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Tinman 2 Kustoms Feature
Photo by Robin Hetchler

CarShowz Features

Tinman 2 Kustoms – Luke Merrill – The Builder of Wild Torquey

The more time you spend in the automotive industry your mindset changes, you start to look at things differently. Instead of zipping through a parking lot at a car show and taking notice of the shiny paint with a bit of pearl glistening from the sun because, that is what grabs your attention; you find yourself taking your time, enjoying the moment. I guess you can say it comes with age or just the appreciation of what goes into a build, no matter what the style or genre is. You start to question why a builder built a vehicle the way they did, not in a cruel way, but more of wanting to understand the story behind the build, why they incorporated certain elements, etc. When we caught a glimpse of Wild Torquey and CMESLAM created by Tinman 2 Kustoms at SEMA, the creativity meter instantly shot up for us.

With the power of the interwebz and social media, it doesn’t take long for a cool automotive build to trend, especially at SEMA. Our team caught wind of Wild Torquey and the CMESLAM rig parked in one of the lots at SEMA. We saw pics being shared via social media and we knew we had to check it out. We came across the Tinman 2 Kustom rig and we all stood there for a bit taking it in, checking out every detail. The rat rod style is an acquired taste, many people cannot see past the patina paint and they automatically dismiss the build in their head and move on. When you pay attention to the details of the build, you will find an amazing amount of fabrication and engineering that is well thought out, creating a purpose-built machine.

Luke Merrill (Tinman 2 Kustoms) is the man behind the build of Wild Torquey and CMESLAM. What is more attention grabbing then a 1931 Chevy Rat Rod with a custom built PJ trailer and a 1966 C10 in tow? It’s a massive rig in a parking lot full of show vehicles and we needed to learn more about the build and the man behind it.

Wild Torquey & CMESLAM

The BUILD Details of the Tinman 2 Kustoms Rig

While Luke placed his professional goals on hold after college to continue to build his foundation of becoming a known builder at such a young age, the 1931 Rat dubbed Wild Torquey proved to be a challenge Luke was willing to tackle.

Some of the build highlights may go unnoticed by the untrained eye. For example, the ’31 was originally a 4-door made into a 2-door. Luke, welded, trimmed and blended the back doors to make the 4 door into a stretched 2 door.

Many people do not realize the fabrication that goes into a frame. For this build, Luke partially used the stock frame (front frame rails and a small section of the middle), the majority of the frame created was fabricated from 7 gauge steel that took a few months of engineering.

While outfitting any vehicle on air, there is a considerable amount of architecture that is involved. As Luke describes the fabrication of the engine cross-member was challenging the end result allowed for the oil pan to sit a 1/2″ from the ground at the lowest point of suspension travel. The entire frame weighed 650 pounds when completed.

Luke scoured the internet to find assistance on building his first diesel engine, the results of all of his hard work? A 800hp and 1500 ft. lbs. of torque (on spray with the hx52 primary and wh1c secondary). That is just a glimpse of what went into the Wild Torquey build.

Wild Torquey Tinman 2 Kustoms

Photo by Mike Mieczkowski

CMESLAM is a 1966 C10 body transplanted on to a 1994 Silverado chassis. As much attention as the ’66 build is getting along with Wild Torquey, this particular build marks #4 for Luke and his Team. Although Tinman 2 Kustoms has begun building their build portfolio with 3 prior builds, Luke began engineering this build in his mind throughout the years. As air-ride technology evolves, Luke knew he wanted to outfit CMESLAM with a bad ass air suspension setup. The ingredients to that recipe consist of an AVS 7 rocker switchbox, powered by Viair 444c dual compressors, directed by ½ SMC valves, Air Lift bags and an 8 gallon tank. For frame/suspension the truck is equipped with a new back half (parallel 3-link) with a mini c-notch. The frame is not Z’d. Bags were fabricated into the front control arms and the frame was reinforced and plated.

With functionality in mind, Luke built a custom steel bed floor that allowed him to haul dirt, car parts or whatever his heart desired. Many do not realize to build a vehicle that can be slammed to the ground while using air suspension, there is a considerable amount of fabrication, engineering and work that needs to be done. The end result, 8.5 of travel and a 10,000 lb. capacity, proving that CMESLAM is not just for show.

While the exterior appears to be an old school C10, there are a ton of creature comforts that was outfitted into this truck. As Luke notes, the wiring was probably one of the biggest challenges of building CMESLAM. Luke spent two weeks straight, over 100 hours of running custom wiring throughout the C10. An amazing challenge, but overall Luke is happy with the results. All of the dash lights in addition to retro fitting features such as cruise control, gauges and custom gauge pods gives the truck a stock / clean look. While the untrained eye may not notice all of the custom work put into these builds, the person who has the patience and the time to look over the details will certainly appreciate the amount of work put into this entire rig. The final weight for Wild Torquey with a full tank of fuel is at 4000 pounds. The total weight of the entire rig, with the trailer loaded is 13,000 pounds.

CMESLAM Tinman 2 Kustoms

Photo Courtesy of Tinman 2 Kustoms

Who is Tinman 2 Kustoms, Luke Merrill

Question and Answer session with


CARSHOWZ: There is a seed planted in all of us at one point or another that kicks off the urge to become a gear head. Was the 1965 Chevy C10, that your Dad gave you, the seed to get you started? What started it before the C10, give us a glimpse into the Luke Merrill lifestyle?

Luke Merrill: Yes, I’d say the 1965 C10 was the big seed. However, before the C10, I started out with just doing little audio things, tinted windows, and basic stuff to my 2000 impala. I first learned how to change my oil on this car when I was 18, so mind you; I hadn’t really been all that into cars growing up, despite waxing my dad’s show truck almost every weekend. Around the time I was 18 is when I started my YouTube, to sort of show some of the stuff I had been doing with the audio and whatnot.

Here is the story on that 1965 C10 and how it came to fruition. My dad had always promised he would give me his truck when I graduated high school. A little background info; he built a very nice 1941 Chevy show truck that has won numerous awards and is one of the jaw droppers that people dream of building and owning. So, all the time through high school I was excited to get that truck (I thought) when I graduated (2010)…. Well, little did I know, when I came home after I graduated he had this piece of shit C10, which had been rotting into the ground behind our garage, sitting in the front yard with my name & balloons on it. He wasn’t lying; he gave me his truck…. LOL…I was super disappointed at first. But then I said to myself… the hell with it and started to build it. I figured it couldn’t get any worse, so why not see what I could do with it (it literally had trees growing through the floorboards).

My dad has always worked on cars and was the original “Tinman”. He is a fabrication wiz, but has limited knowledge about drive-train or many other facets of cars. On the C10 I had him help me make some rockers for it as well as some redneck style lawnmower fender cab corners. I think the thing that was amazing and most exciting to me was the fact that he saw a pair of lawnmower fenders in a scrap pile and recognized that they could be used as cab corners for my C10. I have always been a cheap bastard, which will probably never change, so the re-purposing of junk parts was just awesome to me.

I did some pretty novice body work on the truck, did the basics on the engine, frame, etc. and just made it into something that could be driven again. It was painted with a 60$ gallon of automotive paint and all done for less than $600 with everything. Nothing crazy, but it turned out pretty cool for the little bit of money involved. Although it was a lot of work, it was rewarding to see that something I built went from 0 to 100 in just a few months and a few dollars.

Then I started doing more metal work and it just kind of went from there. No schooling, classes, seminars or anything in the automotive field. Just trial, error & lots of internet research time. After high school I did however go to the University of Minnesota for 4 years and graduated with 2 honors bachelor’s degrees (2014). Psychology and Economics were my fields of study. While I was successful in college and pretty seriously recruited by some companies, I never got a job offer that seemed to “fit” perfectly with who I was and what I wanted. So I decided to pave my own path.

My weekends & holidays, throughout my time in college, were spent at home working in the garage. Specifically, building my bagged ‘66 C10, a ‘73 Nova SS and lots of little odd jobs on other vehicles. While I was back up at school, for the few weeks at a time between home visits, I would edit the video footage and upload to YouTube. Because some of these build videos got some good publicity, I figured why not see if I can take it to the next level and do some more serious videos? After college graduation, I started to put a substantial amount of effort into my YouTube, sponsors and building, not only vehicles, but an internet presence for the vehicles.

Anyone can build vehicles. With today’s media exposure opportunities it opens a whole new set of doors, which I wanted to unlock and walk through. That being said, every week since I’ve graduated college, I’ve committed 60-70 hours a week to building, videoing, editing & obtaining sponsors. It’s been a very, very hard financial thing for me to do, but I’m hoping in the long run it pays off. As with any business, the first few years are always the hardest, right? If it doesn’t work out, at least I have built some bad-ass rigs and learned a lot about internet marketing and how to communicate with different people at different companies, so it’s a win either way. And that’s the way you have to look at building cars. There are going to be challenges that seem like they are just a waste of time, but life is a constant learning battle that you have to CHOSE to win and make the best of the situation.

CZ: For those who are not familiar with your builds and your YouTube channel and are just getting a glimpse into your SEMA build, I wanted to introduce our followers to your roots. Not to take away from your feature, but to give the viewers an idea of how deep your roots go, can we talk a minute about your Dad’s 1941 Chevy Pickup? I want to let the people know that the Merrill family covers all spectrum’s of automotive builds.

LM: While I have found my creative passion in Rat Rods, my Dad has been more of a conventional street rod guy all of his life. He did a lot of sheet metal fabrication in his adult years and had always had various cool cars around. In 1980 he found a 1941 Chevy body in a field in pieces. He decided he had to have it and wanted to build himself a hot rod. 18 years later, the truck was finally finished.

I remember the first show we took it to, he won first place and me and my little sister were super excited! After that, I started cleaning it for him almost every weekend. I enjoyed it at the time, but eventually it made me dislike shiny paint, because of the work involved and the constant worry when driving it.

At first, he & my mom absolutely hated the fact that I wanted to build a rat rod truck (my bagged C10). They told me that it reminded them of trailer trash and they didn’t want it at their house. Well, I built the fuck*r anyways! After they saw how much I was able to use the truck, without ever worrying about scratching it (their worst fear with dad’s truck), without ever having to clean it, etc. they finally understood why I had chosen that direction. The creative aspects of rat rods are outstanding (SOMETIMES) and my parents have grown to appreciate that as well.

CZ: There are several great automotive builders out there, who is your inspiration and why?

  • My Dad, he always has so many creative ways to do things, it’s nuts.

  • Steve Darnell, because he realizes that the beauty is in the craftsmanship & resourcefulness of the build and not the 100,000$ paint jobs.

  • Obviously Chip Foose is an inspiration for most, but the stuff he builds is out of my (and many others) means.

  • Jamey Jordan, Jesse James, and any craftsman that puts his heart into his art and isn’t a cockbag. Richard Rawlings? Don’t be like him.

CZ: You have a great following on YouTube and post a lot of different builds and you post a lot of fun shenanigans. Tell us about the creation of Tinman 2 Kustoms? Is it strictly a YouTube channel as a hobby, a business, tell us more about Tinman.

  • Tinman 2 Kustoms started out as just a YouTube page where I could post some of the minor automotive stuff I was doing in my spare time after I graduated high school. I never intended it to become, sort of, who I am & my full time efforts.

CZ: Out of all of the builds at SEMA, once we got a glimpse of “Wild Torquey” and “CMESLAM” we had to take a closer look. What gave you the inspiration to build such a rig?

LM: Drugs, all the drugs! Haha jk. I have always wanted a classic “rat rod” with the 30’s lines and sinister looking chop, etc. I also never built a diesel, and wanted to do something different. At the time I started this build (2014) there were very few diesel rat rods on the road. 4 years later and that has definitely changed. I was also sick of asking people to borrow a truck/trailer when I needed to haul something. With the diesel, the airbags and the overall quality of the build, one night I just had the idea to put a hitch inside and worked around that from there on out. All the measurements were meticulously considered and a customized trailer was ordered from PJ Trailers. The trailer was the single largest purchase I have ever made, but I am so stoked that I made the choice to spend the money and now have a car & trailer that I have been able to use to haul a bunch of projects. If a car isn’t useful, why build it?

CZ: Being in the automotive industry for some years now, we have come across many different styles and genres. Rat Rods are always evolving and for most who do not understand the culture, they started as a revision of hot rodding from the late 1940s and early ‘50s. If you had to explain the style and the culture to others, how would you describe the Rat Rod community?

LM: The question of “What is a Rat Rod” is one of the most commonly asked questions in the Rat Rod community. I write a column/article in every issue Rat Rod magazine and am always trying to tailor my column to the blue-collar hotrod community. That’s really what rat rods generally are: A blue-collar hotrod. “What is a rat rod”, can only truly be defined by the owner. It is all preference and opinion. While the typical rat rod is an original patina 30’s car that has been chopped and has a bigger engine and lots of cool touches, rat rods have evolved into a lot more over the last 10 years and are finally getting the love they deserve. I prefer rat rods because of the creative freedom associated with them. Everyone’s rat rod is unique. Unlike a restored car, which are generally just less interesting to look at (in my opinion). 

CZ: Being such a young builder and an inspiration to others, what advice would you give to new up and coming builders? If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

LM: Work hard & passionate!!! Use the internet to your advantage. It’s a fantastic tool to learn, talk with others and network yourself and your business.

If I had to do it all differently I would have spread myself a little bit more away from YouTube and more towards Facebook and other social/media platforms. I put almost all of my effort into YouTube. They have really made it difficult for people like me to be successful on YouTube now, and I wish I hadn’t spent so much time with it, because I know eventually YouTube will become a dead end. It’s sort of like the rule of thumb with investing… don’t put all of your eggs in one basket, in case you lose that basket and have to start over. I am working more on Facebook and other stuff now however.

CZ: How do you perfect your craft, metal work, fabrication, etc. What do you recommend to young builders who want to learn how to weld and fabricate, etc.?

LM: I am NO WHERE NEAR perfect, just wanted to say that right off the bat. There are people that are more skilled in every aspect of vehicles than I am. I distinguish myself with my hard work and media efforts. The key to good fabrication is patience & critical thinking. Quality tooling is a huge plus, but not mandatory. Want to learn how to build your own skills? Watch my YouTube!

CZ: As a follow-on to the previous questions, not everyone has the ability or the space to build cool rides. How can young enthusiasts get involved in the automotive industry. We realize social media is a huge tool, tell us how you have grown your YouTube channel and what has helped you?

LM: Social media is THE REASON that I have the tooling that I have. Working my ass off to get the viewership I have and then working even harder to get sponsors on board. It’s been a long term commitment. I grew up in a household that never had money. We were actually considered poor. I never saw that as a hindrance to what I could do. Whether it was hustling audio or writing papers for people, I always made my way. That’s the thing with today’s kids. They like to make excuses. Sure, I was fortunate our house had a big garage for me to work in, but there are always ways to get things done otherwise.

On average, I’d say I spend 25 hours a week on social media/email, just promoting myself/my brand or answering questions. Spending time sending pages messages and networking is crucial. The more times a company or page sees your name, the more they will see your dedication as well. Send links to anyone involved in every video. If you have a product in one of your videos, send that company the video link with the time mark of their mention. They may even share it. It’s a slow process but that may get you an extra follower or two. Just keep with it!!!

CZ: What’s next for Luke and Tinman 2 Kustoms? Another SEMA build?

LM: I’m currently working on a SEMA build for 2018. This one is particularly special because it is a car that my dad started for my mom in 1995, and has never been able to finish due to money & health reasons. Now that I have a solid foundation in hotrods and awesome companies that work with me, I can give her a vehicle that is much nicer than they would have ever been able to afford otherwise. If I can bring home another award next year, I will be ecstatic. This build is more of a conventional street rod. So to be able to build an award winning rat rod and follow it up (hopefully) with an award winning street rod would be amazing.

Tinman 2 Kustoms Wild Torquey & CMESLAM Photos

Tinman 2 Kustoms – Giving Back to His Fans

This is pretty cool to come across. There are a lot of humble people in our industry, but I do have to admit they are becoming harder to find. Luke enjoys giving back to his fans. Check out the below video with the following description from Tinman 2 Kustoms YouTube:

Aiden opening his surprise holiday “care package”! Finally got to edit and upload this. Thought it was pretty awesome! Thank you Aiden for being an avid follower and friend.

CZ: Please take this time to give a shout-out to those who stand by you, those who have helped you along the way (friends, family and sponsors).


  • Shoutout to my parents for letting me use their garage all of this time. Also thanks to them now that I am back living at home because I don’t make hardly any money doing what I love to do.

  • Any of my friends who have purchased & rock the Tinman 2 Kustoms Apparel!

  • Shoutout to all the great sponsors that have helped with parts or knowledge.

Tinman 2 Kustoms Sponsor list

Tooling thanks:

Artwork thanks:

  • Nick Weisner (Fineline Kustoms)
  • Upscaled Designs
  • Keep the Bitch Floored

This list of sponsors has been hard earned and something that I am proud of.  Maintaining all of these relationships as well as everything else, exclusively on my own, is very tough and stressful. I don’t want anyone to get discouraged because they can’t get sponsored or can’t do what they want to do. It’s never easy, even if it seems like it’s easy for me behind a computer screen, it’s just not. Work hard and prove your worth, don’t get upset because it’s not all coming to you fast. The best things in life are often the most challenging.

Tinman 2 Kustoms SEMA ’17 Experience

CarShowz Tinman 2 Kustoms Conclusion

As we travel the country, we are extremely honored to come across humble and motivated Builders like Luke Merrill. We would like to congratulate Luke and his accomplishments, especially his latest achievement of winning Top 40 overall & Top 10 Young Guns in the Battle of the Builders at SEMA 2017.

Follow Tinman 2 Kustoms

To keep up with Luke and Tinman 2 Kustoms, check out Luke’s social media pages, give them all a follow:




An Infrastructure/Information Technology Manager by day, an automotive enthusiast the rest of my spare time. Most importantly a Father, Husband and a U.S. Navy Veteran! Combining my experiences and skills and came up with the ultimate creation of Armed with a camera who knows where this journey will take me but stay tuned, it's going to be an exciting ride!

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