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Tube & Pipe

The sky’s the limit

By Nick Wright

Custom truck suspension shop lofts drivers above the rest

August 2012 - Travis Amick, owner of Las Vegas-based Alter Ego Customs, makes one thing clear: The trucks he outfits with custom, super-sized suspension kits are not monster trucks. “But it gets to a point where everyone starts calling it that,” he says.

Alter Ego is a two-man shop specializing in lofting trucks on their axles with suspension ranging from 4 in. to as tall as 42 in. That high end of the spectrum is manifested in his modified 2007 Dodge Ram 2500, known as “Hellbound,” which sits on 53-in. tires each weighing 400 lbs. It was a big hit at a SEMA show several years ago, he says.

From the driver’s seat, Amick is perched 10 ft. above the road. He drives the vehicle to work every day (now with smaller tires and an 8-in. suspension lift.)

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“I’ve only done two trucks to that extreme. We did them both, actually, for publicity. The advantage that you get from a truck that big is obvious,” says Amick.

As of June, Alter Ego moved into a 4,200-sq.-ft. shop for more space. The shop houses a mix of tools including sheet metal and pipe benders, a CNC plasma table and welders.

 The extra space also will stock accessories and pieces of raw metal that customers can choose. Alter Ego fabricates its own suspension parts, such as brackets and gussets, out of 1/4-in. mild steel plate as well as aluminum skid plates and steel tube for drop cages.  

Depending on the customer’s specs, Amick designs parts to match the prevailing wheel and truck style. Then,  for example, brackets are cut with a CNC plasma cutter and finished with a grinding wheel before getting welded for assembly. Other parts like tubes are cut on a band saw or chop saw. An outside company provides powder coating.

“Most of the time if I have to fabricate an item and I need it fast, we can actually make the part before we have the vehicle,” Amick says. The truck brands people bring in provide working templates that the custom componentry makes distinctive.

“I don’t want someone rolling up on a stop sign looking over and someone with the exact same height, tires, wheels,” he says.

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Alter Ego also bends round and square tube for custom drop cages, the subframe center sections and cross members connecting the truck to its suspension and axles. Everything essentially bolts onto it. The cage is visible when a truck is lifted, so the idea is for each truck to have its own underbody signature while functionally supporting the truck. Depending on the job, they can appear as bent, curved or straight in color schemes evocative of the truck.

“When we get a big truck in and put a drop cage on, we design and build everything around it,” Amick says. “It really brings in the attitude of how that whole project is going to come out.”

Local leverage
The completed trucks are certainly a rolling advertisement for what Alter Ego is capable of. But other shops nearby or even do-it-yourself types with garage projects often come to Alter Ego for fabrication jobs.

“We get guys who come in with a drawing on a piece of cardboard and ask, ‘Hey, can you cut out a bunch of these for me?’” he says. “We supply some of the other off-road shops in town with fabrication, gussets, shock tabs, and so we keep an inventory of custom parts for other places.”

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Larger trucks present bigger challenges. Factors like reconciling frame strength with size, finding centers of gravity and determining leverage on a certain component can make the design process arduous.

“The bigger you get, the stronger it has to be,” says Amick. “It gets to a point where we’re not necessarily changing materials but the design behind it.”

While he emphasizes these aren’t monster trucks, they’re not beyond Alter Ego’s work. The Fords, Dodges and Chevys that come in for kits aren’t typically meant to be launched 20 ft. in the air. Modifications get to a point where capability comes in to play, and design has to function.

“By all means, if someone wants us to build them a monster truck, I will,” Amick adds. It will just cost a bit more. FFJ

Sources

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