Vinnie the Hit Man
April 28, 2004
Several weeks of careful sheetmetal work, fabrication and composite body panel forming resulted in this super-clean integration of a GT convertible and Ranchero. Check out the notched rear bumper cover that makes room for the tailgate when it goes down.

If you've never heard of George Barris and his operation, Barris Kustom Industries, well, you've probably been living in a hole, under a rock, next to a blind rat for the past 40 years. From his creative mind came iconic hot rods such as the Little Deuce Coupe of the Beach Boys, K.I.T.T. from the TV show Knight Rider, the Munster's Koach, the original Batmobile and our personal favorite, the General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard. These cars are just a smidge of what Barris has put together over the years as his automotive resume runs as long as DaVinci's tablets.

Working with both his mind and his heart, he has created cars that you have always wondered about as a kid, a teen, and an adult. Fortunately for us, the Great One has laid his magical hands upon our favorite ponycar, the Mustang, and has created with intent for production, what he calls the Mustang Ranchero Sports Pickup.



Although we're sure nobody would want to carry any cargo in the near future, you can bet the attention that this car commands is all anyone behind the wheel should be concerned with. The entire bed area is covered with 16-gauge stainless steel and is mounted to a dedicated framework underneath. If all goes as planned, this Mustang should be approved for production by the time you read this. The new 2005 cars are also scheduled for a similar makeover by Barris and Gavriles.

Now you're probably wondering why did he, the god of all Kustoms, come about with such a design and creation? To find out, we called the man himself at his shop in North Hollywood for the skinny. Once we got him on the horn, we discovered that he not only is one of the most entertaining conversationalists out there, but he is a man who speaks a lot (no offense George) and with authority. As he relates, "I jumped on this project because pickups are popular now, as we know, but not because of farming. It's because it has a unique design and popularity with the consumer. I spent a lot of time touring with Ford during the Iacocca days by building several Mustangs--a chopped fastback and a Mustang convertible. "Since then, I thought it would be a unique piece to have a stylish pickup. I chose the current Mustang because it has good power and it's a groovy-looking machine itself."

With the groundwork laid out to create such a car, Barris was in search of a person who could help turn his idea into a reality. But he wasn't looking for someone to throw a few welds here and there. Nope, to live up to the Barris name, it had to be a functional, premium product when finished. Now all he had to do was find the right person to turn his sketches into a drivable, certifiable production car.

That's when he decided to take a ride to the SEMA convention in 2001 where he would look for a prospective teammate. Once there, he found a show car that was assembled by Nick Gavriles of Auto Innovations in Walled Lake, Michigan, which immediately caught the eye of the great Barris. Gavriles, as you may or may not know, was one of the very few people involved in the '89 Turbo TA and the '91-93 Syclone/Typhoon programs. Those factory GM transformations, and several other Big Three limited-production cars, would never have come into being had it not been for Gavriles.

As Barris went on, "After seeing the car (a PT Cruiser with a Viper V-10), I felt that Gavriles had the knowledge and experience to do a limited-production Mustang pickup. Since he works closely with manufacturers, he would know what Ford would look for as we looked to make this a production car. So, I did the artwork and the basic ideas of engineering, and got Nick. Then, I went to Beau Boeckmann of Galpin Ford in North Hills, California, and bought three cars and promptly built a hardtop prototype."

Once Gavriles got on board with the project in Michigan, things happened fast. Starting with an '03 Mustang convertible, Nick began prototyping the Mustang pickup, taking into consideration not only what would look good, but also worked well from an engineer's point of view. To start, Nick removed the convertible top assembly, decklid, rear seats, full carpeting and then gently removed the rear package tray. Next, he cut a notch into the rear bulkhead, aft of the spare tire well to effectively create a bed floor.

Nick adds, "We then installed reinforcements around the perimeter of the cut area, closing it off with plates that are tied into the reinforcements. It winds up being much sturdier than the car was before we started." Nick then tells us that the mechanism for the tailgate goes on next. Not to be confused with the cable-type setup on your F-350, this self-contained hinge mechanism stops the tailgate at 90 degrees of opening and offers a tidy package that devoids the tailgate jambs of cables, chains, barbed wire or whatnot. Next, the bed is installed. This trick assembly utilizes 16-gauge stainless steel sheetmetal that is fastened to a cradle that attaches at several factory-mounting points that by design, can collapse in the event of a rear impact, preventing injury to the two front occupants.

This proves that Gavriles was thinking of everything for true production, even what would happen should the unthinkable occur. Lastly, the overhead rollhoop, bedrails and tailgate (all manufactured from sturdy and lightweight composite material) were fastened to the rear portion of the Mustang.

Although not shown, a one-piece targa-top panel, normally hidden underneath the rigid tonneau cover, offers overhead weather protection for the two riding up front. A rear window slides up electrically into the "hoop" section of the rollbar and transforms this open-top party on two wheels into a pleasant coupe that protects you from the elements.

Nick Gavriles poses proudly with his handiwork. It's stock under the hood.

On this Mustang pickup, Nick decided to leave the GT powertrain alone, and concentrate on the appearance. The car's exterior looks more aggressive through a mix of readily-available aftermarket components. To set the proper stance for such a unique ride, he installed an Air Lift air suspension all around to offer the tucked-in look when parked, and to provide safe and practical driving on the motorway. To roll deep, 17x9.5-inch Colorado Custom billet wheels match the newly-lowered suspension and fill the wheelwells nicely.

From Classic Design Concepts, Nick sourced its Shaker hood, side-exit exhaust and sequential taillights. The remainder of the bodywork consists of a Cervini's Stalker front bumper cover and at the rear, a custom apron that Gavriles molded himself. It should be noted that in the production versions, the cars will come equipped with the aforementioned body components. Once the pickup conversion was complete and all the body panels were precisely fitted, Nick called Kent Gardner of Matrix Systems Paint in Walled Lake, Michigan, to mix and apply a super-neat paint job. But the color, as Nick was told, wasn't exactly what the car deserved.

With the help of an adjustable air suspension by Air Lift, this GT sits low for the show, and high for the ride. Billet Colorado Custom wheels (German Iron Cross anyone?) and Goodyear Eagle F1s add presence and grip to this Mustang with a bed.

As he explains, "Peter Linney, your photographer, saw the car and said that if I painted it bright red, he'd shoot the car for Muscle Mustangs. I then brought the car in and had it painted again in Porsche Guards Red. Basically, I repainted the car just for him."

So there you have it--a car designed, engineered and built by a team that not only knows what it's doing, but how to get it done. Of all the Mustangs we come across, this certainly is a knockout. Next on the agenda is a similar conversion for the new '05 Mustang. Although it poses to a major challenge, they intend to make a production-ready prototype to present to Ford within the next year. Perhaps a Mustang with inspiration from a Ranchero is what you need to be distinctive.