are growing in popularity.
But elements of all of the trends from the last quarter-century continue to hold – some chrome, some lights and lots of paint. Recent years also have seen a rise in wild interiors and an emphasis on one-off parts and metal fabrication.
“We’re doing things now that 15 years ago we would have thought were nuts,” Martin says. “Rear light bars, T-bars, Frenched-in lights, sculpted and molded metal and bodywork, four- or five-step paint jobs.”
Stephens sees originality and one-off parts continuing to be the trend. “Uniqueness, tedious detailing and cleaning – that’s the stuff that sets a lot of people apart. I just see more of that coming.”