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Auto tech students at Freedom High School are preparing this truck for a transformation in time for the 2017 SEMA Show

High School Builders Make SEMA Push

John Gunnell has been writing about classic cars since 1972. He is also the owner of Gunner’s Great Garage in Manawa, Wis. He owns 11 cars and seven motorcycles.

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The young automotive technicians at Freedom High School are building a 4Runner for the Oct. 31-Nov. 3 SEMA Show. If all goes according to plan, by August the old, late-‘80s Toyota 4x4 will look like a rock crusher on display in the Sherwin-Williams booth at the giant automotive trade show. 

Auto shop instructor Jay Abitz is organizing the build, but the idea and the truck came from Rick Paulick, the owner of the NEW Motorama, an indoor event held in Green Bay, Wisconsin, each spring.  

“The Freedom High School students and other members of the Freedom High School Auto Club help out at my show,” Paulick said. “I wanted to help them out by donating a car and this morphed into the idea of the kids doing a SEMA build. Jay has the connections that could make this sort of thing really happen.”

Abitz created the Freedom High School Auto Club, which has over 40 members, some of whom are students and others who qualify as alumni, community members, professional helpers or car enthusiasts.

“We’ve done frame-off projects and body off projects and all types of restorations in previous years,” Abitz said. “Some of them take a year and some take longer. This one is not a restoration—it’s a build. It’s a little different than anything we’ve done in the past. We’ve never done any four-wheel-drive stuff, so this is a totally new thing for us.

“First, we’re going to go through the 4Runner to make sure it’s mechanically sound,” Abitz explained. “We’ll do a coolant flush, change belts and clean it up a little bit. We’re going to be putting in a lift kit donated by a company called Truedell Performance. Then, we’ll work on the off-road, rock crawler look.”

Paint for the 4Runner will be donated by Sherwin-Williams—one of Abitz’s biggest supporters. “They sponsor us through the Collision Repair Educational Foundation,” Abitz said. “They’ll be donating the base coat, clear coat, primer and all that, as well as most materials like filler, etc.—whatever we need.”

The initial plan is to have the students and others willing to help meet on Wednesday afternoons and work on the 4Runner together. With the school year factored in, the transformation of the truck is targeted for “Octoberish,” Abitz said.

“Rick Paulick had the vision,” Abitz added. “It’s his idea and he lined the vehicle up for us. Then we started working with Sherwin-Williams to get it ready for SEMA and actually put it in their booth. That’s our goal right now, but we really haven’t worked out all of the details yet.

“We’ve committed to a SEMA project and we’re going to get it done,” he said. “We’ll know by the end of July where we’re at and what we need to get it done. We’ll know if there’s 50 hours or 100 hours or 1,000 hours left. That’s going to be our checkpoint to tell us if we need to kick it into high gear.”

Abitz is hoping that the number of people working on the 4Runner keep things on track. 

“We know from past experience that these jobs take a lot of time,” he said. “I’m hoping to trim down the time with lots of bodies. Of course, professional assistance will help, too. If we get some of those guys to pitch in and give us direction, I’m sure that will speed the project along as well.”