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How This Toyota Hilux Went From Garbage Hauler to Full-Blown Bonneville Bomber
BY Mike Maravilla //
February 14, 2024
@openinanewtab
Photography: Brandon Cody
@bcody_formative
Owner: Scott Birdsall
@chucklesgarage
  • Scott Birdsall is a master fabricator and race car driver who holds a Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (PPIHC) record amidst running Resolute Motorsports and Chuckles Garage.
  • This Toyota Hilux started its life as the shop’s dedicated trash vehicle, but with some coercion from his Pikes Peak crew, it soon accepted a new fate as a Bonneville racer.
  • A tried-and-true 2JZ-GTE was swapped in and tuned to run on Methanol with hopes of supplanting the current 3.0-liter mini/midsize record on the salt at 189+ mph.

“I bought Old Smokey off Craigslist for $225,” confessed Scott Birdsall, the owner of Chuckles Garage. Knowing that Birdsall was able to see any potential in a 1949 Ford F1 pickup as a motorsport platform was an immediate testament to his creative eye. But it was his talent—both as a master fabricator and race car driver—that turned that nearly 75-year-old behemoth into a world-class, record-setting Pikes Peak hill climb machine. Sure, the 6.7-liter twin-turbo, 1500hp diesel motor, and impressive aero package helped, but if there’s anything that a Pikes Peak veteran will tell you, there’s a lot more required to finish first on the mountain. It’s that same bundle of imagination, guts, fortitude, and talent that led Birdsall to the project you see here: a 1991 Toyota Hilux pickup.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

This little truck spent most of its days trudging along at Chuckles Garage to do one thing: haul garbage from the shop to the dumpster. It wasn’t bought as a “one-day” project at all, but to be fair, Old Smokey wasn’t initially destined to be a hill-climb truck either. “I didn’t really create Smokey for Pikes Peak specifically,” said Birdsall. “It was originally built to be a road-racing truck that I could hoon.” Indeed, it was only after he was accepted to the race in 2018 that the truck took on a much more extreme persona. The exercise allowed Scott to find the weak spots in the designs and further evolve the truck for that singular purpose.

The learning lessons that Scott accrued with Smokey coupled with an all-too-familiar lack of restraint helped him act swiftly when it came time to build this Hilux.

BONNEVILLE BENCHMARK

Birdsall’s obsession with Pikes Peak will likely never fade, but the 2JZ-GTE-powered Hilux was built to take on a different challenge: Bonneville Speed Week. For the uninitiated, the gathering is hosted at the city’s iconic salt flats. As its name suggests, the topography here is perfectly level, which makes it an ideal venue for brave speed seekers to visit every August when the flats are dry.

“Dry” is something that every ambitious land speed record hopes for because, just like Pikes Peak, perfect conditions are all but guaranteed. Get lucky and those coveted records will likely be crowned to new champions, one of which Birdsall hopes to become. “My personal goal is to beat the current 3.0-liter mini/midsize record on the salt at 189+ mph,” says Birdsall. “Once that is eclipsed, I would like to set the all-out fastest mini/midsize record at 240mph.” Should he achieve that ambition, it would annihilate the current record, which stands at 222mph. As customary for Scott’s builds, there’s an array of other brands, products, and mods that will help him hit his benchmark. Amsoil lubricants, Haltech Nexus, a Radium Engineering fuel system, Sabelt seats, and a 6XD sequential gearbox are amongst a lengthy, but important list.

VIBRANT THANG

It was no surprise to see Scott’s Hilux parked proudly at Vibrant Performance’s booth at PRI. The Canada-based company has earned a reputation for featuring some of the wildest aftermarket builds, largely because its components have helped them all achieve their visions and its products on this Hilux were among the most visible. The Gen3 catch can was among the varietal within the Hilux’s engine mod list: a Brian Crower billet crank and rods, CP pistons, Supertech valves, a Platinum Racing billet fuel pump drive, and Vibrant PTFE plumbing for air, fuel, and water.

INTERVIEW WITH SCOTT BIRDSALL

At PRI, I had a chance to talk with Scott at Vibrant Performance about his background, his record-setting run at Pikes Peak, the 2JZ, and his Hilux ambitions.

I have to ask: What’s the story behind the name, Chuckles Garage?
When I started my shop in 2006, I named it after my dad Charles Birdsall. He was a police officer. Everyone called him by Chuck, and his CB handle was Chuckles.

Talk to us about your background as a master fabricator. What compelled you to pursue that life direction?
I have always been a tinkerer in one form or another. I have been into honing my fabrication skills ever since I learned welding and mechanics in High School auto shop in the early 90s. I went on to college, eventually burning out in the corporate world, and decided to jump head first into starting my own shop.

That’s really inspiring. Could you comment on your shop’s focus on building custom cars and the creative freedom that comes with it?
I am very fortunate to have a busy enough shop to pick and choose the clients that are willing to give me and my crew artistic freedom. This lets our builds truly stand out, and have a “Chuckles” style.

How has the duality of being both a fabricator and driver helped you build better projects?
I think it definitely helps me understand the cars better on track. I always seem to know exactly what is going wrong when it is happening, and understanding the build from a nuts and bolts perspective helps the development process.

Speaking of understanding cars on the track, how’d it feel to set a world record at such an acclaimed event like Pikes Peak?
I’m not sure if I can put into words what I felt like setting the record in 2020. My first emotion was anger and disgust, as I was convinced that I was way off pace because the truck had been in limp mode since a section of the track called Devil’s Playground. When the radio interviewer told me I had broken the record, I was in complete disbelief, followed by absolute elation, and finally, relief from the three-year struggle it took my crew and me to get there. What an honor!

Talk to us about how this new Toyota Hilux project went from garbage runner at the shop to a full-blown Bonneville truck.
My main Pikes Peak crew guy, Tim, has a record-setting Ram 2500 that owns the full-size diesel record at Bonneville. He is a bad influence, and I am severely lacking any kind of restraint. I guess it happened because I already had the truck, and intrusive thoughts won.

Haha, that’s relatable. Were there any unique challenges you faced with this build? How’d you overcome them?
For complexity, this truck is tame compared to some of the other builds we have going. The biggest challenge is making sure that everything meets Bonneville technical specifications. This is our first Bonneville-specific build.

Talk to us about what has attracted you to 2JZ drivetrains. How’d you decide to slot that into this Hilux?
What’d you do differently compared to previous 2JZ-powered projects? The 2JZ-GTE is in my opinion, the best gasoline-powered engine ever built. I have been aware of them since the late 90’s but my Friend Lawrence Shipman is the guy that got me hooked on these mills. His 1000hp 2JZ-GTE swapped Fox body Mustang was one of the coolest street cars I have ever seen. I put them in everything now, so it made sense to use one in the Hilux. The only thing we did differently with this 2JZ-GTE, is run it on Methanol instead of E85 for tuning safety at the salt. Meth has a much larger window of error.

You’ve built a lot of cool things in your time. What’s next? What’s a halo project that people might not know you’d like to build?
As you know, I recently destroyed Old Smokey F1 at Pikes Peak. I plan on doing an even wilder AWD version of it next year.

Love to hear that Old Smokey is coming back! Anything else that you’d like our audience to know? Words of wisdom?
I came from the soul-sucking corporate world and felt like I wasted a good chunk of my life on it. It was unfulfilling and ate me up inside, but I did it because I thought I had to. Eventually, it gave me health issues, and I ended up jumping feet first into what I loved: building cars. I opened my own shop, struggled for a while, and eventually ended up where I am now. I love it. I don’t HAVE to go to work, I GET to go to work now. Follow your heart, and put your everything into what lights your fire.


Thank you to Scott Birdsall for taking the time to chat with us at the Vibrant Performance booth. We’re excited to see you take on Bonneville in your latest build!


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