A lot of folks would be called crazy if they said they were going to set out, all on their own, to build a replica of the Optimus Prime truck seen in the movie Transformers: Age of Extinction. That’s because the truck in the movie, a Western Star 5700 tractor, to be exact, is shaped with details not publicly available.
But that didn’t stop Joe Fiduccia.
A longtime fan of the Optimus Prime character, Fiduccia spent nearly a year poring over photos and video of this one-of-a-kind truck to wrinkle out its cab dimensions, wheelbase size, etc.
“We got approval from Hasbro in 2015 to actually build a truck but outside of that legal permission, we didn’t have anything else. No specs or blueprints,” he explained.
“We tried our best and I think we replicated it pretty well.”
American Trucker caught up with Fiduccia recently to capture the story about what drove him to build this unique truck, which he now takes on the road as often as he can to share with fans of the Transformer movies.
Joe, can you tell me a little about yourself?
I grew up in New Jersey and now live in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Good thing, too, because we certainly need that extra property space to store the leader of the Autobots.Back in 2013, I founded an Internet company called AmericasFootprints.com, which gives people an opportunity to preserve their most precious memories (in private) for the current and future generations of their family. That’s because I believe everyone has a story and I also believe everyone deserves a chance for their story to live on.
Running this type of business works well when it comes to Optimus Prime because I don’t have to commute to a specific location for work. I can get [the truck] in front of the fans in Canada and still get some work done from my computer at the same time!
We self-funded the entire project. We did not receive any type of sponsorship help nor did we receive contributions from anyone, including Hasbro. Originally, we had a set budget in mind. But the work and time involved were more costly than anyone anticipated.
Some fans who were following the build donated small amounts from time to time ($20 here, $10 there). We bartered a little bit with a few of the people who were involved. We secured hefty loans from local banks, and even had some financial help from a close family member—all of which I am doing my best to pay back.
We exhausted our entire life savings on this project and entered into a lot of debt at the same time. And now it’s the ongoing maintenance, repairs, insurance, and upkeep on this rig that make it almost impossible for us to keep it on the road. This is where I’m hoping to get that “let’s sponsor you to travel across America and meet the fans” call from Hasbro or Paramount one day soon.
What sparked the desire to build your ‘Optimus Prime’ replica truck? What did you hope to accomplish by building it?
Aside from being a mega-fan of Transformers, I love Optimus Prime as a character. His morals, ethics, and overall approach to life make him a leader that I would be proud to follow.
I decided to do Optimus for many reasons. One big one was that no one else in the world had done it. There are tons of Bumblebee Camaros and other replica cars, but no other fan of Transformers has replicated the T4 (fourth Transformers movie) and T5 (fifth Transformers movie) Optimus trucks. So if I am to show my son through action what it means not to be afraid to take a chance, I figured Optimus was the best way to try.
I have never been afraid to try new things. For example, when my son was first born, I built a Knight Rider KITT car replica with no experience whatsoever in car modifications of that magnitude.
When I don’t know how to do something, I learn, and when I am faced with failure, I do my best to keep moving forward. I have always told my son “never be afraid to try.” But for me, actions speak louder than words.
Ultimately, I did this to inspire my son. I want him to look at what I have done as a father and be proud. But I also want him to grow up into a strong man who faces fear in the eyes and doesn’t back down because of a challenge. I want him to say to himself one day, “if my dad built Optimus Prime, then I can do anything I want to do in life.” I want him to succeed in every possible way imaginable, even when I am no longer around to help him through those challenges.
How long did it take to build Optimus Prime?
We first obtained legal permission from Hasbro [which originally developed the Transformer toy line back in the 1980s] to build it late in 2015. I also had to obtain my commercial driver’s license (CDL), so I spent a few months learning how to drive a truck while simultaneously spending the winter of 2015-16 working with Western Star to piece together on paper a vehicle that mirrored the Optimus Prime truck. Once the factory delivered the truck in April 2016, we got to work on the customization and fabrication right away. It was roadworthy again by October 2016. So the entire process from start to finish was about a year.
Why did you start with a brand-new fresh-from-the-factory truck?
I didn’t want to get a truck with a million miles on it. I am not a trucker by trade; I got my CDL specifically for this project. I didn’t want to get into a truck and then have to worry about its structure, engine, and transmission—and then start building Optimus on top of it. That’s why I got a brand-new truck custom-built from Western Star to become Optimus Prime.
Did you build this truck all on your own?
No, I had a team of about 20 to 25 people who had a part in this build, from all different walks of life. These people brought their own personal skills and experience to the ultimate test under a very tight timeline. People came together from shops that were over 400 miles apart just to get this [truck] finished.
And throughout the entire build, I was always right there in the thick of everything. Not only paying the bills, but also helping in every way possible—right there from the start. And if I did not know how to do something, I was willing to learn how to do it.
Is this a working truck or just a show truck? That is, do you haul freight with it?
This is just a show truck. I am not a truck driver by trade nor have I hauled anything with it.
So many kids on your Facebook page (and more than a few adults too) really seem to love this truck. Tell me about some of the reactions you’ve seen. What do people love most about it?
Reactions are typically over-the-top excitement. Everywhere I go, there are people snapping pictures, taking videos, and giving me a “thumbs up.” Sometimes while on the highway, cars will go ahead of me about a mile or so and then pull over to get out and video me driving by them. Truck drivers are always getting on the CB radio asking about the truck.
Both kids and adults have sat inside [the Optimus Prime truck] and been brought to tears. For many, it is a dream come true. Some kids are very intimidated by Optimus Prime because of the size and won’t go anywhere near it. But I love making people smile. The fact that I can make them smile for just a few minutes by seeing Optimus Prime on the highway means the world to me.
There are some haters too; people who don’t like the truck and/or despise the Michael Bay Transformers films. And they seem to have no problem voicing their opinion to me! But, for the most part, they are still nice about it.
One random person said it best: “I hate the truck and everything about it. But I respect what you’re doing for the fans. Keep up the great work.”
Finally, what is the absolute best thing about this creation of yours? What makes you say to yourself, “This is the reason I did this.”
Again, it is the inspiration I have (hopefully) given my son. To never be afraid to try, even at the risk of failure. If you don’t have all the answers, go with the knowledge you do have and trust everything else will fall into place. I am no millionaire; I have entered into a lifetime of debt because of what I’ve done with this build. And I’m going to try and keep it on the road as long as I can. I am not getting any help from Hasbro and Paramount Pictures, so I am looking for help with sponsorships.
But I did this with good intentions and a hopeful future. I did this to inspire him and millions of others. I did this to show the world what it means to take a chance and take that leap of faith.
My hope is that by me pursuing this particular dream, if my son can look back and say, “Hey, my dad built Optimus Prime, the sky’s the limit, I can do anything,” then it served its purpose.