From the Movies to the Dunes, Russell’s Builds Include 1933 Plymouth & Porsche Baja 911
A 1991 Porsche Baja 911 paying homage to desert racing and a 1933 Plymouth once appearing on the silver screen may seem an unlikely duo, but they both have one thing in common - builder TJ Russell of Russell Built Fabrication.
For Russell, the 1933 Plymouth was one of his very first builds, while the Baja 911 is a recent SEMA-honored vehicle. Both will be part of the 2020 Builder Challenge powered by CTEK.
Growing up in Colorado, Russell spent “hours and hours” building model cars and balsa wood airplanes. “I was always building and creating, and then I got my hands on a welder and started learning about mechanics and building things from scratch,” he said.
In the early 2000s, he moved to California and landed a job at Picture Car Warehouse, a company providing vehicles for movies and TV. “They had a side operation building stunt cars, so I had hands-on experience with vehicles and fabrication,” said Russell.
Six years ago, when Russell decided to go into business for himself, he knew he needed a “business car” to show off his fabrication skills. “I needed something I could use to show my talent and craftsmanship, and I love American muscle cars and the old steel hot rods,” he said.
There was a car at the Picture Car Warehouse he thought was perfect. “The 1933 Plymouth had been driven by Denzel Washington in the movie ‘The Great Debaters.’ It just had style. The old Plymouths had the right proportion, sat right and had suicide doors. They’re a great gangster-looking car.”
Russell modified the vehicle to take it from antique car to hot rod. “How you feel inside a car is always more important than what it looks like on the outside. The cool part about the Plymouth is it’s a four-door car that still seats four. You can go out cruising with your friends.”
While his work at Picture Car Warehouse connected Russell with the Plymouth, it was a different job that gave him his connection to Porsche.
For nine years, he worked as head of fabrication for a Porsche aftermarket company. “In that time, I built 170 different cars, and that’s where my interest and love for the Porsche came in. I love sand dunes, motocross and I’m a big fan of desert racing, and Porsche has this history of off-road racing from the 1980s.”
With that racing heritage in its DNA, Russell knew he could make the 911 something special. “I thought, what if Porsche in the 1990s had continued with off-road racing. What would the car look like?”
He knew the shape of the Porsche 911 was “very recognizable” so he realized his build “had to keep the iconic curves.”
“I wanted to stay loyal to the brand while adding next-level components and parts,” he explained.
His Baja Porsche 911 turned heads at SEMA 2019, where Russell finished in the Top 10 of the show’s highly-contested 2020 Builder Challenge powered by CTEK.
“I’d been a spectator at SEMA before, but that was the first vehicle I’d taken. There were thousands of cars there, and being highlighted and making it to the Top 10 was an honor,” he said.
“When you sit in this, it’s unlike anything else. From the cockpit, it’s still a 911 - a tiny, nimble sports car. But with the suspension and body roll, you’ve got a race feel. It’s all new to your driving senses,” he said.
“We pretty much engineered and made every single part by hand. There are only 5-or-so original parts on the build,” he said, adding he’s especially proud of the car’s body line. “It’s really easy to make a body kit on a car look horrific. You can put parts on a car that look foreign, but this looks Porsche-y from every angle.”
The response to the Baja 911 “has been awesome,” he said. “Everybody has been blown away with how clean the fit and finish are.”
In fact, the response was so good, Russell now commission builds Baja 911s for others. “We do a small number of builds each year, which keeps it unique and personal. It’s a full-grown, luxury race car.”
With his years of build experience, Russell said he understands first-hand how important battery maintenance can be, which is why he appreciates CTEK’s chargers.
“If your build can’t start, it can’t run,” he said. “With the Porsche, we run a MoTeC engine management and power distribution system. MoTeCs require a certain amount of output, and when you run back-to-back MoTeC PDMs, they never really shut off. They ‘keep each other awake,’ so to speak. One does something and sends a message to the other. With newer luxury cars running MoTeC systems, the battery can just sit and drain down, that’s why it’s so important to have a charger that maintains and keeps voltage.”
Keeping the battery charged also means saving the trouble of trying to access a hard-to-reach battery. CTEK chargers include eyelet leads for a more permanent connection and CTEK’s Comfort Connect system allows the leads to seamlessly connect to a wide array of CTEK chargers and accessories.
“It’s no fun trying to get to the battery. In the Baja, the battery is tucked away under the spare tire in the front of the car. We rely on the remote charger leads as a way to have a quick connection,” he said.
In his Plymouth, the battery is under the seat. “It’s not like you can just open the hood and get to the battery. You have to take the seat off. It’s nice in the builds to be able to hide your components, but it can be difficult when it comes time to access them.”
In the 2020 Builder Challenge powered by CTEK, Russell will showcase both his 1991 Porsche Baja 911 and his 1933 Plymouth on social media alongside other CTEK sponsored builds. Fans will have a chance to vote on their favorite build here with the winning builder receiving a CTEK prize package. One lucky voter, drawn at random, will also receive a CTEK prize. Voting will be open Nov. 2-6. For more information, visit CTEK on Facebook or Instagram.
ABOUT TJ RUSSELL
- TJ Russell of Russell Built Fabrication, in Sun Valley, Calif., custom builds Porsche Baja 911s. He placed in the Top 10 in the 2019 SEMA Battle of the Builders. For more information, visit him on Instagram at @russellbuiltfabrication or @the_baja_911 or visit www.russellbuiltfab.com.
ABOUT CTEK, INC.
- CTEK is a leading global brand in the care and maintenance of vehicle batteries. CTEK's unparalleled knowledge and continuous investment in innovation means they push the boundaries of research and development to bring new and unique battery charging technologies to the global market.
- CTEK offers the market high-quality, reliable chargers and accessories that are effective, easy to use (plug and play) and, most importantly, safe (for the user, the vehicle electronics, the battery, and the charger).
- With products and solutions for 6, 12 & 24 volt lead-acid & lithium (12 V LiFePO4) as well as Electrical Vehicle batteries, CTEK products are designed and tested to deliver maximum performance for all battery charging needs.
- CTEK sells over one million battery chargers each year across the globe and regularly tops the chart in independent battery charger tests.
- For more information about CTEK, INC. visit www.ctek.com