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‘Apocalypse HellFire’: These souped-up trucks, built in Pompano Beach, aim to let you ride out the end times in style

By Ron Hurtibise, South Florida Sun Sentinel
Published: May 26, 2024, 6:02am

If the rich really are building underground bunkers for a coming apocalypse, a Pompano Beach, Florida, company is building the vehicles they’ll need once it’s safe to return to the scorched earth.

Apocalypse Manufacturing takes the biggest passenger trucks on the market — Jeep Gladiators, GMC Hummers, Ford Broncos, Land Rovers and more — chops them in half and builds new back ends that support extra sets of wheels.

They replace the suspension and axles so the vehicles can support 40-inch, deep-tread Yokohama tires that enable them to “go over anything,” said Jerry Eisenband, the company’s marketing director.

They retrofit the upholstery with durable, marine-grade vinyl, paint them with a mixture of epoxy and kevlar that can withstand any climate, add custom front and rear fenders, and alter the front and back grills to make them look sinister.

And they give them superhero-inspired names like HellFire, Dark Horse, Juggernaut, Bone Saw, Strikeforce and Warlord.

With prices starting at $150,000, Apocalypse Manufacturing caters to celebrities, sports stars and business leaders, company officials say.

About a year and a half ago, JJkarem Jones, owner of the telecom company 321 Communications Inc. in Jacksonville, Florida, bought an Apocalypse vehicle customized from a Land Rover Defender. He’s having a second one built and plans to keep both.

Jones said he was looking for a luxury sports car when he went on Google and saw an Apocalypse 6-by-6.

“The mistake I made was flying down to look at them in person,” he said. “Once I saw it, I fell in love with it. Basically decided to buy it right then and there.”

High-profile customers

Other customers include Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic, who was filmed in March signing autographs for young fans in a HellFire he bought for $250,000.

David Njoku, of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, bought one, as did famed food critic Guy Fieri, who built a pull-out mobile kitchen in the rear cargo space.

Shaquille O’Neal drew a crowd when he pulled up in his four-wheeled Apocalypse Super Truck at a car show in Henry County, Georgia, last month. The company had to redesign its cab space around Shaq’s 7-foot frame, Eisenband said.

The company has made its mark in the automotive press, earning features on websites MotorTrend, Motor Authority, Top Gear, MoparInsiders, Off Road Xtreme, Autoblog and HotCars.

A HellFire was featured in the 2022 Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum film, “The Lost City.”

In 2021, the late comedian Bob Saget drove a version of the HellFire through the desert on the CNBC show “Jay Leno’s Garage.” In addition to its six-wheel, all-wheel drive train, the converted Jeep Gladiator sported a 500-horsepower V-8 engine. (Other options include a 700-horsepower Hemi Hellcat V-8 engine.)

Standing next to a 1940s-era Jeep brought on the show for contrast, Leno said, “We won World War II with this.” Pointing to the HellFire, he said, “With this, we can beat other planets.”

A few months earlier, Leno hosted Apocalypse Manufacturing’s founder and CEO Joe Ghattas.

At that time, the company employed 45 mechanics and had produced 79 of the Apocalypse HellFire vehicles.

The Leno appearances “really put us on the map as a force in the customization world,” Eisenband said.

‘How far can you push this thing?’

After moving in November into a new 50,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Pompano Beach, the company now has 82 employees — split among the plant and dealerships in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach — and has put 400 HellFires on the road.

Ghattas says he caught the conversion bug when he and his father, an engineering professor, turned a Suzuki Samurai into an electric vehicle when he was a kid in Marietta, Georgia. They did it for fun, Ghattas said in an interview.

As an adult, Ghattas entered the car sales business, ultimately rising to become general manager of a dealership called Florida Fine Cars.

Eventually he opened his own dealership on Third Avenue in Fort Lauderdale.

“I always had some Jeep project in the background,” Ghattas said. “Customers would see them and say, ‘Is that Jeep for sale?’ I’d say ‘yes,’ sell it and buy another to replace it, then sell that one within a week.”

At first, the souped-up Jeeps sold for $23,000 or $25,000, he said. Then the custom work became more expensive and he’d list them for $50,000 “and someone would buy it.”

“I was thinking, ‘How far can you push this thing?’” he said. “Then a customer said, ‘I want a Jeep but I want six wheels.’

“So I added an electric axle to power a fifth and sixth wheel. Then I figured out a way to extend the axles so the back four wheels were moving in unison.”

A lot of trial and error followed his decision to start building six-wheelers on a regular basis, he said. When something broke, getting vehicles back to Florida from other parts of the U.S. proved costly.

“So I established a network of shops around the U.S. that were familiar with our work and could do the repairs,” he said.

Accidents were more frequent than they should have been because the company operated out of five shops within a two-mile radius in Fort Lauderdale, Ghattas said. Crack-ups would happen because the cars had to be driven between them, he said.

“I was selling 10 to 12 cars a week and averaging one car accident a month,” he said.

So he started looking for a single property that could house his entire operation.

In February 2023, the company announced its purchase of the Pompano Beach facility for $10.7 million. Ghattas said he spent nearly a year getting the building into shape, paying special attention to “fire suppression, the paint booth, rubber and chemical storage.”

Now instead of 10 to 12 vehicles a week, the company sells 25 to 30 a week, he said.

About 10 are Apocalypses. The others range from custom work ordered by customers to spec vehicles that Ghattas decides to make, like the Samurai he customized with his dad, because they can.

Because the company warranties all of their vehicles for three years, quality control is a priority. Two full-time inspectors go over every finished vehicle with a five-page checklist, Ghattas said, adding that workers’ hourly wages rise and fall based on how many errors the inspectors find.

The CEO’s office is located high above the building’s floor and has a large picture window overlooking all 32 work bays. He uses two video screens next to his desk to zoom in on any ongoing task.

Customers can use the same technology via the internet to watch every step of their vehicle’s construction, Eisenband said.

The end of the world? Bring the family.

Ghattas says his aim is to make Apocalypse Manufacturing a household name.

He wants to eventually build plants in Texas and California, where the company ships many of its vehicles. Seventy percent of what the company makes are sold to out-of-state buyers, Eisenband said.

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“In Florida, there are only so many places you can use them,” Ghattas said. Unlike congested South Florida, Texas and California still offer hundreds of miles of underused roads and off-road destinations.

Apocalypse HellFires are also shipped overseas, to oil-rich members of royal families in the Middle East who want to drive them across the region’s endless deserts.

The embassy of Qatar recently bought two and use them in military parades, Eisenband said. Someone from the Jordan government wants to buy one for the royal family, he said.

Truth is, few people buy the vehicles to take them off-road, Eisenband said.

JJkarem Jones said his Apocalypse feels great driving around his Jacksonville neighborhood.

“It drives like a Cadillac,” he said. “And it’s a beast. I’m not one of those guys who keep it in the garage. If I want to go to Publix, I’ll drive it. If I want to go out of town, I’ll drive it.”

If you’re into drawing attention, there’s nothing like the Apocalypse, he said. “I’ll be at a red light and people get out of the cars behind me just to take pictures of the car. It’s just ridiculous.”

His girlfriend and his business partner both have children who love being dropped off at school in the vehicle, he said.

Because despite these monstrosities being marketed as instruments of chaos, the company is really building family vehicles, Eisenband said.

It recently fired out news releases touting a big, bad new feature for its Apocalypse HellFire: A third row of seats.

Now they can comfortably fit seven family members “or seven MASSIVE ADULTS,” the company said in a news release.

“A lot of people who come to look at them say, ‘I love them but I’ve got kids. So I’m going to go with an Escalade,’” he said.

“We said, ‘We need that third row.’”