Self-taught Mechanic Creates “Transformers” Truck From Scratch

Andrew Lampard
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Self-taught Mechanic Creates “Transformers” Truck From Scratch

1981 Chevrolet pickup truck. Red, white and blue exterior. 46,259 miles. Asking price on Ebay: $250,000.

Sound crazy?

That’s the starting bid for Orlando Figueroa’s Chevy on the popular auction site. But judging by the reaction Figueroa’s truck gets on the street from others, he may reach his quarter million asking price.

That’s because Figueroa’s Chevy is no ordinary Chevy. In fact, it looks nothing like a pickup; it’s more akin to Optimus Prime. Or a space ship crossed with the Batmobile.

Figueora custom-built the monstrous truck using the frame of a 1981 Chevy pickup. Among its many striking features and amenities are hydraulic-controlled doors; front, rear, and side cameras; indoor televisions; an array of exterior light displays; a fully automated rear ramp; racing seats; motion sensors and a very loud truck horn.

“Actually, I wouldn’t call it a Transformer,” said Figueroa, a 51-year-old auto mechanic who runs a repair shop in Brooklyn called Figs Auto Repair. “I don’t want to copy from anybody. [I’m] like an artist. You throw paint and it splatters and it’s called art, and what I did is the same thing.”

Figueroa, who nicknamed his truck USA Leader 1, said he intended for the truck to resemble a creature of some sort but that it wound up looking like a Transformer upon its completion two years ago.

For awe-struck residents of Bushwick and East Williamsburg, two neighborhoods in Brooklyn near Figueroa’s repair shop, USA Leader 1 may as well be from another planet.

“This is the most original thing on the road I [have seen],” said a male pedestrian to Figueroa while Figueroa was stopped at a red light. “Oh man, I wish I had the money, I’d buy this sucker right there off of you on the spot.”

A few minutes later, when Figueroa parked alongside a busy section of Graham Avenue, another man was heard to be singing the theme song to the original Batman television series.

“Nah, Batman wouldn’t have something like this,” said Khalil Wilson, a Bedford-Stuyvesant resident, who noticed USA Leader 1 when it was parked outside Figueroa’s repair shop. “It looks like the president should drive in it.”

But he changed his mind when Figueroa pressed a button on his key chain that activated the truck’s gull-wing doors, making them rise up and down like a DeLorean’s.

“Batman does have that,” conceded Wilson.

Figueroa started working on USA Leader 1 more than a decade ago. As a boy growing up in Puerto Rico, he dreamt one night that the world was overtaken by zombies and a giant, robotic car saved him. That dream inspired him to become a mechanic, a career he began after leaving school in the fifth grade.

Knowing nothing of mechanical engineering, welding or electronics, Figueroa said he taught himself the skills necessary to achieve his dream car: “My mind was always hungry for that knowledge. Knowledge came through experience and time.”

His first attempt, using the frame of a 1978 Nova, resembled something out of the Mad Max film “The Road Warrior.” After 9/11, he decided to make a car that would inspire kids and engender patriotism. He harvested parts from his first creation and set upon making the star-bangled USA Leader 1.

Since completing the truck in 2010, Figueroa has enjoyed driving it around Brooklyn and Manhattan. Times Square, in particular, never fails to supply a frenzy of curious onlookers. He has even driven it down to Florida, sometimes reaching 100 mph on the highway, he said.

But now he’s ready to sell. Considering the truck’s uniqueness and the many years it took to make, Figueroa figures $250,000 is a fair price: “When you drive this car you get your money’s worth. If you’re not a celebrity, it will make you a celebrity.”

Fiugueroa would like the money for retirement and to tackle other mechanical projects, like building a robotic motorcycle that protects its rider. He has yet to receive any bids as of this article's publication.

“I want his dream to come true,” said Figueroa’s daughter, Jamie, 31. “I just want him to finally sell it so he can be taken care of. Because with the American dream -- we’re trying to do something but it’s kind of hard when you’re in the ghettos.”