Vapor, the Latest Piece of Artwork from The Roadster Shop
Marc Berger grew up in California’s San Fernando Valley, and like many of his peers in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, he was steeped in the area’s car culture. He even remembers passing his driver’s test in a three-on-the-tree 1966 Valiant with no synchromesh in First gear and no power steering. He also admits to many early car crushes, fueled in part by a neighbor with a 1970 Mustang Boss 302. It powered a lifelong passion for early Mustangs, especially the 1965 and 1966 models, which brings us to this car—Vapor, his pro-touring masterpiece based on a 1965 Mustang fastback.
“I am into art, architecture, design,” says Berger. “I have built several modern homes, ran a large landscape/pool design and construction holding company, so I’m always interested in functional design. I like refined, clean, simple lines. I believe great design does not need a bunch of add-ons to make it good.”
“I like iconic car design, and the 1965 Mustang was one that I wanted to put my own twist on,” says Berger. “The Mustang build concept was to do a car that would be a modern version of the classic and look like it came from Europe rather than Detroit. I wanted it to have supercar performance and not just look good. I didn’t want it to be another Eleanor clone or big motor in a stock Mustang. My original concept was what would the 1965 Mustang look like if it was built today by Aston Martin or Porsche. My other strong influences were the current version of the Mustang and the original GT40. I can’t remember what year I started this car but think it was 2013 or 2014. The car went to the 2016 SEMA Show, but it was not completely finished at that point.”
Berger did a lot of research prior to starting the build about who he wanted to work with to build what would become known as the Vapor. His research ultimately led to the Roadster Shop, in Mundelein, Illinois. Very impressed with their fabrication skills, he reached out to owner Phil Gerber about the design concept and what he wanted. Berger was told that they had a 1965 Mustang fastback they were prototyping a chassis for to address the 1965-1966 Mustangs’ known shortcomings—the original Unibody design was flexible; it was not engineered to handle the kind of power Berger planned for the car. Berger took Gerber up on his offer, shaving months off the time needed to build a chassis from scratch.
Next, Berger worked with the inside design team at the Roadster Shop, and his point person was designer Chris Gray. After going through a series of design renderings the overall design was locked in and work began in earnest in 2014.
With the high-powered Dodge Challenger Hellcat already on the scene, 700-plus horsepower became a benchmark for power. “I originally had bought a 5.0L Aluminator Coyote motor for the build,” he tells Mustang Monthly. “The Roadster Shop was finishing another 1965 Mustang build that was using the same Aluminator motor. I wanted to push the power up just to be at the forefront of horsepower in custom builds, so I went looking for a higher performance package.” That was solved with Edelbrock’s first supercharged Coyote crate engine that makes 750 hp.
Few postwar cars are as iconic as the 1965-1966 Mustang, but the Porsche 911 immediately comes to mind. Here, Berger’s design skills inspired the build, working closely with the Roadster Shop’s Gray. Color-keyed bumpers were not part of the design vocabulary back in the mid-1960s. This led Berger and Gray to tuck in the bumpers, shorten them, and make them look like they were part of the car, with body-color paint.
Berger needed fender flares to support the wider track. Initially, he wanted the flares to blend into the body and not see a line of demarcation at the blend. Gray and Gerber convinced Berger that the car would look better if it had a distinctive demarcation between the body and the flares. He went with their advice on that one and he was very glad he did. The final result speaks for itself.
When it comes to the interior, Berger deferred to Gray and Jeremy Carlson, owner of Avant-Garde Design in Palm City, Florida, and the results are spectacular. “Again, I was inspired by the original GT40 interior, especially the switches, but with a more modern interpretation like found on the 2005-2006 Ford GT revival. The dash was all fabricated out of metal and Dakota Digital worked with us on the gauges, and we used the CNC machine a lot. We designed and fabricated all the switches from scratch since buying something off the shelf didn’t really fit with what we were looking to achieve.”
Berger likes to say the car is all show and all go. “The Roadster Shop guys took it to the Goodguys show in Ohio recently and the car had the fastest autocross time and finished in the top four for Street Machine of the Year. It was clearly built to drive and handle with supercar performance, but candidly I like the design, fabrication, and building part probably more than driving.”
Since there is so much of his heart and soul designed and built into Vapor, when asked what he thinks the car’s most distinctive design or engineering attribute is, he answered, “I think it is how all the design elements come together, work together, and make the car look and feel as if it were designed today. It is currently modern but still classic, not trendy, and it will look as good as it does today as it will 10 years from now. To me that is the test for great design and great execution. When the car went to SEMA in 2016 it was in the Edelbrock booth. We were not trying to get an award, but the Ford designers saw the car and spent a lot of time looking at all the details. They gave us a Special Recognition Design Award for the car.”
Berger notes that Vapor was not directly sponsored by any of the suppliers, although Edelbrock gave him a break on the cost of the engine. He worked with Forgeline on the wheels but paid full retail for them.
For a car like the Vapor, photos—no matter how skillfully taken—don’t give the car full justice. It must be experienced in person to fully appreciate the design, engineering, and skill of build quality that went into its execution. Since Berger gets the car out to shows, if you have the opportunity, you should check it out in person to see just how far Gale Halderman’s iconic design for the 1965 Mustang fastback can be taken.
See the Build!
For a start-to-finish chronology of the car’s build, visit: roadstershop.com/galleries/marcs-1965-mustang.
Photography by Robert McGaffin