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Late in 2010, PPG Automotive Refinish approached Edward Stokes with a chance to showcase his shop’s work to an international audience—an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

PPG wanted a new car refinished with a brand-new gold paint to display during the 2012 SEMA Show in Las Vegas. The company approached Stokes’ shop, Detroit Auto Body in Covina, Calif., and Stokes immediately jumped on board. He says PPG didn’t have any requirements for the vehicle except that it be something new and modern to fit the theme of the newly developed gold paint, which isn’t yet available to the general public.

Trucks have always been Stokes’ main automotive interest, and he knew he found the perfect vehicle for the job when he first saw the 2011 GMC Sierra 1500 design. Using his own money, Stokes bought one from a local dealership for about $30,000 and immediately dove into the project.
Of course, Stokes refinished the Sierra with PPG’s flashy new gold color. But several other upgrades were made along the way.

Stokes, along with his shop’s technicians, upgraded the truck’s brake system, renovated the interior and added a supercharger to the engine. They also added 26-inch Bonspeed wheels with brushed hoops and polished centers.

Then Stokes worked with Covina, Calif.-based Chassis by Aaron Iha to upgrade the sheet metal inside the engine compartment, and install a full air-ride suspension system, which is 100-percent adjustable and controllable.

“It works just like the Cadillac air suspension systems,” Stokes says. “You hit a button and the truck automatically levels to a certain area.”

Stokes and his technicians made several other cosmetic changes as well. They lowered the body, added a limited-slip differential, and welded in a roll pan and rear bumper area. They painted the grille, tinted the windows, blacked out the headlights, marker lights and taillights, and sprayed in a bed liner. The whole goal, Stokes says, was to design a usable, practical truck that SEMA attendees could replicate on their own.

Stokes’ investment in the vehicle upgrade was nominal, aside from the initial ticket price of the vehicle. Since the truck was meant to be a SEMA Show display, all of the paint coatings and most other parts and materials were donated by suppliers so they could promote their products at the event. The truck is now worth an estimated $50,000 to $60,000 after all the upgrades.

With the exception of a few short trips around town, the Sierra doesn’t get a whole lot of time on the road. It’s only tallied 2,800 miles, and mostly sits in Detroit Auto Body’s parking lot as an advertising item.

“It’s interesting to watch what happens when we have the truck sitting outside. It’s a rolling business card that attracts customers,” Stokes says. “Our lot is right on the corner of a major intersection, so we leave it out there every day where people can see it.”

Stokes says several people have stopped in the shop after noticing the truck in the parking lot to inquire about his painting expertise. After three months in the lot, the truck landed him six refinishing jobs. 

Although the updated Sierra has proven valuable as a promotional tool, that’s just a secondary benefit of the effort. What Stokes appreciates most about the yearlong project was the chance for a company-wide activity to bring his team of technicians closer together. Stokes says his technicians were ecstatic to have a hand in a car displayed at a huge trade show like SEMA.

“The morale inside our shop was pretty exciting. It developed camaraderie and teamwork, which has really lead to productivity gains ever since. The guys are working great together,” Stokes says. “Sometimes it takes a fun project to get everyone on the same page and make the daily grind at work more enjoyable.

“The shop has received recognition for it, but it’s also something that each individual technician can be proud of. That’s what this was all about.”


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