Radiant in Red

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Most people find that customizing a car is a lot of hard work, many long hours, and moments of deep frustration and exhaustion. Matt Baer, however, is not most people. The owner of Auto Craft Collision in Kewaskum, Wis., says every moment he spent customizing his 1995 Mustang GT was pure joy. After buying the car in 2001, Baer completed his first task—replacing the front end—and since then he’s been adding touches here and there to make the car his own. Now, the Mustang attracts attention—and accolades—from just about everyone, including his insurance adjustor, fellow car fanatics and complete strangers.

WORTH THE WORK

Baer has loved Mustangs since he was a teenager. His first car at 16 was a 1970 Mustang Mach 1. He bought a ’94 Mustang later on, but after having a child with his wife, he sold the car. He always missed owning a Mustang, though, and eventually bought his current one seven years ago when, he laughs, “my wife finally said I could buy a new car.” Baer found the Mustang the following weekend in a local newspaper. He knew immediately he’d have his work cut out for him—the entire front end of the car was gone as a result of an accident. Despite the damage, Baer bought the car and began working on it right away.

The first thing on his agenda was replacing the missing front end. Baer put in a Cervini hood and urethane front bumper as well as Cobra R headlights and Cobra fog lights. After the front was put back together, Baer began his customizations. He fabricated scoops on the sides of the Mustang as well as raising the rear spoiler by four inches, painting all the Ford emblems a bright red with a running horse on them, creating custom decals for the hub caps and removing the door handles (the doors pop open by remote control).

The final touch? A one-of-a-kind bumper. “I took a 2003 and a 1994 bumper and cut them in half,” Baer explains. “The bumper is really two bumpers,” he says of bonding the two together with a 3M panel bonding adhesive called 8115, which he discovered worked well to fix cracks in bumpers. Each bumper is composed of a different plastic—one is urethane plastic while the other is TPO plastic. TPO, or thermal plastic olefin, contains up to 5 percent wax-based mold release_notes within the material, so it’s often difficult to get adhesive or paint to stick. Baer’s primary concern was that his unique bumper wouldn’t adhere and hold up correctly. It did, though, and fellow car enthusiasts have admired his feat.

“We have a car show every year at the shop. A Mustang fanatic who customized a 2003 was looking at the car and said, ‘How’d you get that to fit?’ He was amazed.” Baer’s insurance adjustor, another car fanatic, was equally impressed. “One of the first things he did was come up and touch the paintwork to see if he could feel a line there. He said, ‘Wow, you turned a $500 estimate into a $3,000 one,” Baer says.

While he never kept track of how many days and hours he spent on the Mustang, Baer does know this: “It took 20 hours to do the bumper,” he laughs.

GETTING IT JUST RIGHT

Baer says his biggest challenge, however, arrived when he began the paintwork. “The worst [was] coming up with the paint lines,” he says. “You’ve got a two-tone affect, but you’re not two-toning a vehicle with straight lines.” As he painted, he worried about getting the paint just right to fit around the picture of the horse on the car. “You try it this way and then that way. You get the tape set up, but is it going to look good that way?” For Baer, it was tough to not know how it was going to turn out. “You kind of hang on the edge of your seat,” he says.
His careful paintwork paid off in the end. People now stop to admire the Mustang all the time. Baer says you have to look close to see all the unique customizations, though—like the missing door handles. “That’s one of the things I like about it,” Baer says. “Some customizing jumps out at you. I like the subtle kind of customizing [where] you have to look to see it. There’s no big stereo. I don’t want people to hear me; I want them to see me.”

ONE OF A KIND

One of his favorite parts of customizing is that there are really no rules to follow. “That’s what I like about it—there’s no set book,” he says. “It’s your opinion what you think will look good. I think the car turned out phenomenal without having a book to go by.” The opportunity to create a car that is uniquely his is also something Baer loves. “You will not find a car like this unless someone copies me!” he laughs.
Even with a tough paint job and a 20-hour bumper job, Baer still says there was never a moment when he wasn’t having fun. “I’ve never worked a day in my life,” he says. “It’s always fun. Sticking with it—that’s the thrill of it.” The finished product couldn’t have been any better. “It really turned out nice,” he says. “It’s one of those you can look at and say, ‘Wow!’”


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