Ten years ago we featured one of the baddest Freightliners to ever roll down the road on our cover, and all these years later, it is even cooler than before. Touted as “All Go and No Show” back then because the rig had never been taken to a truck show (it was a true working rig), Dave Charlebois (45) of Les Coteaux, Quebec, Canada, recently re-did the truck – and it is turning heads, once again. He had not been to California in the truck since the time we shot it in 2005, but on his next trip out, in 2015, I met up with him again and did another shoot.
Back in 2005, this super-low 1997 Freightliner Classic, painted bright red with blue scallops, was already pretty unique and turning heads with its air-ride front suspension, 301-inch wheelbase, all hand-built 80-inch sleeper with smooth sides (no rivets), and small but mighty dual high-intensity (what’s that?) headlights recessed into the front fenders. In those days, Dave was pulling a 48-foot polished Great Dane reefer with a retro-looking Thermo King unit, but upon returning to Canada right after our photo shoot, he parked the truck and opened a truck wash. After about six months, itching to get back on the road, he closed the wash and started running heavy-haul in his other truck – a red and black 2004 Peterbilt 379.
At first, Dave was pulling a friend’s trailer, but after a while he decided to buy his own – a 51-foot 2004 Liddell drop-side RGN with 3-axles and open wheels on the back. Hauling heavy equipment for Komatsu until their assembly plant in Quebec closed, he eventually ended up at Bellemare, one of the largest heavy-haul/flatbed operations in all of Canada, in 2010. A year later, he put a driver in his Peterbilt and pulled the Freightliner out of the garage and finally put it back to work, basically, looking exactly as it did when it was on our cover in 2005.
In 2012 he repainted the frame, and then in the winter of 2013, he repainted the entire truck (except for the blue scallops – those were still in good shape so they taped them off and kept them). During this rebuild, he also stretched his front fenders down another five inches to line-up with his battery boxes, had custom mirror brackets made, he painted the breathers, and he completely tore apart and re-skinned the sleeper, which was originally just glued together, but this time he welded everything. He also repositioned his cab lights four inches forward, re-skinned his doors and removed the exposed rivets, added an “I” Panel between his fuel tanks, and switched out his 7-inch pipes with 8-inchers. Finally, he added custom, retractable strobe lights to the top of his sleeper that disappear into a hidden compartment at the flip of a switch!
The following winter, and throughout the early part of 2015, he performed one more round of customization. Wanting to get rid of his now-boring louvered grille, he designed and built a completely custom wire-mesh grille. Thinking that it would look good painted, but not blue, he decided to go with black, which meant repainting the scallops on his hood. At this point, he did some more inside, as well. Repainting all of the dash panels black and then having them sprayed with murals of smoke and skulls, he also had everything reupholstered in black leather with red stitching, had custom aluminum pieces made for the armrests and door pulls, stained his wood floor black, and installed a completely-custom, hand-made, skull/skeleton shifter and knob.
Dave’s attitude and style has always been anti-factory – his goal is to have nothing stock or store-bought on his truck – everything custom and/or hand-built. And he is pretty close to reaching that goal with this amazing Freightliner (although there isn’t much “Freightliner” left anymore). When he finished this last refresh, he brought the truck out to California and came to my area in the central valley where we shot the truck up in the mountains by Sequoia National Park. His longtime girlfriend Kime flew out from Canada the next day to join him and they made a nice little west-coast vacation out of the trip. They even stopped by my house for dinner, and we all enjoyed a few cold ones and some of my famous smoked baby-back ribs.
A project like this is never done alone, and Dave wanted to give some credit where credit was due. Thanks go out to Jocelyn Potvin, who built his custom suspension back in the day and does all of his maintenance and repairs; Ian Rees, who has worked on all of Dave’s engines for the past 20 years; Francois Tardif, who did all of the paint and body work; Daniel Bilodeau, who did all of the custom metal work and fabrication; Hans and Eric Turmel of T2 Design, who did all of the pin-striping around the black scallops and applied the 3M clear plastic protective coating to all of the truck’s forward-facing pieces; and Eric Sauve of George Design, who did all of the murals and custom paint work (and even some of Dave’s tattoos, too).
After all these years, Dave had still not taken the rig to any major truck shows, but that changed this year after he took it to one – the Guilty By Association Truck Show in September (2015) at 4 State Trucks in Joplin, Missouri. Dave and Bryan Martin have been friends for a long time, and Bryan finally convinced Dave to come on down to their show. In fact, it was Bryan that first introduced us to Dave way back in 2004, which eventually led to him being on our cover the following year.
Dave and Kime are great folks to hang out with. I truly enjoyed our time together, both in 2005 and 2015, and am beginning to wonder what will happen in 2025. I can’t wait to see what Dave has hiding up his sleeve, but I can be certain that it won’t be factory-equipped or store-bought, and it will be miles ahead of everyone else. Because ten years later, “Cool Zda Rule” – still – for Dave Charlebois!