By Rich Hail
James Thomas, who entered but fell just shy of advancing in last year’s Young Guns competition with an unfinished version of the same ’49 Ford F1 that helped him win this year, was motivated to return and win.
James Thomas is the winner of the 2020 SEMA Battle of the Builders (BOTB) Young Guns NorCal virtual regional qualifier. He will go on to compete alongside top vehicle builders in the BOTB competition in November.
Thomas, who entered but fell just shy of advancing in last year’s Young Guns competition with an unfinished version of the same ’49 Ford F1 that helped him win this year, was motivated to return and win.
The first-generation Ford F-Series pickup was formerly a piece of yard art that Thomas hand-excavated from within the earth. He has always been drawn to older pickups like this one, and the patina on this septuagenarian told a story that he couldn’t help but pick up and give a new ending to.
At Chico State, Thomas honed his skillset of engineering, 3D modeling, CNC machining and welding, all of which played a part in bringing the truck back to life. While most builders would opt for a Coyote or an LS powerplant, Thomas defied the norm and went with a 2JZ paired to a replica GT45 turbo complete with a T51R Mod. A T56 six-speed sequential shifter from S1 Sequential with a custom-built adapter is bolted up to a transmission donated from a Ford Cobra.
Most of the frame was replaced, having been designed in 3D Space and built by this very capable Young Gun. The independent front and rear suspension come from a Supra while the airbags, which were modified to fit the hand-built shock towers, came from a Mercedes Benz. A modified engine harness from Tweak’d Performance and a CAN bus-controlled tablet run all of the electronics via the touch-screen dash.
Thomas states, “[My] goal was to set out and do something no one has ever done before. To make people love to hate it.”
With the exception of the AN fittings, which were donated by Phenix Industries, he built most of the components himself, from the intake manifold to the intercooler to the fluid tanks. After all the pieces were put in place, the truck was tuned by Bend Calibration out of Bend, Oregon.
The Battle of the Builders competition celebrates the amazing craftsmanship and talents of people who create and build some of the most unique cars in the world. The Young Guns program is a feeder to the SEMA Battle of the Builders competition, and offers up-and-coming builders who are 27 or under the opportunity to compete to earn a spot in the SEMA Battle of the Builders competition. Furthermore, the Young Guns program recognizes and inspires the next wave of young builders and gets them actively involved within the aftermarket industry.