2012 Big Shed Customs cab-over truck

Mark Stead wanted a different kind of workshop hack so he built one from scratch with virgin steel

Photographers: Alastair Ritchie

THERE are many people who stare off into fat air and come up with a crazy idea for a project car, but there aren’t so many who take that idea and turn it into actual tin and chrome.

This article was first published in the July 2012 issue of Street Machine

“Those who can, do,” said Big Shed Customs owner Mark Stead, and he did, building this amazing workshop truck from a vision he had a couple of years ago.

“I knew what I wanted in my head and I just had to work out how to achieve it as I went along. There were no drawings, plans or photos – I just had a vision of what I wanted.”

Big Shed Customs is in Blenheim at the top of New Zealand’s South Island and specialises in custom bodywork. Mark’s employees Steve and Chris turn out everything from spray jobs to turn-key restorations on cars, to completely scratch-built vehicles like this truck, which they call the Big Shed Customs Cab-Over-Engine, or the COE for short.

Inspired by delivery trucks of the 1930s, the COE started life as a Toyota Hilux chassis, an injected Ford five-litre drivetrain out of a Mustang and eight sheets of 20-gauge panel steel. Fitting the 302, four-speed auto, twin-radiators mounted under the tray and Ford eight-inch diff to the Toyota chassis was simple enough, but the unique bodywork took the bulk of the 3000 man-hours Mark reckons the COE build swallowed.

In those 26 months Mark, Steve and Chris fabricated everything, from the cab, to the nose, tray, interior and the metal flames to the rear of the cab for a bit of hot rodding attitude. Given you can get so many different fibreglass and carbon fibre rod bodies out of the US, why not just get a kit?

“Because I wanted to do something different, buying one wasn’t an option – and what better way to show what I can do?” Mark said.

Thanks to more than two decades as a panel beater and 12 years at the helm of his own company, Mark certainly has the skills to take on such a massive job, and it was no surprise how few problems there were with the build.

“Not enough bourbon, or maybe too much!” laughed the Kiwi. “There weren’t any large problems, just the odd change to make it work as we went along.” Once they had the custom body laid over the ’Lux chassis, they knew they needed a killer colour for Big Shed Custom’s Steve to lay down. Again, they chose the harder path coming up with a custom colour they call Peculiar Green.

It punches you right between the eyes and is set off even more by the Billet Specialties 20×8 and 20×10-inch rollers. The big boots hide HSV 356mm discs and calipers up front, and the Mustang discs and calipers out the back, which are squeezed by a Toyota master cylinder.

Underneath, the COE rides on Eibach springs up front and QA1 springs out back, with QA1 coil-over shocks employed all ’round to control the coils. The four-link rear-end set-up assists with traction, which is at a premium given the rear-end is nice and light, while steering duties are handled by Toyota Echo triple-universal joints top and bottom, connected to the Hilux steering box.

Inside the truck is a much nicer place than any original 30s COE, with the custom seats being formed in metal with the body, before being covered in sumptuous cream leather. Auto Meter gauges, fresh brown carpet and a Sony stereo built into the driver’s seat base makes for a comfy place to run down to the shops for lunch.

Mark debuted the unfinished truck at the 2010 Sun Valley Roadsters’ show, taking Best Unfinished, before winning Best Work In Progress at the 2011 Nelson Car Show.

The stocker EFI 5.0-litre and four-speed ’box live mostly within the cabin, with access to the front of the motor provided by the barn door-style hatch in the nosecone

“I have to say thanks to the team at Big Shed Customs who went the extra mile in the finishing stages and extra big thanks to Graeme, Bill, Brian, Dave and Wadsco Commercial in Blenheim,” Mark said.

“If it wasn’t for these guys, we wouldn’t have made the first outing at the Whangamata Beach Hop. My biggest thanks go to those who said it couldn’t be done and wouldn’t be finished – that is a great motivator.”

The interior is shaped in metal, including the leather-covered buckets. The panels on each side of the console are removeable for accesss to the rear of the engine

Even though the COE is finished, Mark is already dreaming up a new roadster project. “I just need to feed the hamster between the ears better quality carrots to get the wheel turning again.”


CAB-OVER trucks date back to 1907 and the Sternberg company in Wisconsin, though they only had one COE truck in their line-up by 1914. After World War I, they revisited the COE design with the Camel Back in 1933 which featured a tilt cab.

Many credit the first modern cab-over design to the White Motor Company. In 1932, designer Viktor Schreckengost and engineer Ray Spiller got around laws limiting overall truck length on US highways to 12.8m by setting the cab directly over the engine. By saving metres from the length of the prime-mover, length could be added to the trailer.

The cab-over design fell out of favour in the US as the laws limiting length were repealed, though they’re still popular in Europe and Japan where the laws remain in place.


Colour: Big Shed Customs “Peculiar Green”

Engine: Ford 302ci V8
Internals: Stock
Exhaust: Custom stainless system, HPC-coated custom headers

Box: Four-speed Borg-Warner
Converter: Stock
Tailshaft: Custom aluminium
Diff: Ford 8in with 4-link

Front: Eibach springs, QA1 shocks
Rear: QA1 springs & shocks
Brakes: HSV 356mm discs and calipers (f), Falcon discs and calipers (r), Toyota master cylinder
Steering: Toyota Echo unis, Hilux steering box

Rims: Billet Specialty 20×8.5 (f), Billet Specialty 20×10 (r)
Rubber: Nankang 245/35-20 (f), Nankang 295/45-20 (r)

Wheel: Toyota
Seats: Custom-made, trimmed in cream leather
Dash: Custom metal
Gauges: Auto Meter

The team at Big Shed Customs, plus Graeme, Bill, Brian, Dave and Wadsco Commercial