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2011 Ford Mustang GT - Magnificent Metal
Modern function and late ’60s looks blend effortlessly in John Heermann’s superb all-metal restyling of an ’11 Mustang GT
In a way, it started three years ago right here in Mustang Monthly. John Heermann was a student at the University of Nebraska, plowing through the books as an Ag Economics major. Away from his home ranch in Colorado, the then 21 year-old Heermann was catching up on his Mustang hobby when he came across a news bit in this magazine about the Roller Hoop rotisserie offered by Auto Kraft autokraftnebraska.com.
The twist was, Auto Kraft was right there in Lincoln, Nebraska, so John went by for a look-see. About as quickly as he could introduce himself to the Auto Kraft's big hammer, Doug Kielian, John was offered a job. This isn't all that unexpected to those who know Kielian; he might have run a reformatory in another life and has spent much of this one guiding young talent into the panel beating art. Kielian had taken one look at John's lean, farm-bred work ethic and figured the young man had the stuff to stick through an impromptu apprenticeship.
Doug was more than right. By the time John left Auto Kraft last fall, he had crafted the car before you from its beginnings as a stock '11 Mustang GT into the gorgeous reinterpretation of classic Mustang styling you see here. It's all metal, it's completely functional down to the rear view camera, and we assure you it wasn't the slightest bit easy.
Not bad for a first effort.
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How John got the idea to cut up a brand-new Mustang can be credited to the 2011's controversial taillights. The Auto Kraft gang had attended a local dealer's new car show and John overheard a conversation where Doug mentioned how he'd change those taillights given half a chance.
Three days later, after "I thought about that car pretty hard," John bought a spanking-new black 2011 Mustang GT. A man of few words, he never told anyone what he was thinking—that he'd try something relatively minor, such as changing the taillights. He just showed up at Auto Kraft with this new car and started rummaging around for the Sawzall. Of course, Doug was aghast and told John he'd better drive his new Mustang for awhile to make sure he really wanted to cut it up.
So John drove it for several months. But he had bought the car to modify and the more he thought about it, the more he wanted to transform it into his idea of what a Mustang should look like. That turned out to have a lot of '68 and '69 design cues, so John bought a pile of Dynacorn body panels to try. Then, after gutting the interior and having a bewildered glass man remove all but the door glass, on January 25, 2011. "I got out the Sawzall. The car had 1,400 miles and not a scratch on it. So I cut into the quarter window area. I cut off a little of the quarter-panel to check the fit for the '68 quarter-panel and there were a lot of problems. I didn't know where to cut the '68 quarter-panel to make it fit. So eventually I cut the '68 panel into six pieces and then we just started down the side of the car. We ended up with just the door skin. I had to cut off the outer door skin and modify the '68 and '69 door skins to fit."
You can imagine the finality of what he had done when John stepped back and saw he had cut up his once pristine new car. But it's very much John Heermann to shrug off the scope of the job, the cold, the heat, the pain of working inside a steel shell and simply get on with the job. So he kept cutting and fitting; from the 1968 fastback he got quarter-panels, door skins, front fenders, and a decklid. The rear body panel, rear and front valance, and front grille are 1969 parts.
John found plenty to do at the front: "I wanted to keep the 2011 headlights, so I mocked them up with poster board, moving them forward and out a little. Eventually everything at the front was moved or modified. Having reconfigured the car's sides, the front and rear no longer fit anything and really were just about built from thin air."
Furthermore, the passion of youth powered through the fatigue at this point. "I'd work a regular day here at Auto Kraft, then I'd work on my car until 2 a.m."
John continued, "The back end was almost non-existent. The 1968 decklid kind of fit—within a foot! The hard part was the different styles, 1969 rear panel and 1968 quarters. They didn't fit, so we widened and went taller on the panel. I had to build all the mounting and panels from scratch. All the panels were modified and were welded off the car, dressed down, then welded solid to the car.