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.
Photo GalleryView Photo Gallery
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.
"The trunk lid was a head scratcher. Eventually I had to modify the trunk jamb to mate with the rear window. I ended up de-skinning the outer portion of the decklid skin from the inner structure to mod the structure; I had to add at the front and both sides. Also I had to flatten it out on the back because the '69 is flatter than the '68, which is curved."
And so inch-by-inch it went. "By June it started looking like a car," and the idea firmed that the Mustang should go on display at the SEMA Show in November. John's response to the pressure was to let go of whatever was left of life other than his Mustang. "By June I gave up everything social. I just worked on the farm all day, then I'd go to the shop. In July I started sleeping in the shop; I slept on a creeper for two weeks. My parents were wondering what I was doing or where I was. My dad ordered an old army cot."
John didn't finish metal work—including lengthening the stock aluminum hood—until the first week in September. The car was still in bare metal and he still hadn't touched the thing that started it all, the taillights. They were built by cutting '05 taillights into about 20 pieces and gluing them back together. Luckily, the stock '11 wiring harness, which had been unwrapped but never cut, simply plugged into the housings.
By early October the bolt-on engine parts arrived—John fell asleep on the creeper while installing the headers—and the Bassani exhaust was hand-crafted to fit the altered rear trunk pan. For the SEMA Show, the car was sprayed in red primer—John hadn't decided on a final color—and it was presented to the world that way. We photographed the car in Lincoln, Nebraska, after the SEMA Show while it was still in its primary form.
Frankly, we're in awe of John's accomplishment. Completely rebuilding a body in steel is an incredible volume of work—and difficult, skillful duty at that. Then there is the eye to see what the finished creation will look like and the guts needed to actually make it happen. True, John had Doug's experience to guide and help when needed, but the concept and execution are very much all John's, as Doug will be the first to tell you.
With his life's work—to date—sold, John is still farming and working on custom cars in the Denver area. He's established a website, www.johnnysparks.com, where you can order your own "Reversion," but mainly he's, "just recuperating." But not to worry, "My mind is always working," says John.
And we're sure there'll be another custom coming soon. We can hardly wait.
More Than Blue
In 2012 John took time to fix the things that bothered him about Reversion but almost no one else could see. He regapped every seam on the car, built a new aluminum hood, finished the quarter windows, fabricated new oval exhaust tips, changed the wheel and tire package, and painted the car a custom blue. His last mod was custom taillight bezels, mocked in cardboard and whittled via CNC, then installed immediately before the car went into the trailer and off to the Barrett-Jackson auction. Unfortunately there are no photos of them.
With no reserve, John's "Reversion Mustang" sold for a gut-wrenching $61,600 on the evening of January 17, 2013, to a couple who liked the car's look and color but didn't understand just how custom it was until the next morning when John was able to give them the story.
If anything, the auction experience highlights the downside of creating timeless works of art. They are so subtle in a sea of over-hyped, over-styled vehicles that they're difficult to appreciate at first. It's too easy to walk by Reversion at a car show and think, Nice Mustang, then keep on walking, not comprehending just how unique its lines are and the work required to realize them in steel. But Reversion is a car that shapes opinion in the long term—it's already been taken by Ford's design center—and its appreciation will only grow and last for decades to come.