The American Spirit Mustang

Joseph and Carol Berke

Scott and Lynette Lewis of O’Fallon, Missouri are the owners of technology consultant Winning Technologies and both hail from military families (with Lynette even serving in the military). The couple recently wanted to do something to salute veterans from the Revolutionary War on through the current conflicts—a patriotic wrap. Part of this tribute is in support of the Fisher House Organization, which is dedicated to helping disabled Veterans and their families. “It wasn’t the case of a single idea; it was a single idea that took on a life of its own,” says Scott.

To make the concept a reality, Lewis selected a 1971 Ford® Mustang. “I chose the Mustang because it was a U.S.-made car, a historical muscle car, and has a lot of flat sheet metal on the body,” says Scott.

Named the “American Spirit Mustang,” the car has been wrapped with artwork depicting the role of the American military throughout history.  The imagery begins at the rear of the car where the Revolutionary war is depicted. Meanwhile World War II represents the back quarter panels, the Vietnam War is depicted on the fender and front quarter panel, and photos of September 11 are featured on the hood.

To prepare for the wrapping process, Scott first did a full restoration on the car. He then contacted Bill Riechmann, owner of Proformance Signs, also in O’Fallon. “Proformance had [worked on] other projects for our company. I know Bill and thought this might be a project he’d be interested in,” says Scott.

To begin the layout, Scott, working with his graphic artist Kiersten McDaniel, collected all the photos for the project. The photos came from personal collections, public domain, and donations from families and friends of the veterans who waived the copyright to the photos as long as they were used to fulfill the purpose of the car. Mike Corbin, graphic designer at Proformance, worked with McDaniel from September 2009 until May of 2010 to help her understand the wrapping process and how her concepts would fit within the process.

After the basic concept layout was developed and the photos selected, it was sent to Proformance to implement. Proformance Shop Manager Michelle Shaw assisted with a great deal of the coordination with Lewis and McDaniel on the project. “We received the design concept with over 250 photos on disks, from newer color photos to black-and-white to some sepia tones,” says Riechmann.
Digi-2Corbin took the files and the basic conceptual design and made everything flow together using Adobe Photoshop 7 and Illustrator. This required de-speckling some photos. Other photos needed a slight blur, while the older photos of paintings were de-saturated to go with the black-and-white theme on the rear of the car. Still other photos that were faded, cracked, or otherwise not in perfect condition were corrected using Photoshop. All the images were given extra contrast to make them “pop” off the car. Getting the concept and photos ready for printing took about forty hours of time.

Corbin and Riechmann visited nearby Francis Restorations (the shop where the car was being restored), to plan out the design. “ We took a thirty-inch roll of paper and created our own templates on the car, as we took the required measurements. [Corbin] scaled all this information down and put it in his computer,” says Riechmann.

At the time, the two men also inspected the Mustang body to make sure it was ready to be wrapped. “The key to wrapping an unpainted vehicle that is being prepared specifically for wrapping is to use a hard, non-porous primer on the body,” says Reichmann.

The wrap took between fifty-five and sixty feet of Avery UC MPI 1005 Easy Apply™ RS (formerly MPI 1005 EZ RS) vinyl with Avery Clear Laminate over the vinyl, all of which were donated by Avery for the project. The printing was done on a Roland SP-540V and finished with a Drytac JetMounter JM-54SHA-HA laminator.

The rear quarters, doors, fenders, roof, and trunk lid were all printed as separate pieces, and four to six inches of extra print was added in order to do the alignment. “We were pretty much able to avoid any seaming by simply making our prints fall with the body panels,” says Riechmann. “The seams would fall along door jambs or other openings.”

For Riechmann, this was pretty much a standard wrap job. “We didn’t want it to look like a car with a bunch of photos pasted on it,” he says. “This is where [Corbin’s] talent came in making things flow together.

“One reason the wrap went smoothly was that all the trim pieces were off the car. There were also no compound curves on the body, the bumpers were off the car, and there was no trimming of the vinyl around the trim pieces.”
Digi-3The car arrived at the Proformance shop the Monday before Memorial Day. “When we do a wrap, we like to figure four days—a day of prep, a day to a day-and-a-half to apply the wrap, and sit overnight in our temperature-controlled shop so we can go over it in the morning and make sure there are no problems,” says Riechmann. “However the car had to be back to the body shop by noon Wednesday.

“We did the entire wrap in a day-and-a-half. We were able to do this because we didn’t need a day to prepare the body or clean the body, nor did we have to remove or replace the trim pieces and lights on the body. This saved about another day of time in the shop.”

Riechmann and Corbin wrapped the car using mostly a squeegee and a hard foam roller. A basic propane torch was used to stretch and shrink the vinyl, as well as to post-heat the vinyl to remove any minor bubbles or creases. “It’s easier to control the heat on the vinyl with the torch than it is with a hot-air gun,” says Riechmann.

As the American Spirit Mustang travels the country, it offers an exciting and emotional experience to those who view it. The car has been mobbed by people, stopped traffic, and brought people to tears.

“It has been a great experience for me and my family to have built and shown this car all over the country,” says Lewis. “Our future plans are to continue to show the car at different car shows around the country and visit as many veteran-related events as we can. We’re going to be at the National Wounded Warrior event at Fort Hood, Texas in April. We’re also planning on continuing our fundraising efforts for the Fisher House Organization and visiting Fisher Houses around the country.”

And what will be the ultimate destination for the American Spirit Mustang? “Our hope is to put in on display somewhere,” says Lewis. “I don’t know for sure where yet or when, but someday it’s our goal to find a place that will have it on final display, in the hope that we all remember who fought to make this country great.”

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