Jun 27 2015

The Mustang III and the Ford Custom Car Caravan: An Interview with the King of Kustoms Gene Winfield

Gene Winfield has been building custom cars for over 60 years and  continues to be one of the premier customizers in the world. Last week, I had the honor to interview the King of Kustoms.

The story of the interview and highlights are below.


Howard Kroplick

The Interview

I recently found this Mustang III photo  taken at the Ford Custom Car Caravan held at the 1965 NHRA Custom Auto Fair held in the Pan-Pacific Auditorium, Los Angeles, California.

Looking for more clues on the history of the car, I enlarged the background poster and found this copy "The Pacifica Styled by Gene Winfield."

A glimpse of The Pacifica could also be seen.

I was able to track down Gene in his Mojave, California garage. He graciously agreed to discussed the Ford Custom Car Caravan, The Pacifica and the Mustang III.

Interview Highlights

Howard Kroplick: Do you remember the Mustang III Concept Show Car which appeared in the Ford Custom Car Caravan?

Gene Winfield: Yes, this is a very special car which appeared on the Caravan with several of my cars including my restyled Ford Econoline Pickup called The Pacifica.

Howard: What happened to The Pacifica?

Gene: When the Car Caravan was finished, Ford sold it to Indy race car driver Troy Ruttman, Jr. After Troy died in a race in 1969, I became searching for the automobile, but could not find it. In 2012, I recreated The Pacifica, identical to the original.

Howard: What can you tell me about the Mustang III?

Gene: In 1964, Ford asked Dearborn Steel Tubing to create a two-seater Mustang to show to the public. They gave Dearborn one of the first pre-production chassis with a convertible body. Vincent Gardner designed the car with a shortened wheelbase and a unique fiberglass body. After it was completed, it appeared on the Ford Custom Car Caravan and was called the Mustang III.

Howard: Did Ford pay a commission for cars built for the Ford Custom Car Caravan?

Gene: Definitely, they paid a commission and provided a budget for the design and build. We also were paid for appearances at the Caravan.

Howard: Why did Ford outsource these cars to customizers?

Gene: Very simple, we were able to create these cars faster and way cheaper.

Howard: How much input did Ford have on the design of the custom cars for the Caravan?

Gene:  Ford would provide the basic concept on what they wanted to develop and usually provided a sketch or artwork.  The customizer then had the freedom to design the car.

Howard: In addition to appearing in the Caravan to help promote Mustangs, do you know any other reason why the Mustang III was built?

Gene: We had heard that Ford was considering adding a two-passenger Mustang. Your car was likely used to measure public acceptance of the concept.   I considered many of the Caravan cars as prototypes for potential future production models.

Howard: After the 1965 Ford Custom Caravan was completed, did you know what happened to the car?

Gene: Since these cars were not meant to be driven, many were headed to the crusher after their use. However, I heard that Gardner stole theMustang III from the Dearborn Steel Tubing warehouse and it was saved.

Howard: Gene, thank you so much for your time and providing insight into my car. It has been a privilege to speak to you.


Jun 28 2015 Howard Kroplick 10:48 AM

Howard, Gene Winfield has made some very good points. One of the main problems with keeping these cars was Product Liability. They were often called cobble cars. It was a great time for private builders - lots of Corporate money.

In the 1950s Italian custom bodies cost about $800 per unit. All the Ghia Exner Chryslers were done as Gene says cheaper and quicker. They have a high survival rate because Chrysler often turned them over to their South American reps.

Ford was more prone to crush them or give them to their sub-suppliers like Andy and Holman-Moody some times to test engines in. Jimmy Holman went to Northwood University in Midland MI in the mid-1960s. He had the Mustang fast-back ‘cobble car’ for a daily driver.

By 1967 there were more problems with what to do with these proto-types. When run with factory manufacturer plates they did not need to have emission parts or crash testing. About 1979 Ford offered a Hutton stretch Lincoln to the Lincoln Continental Owners Club. It was too big for us to store and registration would have been a problem with no smog stuff. Ford ended up crushing several.

Limited production models like woodies and the Packard Caribbean were done by companies like Mitchell-Bentley in Ionia, MI for the cost reasons Gene gave.

The story of the Mustang III is a little more complex than other Ford concept cars. You had to be in the right place and have the right connections. Andy Hotton got the Stevenson PanAm Lincoln and traded it to Bill Harrah for something he wanted.


Jun 28 2015 Howard Kroplick 10:49 AM

From Jerry Rokoff:
Interesting. Good interview.

Jun 29 2015 Marilyn 4:02 AM

Great interview, Howard!

Marilyn Kroplick, MD

Sep 20 2015 Mark S. Gustavson 2:01 AM

Hi Harold:  Great research on the Mustang III and the Ford Custom Car Caravan.  I’m writing a book on the Ford Caravan, and on the companion Lincoln-Mercury Caravan of Stars.  I’d like to speak with you.  Please e-mail me at the e-mail addy:
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  and we’ll set a time for me to call you.

Thanks for your dedication to his little known, but critically important part of the history of the Ford Motor Company.

Mark S. Gustavson
From Howard Kroplick

Hi Mark! Thanks for the comment! You can reach me at 1-516-625-0123. Let’s talk Caravan!

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