Back in March of 2022 you probably read about my recreation of a Clod Buster, known as Slightly Altered, from the 1993 Readers Rides section. What you didn’t know was this wasn’t the only famous Clod Buster I found. My searches led me to quite a few Clod Busters that had spotlights in the magazine, but this particular pair of Clods are, in my opinion, the best of the best. As a matter of fact, the one Clod is so epic, even by today’s standards, it goes by the name Primadonna.
If you look up the meaning of “primadonna,” it’s defined as a principle singer in an opera or concert. It’s also defined as an individual with a world-famous talent who is known to hold himself or herself in a higher regard than the rest, and Steve Levine’s Clod Buster is just that. Second to none, in my opinion.
Before we dive into Steve’s Clods, allow me to explain some backstory on how I found that Primadonna and Behemoth still existed. As I was growing up reading RCCA, Steve’s Clod has always been my all-time favorite RC… ever. Steve’s truck nailed down all the radness of a 1980s full-size show truck with features like a dancing tilt bed, tilt hood, and a blower motor sticking through said hood.
When I began my search for Clods of Readers Rides past back in 2016, while re-reading the Primadonna article I noticed that Primadonna’s painter was John “Max” Riccio of Max Customs. I began my search and found John’s business page on social media. I then sent him a message inquiring about paintwork, but more importantly whether he knew the whereabouts of Steve and Primadonna/Behemoth. John recalled doing the paint but hadn’t seen Steve since.
I decided I would routinely keep searching for Steve and his Clods, hoping that they would eventually pop up, and little more than a year later they did. I messaged Steve much like I did with Tom and Slightly Altered, asking if he was indeed the builder of Primadonna. I received a message back—“Yes, that’s me”—followed by a really cool photo of Steve and his Clod that he took when the article debuted in RCCA back in ’91.
We began chatting about his truck, the biggest question on my mind being, “Is it for sale?” Early on I did not receive an answer on that, and part of me felt like maybe I had come on a bit strong. After all, here I am once again “stalking” out a build from 30 years ago, but I was just super-stoked to have located Steve and his trucks. Even if they couldn’t be purchased, I would gladly have taken the opportunity to at least see them in person.
I would routinely keep in touch with Steve over the next couple years. Something I should have mentioned earlier is that Steve, John and I are all from Long Island, New York, and fortunately for me they both still reside on the island about 45 minutes to an hour’s ride west. During this time I would share builds I was working on, and we’d also talk full-size cars, as we are also both enthusiasts in that hobby. I would occasionally receive some cool photos from Steve that weren’t in RCCA’s debut of Primadonna. All this made me want to see the trucks in person more and more.
When the pandemic hit, many of us were forced to stay home. For some that was hard, but for RC guys (at least me) it meant more wrench time and building. Steve hit me up and told me he dug out an old custom RC10 of his and was looking to “kick it old school” and get it back out. The issue was that he hadn’t been active in the hobby for some years, so needless to say his NiCd batteries were no good. Technology has come a long way since he built Primadonna/Behemoth, so I got him pointed in the right direction for some newer LiPo batteries from Helios RC and a dual battery charger from Hitec.
Fast forward to current times: The article comes out on Slightly Altered and it was a big hit among the RC community. While down at USTE (Ultimate Scale Truck Expo) I had the Slightly Altered Clod on display with the magazine opened up to the article, and everyone thought it was awesome. So awesome that Leigh Guarnieri asked me about other Clods that had been in the magazine, but more specifically about the full-tilt Clod that even made it onto the cover of a 1991 issue of RCCA. I told him that I had befriended Steve online; not only that, but Primadonna still existed.
I reached out to see if Steve would be willing to do a follow-up on the truck(s), and fortunately for us, he was! I was beyond stoked, and was looking forward to meeting and having a conversation with him, in person rather than from behind a screen. I packed up my gear and headed west. I was greeted by Steve, we then headed into the garage… and there they were, looking better than ever before, the two baddest Clods ever built!
Steve’s trucks had been stored away for many years but were perfectly preserved, covered in plastic and residing on custom-made stands to hold them up. Due to time constraints, he wasn’t able to covert the trucks over for use with the newer LiPo batteries, but he did hook up his power supply so he could operate the truck’s features for me.
Steve powered up the compressor system on Primadonna to show me how the air-powered actuators tilted the hood and danced the bed. When Steve built these monsters there wasn’t the available servo technology like there is now. He had to get creative with the air actuators to slow them down some, so a mechanical “pinch” on the line is used to slow the movements and make the bed and hood move at a more accurate speed. As I looked over the trucks, I saw so many details that I had not known about, despite how descriptive the original article was. Something as simple as a working interior dome light really put Primadonna ahead of its time.
After Steve showed me all of what made Primadonna a primadonna, he moved to his next creation, which in my opinion did deserve as much of a spotlight as Primadonna. Steve’s flatbed—dubbed Steve’s RC Transport, better known as Behemoth—is massive and has as much detail as Primadonna if not more. He hooked up the power supply and showed me how the rollback portion of the flatbed worked, which is again super impressive given the time period in which the truck was built. I was most impressed by the working gullwing doors, which just scream ’80s radness.
Steve was way ahead of his time in terms of scale RC. He was scratch-building items that many of us scale RC crawler guys haven’t started using until 10 years ago. Here you’ll see the fuel tank… look familiar? Maybe because it started life as a 35mm film canister he sent out to have chrome-plated!
I asked if he wouldn’t mind setting the trucks outside in the sun so I could snap some pictures to show off John’s paintwork on both creations. Keep in mind the paint on these trucks is 30-plus years old, but they looked as if they were done last week. The secret, you may ask? A polish meant for guitars! John is an avid musician who keeps some high-end guitars, and he passed this tip along to Steve many years back.
I couldn’t help but think that, when photographing a flatbed, it only makes sense to have it appear to be doing what it’s intended to do—recover and haul another vehicle. With that in mind I had brought with me my favorite RC from my own collection, a 1957 Chevy Bel Air gasser built by the late Tim Minor (aka KingCobra). I couldn’t think of a more fitting vehicle to match up with Behemoth, and I think the photo confirms that I spent quite some time speaking with Steve about the trucks, the parts used, and the history behind it all.
I learned about how his relationship formed with John and told him how I’ve had John do some RC paintwork for me. I also learned what Steve has been up to since building the trucks. After he dominated shows like WRAM and iHobby he opted to focus on some of his other interests, like his 1968 Dodge Charger, and probably one of his most active hobbies, skating (his garage floor has a makeshift rink for practicing). Steve was kind enough to show me the Charger, which featured some Detroit muscle sticking through the hood. An electronics guru by professional trade (if you hadn’t already figured that out from all the inner workings on Primadonna and Behemoth), Steve even built the electronic readout dash display in his Charger.
Steve’s Clods are second to none, at least in my book. They were built with some of the most high-end aftermarket parts available at the time, parts that hold an even higher value today and are highly desirable to collectors, such as the APM Custom Hobby aluminum roll bar with light bar assembly featuring KC-style light covers, and the JPS Pro aluminum gear boxes and aluminum ladder bars are items that I now see referred to as “unicorn” parts.
Steve’s trucks have been a huge inspiration for me in my Clod Buster and scale truck builds. Seeing them in person was equivalent to waking up on Christmas morning and seeing all the presents under the Christmas tree. Primadonna is my all-time favorite RC truck that does not reside in my collection. I had to ask Steve once again if he would ever consider selling the duo, although this time I was way humbler about it. Having now seen the trucks firsthand, with the tribute to his late mother on the back of Behemoth’s cab and his wife’s name on the passenger door of Primadonna, I was able to assume the answer…
The trucks aren’t for sale. As a matter of fact, Steve joked that about the only way someone might end up with them is if something happened to him, because his wife would probably toss them in the trash. Pure horror, and hopefully that NEVER happens! All that aside, it didn’t stop me from snapping a selfie with it and a picture with my RC4WD LWB TF2 dubbed “Too Rad For You,” for which Steve’s truck was a huge inspiration.
Steve estimated that between the parts, labor, paintwork, chroming and so on that each truck cost close to the $6,000 mark, and that was in the early 1990s. What might they be worth now? I joked that I would re-mortgage my house and threw out a five-digit price just for Primadonna, and we both agreed it would have to be in that realm to even be considered. At the end of the day, the trucks are truly priceless and would be incredibly difficult to replicate at this point… not to mention the costs associated.
It was a pleasure to meet Steve in person after having spent years communicating with him via the computer/phone. Steve is a true hobbyist, enthusiast and gentleman. His focus and commitment show clearly in his modeling and electronics skills, whether it’s 1/10-scale or full-size vehicles. I’d like to thank him personally for taking the time for me to nerd out over his “toy trucks.” Seeing them in person was a dream come true after reading about them in the magazines all those years ago.
Text and Images by Mike Lohman