“Does it float?” isn’t a typical question most project vehicle builders hear when their creations debut for the first time.

Then again, the Suzuki marine vehicle, created by Cleveland-based Ohio Technical College (OTC), a National Training Center member of the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NAFTC), isn’t your typical custom car. The vehicle also includes a hydrogen system that improves gas mileage.

The project began in summer 2011 when American Suzuki Motor Corporation was in search of a way to uniquely promote its marine division. The company turned to OTC – a family-owned school that has provided technical training in a variety of transportation industries for more than 40 years, receiving numerous industry recognitions – for ideas on transforming a stock 2010 Suzuki Grand Vitara into a head-turning project vehicle.

After some brainstorming among Suzuki, OTC faculty and industry experts, the concept was decided.

“Let’s actually turn the Grand Vitara into a boat,” recalled Tim Cole, a lead instructor on the OTC project and the school’s alternative fuel program manager. “We had our custom paint department develop a rendering, and from that point on, we had less than four months to make this awesome idea a reality.”

Students in OTC’s automotive, auto-diesel, classic car restoration, collision repair and custom paint and graphics programs got involved in every aspect of the project. The four-door SUV was converted into a two-door marine vehicle, with the roof removed to create a sundeck in the back and new rear seats constructed from wood, sheet metal and fiberglass.

OTC Suzuki project 3

Ohio Technical College’s Suzuki marine vehicle is displayed at a trade show. Credit: OTC

Custom car builder Rich Evans, who owns Huntington Beach Bodyworks in California and is helping create an advanced collision repair and customizing course at OTC, worked one on one with students to chop the roof, cut and lower the front windshield six inches and mold a new rear arch from the original roof and fabricated material. The arch holds a radio antenna, lighting and fishing rods, while the rear of the vehicle features a Suzuki outboard motor to enhance its marine appearance.

“As students in our various automotive programs, these young technicians not only learn the basic skill sets needed to succeed in today’s industry, but they are also exposed to unique projects like the Suzuki marine vehicle that challenges them to think differently and find new solutions to common situations,” Cole explained. “At OTC, we strive to provide hands-on opportunities and industry mentors that will differentiate our students in the workforce. The Suzuki marine vehicle taught students about custom fabrication, how to shape metal and fiberglass, wiring and more.”

Additional modifications included a lift kit, door poppers, shaved handles, a backup camera inside the outboard motor, a blue body glow undercar kit, two spotlights, LED driving lights, navigation system, DVD players in the headrests, a hydrogen system and even a refrigerator in the back.

“By working on a project like the Suzuki marine vehicle, you really learn the ins and outs of a car,” said Kyle Karkowski, a recent auto-diesel graduate from OTC. “This was a one-of-a-kind project that gave me the opportunity to have fun working with a new team that had their own set of skills and experiences. I learned a lot from the build, particularly adding the hydrogen system to improve gas mileage and performance.”

Nathan Dutcher, a fellow OTC student, agreed that working on such a unique vehicle was an awesome opportunity. “When I first heard about the design of the Suzuki marine vehicle – and all the modifications we were going to be making – I couldn’t exactly visualize how it would all get accomplished. However, being involved in the project taught me you can turn an idea into reality, and that’s something I will take with me to my future career.”

The Suzuki marine vehicle’s custom paint is reminiscent of a bass boat, complete with metal flakes and a wave design off the front wheel. It also features bow mooring lights as well as dock cleats. The vehicle will be featured at several events in 2012, including in the Ohio Technical College booth at AutoRama in Cleveland.

And, even though there are no plans to use the Suzuki marine vehicle in the water, it has certainly surpassed the team’s expectations and turned some heads in the automotive world.

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