Portales man garners award for truck

By Clarence Plank: PNT staff writer

Johnny Middleton got into restoring cars and trucks because when he was younger, he had to build his own. Recently, he got an article published in a MOPAR Action magazine about his truck, Li’l Red Express, which he restored and won car shows with.

Middleton said he got started in 1976, and owned a couple of body shops here and there, but muscle cars has been his niche.

“It is an extended hobby,” Middleton said. “We specialize in muscle cars.”

He built muscle and show cars, and Middleton said, he has raced occasionally, but restoring the vehicles is what he enjoys.

Middleton went to MOPAR at the Strip in Las Vegas to auction off the Li’l Red Express. While he was working to unload his vehicle, Bob Riggle with “Hurst Hemi Under Glass” stopped to joke around with him. Middleton said Riggle always picks on him because Riggle knows how to push his buttons.

Middleton has known Riggle for a few years and he has seen the truck a couple of times on display.

With the auction house Web site down, Middleton was in a hurry trying to get the vehicle off the trailer and drum up some interest.

Middleton said Riggle was messing with him, and asked him what was on the trailer this year.

“It is that red truck,” Middleton said.

Middleton was in a rush to get the truck off, when Riggle said, “Don’t worry about taking it off the trailer it has already been sold.”

Riggle and a friend bought the truck.

Middleton got to hangout with Riggle and a couple of Hemi legends that weekend as they put the truck on display.

With the truck sold, Middleton thought he was done, but the next day, he got a phone call about the truck earning an award.

Li’l Red Express was selected to go on display at the Cannery Casino in Las Vegas with 20 other vehicles.

“Most of the cars that are in there are $300,000 and up,” Middleton said. “Really rare and spectacular, anyway, they choose the Li’l Red Express to go in that year the day I sold it.”

The truck was selected as the top vehicle in the showcase by Cannery Casino judges, and Riggle autographed the plaque before he gave it to Middleton.

Riggle figured since Middleton built the truck, he should get the award.

A phone call about MOPAR Action wanting to a story about Middleton and the truck came the next day.

Middleton said it capped off an awesome weekend for him.

He said winning at the Cannery contest was the ultimate for him.

“That’s just a huge feather in my cap,” Middleton said. “I didn’t even know they did that. I thought it was just a huge honor to just be chosen to go into the Casino, but to win is cool.”