It’s been a whirlwind year for Sean Puz, with highlights being a radical rat rod build, an epic 1,400-mile drive, and a first-place finish in a competition ending at the world-famous SEMA Show. All this and more came about in 2017 when he and his wife ventured out to attend a new show.
The car-crazy couple live in Florida and on a whim in 2016, decided to cruise down to Gulf Port, Mississippi. There they attended the Atomic Blast car show. “We didn’t know anybody but brought one of our rat rod cars,’ explains Sean. “With no idea it was a judged event, we ended up winning Best of Show.”
A Call Out of the Blue
Happy with the accolade, the Puz’s returned home and went about their normal business. A year and a half went by before Sean got a call from the event organizer. They were inviting him to participate in an event called the International RATical Rod Build Off. “I had never heard of it but they wanted to throw my name into the ring,’ said Sean. “We accepted the challenge and made the decision to do another rat rod.”
NE to NV
To enter the competition, a builder and his team must begin a new project at the start of the year and complete it by October. From there, they must get their car to Lincoln, Nebraska for a caravan drive out to Las Vegas and the SEMA show.
Ready to strike out, the first step was locating a starting point for the project. An online search turned up an unlikely candidate, a 1936 Packard sedan. “It was cool and different,’ laughs Sean. “I figured it’d get some attention.”
With that as a foundation, the craftsman set to work. A custom chassis was fabricated before numerous body modifications were performed. The car was shortened, losing its rear set of doors, the windshield was laid back and the front fenders were flipped around and installed over the rear seat of wheels.
A roof panel was also created, covering the Packard’s original fabric roll out top. “There’s no body filler and I was really happy with how it turned out,’ said Sean. “It’s not perfect but I didn’t want it perfect. I wanted people to be able to see some of the changes that were made.”
Power comes from an LSX 376-B15 Chevrolet crate engine, topped with a Blower Shop 8:71 billet blower. A radical design touch are exhaust headers that come off the engine and wrap along the body to form running boards. Gears are selected via Race Ready 4L80E transmission. An AED Competition fuel system was installed, along with a custom hydraulic suspension and Be Cool radiator. Other subtle callouts include .45 caliber shells affixed to the cowling, appearing as rivets.
Inside, custom slim-design seats were created, along with a steering wheel fabricated out of chain and piston connecting rods. While it looks primitive, digital gauges keep Sean abreast of what’s happening out front in the engine.
A Caravan of Custom Cool
The project, dubbed Il Capo and meaning ‘The Boss’ in Italian, wrapped just one day before Sean needed to be on the road to Nebraska. “I only put around one-hundred miles on it and had no idea how it was going to work,’ laughs Sean.
Still, he pressed on, trailering the vehicle to the event’s launch point. He was joined by fourteen other teams who all struck off in a rat rod caravan with noses pointed towards Vegas. “Early on, we had two sixteen degree days and a twenty-degree morning,’ said Sean. “I had ice on the front of my carburetor and with no heat in the car, it was cold. But the car worked great. All I did was keep the windshield clear and gas in the tank.”
That formula worked and Sean and nine others arrived at the 2019 SEMA Show. Sean an Il Capo were displayed in the Derale Performance Booth where throngs of showgoers flocked to see his custom creation. “SEMA is a show for people in the business and I wasn’t sure how professionals like that would react to El Capo,’ said Sean. “But it was amazing. Everyone loved it.” There, Sean was crowned the 2019 International RATical Rod Build Off Champion.
A New Year, A New Build
Still coming off that show-going high, Sean is gearing up to start his next build for this year’s competition. He gave us the inside scoop, saying it would be a ground-up build of an all-aluminum COE truck. “I’m starting with sheet metal and tubing,’ said Sean. “By the time I’m done, it’s going to have a mid-mounted LS engine and look like a knight in shining armor.