Ford Custom Car Caravan
According to George Barris, "only Ford gave any sort of credence to customizers' work, occasionally using photos of hot rods and customs in its Ford Times magazine." In the early 1960s, before the launch of the Mustang, Ford Motor Company was struggling to get into the youth market. A struggle that led them to work with Bud Anderson of AMT. Ford saw an opportunity when it came to showcasing their cars to custom car fans through nationwide shows and magazines, and in the fall of 1962 they teamed up with the popular model car kit company to launch the "Custom Car Caravan." Under the leadership of Ford Special Projects Division, the "Custom Car Caravan" was launched to create and campaign customized and performance-themed Fords. Or, as Ed Roth described it in his book, "making sure all of Ford's stuff was in the car shows around the country." The first cars were built in-house, but it didn't take long before Ford started to commission famous customizers such as George Barris, the Alexander Brothers, Bill Cushenbery, and Gene Winfield to dream up and execute life-size Ford customs. The builders would propose a drawing, and if Ford liked it, they'd give out a car for a dollar. According to Gene Winfield, AMT organized and administered the Caravan, while Ford paid for it. AMT's part of the deal was that they would get the rights to promote and sell the cars in kit form. "This was a way to quickly create some very exciting cars and to gain maximum exposure with radio, TV, and magazine coverage," George Barris mentioned in his book Barris Kustoms of the 1960s.
Jacques H. Passino was head of Ford's Special Projects Division in 1962, and according to George Barris the power behind the Custom Car Caravan idea. When the Caravan was suggested to Passino, he was excited with the prospect that could come from allowing customizers to create a whole series of customized traveling roadshow cars for Ford. Passino also worked to expand the custom theme to include a performance aspect by appointing Ak Miller to the job of "performance advisor."
Initially, the Custom Car Caravan consisted of about 12 cars. Passino added a couple of high-performance cars and a couple of concept cars, including the 1963 Ford Thunderbird Italien, the fastback Allegro, the Bahman, a Shelby Cobra sports car, and a replica of the Romy-Hammes/Brannan 427 Thunderbolt Fairlane race car. Then followed the first of many customs built outside of Ford, and four custom 1963 Fords were quickly built by George Barris, Bill Cushenbery, Gene Winfield, and Vince Gardner who worked for Dearborn Steel Tubing.
Gene Winfield created the 1964 Ford Galaxie Constellation. Bill Cushenbery supplied his wild Silhouette bubble top custom which he had built using a 427-ci Ford powertrain. George Barris first car for the Caravan was a Fairlane known as the Starburst. Dearborn Steel Tubing built the 1963 Ford Falcon Coyote.
The program ran for four seasons, and according to George Barris, the first two seasons were the most successful. "Once the West Coast builders had established the program, other builder and companies were quick to put their names on the block." Dean Jeffries and the Alexander Brothers were added to the team. "Ford supplied cars to many builders, and the designers were free to create anything they wanted." The shows appeared at shopping malls, Ford dealers, state and country fairs, the big auto shows, hot rod, and custom shows, on TV, and at teen fairs. The Caravan made its rounds on specially enclosed Ford car haulers. George Barris recalled that Ford officials attended the shows, but the events centered around him, Ak Miller, Bill Cushenbery, Gene Winfield, and the other customizers. Their job was to answer enthusiasts' questions about Ford restyling and performance.
At the end of the 1965 season, Ford eliminated all the custom personalities that had been involved with the caravan except George Barris. After that, it became a George Barris and Ak Miller touring show. Lincoln/Mercury had followed the success of the Ford program, and decided to establish their own custom car caravan called "Caravan of Stars." Barris Kustoms was part of the program, building cars for the caravan.
Cars of the Ford Custom Car Caravan
1963 Ford Econoline Pacifica
1963 Ford Falcon Coyote
1963 Ford Falcon Franciscan
Ford Falcon by Holman and Moody
Ford Fairlane GTX A Go-Go
Ford Fairlane Starburst
1964 Ford Galaxie Alexa
1964 Ford Galaxie Constellation
1964 Ford Galaxie Astro
1966 Ford LTD Executive
Ford Mustang III
Ford Ranger II
Ford LTD Green Mist
Ford LTD Magic Cruiser II
Ford Mustang Mach 1
Ford Cougar El Gato
Ford Falcon Python
Ford GT40 Mark I - The Black Pearl
Bill Cushenbery's Silhouette
The Surf Woody
The Dune Buster
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