Arclight. Gas Monkey. Fast N’ Loud. Ford trucks. Big rig drifting. Bearded wrench ninja. There are a lot of things that pop into our heads when we think of the name Aaron Kaufman. We fell in love with the Gas Monkey as we watched him administer his expert component transplants with surgical precision. His mastermind technique and unparalleled vision were driving factors for many of the superlative transformations that rolled out of his service bay.
We’ve seen him work under extreme pressure and pull through at the last minute to meet obscene deadlines in the 11th hour. Aaron has truly proven himself to be a useful monkey, both on and off the set of Fast N’ Loud. He’d continue to impress us with even sicker builds when his own show allowed his unrestrained creative juices to overflow into other horizons—horizons that Fast N’ Loud was unable to accommodate.
But Kaufman’s third law states that for every build, there is an equal and opposite build. For every dope incarnation of impeccable creativity that rolls out of his brain and onto a sheet metal canvas, there’s one that makes you want to heave your lunch.
Aaron is experienced enough to beat the odds and he has more incredible builds under his belt than he does shabby ones. But nobody is perfect; even the master crafter himself is prone to err. Aaron’s boo-boos may be more forgivable than most of ours; they may be more expensive and they may look a lot nicer but he still biffs it from time to time.
One thing’s for sure: If his builds aren’t Bad to the Bone, They Shoulda Stayed Home!
20 Bad to the Bone: 1963 Ford Falcon
Aaron Kaufman isn’t just on TV because he’s got a pretty looking beard (although we do have to admit, it’s got quite the man-bush); he’s on TV because we like watching what he does. Why? Because he pumps out artwork that’s infused with top-notch craftsmanship, stunning conceptual design work, and immaculate execution!
A 1963 Falcon, twisted into a hill-climber, laden with a 500-hp 363 is already impressive enough as it sits. But it takes a deep, penetrating survey of his handy work to actually appreciate the technical prowess that the bearded wrench ninja is blessed with. His talents are truly a gift from the gods of fabrication and it’s hard to argue with what rolls out of his shop.
19 Shoulda Stayed Home: 2004 Ford F-150
Aaron is a Ford guy, there’s no debating the issue. While some would knock a few points off his credibility for this, or even swipe left on his Tinder profile, real Ford fans know there’s plenty to be proud of as a Ford lover. We love Fords and we’re also Chevy folks over here; that should say something substantial.
(Maybe that would mean we’re just car guys because we got love for just about everything with wheels, except for garbage like the Prius, Smart cars, and all the other Captain Planets that aim to condemn our piston pounders!) What we don’t dig is a 2004 F-150 that even Aaron rates a 5.7 out of 10! That’s a failing grade…and he’s a Ford guy!!
18 Bad to the Bone: 1971 International Scout 800B
Kaufman appeared on many, many episodes of Fast N’ Loud, but there was a problem with the show—one that not even the wondrous Rawlings could hope to appease. You could throw all the Econolines, GTs, and Camaros at Kaufman you wanted to but Aaron had an itch that road-bound muscle and fancy paint just couldn’t’ satisfy.
Deep down, he yearned for ground-thumping power that was bolstered with roll cages, Panhard bars, heim-joints, and four-link suspensions. The 1971 Harvester provided a perfect opportunity to showcase these proclivities and build his 800B to epic proportions. Aaron would later describe his unlimited (Class 4400) build as, “Bringing a paperclip to a gun battle,” (Four Wheeler) but we think it’s dope, no matter how out-classed his little paperclip may have been!
17 Shoulda Stayed Home: EcoBoost 1972 Pantera
We’re going to catch a lot of heat for this one but we didn’t get to where we were by pandering to popular opinion; that’s for politicians! We’re here to ruffle your sensitive little feathers with a real opinion that you may not like but with everybody pouring adulation and praise over the Pantera build, it just has to be said: the car’s pug-ugly.
Sure, if you look at it long enough, the angular lines grow on you like the manure stink on a feedlot (after you’ve lived there for six months) but it started out as an ugly car, and rather than throw a fire-breathing, big-block torque daddy between the wells, they went with an EcoBoost! (It is still insanely powerful, we’ll give it that much.)
16 Bad to the Bone: 2005 Ford GT
It started out as a wreck—as probably an unfortunate amount of GTs do when placed in the wrong hands. (Lookin’ at you, Jesse James!) But this one was able to jump into a second incarnation of the GT that no other GT has ever been before!
While we’re still questioning whether we like it on bags so much, it’s hard to argue with the stance as it squats down to its lowered height. A one-touch interface dumps the GT to the perfect ride height at the press of a finger and the GT instantaneously goes from mean to meaner in a way that only Aaron could have imagined.
15 Shoulda Stayed Home: Monster ‘Maro
There was almost no way around it and the rust-bucket Camaro was on its last shock mount—literally! When the team got to the car, there was a gas tank sitting willy-nilly in the trunk, it had more rust than the Titanic, and it wasn’t even suitable for a paperweight. The donor chassis wasn’t much better, either!
What they did to amalgamate the two distinct vehicles into one design could be considered, by some, to be the eighth deadly sin. A muscle car had to leave this mortal coil and when it came back, it did so like something that would never again blast the doors off a Honda Civic from a red light.
14 Bad to the Bone: 1991 Ferrari F40
The F40 is a legendary Ferrari on more than a few accounts. Notwithstanding all the historical significance that embeds itself within the very fibers of the composite shell, the F40 is one of the most recognizable Ferraris in existence. The name, for one, sounds like it should be parked on the flight line, next to a squadron of F35s; it’s the quintessential Hot Wheels that we’ve all had in our toy box.
But this new-and-improved F40 has more power, more strength, beefier components, and an even “richer” history. It’s been owned by baseball legend Reggie Jackson, as well as famed embezzler Richard Scott, currently serving six years for snaking $13 million from the Department of Veteran Affairs over a 13-year period.
13 Shoulda Stayed Home: 1975 Ford F-350
Anything purchased “sight unseen” has the potential to be highly disappointing upon the initial viewing of a particular purchase. Lucky for Kaufman, he’s a wrench wizard and he could doctor just about anything into a state of nobility. The 1975 utility bed was ugly from the day it rolled off the Ford assembly lines but Aaron and his affinity for old Fords came to the rescue with, in his words, “…just vision and stupidity” (Driving Line).
The Arclight team made the 2,200-mile journey to Northern California, where it was purchased, and then they nursed the reliable old dog all the way back to its new home in Texas, where it would receive a new shot at life—from a different perspective.
12 Shoulda Stayed Home: Charlie Brown
The brown Ford F-350 (affectionately named “Charlie Brown) should have been grateful for its star-studded shot at a new life—but that didn’t mean the old Ford was to go willingly. The journey home was a precarious one and Aaron had the foresight to secure the services of a local shop about an hour outside the purchase point to tie up some loose ends before making the final leg of the long journey home.
Even then, mechanical difficulties would plague the trek. The tires were bad, the carburetor was giving out, fuel issues would hamper the journey from the very first mile…it was as if the Ford was intent on giving up then and there.
11 Bad to the Bone: Arclight Sterling
Aaron wanted to build different things and Fast N’ Loud wasn’t quenching his thirst for muscle. The visions he had were, perhaps, a bit more ambiguous than Richard Rawlings could satisfy and as much as we love our muscle cars, it’s hard to compare those to a monster rig that’s built for the racetrack!
Big-rig racing started out in the Northeast in the late-70s; it was an opportunity for blue-collar road wranglers to hit the track for some weekend glory. Kaufman wanted in on this glory and his drift truck was built to destroy everything…including itself! Aaron’s freestyle was so crazy in this thing that the truck was literally grinding itself into the pavement!
10 Shoulda Stayed Home: 1976 Chevy C-10
This faithful beater came as an ancillary component of a building purchase for Gas Monkey Garage and Aaron and the rest of the crew knew they had to get their hooks into it! The California truck had very little rust and was seemingly the perfect canvas for the team to showcase their studious abilities.
Many of them wanted to really get in-depth with a build, rather than pump it out at light-speed. They did, and the restomod came out beautiful, but there was only one problem—it was a 1976! Although that's a great year for Chevy trucks (except in California), the mid-to-late-70s were a bad year for just about everything with wheels and not even Aaron could resurrect respectability from redemption.
9 Bad to the Bone: 1965 Chevy C-10 Pace Truck
After so much press, nobody seems to be a stranger to Pikes Peak. But just in case you live under an air-tight rock, let’s explain the anatomy of this big rock: it’s one of the tallest summits in the Rocky Mountains and a saleable racing hot spot for motor enthusiasts.
The Pro Touring methodology is in raging favor with builders nationwide and enhancing mid-60s muscle with the build methodology tends to be a hit, no matter what body is wrapped around the updated suspensions, drivelines, and chassis. Seeing a 1965 Chevy truck tucking down around a set of low-pro tires, standing on top-quality running gear, and sporting a modern driveline is a hard thing not to admire!
8 Shoulda Stayed Home: 1971 Scat Pack Challenger
Many people will admit that the irrefutable fact that it’s pretty hard to biff a Challenger build. The iconic power symbol was introduced for the 1970 model year and was a masterstroke move by Mopar builders; they’d essentially nailed the essence of the early-70s! Big, bold, loud, wide, and domineering, the Challenger’s namesake was as fitting as a nameplate could possibly be.
So how do you ruin a Challenger? You put some big, ugly, chrome wheels on some low-pro rubbers, and turn it into a G-mobile. They might as well have put hydraulics on the running gear and installed a DJ stand in the trunk; the Challenger that would roll out of the shop would forever be not quite the Challenger it used to be!
7 Bad to the Bone: 1962 Ford F-100
There is something very special about a particular run of Ford trucks between 1961 and 1963, something that only avid motor enthusiasts are privy to. During this time period, Ford produced a rare line of unibody pickup trucks that were similar to the Ranchero in design.
The body style was met with an unfavorable reception in its day and it was quickly discontinued; but due to limited production numbers, the unibody Fords are a rarity today and very hard to come by in good condition. This one was purchased from the original owners, who’d done nearly nothing to the truck for 40 years, making it a perfect Arclight flagship once the Kaufman touch was added.
6 Shoulda Stayed Home: Wrench Meat
You can’t judge this poor Coca-Cola delivery tractor too harshly; it’s lived a long service life, delivered tons of high fructose corn syrup to your children over the years, and was discarded thanklessly at the end of its service life. The difference between this old beater is the fact that, even after a life of struggle, it still had a chance to deliver the goods.
The goods, in this case, came in the form of cannibalized parts to use for Kaufman’s racing rig. They needed a donor truck and parts on the cheap were in high demand. Rather than sit and rot away, this day cab was able to make one last run and do it on TV—but it was still ugly the whole time!
5 Bad to the Bone: Rally Challenge
Maybe he doesn’t build everything he gets to play with but when your face (or the part of it you can see) is a national treasure, sometimes great offers get thrown your way that you can’t rightfully refuse. Aaron has been invited to do all sorts of extracurricular activities as a result of his national acclaim and there seems to be no limit to what he won’t do behind the controls of a machine.
From aerobatic aircraft and unlimited-class, off-road competition racing to rigs and rally racing, Aaron is doing it all! Driving a Civic Si is almost inexcusable—unless it’s a highly modified rally Si with a roll cage and a light bar! (Then we can dig it!)
4 Bad to the Bone: Arclight In A Nutshell
Taking everything into account, Aaron Kaufman is the quintessential gearhead; he’s been entranced by machines all of his life. In a way, there is a bit of Aaron in all of us. From heavy equipment to race-ready track slayers, oil and gasoline have been pumping through his veins longer than he can remember.
Many people would assert that he should have remained as Rawlings' top dog but not allowing his brilliance and proclivities to shine, completely uninhibited, would have been a waste of potential. Rawlings is amazing in his own right but even the master word-crafter, with his smooth-talking propensities, wasn’t able to cage Kaufman’s talent forever. Arclight is filling a gaping void in truck customization and we couldn’t be more grateful!
3 Shoulda Stayed Home: Gas Monkey
Rawlings and Kaufman stand around and shop-talk a line of Ford trucks as the cameras roll. It’s part of the production but deep down, the two men are at odds; differing visions will inevitably separate the long working relationship Rawlings had with his number-one Monkey.
You see, Aaron is fighting to stifle his imagination while in paradise as he ganders at the line of heaping potential sitting in front of him. Rawlings, a car guy himself, just doesn’t see the allure of the vintage Detroit steel sitting before him. It’s not like he hates the Fords but he doesn’t want to snatch them up and hightail them back to a safe corner of his shop. Aaron wants every Ford he can get his busted knuckles on!
2 Shoulda Stayed Home: 1972 Mach 1 Mustang
It’s a well-established fact that we could be slotted into the Ford-lover category. And the Mustang, of all the car models, is undoubtedly one of our favorites. (How could it not be?) But, for all the Blue Oval love that shoots through our nervous system, one impulse that gives us the shivers, every time, is the Mach 1.
There are Mach 1 proponents who will vouch for the revulsion up and down the interstate, but we know better. As Ford tried to shoehorn the Mustang into a class of car it didn’t care to slide into, the iconic silhouette would be mashed into a confusing mixture of body lines and ugly styling cues that would destroy the pony car legacy.
1 Bad to the Bone: Hot Wheels C3
When we used to meander our Hot Wheels across the linoleum kitchen floor as youngsters, our vivid imaginations would work to embed unrealistic ideas into our naive minds as to what a car was actually capable of. Super-long drifts, initiating from a standstill, were commonplace.
But then we get out in the real world to find out, to our disappointment, cars just can’t do what we made them do as Hot Wheels. In an attempt to shatter this shortcoming, Kaufman made sure his Hot Wheels C3 was equipped with enough beef to lay thick, black stripes down just about wherever it was. Is it necessary to have a billet blower staving over a foot above the curvature of the fiberglass hood? Nope! Well-played, sir.
Sources: Art of Gears, MotorTrend, Four-Wheeler Network, Driving Line, Barrett-Jackson, Street Trucks, Muscle Car Definition, and Arclight.