The Paper Mustang

By Rob K.

When you hear Ford, one of the first vehicles that might leap into your mind is Mustang. One of very few cars to remain in production, uninterrupted, for nearly 50 years, the Mustang has become an American icon. There are Mustang clubs around the world, pop culture songs written about the car, several racing series devoted to it and the many of you have at least one recollection of a friend, family member, or even yourself with a Mustang.

The passion surrounding the Mustang runs river-deep, so much so that even the high-art set that’s not even into cars are inspired by it. Jonathan Brand – an artist, sculptor and art professor based in Connecticut – had vivid memories of restoring a 1969 Mustang with his father. He sold the car before it was finished in order to buy an engagement ring, but the car and that experience remained in his mind. And in 2009, he began re-imagining the experience of working on it by creating a full-size replica of his 1969 Mustang…in paper!

We surprised Jonathan with a trip to the 2012 North American International Auto Show, where he also toured the Ford design studio and we captured part of his experience in the video above.

Working from photos and his memory, Jonathan drew the car in the computer with art and 3-D modeling programs then printed out the design on thousands of sheets of paper with a large-format color printer. He folded and glued them together to create a life-size paper Mustang. He took to the project like he does to restoring a car, saying, “I’m the type of person who would rather go and find the original bolts and pieces and sandblast those to use in a restoration, rather than buy a new part. Still today I prefer to develop my own printer and tools for my art.” He found the used professional-grade printer for only $400, but finding the type of quality paper he needed proved a bit more difficult and expensive.

He started with one tire, just to see if the project was feasible. It required lots of paper printouts that consist of 20,000 edges that were folded and glued together, and it took two months to figure out. The eight realistic-looking spark plugs were the most difficult parts to create, requiring 12 hours to make each one. The hood is made up of nine 17x22-inch sheets of paper. He was learning the process as he went, making this piece of artwork truly a trial-and-error affair. When asked how many hours he has invested in the car, he said, “People have asked me about this and I’m actually afraid to find out how much time I’ve spent on this! I worked on this project three days per week for three years, and then in the final three months I worked seven days per week for almost 12 hours or more per day.”

Because Jonathan and his father didn’t restored every area of their real car, he only recreated the parts that they did work on. He explained, “I only created the things we actually restored in my project like the bolts, motor and everything else you see; we didn’t restore the undercarriage so that isn’t included in the paper Mustang. It’s a replica of our work on the real Mustang restoration, up to what we did and didn’t restore.”

When asked how he kept his focus on such a demanding project, Jonathan explained, “It’s actually more work than building a real car. As a professional artist, though, this is what I do. The Mustang was part of my past experiences —restoring it with my dad. I like to work with things from my past that I am passionate about. My wife is also an artist, so we spend time together in the studio.”

The project is on display at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, CT, through September 30, 2012, so go visit if you want to see it in person. What happens to the paper Mustang after that? Jonathan said, “I’m hoping it doesn’t come back to my studio — it takes up too much space! It’s been talked about that pieces be separated, but I’d like to keep it all together. I’ve talked about selling it and displaying it more permanently.”

With the paper Mustang finally finished and out in the world, Jonathan is working on creating another vehicle from his family’s past, but one far removed from a Ford Mustang. “I’m remaking a 1954 Farmall tractor, carving it out of wood. It’ll be modeled after a tractor my grandfather used. I prefer to make the machines and mediate work through technology. I still need a full CT scan, though, so maybe someone can help.”
salvo m 11/01/2012
And a beautiful story, we the MUSTANG CLUB OF ITALY we did the same thing with our cars . for us the FORD MUSTANG is a legend that lives every day in our hearts good job. ( Salvo MCI president)
Gina B 11/01/2012
Awesome job! I wish the video would've shown more of the Mustang though so we could see his talents :))
Frank Z 11/01/2012
Great job, I had a '69 Mach 1 in candy apple red and wish now that I never sold it.
Bob E 11/01/2012
What a cool story, but what a disappointing article! I wanted to see pictures of the paper Mustang, see how he did it, and what materials he used.
Mani S 10/15/2012
mustang is really the american legend
I think you should auction it off, don't tear apart your art!!!
Sandy K 08/02/2012
This was a great story, yes Mustangs we're the best. Love the idea of making the tractor. Good job
wow! this is very creative
Timothy H 08/01/2012
My wife keeps bugging me to buy her a Mustang, I think I just found one for her. Thanks Ford!