Ron The Restomod Bramlett - The Restomod Guy
Ron Bramlett Loves All Mustangs, But He's Made His Mark With Restomods
The word "restomod" has been part of our Mustang vocabulary for nearly 20 years. In fact, the term was born in the Mustang hobby when we found a need to describe restored Mustangs with modifications. When owners began upgrading older Mustangs with modern equipment like fuel-injected engines, overdrive transmissions, and amenities like CD-changer stereos and power windows, the restomod movement found new meaning as "restored and modernized." Over the years, restomod has slipped into common usage for the entire vintage auto hobby.
For Ron Bramlett, the mainstream usage of a word he helped create is highly satisfying. In the early 1990s, Ron and Mustang & Fords editor Jim Smart (now senior editor with Mustang Monthly) conspired to invent a term to describe modified vintage Mustangs. Jim began using it in magazine editorial and Ron plugged it into his advertising and promotional campaigns. The term took root and today is used to describe any older car, particular 1960s musclecars, with modern updates.
With restomod, Bramlett, a long-time Mustang enthusiast and a co-owner in the family-owned Mustangs Plus, has found his niche within the huge Mustang community. He has helped design and produce restomod products. The Restomod Shop, an out-growth of Mustangs Plus, builds restomod cars in an adjacent building. Ron has also been instrumental in Restomods in Reno, a show primarily for modified Mustangs and Fords. He's built a number of restomod Mustangs, from track cars to The Ronster roadster. When the Mustang Club of America decided to incorporate a restomod class, the club approached Ron for input. Ron later became an MCA board member and currently serves as the club treasurer.
In this exclusive interview, Ron talks about how he came so involved in restomod and where the movement goes from here.
MM: You're a big proponent of restomods. Where did that come from?
Ron: In 1981, we were selling used cars and parts. I had a little '66 GT Hi-Po coupe. Still have it, as a matter of fact. It was always a star at the shows. People would see the 289 High Performance badging and crowd around it. The problem was, on Monday morning the phone didn't ring. Later I bought a red coupe at the auto auction - it's now the black coupe that Cindy and I drive all over the place - and we modified it with a fiberglass deck with a spoiler, Shelby hood, and a different front apron. At its first show, we got put in the modified class. You actually had to go across the highway from the main show to see the modified cars. I thought we had gone from hero to zero. But people would wander over and we kept a box of business cards with the car. On Monday morning the phone started ringing. People said they saw our Mustang at the show and wanted to know if they could buy one of the hoods. What about the deck lid? What about the tires and wheels? That's how we got into selling what became known as restomod parts.
MM: It wasn't called restomod at the time, was it?
Ron: It was called modified then. If you wanted to insult someone in the early 1980s, you said they had a modified Mustang. The whole mind-set back then was taking everything back to original. The Mustang Club of America was writing all of its rules and judging the cars for originality. And here we were selling parts to modify Mustangs.
MM: Do you think part of it was your California location?
Ron: Yeah. In California we use our cars year-round. In the winter, if it hits 30 degrees, that's considered really cold. In a lot of places that's a heat wave. We live in an area where if it's not raining, we can get out and use our cars. There's no salt on the roads. People tend to drive their cars more than they do on the east coast. That prompts people on the east coast to restore their cars as opposed to building them to drive. In California, we just drive the wheels off of them.
MM: Tell us how you helped come up with the term "restomod."
Ron: Petersen Publishing had a magazine called Mustang & Fords. In the early 1990s, the editor, Jim Smart, called and said he was kicking around names to describe restored/modified cars because "modified" had such a bad connotation, especially on the west coast. We batted a bunch of names around, including restomod, restification, and others. I don't remember who said restomod first - probably Jim - and we eventually agreed that it sounded pretty good. It was easy to say and write, plus it described cars that were restored and modified. I told Jim if he started using it in the magazine we'd start using it in our advertising. It took off from there.
MM: Later, it took on an additional meaning when owners started adding modern equipment to their cars...
Ron: At that point it became "restored and modernized." Many of the Mustangs out there are restomods and the owners don't even realize it. They've taken, let's say, a plain-Jane coupe and maybe they've left it stock-looking but they've put in a newer stereo with a CD changer, changed to radial tires, added disc brakes for safety, and swapped in a bigger radiator. They've done a lot of things to the car to make it more personal. But the car still looks original. That's what restoring and modernizing is all about. That's a restomod.
The term is going to evolve to mean whatever people want it to mean. But in the Mustang community, it's mainly '65-'73 cars with parts that have been taken from later model vehicles to improve them - fuel-injected engines, 5-speeds, AODs, power windows, and all the things we take for granted in new cars. When you put them into a 40-45 year old car, it makes them more modernized. If you've put the car through the restoration process, that makes it a restomod.
I'd like to take a moment to point out that while a lot of people look at me as the restomod guy, I also have many cars that are restored to original and they will always be that way. I like them all. It's just that the restomod segment has allowed us to grow. We sell original parts also. But restomod is what we're best known for.
MM: Something else people may not know about you is that you're now involved with the Mustang Club of America, a club recognized for its concours standards.
Ron: I was elected to the MCA board of directors in 2006 and have served ever since. I'm treasurer this year. It's a great organization that everybody who loves Mustangs should think about joining. You know, you have your local clubs that support local interests and offer relationships with other Mustang owners in your community. They also allow you to do charitable work and stuff like that. The MCA is a step above that because of its ties with people all around the world. Ford uses the MCA for feedback and ideas. In March 2008, I was part of a 10-person group to go look at the 2010 Mustang and give impressions.
MM: Were you involved in creating the MCA's restomod class?
Ron: The MCA came to us several years ago and asked about creating a class. The judges and officers had noticed the restomod trend and were looking to make it part of the MCA. I attended a couple of judges meetings, but pretty much tried to stay out of it because I didn't want anyone to feel that we had pushed the MCA to create a class for those cars. I just don't believe in using clubs in that manner. So I lent as much technical help as I could.
Basically the MCA and its judges were the ones who came up with the idea for the class. They had the modified class, but they were doing it on a point system where you got points for modifications, while people with restomods might have a totally stock car except for a fuel-injected motor and a 5-speed. At that point, they didn't have enough modifications to perform well in the modified class. They really needed something where people who built restomods could take them out and show them.
MM: We tend to think of a restomod as an early Mustang, '65-'73, but we understand that the MCA has to look beyond that.
Ron: Resto means restore so the new cars are kind of exempted. For the MCA's restomod class, they've had to figure out what years apply. It gets back to the terminology. Do you call it restored and modified or restored and modernized? If the term is modernized, putting a fuel-injected engine into a restored '84 Mustang would make it a restomod.
MM: We suppose it makes a strong statement about the MCA that they have a restomod proponent as their treasurer.
Ron: The MCA is trying to make a place for everybody who has a Mustang, not just people with concours show cars or just for early models. It gets back to the fact that there are so many different ways to enjoy Mustangs. Restomod is just one category of many. You've got the stock and original people who put time, dollars, and effort into their cars. Anybody who thinks it's easy to do, they haven't done one. We also build cars and take them to the track. That's something I really enjoy. I've owned our #4 track car since 1983. It still wears the Grabber Green paint we put on it in 1986. It's been to probably 200 events. It's also been a test-bed for parts, springs, and handling kits. We put them on that car and make a determination if it's too stiff for the street or not stiff enough. That car has generated a lot of parts that people take for granted today. It's another way to enjoy Mustangs.
MM: What do you think about the Mustangs built by the Ring Brothers?
Ron: Mike and Jim have a different kind of passion for Mustangs. To them, the car is art. The Ring Brothers give us neat things to shoot for. When they do these cars, they always come up with something they can produce and sell to Mustang owners. We carry the billet hood hinges they created about four years ago. That's what the hobby is all about, about moving forward. If the hobby was just about restoring cars back to original, then the only moving forward would be reproducing or making available every part to put cars back to stock. With restomod, the sky is the limit. The Ring Brothers, and the Jillian Brothers up in Chicago, help push the boundaries and move the hobby forward. As long as it moves forward, it won't die.
MM: In the mid-1990s, you built a Mustang roadster called The Ronster. Would you consider it one of the first restomods?
Ron: To the best of my knowledge, the Ronster was one of the first street rod Mustangs. Ford provided us with a fuel-injected engine. Ron Morris, who was a tech at a Ford dealership at the time, helped us sort out the wiring harness. Ben Smith, who was the designer and chief engineer for the '57-'59 Ford Skyliner Retractable and later worked on a '65-'66 Mustang retractable prototype, helped with the tonneau over the back seat. During the build-up, everybody kept calling it "Ron's Roadster," and eventually it got shortened to just Ronster. We sold a few of the Ronster kits so there are several running around out there.
MM: What do you think about the new Dynacorn bodies?
Ron: Those cars are the future of the hobby in a lot of ways. The MCA has even made a class for them. By definition, they don't fit the by-laws, so there's a bit of an issue there. But they're making a class for them so people can build them and bring them to the shows.
We have people who say, "I bet you could take your catalog and build a car." With the Dynacorn body, you can. We built a replica of the '68 Bullitt fastback and I'm going to say that 98 percent of the parts are aftermarket or from our catalog. I hesitate to say that we have everything because there's always some little piece we don't have. On our Bullitt car, the only things that are original Ford are the engine block and crank, rear end housing, a couple of interior pieces, a bracket under the dash, and things like that. Most of the components are aftermarket - Ford licensed, of course, which ties it to Ford, but it's not a Ford production car in that sense.
Guys who want to build a track car can start with a Dynacorn body. At $15,000-16,000 by the time you get it shipped, it's a lot cheaper than finding a '67-'68 fastback that's been wrecked and neglected and having to bring it back to reusable condition. That's what our Project Reclaim was about. We started with a little '66 fastback that I bought as a parts car for $50 back in 1986. It had been hit in the front. The floor and cowl were buckled and one of the shock towers was completed folded over. We repaired the car to the point where it was like a Dynacorn body. Our best estimation is that we had well over $20,000 in parts and labor. That's just to get it to the point where we could start building. So the Dynacorn bodies are very reasonably priced.
MM: You mentioned the Dynacorn cars as part of the restomod Mustang future. Do you see anything else in your crystal ball?
Ron: A project I would like to do or see someone else do is to put a late-model 4.0L V-6 into a '65-'70. And come up with a kit or a blueprint to follow so others can do it. Those motors put out quite a bit of torque. I've got one in my Explorer Sport Trak and if it will move that thing down the road the way it does, then in a little Mustang it would make a nice driver. The longevity is definitely there and the fuel mileage in a light car is good. It's a project I would like to see, especially if gas prices go back up again.
MM: Do you see more kits coming to help people do major restomod-type swaps, like putting a 4.6L in an early Mustang?
Ron: In my mind, the 4.6L hasn't been good for the vintage Mustang hobby because it isn't easy to transplant into older cars without a lot of modifications. A lot of people want to upgrade their cars, but they don't want to cut them up. That's one of the reasons the fuel-injected 5.0Ls, or in some cases the 351Ws, are good choices because they fit between the shock towers. You can put them in without having to chop up the cars. When Ford switched to the 4.6L, they kind of took that away because of its massage size. In my mind, it kind of hurt the hobby because now we don't have a pool of (modern) motors to put in these cars. Ford Racing, though, has combated that by putting a wide choice of motors together for sale through their catalog. You can buy a crate motor, short-block, or whatever you want so Ford has created an industry for themselves.
MM: You've helped bring a lot of restomod products to market.
Ron: Part of the challenge is helping manufacturers, and people who have the skills and knowledge to build cars, bring their products to the public. We try as hard as we can to promote that. You have people like Ron Morris who started out as a highly-trained Ford technician. Now he's started his own business, Ron Morris Performance, where he makes parts. Mustangs Plus helped make that possible by advertising his products and getting them out to people. From there, he's been able to go to other vendors, such as National Parts Depot and CJ Pony Parts, to sell his products. We understand that everybody in the Mustang marketplace isn't going to buy parts from Mustangs Plus. It's just the way it is. So the more people we have selling those parts, the more demand there will be, which is good for the whole hobby and businesses.
A lot of the stuff we've done ourselves by taking cars out to see what works and what doesn't. There are all kinds of behind-the-scenes things we've done over the years. We've worked with American Racing on wheel back-spacing so you can fit up to 18-inch wheels on a '65-'66 and not have to chop up the fenderwells. Stainless Steel Brakes will create a brake kit and ask us to install it on a car for feedback. I've done that many times in my garage at home. We helped bring Total Control to the marketplace. Today, Chris Alston owns that and they've done really well. These are all things where Mustangs Plus has been there in the background.
MM: Obviously, you still enjoy the Mustang hobby and business.
Ron: I'm very glad to be in a business that I enjoy, one that allows me to make enough money to do some of the things I enjoy. If I worked for the phone company or something I probably wouldn't have this outlet. The entire hobby is what I enjoy. It's really the thing that drives me. My wife, Cindy, and I travel all over the U.S. to shows and events, and that's what we enjoy. Our lives revolve around the Mustang.