Showing Off Your Work

Gladiator promotes quality workmanship

Published in the July 2019 Issue July 2019 Feature Steve Janes

Mike Liles

Apex, NC

2018 Ford King Ranch F350

If you own a business, you know how important it is to promote it in the most cost effective and practical way possible. For Mike Liles of Apex, NC, the best way to promote CDT Performance & Off-Road is to do it with your work.

Liles is the owner, CEO and lead technician at CDT Performance & Off-Road. Also known as Carolina Diesel Trucks, the company has been around since 2012 and is a full-service diesel automotive repair shop. So building a truck to showcase its work just made perfect sense.

Liles has been driving diesel trucks for about eight years. Last spring he purchased a 2018 Ford F350 and turned it into the Gladiator—a project truck that not only displays the quality of work done at CDT Performance & Off-Road, but also made its way on display at the 2018 SEMA Show in Las Vegas.

“The use of this truck is to advertise and promote our business as well as many of our vendors who helped make it possible,” Liles said. “The deadline, and ultimate end goal was to make it to SEMA. I wanted to show everyone what my company can bring to the industry, as well as the attention to detail, fit and finish of our work.”

Liles said the transition from repairing vehicles to enhancing vehicle performance is a natural progression. “They break and need to be repaired. Repairs turn into performance. Vicious cycle.”

But with the Gladiator, the process started with a goal in mind. “This truck was a full frame off-build,” he said.

After purchasing a fully-loaded King Ranch F350, Liles and his build team started stripping the entire truck, all the way down to the frame.

“Not a single nut or bolt left untouched on it,” he said. “We then proceeded to contact our friends over at Stryker Off-Road Design, where they worked up their first 17+ Ford CCLB Identity Series lift.”

 Liles also worked closely with his friends at SORD Performance Shocks to get one of the first sets of their newly-designed custom hydraulic coilovers.

Gladiator was designed not only to showcase product, but also to feature a unique look that would capture attention for the business. Everything had to look sharp.

 “We had everything we could powder-coated at Livewire Powdercoating,” Liles said. “Axles, suspension, frame, etc. We then got with our friends over at Road Armor Bumpers, and had them send us a set of their new Identity Series bumpers. These were painted to match.”

Also painted were the drive shafts, as well as all new differential/transmission/oil covers from AFE.

“We then collaborated with our friends at Go Recon and Retro Customz, for custom headlights, taillights, mirror lights and more,” Liles said. “And let’s not forget the 80+ Go Recon rock lights.”

Air horns of Texas set Liles up with a full K5LA system including dual Viair pumps and a 12-gallon air tank. These horns, along with the custom coilovers and other miscellaneous parts, were powered by a Ride Controller.

“To finish the front end we added a custom Royalty Core grill bearing the project name Gladiator,” he said.

“Once the truck was back together, Fury Tires graciously set us up for a set of 42x15.50 tires which wrapped a set of custom 26x16 Specialty Forged wheels,” he explained. “Helping push these down the road was the Motor Ops EZ Lynk tuning.”

The interior featured an iPad conversion kit courtesy of Retro Customz, as well as a custom subwoofer enclosure from Dreamworks Motorsports. Liles said he plans to do more interior modifications in the future.

With time and money, Liles figures he’s got nearly $250,000 into Gladiator. But then, with such a name, you either need to go big or go home on a “ground-up build.” 

“We wanted this truck to be set apart,” Liles said. “Bronze fire is the color of the truck. The entire underside is gold—colors people usually don’t mix. A crew cab long bed SRW is also uncommon.”

Liles said he did much of the work himself, with the exception of a few hours here and there. “As we closed in on SEMA, many of my employees stepped up to the task to help,” he said.

“We took an excellent truck and made it badass,” he explained. “Everything that was improved is noticeable.”

Gladiator was built with the intention to be a daily drive. “It goes to dinner, the grocery store, drag strip, shows, SEMA, you name it,” Liles said. “I expect to enjoy the truck, as I hope others will.”


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