If you’d been standing on the shore of Seattle’s Lake Washington in August 1955, you might have seen Boeing test pilot Alvin “Tex” Johnston waving from the cockpit of a prototype 707 airliner. That was upside-down. Seems Tex was tasked with a demo flight to show off the new passenger plane to Boeing executives, and he felt the best way to do that was with a mid-air roll. Later his boss asked him what the hell he was doing, and he answered, “Selling airplanes.” The folks near Seattle in Washington State tend to have an independent streak. It could be because their ancestors had to cross some pretty gnarly mountains to settle there or because they live within kicking distance of the most recently active volcano in the continental U.S., or maybe it’s all that coffee, but something makes people there do barrel rolls in jet planes and build off-road racers out of International pickups. Let’s talk about that last one.
Keith Northrup is a fabricator and owner of Northrup Fab in Kirkland, Washington. His 1937 International Trophy Rat looks like a clapped-out pickup and off-roads like a dune buggy. It captures the essence of the custom car spirit by creating something new out of two almost completely different worlds—and getting it done where you’d least expect it.
“I’ve always tried to get people to realize that there really are no limits when it comes time to put a build together,” Northrup says. “It’s a chance to let your imagination run wild, abandon the norm, and put a smile on someone’s face by showing them something they’ve never seen before.”
Like most of the wildest projects you’ll encounter, the Trophy Rat came from humble beginnings. Around 2012, Keith got a call from a friend and crewmate, Tyler Anthony, about potentially storing a heap of parts he’d accumulated with an International badge on the hood. It seems that Anthony had gotten in over his head with the number of builds he had planned out, and he was more interested in putting together a Toyota FJ Cruiser than tackling the basket-case pickup. Sensing an opportunity, Northrup told his buddy he didn’t have any interest in storing it for him—but he’d be happy to take it off his hands for 500 bucks.
When the rig arrived, Northrup had already decided he wasn’t going down the traditional restoration route. The International wasn’t in bad shape, really, but everything was in pieces. The cab, the bed, the hood, and the frame were essentially sitting in a pile. Not so great for restoring an International but perfect to build a retro trophy truck.
“We’d been working with Jason Blanton Racing in Ultra 4 racing up and down the coast, and our crew has always been into the rock-crawling, dune buggy, and King of the Hammers scene, but up here in Washington State, it’s been mostly rollcage builds and the occasional full-tube chassis car,” Northrup says. “There’s quite honestly no trophy truck scene at all, but that was a big part of the appeal, to have something that could pre-run with Blanton, and to do it with a rat rod, well, that’s something I’d personally never seen before.”
The Trophy Rat’s weathered look conceals—purposefully—the high-quality tube work sitting just under its sheetmetal and glass. Starting from the middle of the truck and building from the cage outward, Northrup took all the steps necessary to hide the International’s modern sand rail backbone.
Northrup was keen on the sleeper aspects of the build. “I wanted it to be impossible to tell that the pickup was anything other than what it appeared to be,” he says, “keeping things as stock as we possibly could so we could just blow people’s minds when this rusty old truck blasted down the trail in front of them.” Of course, keen eyes will spot the 3-inch chop—a first for Northrup Fab—along with a 7-inch body drop that saw the rocker skids shortened. The mangled fenders that originally came with the International are gone, too, (not that anyone’s missing them).
Then there’s what’s sitting under the hood: a 5.7-liter LS6 V-8 pulled from a 2000 Chevrolet Corvette and expertly tuned by Gil Nevarez at Unleashed Performance Labs in Las Vegas.
“We lucked out with Gil,” Northrup says. “He’s something of an LS genius. We were in Vegas the week before King of the Hammers, right near Unleashed, and we also had the time to swap in a fully rebuilt transmission to replace a makeshift gearbox that probably wouldn’t have lasted more than a week behind that motor.”
The aluminum lump put 320 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque to the wheels after Nevarez was done with it, not bad for a motor that Northrup saved from the scrap heap at his previous place of employment. The motor was built by C & D Engine Performance , also from Kirkland, and was intended to offer reliable performance rather than all-out power, with an 80mm Edelbrock throttle body feeding a speed density EFI setup. California Heads and a mild LS1 Comp Cam round out the oily bits, and the International exhales through a pair of 3-inch side pipes.
Northrup built the truck not just to promote Northrup Fab and inspire other customizers to think outside the box but also to run through the desert at speeds that would make a Ford Raptor wince. With an in-house suspension setup making use of 500-pound springs from King in front and a rear on a full coil-over, remote-reservoir setup (with fabricated control arms, Spider Trax spindles, and a four-link rear), the truck kicks up dust with its 17-inch Trail Ready beadlock wheels and Nitto tires. It’ll lay rubber on the street, too—this is one Trophy Rat that’s completely street legal.
“I got a little tired of not being able to show off our work at Northrup Fab to anyone who wasn’t hanging out in the woods with us crawling rocks,” says Northrup, who also does a substantial amount of interior design and home fabrication work throughout the Seattle area. “I can’t drive a tube-frame rock crawler downtown, but I can get behind the wheel of the Trophy Rat and take it anywhere I feel like—and hopefully turn some heads in the process.”
“I’ve always tried to get people to realize that there really are no limits when it comes time to put a build together.”
Speaking of no limits, here’s that 707-roll we mentioned in the beginning of this story: