Metaverse. It’s a term currently perched on the tip of anyone’s tongue in tech. And that’s the future, apparently. Where would we live on the internet about our daily lives – doing everyday things – in augmented reality, rather than reality reality.
Sounds like scary black glass episodes, right? One that will never happen. But, believe it or not, it’s already here.
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Last year, people in the Philippines left their daily jobs in the real world to take jobs Axie Infinity (a blockchain-based online game where players can earn tokens and cash in local currency), as they can make more money by trading digital pets or becoming a dragon blacksmith/unicorn barber than traditional jobs in the real universe.
But the human mind, body, and spirit crave physicality and creativity, something to tickle the left side of our brains when using the limby apparatus attached to our bodies. And no one knows this better than Chris Ashton, co-founder/design director of Turtle Rock Studios.
Images: Mark Riccioni
Cutting his emaciated form in a dimly lit garage in the shadow of Orange County, California, he has the physique and pale complexion of a slightly vitamin D deficient gamer. For good reason, he’s spent his life in the digital world creating famous first-person shooters like Counter-attack, Left 4 Off and Back 4 Blood. But tonight he wasn’t sitting behind a computer, but rather the opposite: a fantastically simple and analog device, the English wheel.
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“This is where I come to chill,” Chris said as he rolled the thick sheet of metal back and forth into a satisfying arc. “As humans we need to use our hands. We intrinsically want to create something. But through automation and digitization, we inherently do less, so this gives me great satisfaction.”
Parked outside is the result of his hours behind the British wheel and hammer bat: a delicious mangetout green 1970s Fastback Mustang that he designed, built, and hand-crafted with nothing more than patience, curiosity, and a few YouTube videos.
“I am very lucky to earn money from running a software company. I also have a bunch of cars (Lamborghini Gallardo Performante, McLaren 720S, BAC Mono, AMG GT R, C6 Corvette ZR1 and 1969 Superbee to name a few) but it got to the point where I didn’t want to buy a car, I wanted to build a car. Not for sale either. Just something I can enjoy and call mine.”
That’s where the Mustang comes in. After an obsession with the Mustang Seventy and the hairy-breasted Trans-Am racing, Chris wanted to make himself an old-school racing car for the streets. But with one basic caveat: it has to be functional. What he created was a style he called ‘Ruffian’.
“I have absolutely no automotive experience,” Chris said, laughing with conman syndrome. “Sure, I grew up doing my own stuff – I’m just a regular fat monkey teenager who buys a junk car and looks for a way to keep it going when it inevitably breaks down. But as I got older, I got a better job – which meant better cars. The car I want to make is faster. Then as my business was better I had more money to buy tools, so went into fabrication. ”
Being a keen autocrosser (a competitive and affordable grassroots race around a cone in a parking lot) for over 25 years, he wanted his Mustang to be able to stand the test of time. Which means, oddly enough, it’s the tires that determine the build. See, autocross is a relatively slow speed form of motorsport, which is all about lateral grip. So Chris came up with a simple solution to this problem: big rubber – 315mm for the front and 345mm for the rear, all wrapped in super-sticky Toyo R888R track tires. He then had to form a three-inch steel fender flare for the bodywork to fit. But this attitude also makes this Mustang look crazy – like an old Trans-Am racer.
Chris went a step further. After reading the book, he knew that in the past the Trans-Am team would break as many rules as possible to gain a performance advantage. Sometimes it blatantly violates it. Some racing Mustangs have a cutout from the front supports to lower the front of the car by an inch, making it handle better but also giving it a more threatening look with the nose pointing down rather than parallel to the horizon. So Chris did the same. Which dictates the engine he can fit into, (orthodox Blue Oval fans are looking away now) carburetor LS427 – an aluminum-blocked 7.0 liter GM beast, now producing 625bhp and around 560ft lb of torque.
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Taking a peek, you are drawn to so many dazzling details in a car where form follows function. Like grafting on the ’69 spoon rear fender and making some grilles on the front fender to help cooling. Or a functional front scoop flanking both sides of the headlight, or a hinged bar in a full roll cage for easy entry and exit. But they are offset by period details that add to the authenticity.
Unsurprisingly, the Ruffian Mustang garnered attention on social media, with NBA players, rappers, and deep-pocketed sheikhs all swooping down to DM Chris looking to buy it. But after spending three years of his life into the project, he didn’t want to sell the car. In fact, he wanted more. So he bought himself a Superformance GT40 MkI and started making another Ruffian.
As you can see, it’s pretty wild – a wide-bodied pseudo-cyberpunk racing sandal that looks ready to set Mad Max or metaverse. But just like the Mustang, this one is functional. And unlike the metaverse, it’s real.
Where the Mustang is all analogue engineering and old school lore, the GT40 is a different beast. It is supported by modern methodologies and contemporary components. Being fiberglass no hours behind British wheels making body panels, more burning midnight oil making carbon prints with the help of concept artists on Instagram. See, Photoshop – for all its flaws – is the right tool when put in the right hands, bringing the ability to blend the polar world of sixties racing cars with new trends and visions, creating something truly unique in a process that also doesn’t discredit the original.
Unsurprisingly, Chris’ handiwork, dedication and sickening obsession runs all over the car. Attached to the Ford Racing 52XS V8 engine (putting out 580bhp and 445lb ft) are the same-length handcrafted octopus header and exhaust. It’s a majestic woven metal like the Medusa that not only looks stunning but also amplifies the classic Americana sound to perfection.
The headlights are also Chris’s crazy masterpiece. Displeased with any headlight designs he could find, he purchased a handheld 3D scanner at a great expense to measure the headlight bucket. He then entered this information into his computer before designing and 3D printing his own headlights using Harley Davidson headlights. He ended up spending more time on that one piece than on the entire Mustang bodywork as a whole. Which tells you a lot.
What unites these two cars is a very cool, home-made aesthetic that comes from racing but made to be applied on the road. Adding the autocross and big rubber elements really makes the ‘Ruffian’ visual look perfect. But what’s next? Eight more street bastards ready to race, all different and not for sale. First off, the ’64 Ford Galaxie is set for big circuits thanks to its stealthy aero and – you guessed it – crazy 335 rubber all around. So, before we all get into the metaverse, let’s take a minute to celebrate the here and now.