Chopped, dropped and stuffed with an LS1, you’ve never seen a Holden Rodeo like Michael Ellard’s elite-level masterpiece
This article was originally published in the May 2016 issue of Street Machine
A MINI-TRUCK in Street Machine? Heaven forbid! But before anyone gathers a mob and starts lighting torches, take a good, close look at the work Michael ‘Bobbin’ Ellard has put into his ’92 Holden Rodeo. Bobbin and his mates have built a modern custom car, featuring a shortened back-halved chassis, chopped top, suicide doors, handmade guards, Cadillac tail-lights, custom suspension, and packing an LS1.
Dubbed Severed Ruby, the House Of Kolor-coated ’Deo has wowed both Meguiar’s MotorEx and the Summernats Elite Hall, taking a swag of trophies from both and even a Top 10 finish at the ’Nats. It’s even cooler when you realise the history Bobbin has with this particular truck.
“I first built the ute almost 10 years ago,” he says. “It was orange with 20-inch wheels and done as a typical mini-truck, but it won a lot of awards. I sold it to buy my first home, but I later heard it was smashed up so I bought it back around six years ago.”
As the NSW president of the invite-only Severed Ties mini-truck club, Bobbin was never going to stick-weld a pre-fabbed rollpan in, wind the torsion bars down and call it a day. The Severed boys are known for going all-in, and that became Michael’s mantra for Severed Ruby.
“My brother Matt talked me into going all out with the truck,” he says. “But I then decided to push it even further by doing the roof chop and upgrading all the mechanicals.”
The amount of body mods is staggering, especially as they have still kept the truck’s overall proportions in sync to the casual observer. The chassis has been shortened 250mm and features a complete custom rear section from the cab back; the roof came down 51mm; the whole body was lowered 76mm over the chassis; and the doors were converted to open suicide-style.
Mini-trucks normally cop more smoothing and shaving than a Bondi beautician’s shop the week before bikini season, and Bobbin’s Rodeo was no different. The tailgate mechanism, petrol filler, door handles, indicators, windscreen wiper jets and stock tail-lights have all been binned, while the boys made up a custom flat firewall and floors to suit the body drop. The stock character lines on the body and in the tray were deleted, and the smooth tailgate was recessed behind the Cadillac tail-lights that Bobbin had fitted during the truck’s first build.
A 1960s Cadillac front bar was chopped up and integrated into the Rodeo’s front end. Other neat touches include the smooth pop-out door handles; pop-down number plate; custom polished copper air lines; electric hard tray lid; and tube grille inserts covered in copper to stand out against the eye-catching HOK Brandywine candy paint.
The truck’s front end rocks custom tube top control arms from The Chop Shop, with modified lower arms and drop spindles to get it sitting real low. The rear end is all custom. The stock frame was hacked off behind the cab, and Severed Ruby now features a custom, smoothed rear clip with Chop Shop triangulated four-link bars, and a sizeable notch to get the 127mm-narrowed BorgWarner diff up high and the ’Deo’s belly flat on the floor.
All the smoothed-off crossmembers under the car are custom-made, as are the wheel tubs front and rear. The battery has been relocated under the tray and onto the left rear section of the frame, using a billet bracket, while the steering acts through an Ididit column to the Rodeo box and arms.
While Bobbin originally toyed with a turbo SOHC Isuzu four-pot, Severed Ruby was unveiled at MotorEx Sydney in 2015 with an LS1 V8. Apart from an Edelbrock high-rise intake sitting under the custom smoothed-off shaker hat, the Gen III small-block is pretty much stock – the Rodeo is light enough to not need much power or torque to get it scooting!
The mods inside Bobbin’s truck are just as intense, and hold special meaning to him. While the truck’s metalwork was being carried out, Michael’s mate and mini-trucking legend Laurie Starling gifted him the custom sheet-metal smoothed-off dash and overhead gauge console from Laurie’s original, groundbreaking mini-truck CHOPPA. This would be akin to a street machiner being given signature parts from Howard Astill’s Race Rock coupe.
“One of the hardest parts was losing my mate Laurie, who gave me a lot of motivation from his own work,” Bobbin admits. “When Laurie fitted the LS1 he also put the custom dash from CHOPPA into my car as a present, so after we lost him in July 2014, it was all the motivation I needed to get my Rodeo finished for MotorEx 2015.”
When it turned up at the Homebush Dome, even hardcore muscle car fans were blown away with the mini-truck. Part of this came down to the build’s consistent high quality, from paint and panel, to engine bay, to the job Hy-Tone Motor Trimming did on the cabin. The Colorado Customs steering wheel, copper-plated B&M shifter and Dakota Digital gauges are cool additions, but the best feature is the lack of messy switchgear or controls.
Instead, Bobbin uses a Samsung tablet mounted in the custom centre console to operate the Rodeo’s functions. It is a high-tech feature Bobbin’s brother Matt designed, based on a similar type of system the Ellard boys install in the limos they build at Image Limousines.
“The most fun in the build was the last six months before MotorEx, when I had all my closest mates at my shop night and day doing whatever they could to help me. I enjoyed it so much I kind of wish I was still building it,” Bobbin enthuses. “Seeing my family and friends’ faces when it was done and the awards were given to us was priceless. They are all so proud of the truck and I love that.
“I treat mini-trucks as a test to see how far I can take my skills and imagination,” he continues. “Every car I’ve done has been better and better, and now this truck has taught me that if I can make a Rodeo look like this, I can do anything. I have a lot of ideas for my next build, but the first step is picking one.”