Preserving a moment in time is almost impossible to do. But, as Paul Cox of Glendale, CA has shown, with enough passion, drive and determination, it is possible. Setting out to restore an older truck that would take him back to his impressionable years as a young boy in London, dreaming about American trucks, Paul knocked it out of the park, creating one of the most stunning period-correct 1979 Kenworths ever. And Paul did not build this truck to haul it around the country on a trailer to the shows – he drives it to them! Known to make grown men cry, this KW was meticulously restored from the ground up, and nothing was overlooked.
Born and raised in West London, Paul (54) did not come from a trucking family, nor did he ever become a professional trucker. As a kid, he was fascinated with machines – cars, trucks, planes, trains, etc. When he was about 12 years old, he wrote to several of the manufacturers in America, and when he received an envelope full of brochures from Kenworth, he was ecstatic. One of those brochures featured an iconic K100 Aerodyne cabover that, along with the release and popularity of the B.J. and the Bear television show, which also featured a K100 Aerodyne cabover Kenworth, left an indelible impression on Paul. From that day forward, he wanted one of those trucks, and since his memories were attached to the trucks in those brochures (which of course were brand new stock rigs), this was the benchmark in his heart to replicate.
As time went on and Paul got older, his fascination for wheeled machines took a back seat to his love of music and technology. At that time, especially in London, the 80s music scene was bursting with excitement as computers and technology were helping to create entirely new types of music. That era produced genres of music like glam rock, new wave, goth, techno and rap (the early days of hip hop and dance music). Much of this music was centered around the new sounds now available with synthesizers and other digital instruments. The problem was, many musicians could play instruments and write music, but they didn’t know how to program or run all these new computer-operated machines. This is where Paul came in.
Attending college for just two days, Paul was not impressed, so he quit school and began his career in the music industry, gravitating toward the programming and technology side of things. At that time, an Australian company created the first interactive digital audio workstation, called the Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical Instrument), and Paul quickly learned how to use this very expensive piece of equipment, which included a digital synthesizer, a sampling machine, a video monitor with a keyboard, and an interactive light pen, for drawing right on the screen. This was a skill that would propel him to work with some of the premier bands of the day – groups like Tears For Fears, Depeche Mode, Eurythmics, Ultravox, Duran Duran and so many more.
In 1992, Paul moved to Los Angeles, CA to further his career in the music industry as a programmer and an electronic designer of recording studios – which is what he does today. Over the years, he has worked with Stevie Wonder, Madonna, Beyoncé, Lady GaGa, Justin Timberlake, Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), Rihanna, Lionel Richie, Tommy Lee, Dixie Chicks, Stone Temple Pilots, Michael Jackson, Prince and many others. These days, Paul’s talents are in high demand, and he travels the world designing the electronic aspects of high-end recording studios and other technical spaces. Paul has also worked in television, film and radio, but he prefers the honesty and passion of the music industry over those other entertainment outlets which, he says, are substantially more financially driven and fake.
Over the years, Paul has fulfilled many of his childhood dreams, including restoring several 1950s-era Cadillacs, but he still wanted a truck. In 2006, Paul stumbled upon an ad for a 1979 Kenworth K100C Aerodyne with the big 108-inch cab that was for sale at a lot in Fontana, CA. Driving out to look at the truck, which was in rough shape, the salesman there said they were about to send the truck to the scrap yard, so Paul decided to save it. Giving the man a $500 deposit, he said he would be back in a week to pick it up. He had no money, nowhere to put it, and he didn’t even have a CDL so, legally, he couldn’t even drive it, but he bought it anyway.
Equipped with its original 475-hp Detroit 8V92 with 2.2 million miles on the odometer, the black truck, fitted with a black VIT interior, Kenworth air-glide suspension and an aluminum frame, would start, but that was about it. For every minute it ran, it poured out about a gallon of oil. Although it looked alright with the naked eye, the cab was not very straight, and to open the driver door, Paul had to lean hard on it and pry it loose. Purchasing the KW for $3,500, Paul towed it to a local storage facility, where it sat for a year. During that year, Paul would visit the truck regularly, wanting to get to know it better and formulate his restoration game plan. Also, that year, Paul got his CDL, just so he could drive the truck when it was finished.
The first step of the restoration process, which ultimately took over eight years, was getting the rig mechanically sound. To do so, Paul towed it to J&R Diesel Services in Riverside, CA, where it spent about six months getting the drivetrain and chassis fixed. Dale Mendenhall and his son Dustin were known for being top-rate Detroit specialists, and they dedicated an entire bay in their shop to the Kenworth. Wanting to be involved with every aspect of the build, Paul was there when most of the work was done, and he helped every step of the way. Once the truck was running like a dream, Paul took it to a storage facility in Agua Dulce, CA (north of Los Angeles) and began the body work.
Being very busy with his music career, there would be times when Paul didn’t work on the truck for weeks or months at a time, but then there would be those times when a job would get canceled or postponed and he’d find himself with a lot of free time to fill. Working on this mechanical beast, especially during the whole tear-down process, was very therapeutic after the “sterile” and precise environment of music studios, and Paul absolutely loved it.
Realizing quickly that the cab was in bad shape, he called on a friend who is a master craftsman that specializes in metalwork and fabrication on high-end restorations – Sebastian Dominguez of Sebastian Dominguez Coachwork Restoration in Bell Gardens, CA. Paul thought Sebastian might help with a few pieces, but after measuring his door to see if the truck would fit in his shop, he told Paul to bring it in. The rig spent three years there, getting new doors, floors and body panels – the entire aluminum cab was rebuilt! The fiberglass roof cap is still original, but a lot of work was done to it, as well. Much work on the frame was done, too, including replacing all the cross-members and every bracket. And, like when the drivetrain was being rebuilt, Paul was there every step of the way with Sebastian. This is not a store-bought rig – Paul made sure he was involved with everything.
Now it was time for paint. Paul did not want to spend a fortune, so most of his restoration friends were out of the running. Not knowing where to take it, while sitting in L.A. traffic one day, a flashy motorhome pulled up next to him. This gave Paul an idea – take it to someone who paints large RVs. He motioned for the RV driver to roll down his window and then asked where he got it painted. The driver told him where, and Paul immediately went to see them. The place was called Final Touch Coach Works in Valencia, CA, and it was not far from Paul’s home. Meeting with Joel Forte, the two formulated a plan that would allow Paul to tape off the stripes himself and be a part of the entire painting process.
Painted with a “Salem” scheme in medium concord blue, metallic silver, black and gold, Paul and Joel meticulously matched the paint colors to the original 1979 Kenworth paint chart. Paul spent a couple uninterrupted days in the paint booth masking off the entire scheme. When it came time to spray the paint, they did it just like the way the factory would have done – which is opposite of how most people do it. Instead of painting the larger pieces first and working your way to the smaller ones, they started with the gold pinstripes first, and then worked their way out from there. This process creates a very distinct look and is the way it would have been done at the factory in 1979, so, of course, that is the way Paul wanted to do it. While there, they also painted the inside of the cab and sleeper black. In total, the truck was at the paint shop for only about a month.
Now that the paint was finished, it was time to start working on the interior and putting everything else back together. For this, Paul rented a nice, new, clean building in Pacoima, just down the street from Franklin Truck Parts, where he got many pieces for the rig. This final portion of the process took about two years. During this time, Paul rewired the entire truck, using all the proper wires, in the correct factory-matching colors. Being an “electronics” guy, Paul made improvements to the electrical system, like adding relays to everything, but he added them to the existing factory fuse panels, using existing holes, so it still looks stock. The truck also has a hidden sound system, complete with satellite radio and Bluetooth connectivity, but you can’t see any of it.
Before the interior was installed, Paul first insulated the walls and ceiling of the cab and sleeper with lightweight 3/4-inch foam residential insulation sheets, and then used HushMat on the rest. Having a tilt cab, Paul did not want to add too much extra weight to it, so he only used the HushMat on the doors and floor. Wanting to retain the look of the truck’s original VIT interior, Paul called his friend Ray Griggs, who has been doing automotive upholstery for decades. Again, Paul was very involved in the process. Using 1/8-inch plywood, Paul cut templates of every panel, noting where the screws would need to be placed and where the diamonds and buttons would be located. He then took each template to Ray, individually, where each piece was double folded before stitching the diamonds, virtually hiding all the stitching. Assuring precise fit and finish every step of the way, these new pieces are better than the original factory panels.
An entire book could be written about the build process of this Kenworth, but we will just focus on a few small details that Paul is especially proud of. One of those things is the fiberglass engine tunnel. Located under the cab and on top of the engine, this “tunnel” was originally coated with an orange-colored layer of insulation. Paul jumped through major hoops and spent almost nine months figuring out how to replicate this, and in the end, took it to an industrial coatings specialist that does work for NASA. The material comes in 55-gallon drums and is very expensive, and Paul only needed about a cup of the stuff, so when this company was using the product on another job, they were able to spray his tunnel with the leftovers – and it was absolutely perfect. Paul says you could put a blowtorch on that stuff and get zero heat transfer.
Another detail he is most proud of are his ID and build stickers. Located on the inside edge of the door, these stickers note all the build specs of the truck, along with various information. On most trucks, these stickers are trashed, and you can’t get them anywhere – so Paul made his own. Using Illustrator, a graphics program on his computer, he created not only the door stickers, but others throughout the cab, like shift patterns, fuse box notations and more. After creating the files, he sent them to a friend who does precision silk-screening and had them all printed. Again, it is a small detail, but one he is very proud of.
The punched heat shields on the pipes are another item Paul is very proud of. Completely custom made from sheet steel, Paul used several vendors to get the look just right, including one company to map the holes, another to punch the holes, another to crease and fold the edges, another to bend them and another to do the chrome plating. Paul and his friend Sebastian did all the necessary welding. Remember, these heat shields are like five feet long, so not many shops could handle that size of product. For a part that seems so simple, much time and effort was put into making it period-correct and just right – Paul did not do anything half-assed on this build.
The front bumper is much the same story as the heat shields. Starting out with a factory chrome steel bumper, Paul stripped the original chrome, which was terrible, and took it to several places to prepare it for new chrome. One place copper-plated the bumper, another nickel-plated it, and yet another added the chrome. And between each step, Paul spent hours sanding and prepping everything perfectly, because quality chrome is like beautiful paint – everything that really counts is in the prep work.
One last detail to mention would be the cab seal. This rubber seal, which is actually PVC vinyl, runs along the lower edge of the cab and, these days, is almost impossible to find, except maybe in black. Paul wanted his to be gray, to match the silver, so he took a cross-section of the original material and sent it to a company that made vinyl extrusions (strips) for him. They wouldn’t just make him one set, which is all he needed, so he got a bunch of them. Over the years, at the shows, when people ask where he got them, he says, “I had them made. Do you want to buy a set?” He always brings a set to each show and he always sells it. Not looking to make money on the deal, his price was merely the cost of the material divided by how many sets he got. Now that most of them have been sold, he was able to recoup the exorbitant amount he paid for the one set he needed.
The truck was finished the day before he was scheduled to leave for the big ATHS National Convention and Antique Truck Show held that year (2016) in Salem, OR (a fitting place to debut his KW with a “Salem” paint scheme). Making its maiden voyage to Oregon, Paul had planned on only driving in the day and making a few stops, but once he got out there on the road, the truck ran so amazing and was such a pleasure to drive, he just kept going. After it got dark, he flipped on the lights and realized that he had never driven a truck at night – and he loved it. Everything worked perfectly and there were no problems, getting him to his destination a day and a half earlier than expected.
Once at the show, Paul was shocked at how well-received the truck was by everyone, noting that several grown men cried while looking at the Kenworth. I guess it took them back to their childhood, too! Since then, Paul has driven the truck cross-country a few times to other ATHS events in Des Moines, IA and Lexington, KY, as well as the Mid-America show in Louisville, KY. During the build, Paul periodically posted pics online of his progress and was surprised at how many people knew about it before it was even finished. People would walk up to Paul and the truck and start telling him the whole story about it, then Paul would politely say, in his calm British accent, “Hi, I’m Paul. Nice to meet you.”
Since its debut in 2016, the truck has only been featured in print a few times, including the Chrome & Elegance calendar, Wheels of Time (the official publication of the ATHS), and in an Australian vehicle customizing magazine (which is funny because this truck is not custom at all, it is completely stock). Frankly, I think it would have been easier and cheaper for Paul to have built a super custom cabover versus this stock reproduction – his painstaking attention to every detail on this replicated 1979 rig was absolutely monumental and commendable. Turns out Paul is very selective about who gets to feature his rolling work of art, and we are proud that 10-4 Magazine was “up to snuff” in his eyes.
Since the truck is iconic, we wanted to choose an equally epic and historic location to take our pictures. Although you can’t see much in the background of the photos, we met Paul at the top of the legendary Grapevine mountain pass on Interstate 5 just north of Los Angeles. However, we did not shoot our pictures on the current interstate, but instead on a two-lane portion of the now-deteriorated “old road” that used to carry all the cars and trucks over the pass. It was a warm and windy day in early April, and we truly enjoyed our time with Paul and his amazing machine, which he drove around like a hot rod. Although Paul has never been a trucker, his infectious passion and attention to detail has made him a highly respected honorary member of the trucking community.
At one point back in the 1990s, Paul was married for about 10 years, but he is divorced now and has no children, saying, “I couldn’t have done this restoration if I had a wife and kids!” So, what’s next for Paul? He recently acquired a 40-foot 1979 Great Dane exhibition/furniture trailer that just happened to be built the same month and year as his Kenworth, so it safe to say that one day you will see this trailer hooked to the cabover – but not for a while. Paul is in no hurry. He also talked about wanting to one day restore a 1970s or 80s White Road Commander cabover truck, as well. But, for now, that is just water-cooler (or should I say truck show) talk.
These days, Paul Cox is busy working in the music industry, here and in London, so his future projects will have to wait a little longer. But he relishes his time on the road in the Kenworth and looks forward to each and every mile. His goal from the beginning was to not only preserve a piece of history, but to capture a moment in time – a moment in his time – and, without a doubt, he absolutely nailed it!