Thursday, 09 June 2016 17:38


Written by Kristie Bertucci Photos: John Jackson
A build is just a build for many, but for Charles Otwell, his 2011 Ford F-350 is so much more. As one of his special builds to date, this particular one was created in memory of his late brother, Billy Ray, and adequately named “The Guardian.” “With this build being a memorial to my brother, I wanted something a little different than the rest,” he describes. “My brother was a very unique individual, therefore his build needed to be equally as unique. I have always felt his presence in my life. He is my ‘guardian’ angel.”

Thanks to Otwell’s interest in not only off-road rides, but in custom vehicles in general (he’s owned everything from high-end sports cars to large off-road rigs and everything in between), he knew the work and dedication needed to create his memorial rig, as well as the originality it needed to stand out when he unveiled it at the 2015 SEMA Show. “I think a true custom automotive enthusiast should respect and appreciate the work that an individual puts into bringing their personal vision to life,” explains Otwell about his motto for building vehicles.

According to Otwell, it was his big brother’s dream to build a truck that would one day grace the cover of a magazine. In fact, his passion for custom trucks came from his late brother, who was “a true custom automotive enthusiast.” “Every month we would go to the 7-11 store in our home town of Jena, Louisiana, on the exact day that the latest edition landed on the magazine rack,” he describes. “He would sit in his room for hours and read about every truck in the book. He would yell at me every few minutes to come see what he had found in the pages. After a while I would just sit and read them with him. He would get so mad at me for bending the pages, which I thought was funny because we were going to cut them out later anyway. He would make me sit up at nights and help him carefully cut out the pictures and post them on his bedroom wall.”

At the time, his brother and dad were building a 1991 Ford Ranger, but all that changed on the morning of May 5, 1994, when he was killed due to a drunk driving accident at 21, with Otwell (17 at the time) also a passenger in the vehicle. And ever since then, Otwell made it his goal to create a cover-worthy truck that would fulfill his late brother’s dream and give him closure. Since Billy Ray always drove Fords, Otwell knew it had to be the base vehicle, and after 21 years in the making, enlisted the help of Innovative Autoworks. Innovative Autoworks worked with Keg Media to get a rendering done for the overall concept, and although Otwell asked for a show truck to honor the memory of his brother, the shop had a different plan for him.

“TJ Gefert and Brett Habig from Innovative, through the help of Mike Vindler who owns a company named On Rails Engineering, designed the truck to handle whatever we decide to put it through. The guys took my vision and transformed it into something far greater than I could imagine. They connected me to many of the right people in the right companies who proved to be a perfect fit for this memorial.”

The Guardian features a custom-built 36” lift, with the components designed by Mike Vindler and built by the guys at Innovative Autoworks. “The suspension alone has 7.6 miles of welding wire used. All suspension components and axle truss were built out of 3/8” thick plate steel with I beam like strength.” It also sports a one-off trophy truck-inspired rear 4-link system with arm mounted shocks for a floating rear-end appearance, as well a a 2-link front suspension system with full hydraulic steering. To complete the lift a set of American Force 20x14 Savage wheels were wrapped in 54x19.50R20 Interco Super Swamper TSL Boggers.

For the exterior, Innovative Autoworks added the Ford factory fender flares to widen out the body to help compensate for the 54” tall Boggers. A one-off PPG water based paint color was formulated by Habig, which was designed for the pearl in the paint to match the color purple that was on his brother’s ATV in 1994. A Gravel Empire grille, Fusion front and rear bumpers adorn the truck, along with Offroad LED Bars – including six 5.5” square OLBs, 30” OLB and 8 RGB Rock lights.

Inside, boasts a Roadwire Leather interior and a boomin’ audio system, which is what Otwell says is the main focus of the truck. “ To really honor my brother, we needed a large audio system that matched what my brother had back in the day. We needed 10 15” subs and lots of power. I wanted it to resemble what he had in his personal truck in 1994.”

Knowing the importance of the audio system and what that aspect of the build meant to him personally, Innovative Autoworks contacted the guys over at CT Sounds and they really stepped up to the challenge and delivered an audio system that can blows your mind. “The quality of the audio system in this build is absolutely outstanding. Nice, clean and crisp sound with bass that rattles your brain,” he says. To further incorporate something personal of his brother’s into the truck, the shop came up with the idea to mount his class ring on the dashboard and used it to actuate the subwoofer. “This shows the level of trust I have for those guys. I left my brothers class ring with TJ and never worried a moment over it.”

The last piece of the build was the No. 21 on the bottom of the truck, which is something the guys at Innovative Autoworks hid from Otwell. “The shop enlisted the help from Jeremy Seanor, who owns a company named Lucky Strike Designs, and presented me with this section the night before we left for SEMA 2015. Through tears I helped install the last piece of the truck.”

According to Otwell, Ray Shadraven and Nick Chin from American Force Wheels were a large part of this project, with Chin connecting him with Innovative Autoworks for the entire build. Thanks to their support, the truck made its grand debut in the American Force Wheels booth at last year’s SEMA Show where it won the Mother’s Choice award for Excellence in Automotive Design thanks to its outstanding fit and finish work. Most recently, it won the Best Engineered trophy at the LoneStar Throwdown in Texas back in February. “It turned out way beyond expectations,” he confesses. “ Innovative Autoworks took this build to another level. The builders produced a product that honors my brother very well. I believe he would love every aspect and part on the truck. He would be very proud of this build. Due to the sentimental meaning behind this build and the level that it was taken to, there is no comparison.”

2011 Ford F-350

20 x 14 American Force Wheels Savage wheels
54x19.50R20 Interco Super Swamper TSK Bogger tires

H&S tuned
S&B Intake
MBRP, Inc. exhaust system

Ford Factory fender flares
PPG Water Base Paint, which is a total one-off color formulated by Brett Habig at Innovative Autoworks.
All preparation and paint work was performed by Phil Williams, and Evan Banner of Innovative Autoworks
ARE Accessories Z-Series Bed Cap
Eco Tint Headlights and taillights (Custom installed retro fit source D2s square dual beam projectors with RGB Demon eyes with Laser etched Lens)
Float Mount install on the 5.5 square OLB bars with the RBG demon eye built-in
14” LED switch back marker light in between the two bezels – all custom painted by Innovative Autoworks
VV Concepts Spiked LUG NUTZ
Gravel Empire Grille
Offroad LED bars 6 5.5” Square OLBs, 30” OLB, 8 RGB Rock lights
Fusion front and rear bumpers

Custom-built 36” lift, with components designed by Mike Vindler of On Rails Engineering and built by  Innovative Autoworks.
Custom designed and trophy truck-inspired rear 4-link system with arm mounted shocks for a floating rear end appearance
Custom designed 2-link front suspension system with full hydraulic steering
3.0 Fox Triple Bypass Shocks valved to match CAD simulated motion ratios
2.5 Fox Coil overs valved to match CAD simulated motion ratios
All Built by Brett Habig of Innovative Autoworks

(10) 15” CT Sounds Tropo subwoofers
(10) 6.5” CT Sounds Meso speakers
(6) CT Sounds Meso tweeters
(2) CT Sounds AT1400.1d amplifiers for the subwoofers
(6) CT Sounds AT 60.4 amplifiers for mid-range and highs
All wiring provided by T-Spec
2 deep cell batteries
300-amp alternator from Ohio Generator
All Audio was installed By TJ Gefert and Brandon Schreiber

100% Roadwire Leather Interior supplied by Dave Edmonson and installed by Brandon Schreiber of Innovative Autoworks

Shops that worked on truck:
Innovative Autoworks in Wexford, PA performed the build
On rails Engineering in Pittsburgh, PA designed the suspension
Lucky Strike Designs in Pittsburgh PA performed all the art work
Hart Fab in Pittsburgh, PA performed all of the sheet metal and bead rolling work