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Aaron Kaufman Tells All – Truck, Projects and More

As most of you may already know, Aaron Kaufman was the wizard behind most of the builds at Gas Monkey Garage and on Discovery Channel’s hit show, “Fast ‘N Loud.” After many years there, he and his buddy, Jonathan Mansour, decided to part ways from the show. Since the two of them are true Ford F series fans, we thought we would give Aaron a shout to get caught up with what he plans on doing next.

F-100 Builder’s Guide: How’s it going man? Sounds like you’ve been kind of busy lately?

Aaron Kaufman: Yeah, I’ve been like crazy busy beating my head against the wall, doing a bunch of nothing. It’s nuts how much of a beating getting things in order is.

F-100BG: What have you been up to lately?

AK: The primary thing is Arc Light Fab, getting ready for chassis manufacturing for the many generations of F-100, and it’s been a big deal. I drew up one a couple months ago, and I didn’t have a rectangle bender, so I shot the drawings out to a guy on the East Coast and he knocked it out for me. Our prototype ’61-to-’66 chassis is on the table right now and we’re working on parts for it.  The other chassis I haven’t started on. I’ve been working with Baileigh Industrial so we’ll start producing all of our own chassis, and we’ve got a hydraulic brake so we’ll build the entire thing in-house. It also looks like we’ll be able to move past the gen one, which never left prototype to gen two stuff. It’s all my cross members, my uppers, my spindles, everything because on the gen one stuff we are using the adaptation of a Chris Alston rear suspension on my chassis.

But that’s been the gear up, finding a building has been an absolute whupping. There’re just no buildings available in Dallas. We’ve looked at a couple of buildings that go on the market at eight. We get there at 10 in the morning and they’ve already had two offers. So it’s just been chasing our tails trying to get the building.

F-100BG: That’s amazing to me. I’m thinking Dallas, Texas—there’s land. It’s weird to hear property is so hard to find.

AK: You’re 100% right. There’s plenty of land, but then the problem is the people are moving here at such an exponential rate that getting into a building is so difficult. Now there are a fair amount of buildings once you get into these 40, 50, 100k-square-foot buildings. There is quite an excess of that really big commercial space available, and small retail space, but the kind of light industrial in the 10 to 20k-square-feet range seems to be well occupied, and they quit building 25 to 30 years ago, you know stuff like with a fenced yard and 20k square feet.

F-100BG: Seems like they want you to go big or go home, in Texas anyway.

AK: That’s kind of the thing, but without funding I might be in the latter category.

F-100BG: Good luck to you on that. I know you’ve been struggling with it. We’ve been talking about it for months. Why don’t you tell me a little more about what you guys are doing with the suspensions and why you felt compelled to go forward with all of this stuff?

AK: It’s pretty simple. One thing is it just doesn’t exist. There’s an obvious reason, but the Fords really get picked over when it comes to aftermarket, and the C-10s have benefited from so much aftermarket equipment because so many people manufacture parts. It makes it easy for so many people to build the trucks—which is a wonderful thing and has helped that market flourish—but I think there’s a fair amount of C-10 guys that are actually F-100 guys that really just didn’t have support and their money went further [with a C-10]. A lot of times when you’re sitting there looking at a project and you think I’ve got 10k, 20k, 17k I can spend including buying a truck, the Chevrolet is the easier option. It’s the better option. You can get a better truck for the same amount of money and I don’t fault anyone for it. Now I love my Chevrolets, but it seems a little unfair that they get picked over based on nobody offering stuff for them. Now we’re going to try to fix that.

Oftentimes, people don’t have the suspension or the tools at home to put on an IFS setup. So many people have access to great tools these days and … they’re more cost-effective than they used to be, but once again so much of this stuff is leftover street rod stuff and not specifically engineered pro-touring stuff.

We love having our trucks on the ground. We like running big wheels, and we like driving them hard. The stuff from Arclight, we plan on building it more around ride height as opposed to laying out on a 28-inch wheel. For me, the goal is do you want to look cool sitting in a lawn chair next to it, or do you want to look cool walking sideways down the road? For me, I’d rather have the thing full opposite lock and standing on it and look cool, rather than sitting next to it in a parking lot. So we built everything for us around the performance and then how big a wheel and layout is secondary. It just seemed like a good fit for me.

F-100BG: It seems that you’re interested in airbags as much as performance. Your Falcon is a good example of this, all of the work you did marrying the two parts.

AK: Absolutely, we very much come from a mini-truck background all the way from lifted Rangers to traditional body-dropped Isuzus and everything in between. It’s like we came from a mini-trucking background, but the truth of the matter is, it’s so much fun to go fast and it’s particularly fun to include lateral G.  Also, I kind of take a holistic approach. From the front bumper to the back bumper to the taillights, the headliner, everything in between, it all has to make sense. To build a vehicle that has a tremendous amount of horsepower but has no track width or aggressive suspension geometry, it seems crazy to me to not be able to use all that horsepower. It’s just more fun to drive them harder, and you get so much more out of it.

F-100BG: What kind of dynamics are you looking at putting into these systems that would make them perform better? Are there certain things you’re looking to include on them that will help them perform?

AK: There’re a few things. The first is in the vehicle. We try and look at what the OE does to make every successive generation better and better. One of the things is HVN, which is Harshness, Vibration and Noise. So if we build a race car and put a license plate on it, it’s only fun whenever you’ve got it pinned and you’re doing stuff that will send you to jail. If you’re driving it normally, they’re not a lot of fun. Everything is a give and take in life, especially cars. The further you go down the spectrum in one direction, the worse they get in the other. We really try and balance these things. We try and consider the day-to-day usefulness of it and how far we can push the performance level. If we end up making a full-blown race car, it’s just not a real sustainable model.

The second thing is that we’re trying to produce a level of truck—an Arclight truck—where everything from the headlights to the wiring to the AC to the plumbing of the air system has completely been thought out. If we can put this all together, then they can be assured that these systems will run right out of the box. That’s one of the things that we are actually working on is integration of products that work. We’re trying to build a full package, so when someone wants to build an Arclight F-100, they know it’s gonna be a homerun the first time they put it all together.

F-100BG: You’re doing all this stuff for Fords. Do you think there is a silent majority of Ford guys that can support this? Because as it stands, there really isn’t that much on offer in the F-100 market, especially for the later models.

AK: You know there’s really not. We’ve talked to a few people that are Ford fans and it is a small community, but I think there are a few seats at the table. I think you’re gonna see a big explosion of companies offering some top-shelf new parts, and we are leading the march. The funny thing is I don’t meet many Ford guys that hate Chevys, but I do meet some Chevy guys that hate Fords. Ultimately, at Arclight Fab, we are truck guys. We don’t care too much about the logo, however, Jonathan and I have such a deep affinity for Fords, and on top of that, I always get off on being a weirdo and Ford is definitely that.

F-100BG: Since you brought up Jonathan Mansour, you guys have been friends a long time and worked together at Gas Monkey. What is going to be his part in this?

 AK: He’s going to handle many of the things that he handled at Gas Monkey Garage. He’s getting connections to other vendors and providers, and he acquires, manages and runs most of our business accounts. On top of that, he’s kind of my soundboard. When you do something, sometimes you don’t realize if it’s cool or not … He makes you kind of stand back and look at it. Jon is always my soundboard on what other people are into. I get excited about things that sometimes other people don’t care about. It always helps to have someone who is just as clued in and hooked up, but didn’t do it, and has an objective position about it.

F-100BG: You guys worked on his truck for a little bit. Maybe you could tell us a little more about that.

AK: For longer than I have, Jon has been super enamored with these uni-body trucks. Since Jon and I both left Gas Monkey, we’ve just been working on these kinds of things to get our head in the right place. I had a motor that was sitting in my garage that was in the Falcon when I bought it. We knew very little about it. I took it apart and found out that the motor was built really well, but we needed a proper transmission. We ended up getting a T5 on Craigslist, but it ended up being trashed so we used it as his core and got another transmission. We put it together, made some adjustments, got it done by the skin of our teeth and built the truck in about three weeks.

The test drive, the first time it left my garage, it went 606 miles round trip. He’s been beating it ever since. We worked with RideTech and dialed in the suspension. It came together well for such a sweet and simple package. Jon’s truck is slated to get the second chassis on our ’61-’66 setup.

F-100BG: I’ve seen on Instagam that you guys have been up to some stuff, picked up a few trucks, went to California and grabbed one. 

AK: You know I’ve got a mega hard-on for work trucks, like the other group of trucks that people don’t talk about. I think they’re the most interesting. They have such a weird and tumultuous life. They get abused and beat and no one cares about them. So, the ones that make it through to the other side make it out clean. It’s one weird trip, you know?

Ronnie from C-10 Talk sent me this text message, “Hey bro, check this out.” It’s an F-350 in Oroville, California, and I guess someone in Chico sent it to him and passed it along. I called the dude and I talked to him, had a two-minute conversation and agreed to buy the truck. We had to wait for his schedule to line up, and we flew up there. Brought a photographer with us. It was such a bad idea to drive the truck, not knowing how long it had been sitting. The least we could do was have some documentation, and sure enough, it was an epic trip but I don’t think we went 20-25 miles without a break down.

We made it to 4×4 Outlet. The folks were so nice, they opened the shop and helped out for the first night. Got up the next day, got the tires loaded up and we just hit the road in rush hour traffic, leaving Folsom to Yosemite. Jon and I used to rock climb, which people don’t know. For a very short time, all I did was rock climb. I was in the top 12% of U.S. climbers. I was little, I was young, and all I did was climb. I always wanted to go to Yosemite, but I never made it there. At 1 o’clock at night, we got there and there was a dorm kind of hotel, it was super overpriced, but they had a room available. We slept, woke up, had breakfast in the park, and saw El Capitan. We didn’t have time to make it to Half Dome, and then we hit the road.

F-100BG: Sounds like a trip of a lifetime. When you were on “Fast N’ Loud,” it didn’t seem like you had time to do things like this. Now you have the opportunity, and it sounds like you’re having a lot of fun. 

AK: That’s absolutely true. On “Fast ‘N Loud,” we were budgeted down time-wise to every last half second, and it really became oppressive. I’m proud of the things we did over there, but sometimes we lost sight of what we’re doing and why. There were a few times that we were so proud of and it was a shining moment but they were short lived because we were right back in the trenches a day later.

Since I’ve left, the biggest thing [I’ve done] was to get some air, get some perspective. I’ve taken account of things I love and been able to talk with people, especially people I admire, people who are in a position I’d like to get to. We’ve got a good game plan. We’re headed in the right direction.

That being said, we decided to go back to the well one more time. We did come up with a TV show concept, worked it out with the same production company, Pilgrim, and with Discovery. The one thing about the time concern is we’re still filming year-round, almost nine months out of the year, and we only build four cars, but one thing that was always so disconnected on “Fast ‘N Loud,” which is radically different from our program, is that we want to experience car culture, through the eyes of the subculture of these different types of builds. One thing we’re going to do is showcase the aftermarket automotive culture, custom building, whether that’s rotary powered, twin turbo V-8, whatever you can imagine, that’s what we’re gonna build. Whether it’s Jeep or Yugos, Datsuns or internationals or Ford, it doesn’t matter, we’re all over the place.

After, we’re done building it over two episodes, we’ll take a vehicle out and use it for its intended purpose, and then instead of two guys doing a superhero pose next to it, telling how awesome it is, we will go out and play cars with guys that are legends in that craft and that type of build. You can see if we got a homerun or came up short. We’re going to put it on display and have fun with the cars. That’s really the mantra behind our program … we have fun with the cars.

F-100BG: Sounds like you guys have some awesome ideas to move forward with. You guys have been talking to Pilgrim, which you’ve worked with before. Has this been confirmed? Are you guys still in talks?

AK: We are 100%. Our first shooting date is September 18. We are planning on making six episodes, in the January air schedule. Some things can change, but our first date shooting is September 18. Everything is locked up and headed in that direction.

F-100BG: That’s great, congratulations. You’ve accomplished a lot since leaving Gas Monkey. Another question I wanted to get to is that a lot of people want to know why you left Gas Monkey?

AK: That’s the big question, that’s the million-dollar question … There are quite a few things I really don’t care to talk about, but really what we’re talking about is the difference between the direction the show was going, the direction that the company wanted to go, and what I felt was important. This wasn’t a get-rich scam; this wasn’t about how much money we can put in the bank. It was the greatest experience for me to be able to expand my building capabilities and tools and resources. Every time we built something, we had to finish on time and we had a budget, so there always had to be an answer, which increased my build capabilities so much. It was an excellent opportunity, but once it was over, I felt we were stylistically, emotionally, philosophically headed in the wrong direction. I became so disconnected, I was so mad about so many things. For me, I had to step back so I didn’t interfere with the operations of Gas Monkey Garage because I had a really diametrically opposed view of things. I felt there were directions I needed to go that were different.

F-100BG: It seems like plan to go out and do your own thing and see if that works, right?

AK: TV is such an interesting place, good and bad. It has this overwhelming ability to marginalize what is a serious occupation for many of us. We’ve chosen to build cars as a profession, it’s not an easy task, you don’t make a lot of money, you don’t make a lot of anything, but the satisfaction level is hard to beat. Most people check out at 4:50, 5 p.m. We’re working there late. The satisfaction you get from building something, growing your skills is big. I think TV has the ability to do it justice.

Whenever I’m out and about people say, hey, I love the show. But once someone says, hey I really appreciate the TV show. It got my kids in the garage, or my wife talks to me about my car—there’s a connection people have with our culture that they might not have had before.

F-100BG: What’s great about the whole thing is you’re very humble about it. You’ve become more of a role model, which is great to see. Congratulations on everything you’ve been doing. I wish you nothing but success. You’re always out there trying to hang out, take it in, give back to people and advance the automotive scene.

AK: I appreciate you saying that so much. For us, it’s the truck culture, the Instragram, Facebook, MySpace. When you don’t see your friends in other states, we would go to shows just so we could hang out together and drink beer. So much happened at these shows for me, getting in trouble, becoming who I was around certain people—it happened around big wheel ’bagged trucks and times in the garage. I’m not ashamed of any of it, and I hope I can inspire some other people to create these relationships. It’s not very popular in today’s world.

F-100BG: Yeah, I can see that about the social side of it. It’s not really about the vehicles. They’re fun, we like them, and they’re a common interest, but the real treasure is the relationships and friendships built around them.

AK: All the dumb stuff, the weird road trips, trying to make it to the next show, it has such a big impact on who I am. I’m so proud of the occupation that I have, and I hope I can share that with people.

F-100BG: Thank you for your time. It’s been great talking to you and thanks for giving us some perspective on what you have been up to. We can’t wait to see your ideas come to life. It seems like we have only just begun to see how much you can give back to all of your fans.