Like many farmers, Johnny Sparks of Haxtun, Colorado, grew up learning how to fix things that broke down on the family's 1,600-acre wheat and millet farm. Power- and handtools became the means to get the equipment back up and running so that work could continue. As Johnny grew older, he learned even more skills, such as welding, fabrication, and project building, through his high school agricultural mechanics teacher, Jeff Plumb.
Eventually, Johnny enrolled at the University of Nebraska, majoring in agricultural economics.
"After my first semester, I became bored with not being able to work with my hands or create something," Johnny recalled. When that's what you grow up doing, those habits can be hard to break, so Johnny sought an outlet for his creative juices.
Having read about Doug Kielian and his Auto Krafters Body Shop in a car magazine, Johnny found the article interesting and what was better was that Doug's shop was in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he was going to school. After a phone call and subsequent visit to the shop to meet with Doug and Stephanie Kielian, Johnny signed on as an intern to develop his automotive skills.
Johnny started off sanding the bottom of a car, and spent the next three years progressing under Doug's tutelage, eventually applying his skills to the restoration of numerous Mustangs, Chevelles, Alpha Romeos, and Ferraris. He also took a metal shaping class with Wray Schelin who helped him learn TIG welding and further polished his metal shaping skills.
One day while attending a car show at a local Ford dealer with Doug, Johnny got his first look at the '11 Mustangs.
"I was drawn to the design and retro look of the car, noticing how some of the lines and styling closely resembled the '60s Mustangs," Johnny said. "After looking at the car, I had a strong dislike for the rear end, especially the taillights. Doug and I talked about possible modifications that could be done to change them." Johnny's brother, Will, and his father, Lauren, both had Mustangs, and Johnny found the styling and 5.0-Liter powerplant of the '11 Mustang appealing.
Five days later, Johnny returned to the dealership unbeknownst to anyone, and purchased that exact black Mustang GT with the full intention of modifying it.
"I showed up with the car at the shop and was ready to cut the car up that day," Johnny told us. "Doug wisely advised me to wait a little bit and think about ideas on how to modify the car.
Over the next six months, ideas swirled in Johnny's gray matter, and work commenced on December 26, 2010. After leaving the interior at his place, Johnny drove the car to Auto Krafters where he taped some cardboard to the car and mocked up some quarter-panels that they had laying around. After seeing the result, Johnny ordered fresh Dynacorn rear quarter-panels, door skins, front fenders, a front bumper, and a trunk lid for a '68 Mustang fastback. He also ordered the rear body panels and bumper, along with a front valance and grille for a '69 Mustang.
Johnny still hadn't told his family about the car when he took the reciprocating saw to the sheetmetal on January 19. Cuts were made progressively until he was able to mock up the '68 rear quarter-panel and see what else needed to be done to make it work. The door and front fender followed the rear quarter-panel.
"Doug was instrumental throughout the whole process of designing the car and figuring out exactly what needed to be cut or modified to make it all flow together," Johnny recalled. "Nothing fit at all. Every panel had to be modified to fit around the door openings, glass, engine, and wheelbase." Johnny also told us that while mocking up the driver side took two months, the passenger side was completed in a much quicker week's worth of time.
Once both sides were mocked up, Johnny had to figure out how to make the rear window work with the '68 fastback quarter-panel—a feat that would be one of the most challenging aspects of the build. Eventually, the rear window was raised slightly at the back, the quarter-panel was trimmed, and the area where the two meet ultimately resembled that from a '69 Mustang.
Just as the major fabrication got underway, Johnny had to go back to the family farm, and luckily, Marc Schlacter provided him a place to house the project and complete the work over the next five months.
Getting back on the build, Johnny started building in the '69 Mustang taillight panel, rear valance, and bumper. In order to mix the '68 and '69 parts, Johnny had to build his own quarter extension from scratch.
"A basic shape was formed with some spray foam and body filler, and then transferred to paper templates and then to metal. The trunk driprails were also built from scratch; my friends would come over and I would have the trunk tack welded to the quarter-panels and I would be sitting in the trunk building my driprail so that it would seal up perfectly against the trunk lid." It did, in fact, seal up perfectly—Johnny was even able to reuse the original 2011 weatherstripping.
Moving to the front, Johnny hand-fabricated the headlight buckets and grille support. He also met his other great challenge of the build up front, as he needed to extend the factory aluminum hood about 6 inches.
"It's not easy adding six inches to an 0.040-inch-thick aluminum hood!"
Johnny finished the bodywork and had the car in red primer just in time to get it to the 2011 SEMA show. The original plan was to go with a red color, but that would eventually change, along with some of the body panels.
During the winter, Johnny reworked the area where the quarter window was behind the door, ultimately fitting the 2011 glass where it used to reside. He unveiled that version at the Knotts Berry Farm show, set out on the Hot Rod Power Tour as well as the Rocky Mountain Mustang Roundup in Steamboat Springs and the Fun Ford Weekend in Denver. However, Johnny felt that there was further fine-tuning to be done.
"As summer began to wind down, I decided it was time for a color change. I had been building another hood for the car, and progressed to tightening up the gaps on the bumpers and modifying the front valance," Johnny noted. Deciding to have the car at the SEMA show once again, the deadline was set and the resulting work came down to the wire.
"Ron Jones and Jose Hernandez of Ron Jones Garage were instrumental in getting the car completed on time. Ron and myself were sanding around 10 o'clock in the evening trying to get the car prepped for paint and Jose came walking through the door. Ron was scheduled to paint the car in the morning, so he went home. Jose stayed until 7 a.m., working through the night until the car was ready for paint. I took a quick half-hour nap on the floor until Ron came in. I applied the blue sealer on the car and Ron went to town applying the Dupont base/clear."
The color is a vibrant hue based off of a newer F-150, but turned up a bit, as Johnny thought the original color looked kind of dull in the shade. Your author can attest, having seen the car in person at the SEMA show, that the resulting color is indeed quite bright, even in the shade. Jose cut and polished the car about five times after Ron painted it, and the mirror-like finish definitely speaks for the crew's talent in bodywork and paint.
"This car was a tremendous learning experience for a young man like myself," Johnny remarked. He was but a youthful 21 years old when he signed the papers for the Mustang. "Not only has it taught me my metal working skills, but it has also showed me many designing aspects and opened the door for opportunities in the future."
With Doug Kielian starting Johnny on his path, Marc Schlacter providing a place to house the project and the electricity to weld it together, family friend Dave Hohulin providing moral support and a bit of green when things got tight, and Ron Jones and Jose Hernandez helping with the paint and bodywork, Johnny has quite a few folks to thank.
The Reversion Mustang recently sold at this past January's Barrett-Jackson auto auction in Scottsdale, Arizona. The $61,600 that it fetched is surely but a fraction of the value considering the labor that went into it, especially after auction fees. However, the journey was an experience to last a lifetime. And Johnny tells us that there will be something else down the road. All it will take will be the right spark to ignite that creative fire.
Johnny's brother, Will, and his father, Lauren, both had Mustangs, and Johnny found the styling and 5.0-Liter powerplant of the '11 Mustang appealing
Johnny Sparks' '11/'68 Mustang GT
Stock '11 5.0 Coyote DOHC V-8
JLT Carbon Fiber Col Air Intake
SCT Engine tune by JLT
Afco/Dynatech stainless steel long-tube headers and X-pipe with catalytic converters
Stock '11 ZF six-speed manual
Stock '11 clutch
Stock '11 8.8
Front: Stock '11 Mustang GT MacPherson strut, Eibach coil springs
Rear: Stock '11 Mustang GT thee-link with Panhard bar, Eibach coil springs
Front: Baer disc, six-piston calipers, 14-inch cross-drilled and slotted rotors
Rear: Baer disc, six-piston calipers, 14-inch cross-drilled and slotted rotors
Front: Forgeline DE3P, 19x9, Gunmetal Gray with brushed lip
Rear: Forgeline DE3P 20x11, Gunmetal Gray with brushed lip
Front: Toyo Proxes R888, P265/30ZR19
Rear: Toyo Proxes R888, P315/30ZR20
'11 Mustang GT Premium upholstery with custom brushed aluminum door panel and console inserts
Every panel on the car has been modified, '68 Mustang fenders, outer door skins, quarter-panels, trunk lid, and bumper; '69 Mustang front valance, rear valance, tail panel, and grille; custom headlight surrounds, grille support, rocker panels, quarter extensions, quarter-panel outer wheelhouses, and trunk driprails; custom-mixed PPG blue and gunmetal paint