Richard Truesdell
April 3, 2019
Photos By: Robert McGaffin

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.

Peering out of the 19-inch Forgeline wheels’ spokes are Baer 14-inch Extreme six-piston monoblock calipers. The Roadster Shop’s early Mustang chassis uses a rack-and-pinion setup to steer the car and a Strange rearend equipped with 3.9:1 gears. The Fast Track chassis are designed with proprietary suspension geometry using Corvette C6 spindles and high-dollar Penske coilovers as standard.
Berger’s daily driver is a Porsche Cayenne Turbo, and it inspired the front valance. “I liked the aggressive look and air intakes on my Cayenne,” says Berger. “We used that as a design element on the front and we fabricated the front grille as well.
There wasn’t room to fit the new supercharger under a stock-profile hood, so Berger’s design objective was to keep the height of the hoodscoop as low as possible and not to ruin the original design with a big blower under the hood. The Roadster Shop guys worked with the chassis to make it all fit—to give adequate ground clearance and keep the hood height minimal, as both are interrelated.
The sport mirrors were also painted body color, which was a point of contention with the guys at the Roadster Shop. Berger says, “I picked a one-year-only Porsche color, the 2010 Porsche 911 Sport Classic Grey and wanted a monochromatic look for the car. All the dark elements were a special charcoal color that we developed and not black.”
“I was introduced to the Edelbrock family through a client in the Trophy Truck racing world,” Berger says, “and they told me about a project they were working on. It was for a low-profile supercharged 5.0L Coyote motor that would put out 750 hp, yet able to run on pump gas and be reliable enough as a daily driver. So, we worked with them on the motor and the Vapor has the very first production Edelbrock motor in it.” The Roadster Shop guys had to work directly with Edelbrock to develop the serpentine system for power steering and the air conditioning compressor since the motor did not come with it.
One development element that Berger felt was essential was flush door handles. But this was no easy task. Berger looks back at the process. “I really liked the flushed door handles that were on the new Aston Martin at the time and the first car to really have them. The guys at the Roadster Shop didn’t think it would look good. I told them we needed to do it and I wanted that as a key element of my design. We looked at buying some Aston Martin ones but could not make them work with the thickness of the doors and the window glass. That led to a very expensive design and fabrication exercise. We made a foam model, then a 3D printed version, then a prototype before the final CNC-fabricated part.”
“Avant-Garde did the interior for the car, and I have to say that they are operating on another level in the custom interior world,” Berger says. “Another detail you don’t notice is that the floors are flat in the car. They have the liquid material that is like the pink stuff on the end of a pencil that is used to erase with. They get the car all jacked up and pour this stuff in, in liquid form, on the floors. They then adjust the balance of the car so that the stuff sits level and the floors are flat. They then soundproof and carpet over it. The car has an integrated rollbar that does not jump out and is subtle like the rest of the build. The hand-stitched leather on the bar and interior is as good as you would find on any Rolls-Royce.”
“I like to start at the rear,” says Berger. “I wanted to maintain the classic look of the rear taillights but make them modern with LEDs. I wanted a really refined look that flushes them out with the rear panel rather than stick out. At the same time the taillights needed to still be easily recognizable as a classic Mustang. Chris Gray did an amazing job on bringing all that together for me. I wanted to paint the back panel black like the modern Mustangs, and then wanted to integrate the third brake light and backup lights as well. I wanted a rear fuel filler like on the modern Mustang GT, so we came up with a design and fabricated our own version. I think it looks like it could have rolled off the showroom floor in 2019 like that.”

Photography by Robert McGaffin